Skiing Lake Tahoe

By Paul Maraschiello with photos by Paul & Jessie Maraschiello

Skiing the 14 ski resorts located around Lake Tahoe is now easier and cheaper than ever. Southwest Airlines has inexpensive flights to Reno which have been as low as $99 (one way) when booked in advance, on-line from the East Coast and even cheaper from West Coast locations. I had never skied at Lake Tahoe, so when cheap air fares were combined with an invitation from Heavenly, one of the biggest ski areas at Lake Tahoe, I put the gears in motion and began planning the trip.

We departed from the Baltimore/Washington Airport at 6:55 A.M. and arrived in Reno at 10:30 A.M. (We lost 3 hours). As Reno is only 56 miles from Lake Tahoe, you can stay in a hotel in Reno and enjoy the free shuttle service that is offered to many of the ski areas. We opted to rent a car because we had a very ambitious itinerary planned and we heading off to South Lake Tahoe for our first ski adventure in this mecca for ski enthusiasts.

The scenery on the trip from Reno to Lake Tahoe was just breathtaking. We rode through the desert, with the mountains looming in the distance. My daughter Jessie had never been out West before and was very impressed with the scenery. She grabbed her camera and began shooting photos of the sagebrush and all the interesting scenery. Desert vistas slowly gave way to mountain scenes of snow-covered peaks and Ponderosa pines as we neared our destination. The trip could be justified just by the scenery and the excellent skiing we anticipated was even more reason to head to Lake Tahoe.

We checked into the Best Western Timber Cove Lodge, right in the heart of South Lake Tahoe. It was only a couple of miles from the new gondola at Heavenly that whisks skiers from the main street to the mountain is just a few seconds and just a little further to the main California Base area. We spent the rest of the day checking out South Lake Tahoe. Half of the town is in Nevada and the other half is in California. Nevada has conveniently built a number of gambling casinos right on the border, so you don't have to travel far to the gaming tables. Caesar's Palace host a number of excellent restaurants and an all-you-can-eat buffet that is excellent. There are also buffets at the other casinos that include Harrah's, Harvey's, Elderado's, The Nugget, Bill's and more. There are a lot of really great places to eat and drink in South Lake Tahoe. Big acts are featured in the night clubs. In Nevada, there are even "men's clubs" that feature "discreet" entertainment (legal sex) for gentlemen (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, nudge) but I did not visit any of them. Even if you don't ski, Lake Tahoe offers a wide variety of winter activities, including cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, gambling, paddle-wheeler cruses, horse-drawn sleigh rides, dogsled rides, and much more.


Heavenly is a truly world-class ski resort that spans two states. We rode up the new gondola and enjoyed a spectacular view of the lake. When we got off the gondola, we then rode up the Tamarack Express Quad to the top of the mountain. The view was BREATHTAKING. We took a few photos of the gorgeous vista and then started to explore the mountain.

We took a run down Cascade to warm up and then hopped back on the chair. Soon we were systematically exploring the mountain and found ourselves over at the base of the Canyon Express and Dipper Express chairs. There hadn't been much natural snow lately, so not all of the trails were open. Heavenly does a good job making snow so Eastern skiers, like myself will find the conditions are excellent even when Mother Nature does not cooperate. We spent most of that morning worming up on the blue slopes that were fed by those two chairs and then began working our way back to the California side. The groomed trails we skied all day were in excellent condition but we looked in envy at the many trails through the trees that were not open due to lack of snow. We had lunch at the base of the Canyon Express and I enjoyed a chicken barbeque sandwich cooked out doors on the grill. After lunch, we thoroughly explored that part of the mountain. We skied over the top of California peak and cruised all the trails that were open, exhausting ourselves and having a really great time.

The next day, we decided to drive to the base lodge on the Nevada side of the resort. We headed into Nevada and kept expecting to see the base lodge around every turn. After driving for a mile or so, we found the turn off for Heavenly. The road wound up the mountain, switching back and forth around hairpin turns as we climbed the mountain. We parked at the Stagecoach Base Lodge and rode up the Stagecoach chair. We spent the day exploring all the trails we had access to, on the Nevada side of the mountain. They were blowing snow on some of the trails and this only confirmed that Heavenly was a good mountain to ski even when there was no natural snow. We had lunch at the base lodge and then hit the slopes again. We got over to Mott Canyon and skied a few of the expert trails when we called it a day.

Heavenly is a really big mountain that has a lot to offer skiers of every ability. There is extensive intermediate terrain with a number of trails and off-peste skiing in the trees to delight powder hounds and expert skiers who like to ski in the woods. The food in the lodge and barbeque on the decks were tasty and I would recommend that anyone who visits the area spend a few days skiing Heavenly. The two days we spent there were not nearly enough to sample all that this ski area has to offer.

That evening we checked into the Fantasy Inn. This was quite an experience. There are rooms with various themes in this small inn. Our room was the Marie Antoinette Room. It featured luxurious decor, fireplace, heart-shaped sunken spa, European shower (both in the room) and a mirror over the bed. One of the most interesting features was the "eye" bolt in the center of the mirror over the bed (you can imagine what kind of fantasy this is used for). Their prices were very reasonable, as low as $98-$156 (Sun.-Thurs.) Per night that includes two lift-tickets, complementary bottle of wine, and continental breakfast. They even had a wedding chapel in this romantic getaway, if you are in the mood to tie the knot after your romantic escapades.


That night it snowed three feet and we awoke to a beautiful snow-clad morning. We hopped into our 4X4 and headed to the slopes. Many of the roads are limited to use by 4X4s with snow tires (carrying chains) or vehicles with chains, so be prepared. This information is broadcasted on the TV and posted in highway signs.

It took almost two hours to get to Kirkwood from South Lake Tahoe. We had to stop for avalanche snow removal and the cars traveled at a snails pace, but it was worth it. Kirkwood is a large ski resort that claims to get the most powder in the area. The vistas on the ride there are beautiful and I would rate the road as a double black diamond when it is covered with snow and ice. It was very well plowed on the day we visited and I kept wondering what all the fuss was about regarding four-wheel drive and chains. I had experienced living in Vermont and phoo-phooed the road warnings until I remembered the Donner Pass incident and the fact that they get as much as 40 feet of snow in a given winter.

When we arrived, we put on our boots in the lodge and rode up the Reut chair. We skied the black diamond trails Short Spoke and Wagon Trail and then rode to the top of the mountain on the Wagon Wheel chair. We did The Wall (double black diamond) and easier Buckboard Trail before we headed in for lunch. We were both having trouble in the deep powder but there were enough groomed trails and trails with moguls to keep us happy. We grabbed a couple of sandwiches at Monte Wolfs near the Reut chair and were back on the slopes. We decided to apply what we had learned about Western powder and bumps on the trails that were fed by the Solitude chair and then progresses to the challenges of the trails off the Cornice Express. Now we were on the top of the mountain and had fun dropping over the cornice, skiing Lookout Janek, Zachary, Monte Wolfe and the Wagon Wheel Bowel, all expert trails. We were tired campers when we called it a day and went into the Off the Wall Bar for a cup of coffee and something sweet to replace the calories we had burned up on the slope. The ambiance was great, people friendly and the fireplace was just the touch. If you stop there for a little refreshment, bring a lot of cash, a cup of coffee and piece of pie for two was $17.00 but it was really good pie.

Kirkwood is a MUST for anyone visiting this area. We were only able to ski a small portion of this terrific ski area and did not even make it to some of the most interesting terrain. It takes a few days to sample all the Kirkwood has to offer and probably a full week to really experience the bowels and chutes that dot the landscape at this BIG ski area. Kirkwood had invested over $1 million in base improvements, including lodges, restaurants and shops at the base of the mountain and offers a Stay and Ski Free package.


The next day, we headed to Squaw Valley, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. We drove up the western side to the northern end of the lake. The road wound around the mountain, zigzagging up and down, presenting us with beautiful vistas and gorgeous views around every turn. There were great views of the lake, tall trees and mountain panoramas that really highlighted the beauty of the Sierras and the charm of Lake Tahoe. We drove by Homewood, a small ski area has one of the best views of Lake Tahoe and noted that if views are what you are after, Homewood should be on your list.

I loved the layout of Squaw Valley's mountain. The base is at the bottom a bowl surrounded by majestic mountains, with all the trails funneling down to the base area. We rode the Gold Coast cable car and took a few easy runs down to bottom to warm up. Then we rode the Red Dog express and began to explore that part of the mountain. We found mogul runs that were just our size and we were starting to get the hang of skiing powder. The bumps on Dog Leg gave me a little problem and I buried my skis in the snow and did a nose-dive into the white fluffy stuff. I had to spend a little time looking for my skis and now know why the local wear powder straps so they can find their skis. We skied over to the Squaw Creek chair and skied all the trails on that part of the mountain.

After a very pleasant lunch in an upscale Mexican restaurant located in the base lodge, we went back to the Gold Coast cable car and explored some of the more difficult terrain you can get to on that part of the mountain. We took a couple of rides on the Siberia express and skied the Siberia Bowel. Jessie had started to sort out the proper way to ski powder and was really having a blast skiing the trails on that side of the mountain. There was plenty of powder that had not seen too many pairs of skis or snowboards. We were surprised to see all the tracks off-peste. Squaw Valley must have a cadre of mountain maniacs that go nuts when they get hit by a big storm. We saw tracks from the chair that went down all kinds of things I would never even consider skiing. Guys (or gals) had jumped off cliffs, skied narrow chutes, leapt off large boulders and skied through the trees down incredibly steep slopes. There were tracks in lots of places that are almost beyond the imagination, but people skied there and I mean a LOT of people had made these tracks. I liked Squaw Valley a lot. I had to pick my favorite ski area at Lake Tahoe, it would be Squaw. Most of the ski areas were so close that it would be extremely difficult to single out one ski area, I would rate them all as A+ but there is something about Squaw Valley that I really like. It has an incredible amount of skiable terrain and an interesting group of buildings at the base of the mountain. Even the construction that is going on did not deter from my enjoyment of this Olympic ski area. The deep snow and sunshine also helped to color my perception of this huge ski area.

There is so much to ski and do at Squaw, you really have to spend at least a few days or a week there to really experience all that this magnificent ski resort has to offer. Squaw Valley is another MUST on any trip to Lake Tahoe.


The next day I went to Alpine Meadows, another HUGE ski area that would take a week to fully explore. I met up with Tom Whalen, an old ski-instructor fiend who had urged me to visit Lake Tahoe. We had taught together at a couple of little ski areas many years ago and it was really fun to see him. He gave me the scoop on where to ski at Alpine, he told me the best places to find the best snow and said that Alpine had the best snowmaking facilities in the area. I had a nice time with my old friend but he had to teach a class, so I was on my own for the rest of the day. I rode the Roundhouse chair and sampled all the trails that fed off that chair. I went up Scott Chair and did the Scott Ridge Run to the Chute that Seldom Slides and also came down the double black diamond Scott Chute. I hit the Yellow and the Alpine Bowl chair, exploring the trails on that part of the mountain.

I went in for lunch and ate the biggest burrito I have ever seen. This burrito was so heavy that my arm got tired just carrying it. I was stuffed after such a big lunch. I decided to explore more of Alpine Meadows, so I rode up the Summit Six chair. I skied Peril Ridge, North Peril, The Face, Waterfall and a lot of other interesting and challenging runs. I was tired out after a day of skiing at Alpine Meadows. I was only able to sample SOME of what this ski area has to offer. I didn't get to ski the back bowels and many of the other trails I would have loved to ski. To really do Mountain Meadows right would take several days and unfortunately, I was only there for a day.

Alpine is just down the road from Squaw Valley. It is laid out in a similar fashion with all the trails funneling back to the main lodge area PLUS the Back Bowls. Alpine is not the biggest ski area at Lake Tahoe but there is plenty of skiable acreage. The longest run is an expert trail over a mile long that becomes intermediate as you near the bottom. There are pieces of real estate that looked a little too challenging for me to attempt and a lot of intermediate terrain that was perfect for the advanced intermediate. There were many trails that I skied that were well groomed and suited for intermediates and advanced beginners. Alpine Meadows offers an excellent skier experience for skiers of all aptitudes.


Northstar-At-Tahoe in many ways was another of my favorite ski areas at Lake Tahoe. It is a huge destination resort with more very steep, groomed trails than I have ever seen at any ski area I have ever visited. Unfortunately, the only way up onto the mountain was the Big Springs Express Gondola and there was a long wait on this Martin Luther King weekend. Once you got off the gondola there were a number of choices where the lines were shorter and the skiing looked great. I picked the old Pioneer double chair because there was a very short lift line at that chair. The line on the Arrow Express looked long and I was anxious to do a little serious skiing. I rode up the chair with a beautiful woman who was a regular visitor. She told me that she loved skiing at Northstar. I warmed up with a couple of quick runs down the Face and then took Backdoor trail to the Backdoor Express. This chair only accessed black diamond trails and most of them were groomed flat as a pancake, although they were very steep. I met another nice group of people on the ride up the chair. Northstar has a really friendly crowd and the women that I met there were all beautiful. I took a quick run down Sierra Grande and Lower Burn Out and was back on the chair. There was a bump run under the chair that started beckoning to me. So, when I hopped off the chair, I did a bump run.

I had lunch at the Summit and then decided to go to Lookout Mountain, the new, steep addition to Northstar. It was not scheduled to open until the next weekend but because of all the snow, they had opened a week early. When I got there, I was surprised to see that there was no lift line at all. The list attendant was standing all alone . . . and it was Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend. I took a run down Martis which was steep and well groomed and then got back on the chair as fast as I could scamper up to the loading. There was no one in front of me. Boca looked good. It was covered in moguls, but they were small moguls, so I decided to give it a try. It was a challenging run and it tired me out. I was starting to get fatigued, so I headed back to the main part of the mountain. Lookout Mountain is a nice addition to a really great ski area and I bet the visitors to this excellent ski area will really take advantage of it.

I went up the Comstock Express and skied the Plunge under the chair. I was skiing well and it was nice to show off a little. I took a couple more runs down to the bottom of the Comstock Express and then I headed to the bottom of the mountain. I was tired and skiing through all the beginners on Village Run put me at Northstar Village. I relaxed with a cup of coffee and enjoyed watching all the skiers head to their cars at the end of the day. I caught a ride from the shuttle which was being pulled by a really big tractor, to the parking lot and then headed off to dinner with my friend Tom and his daughter.


Tom lives in Incline Village in North Lake Tahoe and this little side trip gave me a chance to do a little exploring. Nevada has placed a few gambling casinos right on the border on the north side of the lake, so the people of California don't have to travel very far to the enjoy the thrill gaming tables. There were ski shops along the road, along with ski lodges and hotels. The Biltmore at Tahoe was advertising rooms for $29.99 (midweek) and Tom tells me that they have a shuttle that will take you to the nearby ski areas. When I got to Incline Village, I could not help to notice that Tom had a ski area almost in his back yard, called Diamond Peak. It is a small ski area by Lake Tahoe standards but it really is convenient. Another tourist attraction I noticed on Rt. 28 was the Ponderosa Ranch. For TV buffs Western, this looked like an interesting place to visit. Tom cooked up some chicken on the barbeque and began to give me a number of helpful hints for visitors to the Lake Tahoe area. He thinks that the least expensive way to ski Lake Tahoe is to stay in Reno and take advantage of the shuttle services that many of the hotels provide to the ski areas. With the free shuttles that are available from all the major ski areas, you can stay many places and avoid the necessity or renting a vehicle. He had provided me with a lot of excellent information regarding this trip and the only major suggestion I did not try was taking the cruise from South Lake Tahoe to north shore. It really sounded like fun but you can't do everything.

Tom is a real ski enthusiast and plans to ski on all seven continents. He only has Africa and Antarctica to go and already has the trips planned. He extolled the virtues of Lake Tahoe as a year-round resort area and I understood why he had moved there. I can't think of any other area that has so many really great ski areas located is such a small area. Tom assured me that you can have a blast in Lake Tahoe 12 months a year.


The next day, Jessie and I were psyched. Jessie had taken a couple of days off from skiing to nurse her bad knee (and old cheerleading injury), so we were anxious to make a few turns together. The weather had turned a little colder with a temperature in the low 20's. Sierra-at-Tahoe was the smallest ski area we visited on this trip but the visit wasn't disappointing. We had a great time skiing this mountain. We rode up the Nob Hill chair and looked around. We didn't feel like skiing down the bunny hill to get over to another lift, so we decided to ski over to the West Bowl. It was a wise choice. We rode up the West Bowl Express and took a couple of quick run under the chair. We had seen a sign that advertised "Free Ski Lessons at 11:30 and 1:30" and decided to take advantage of the offer. Jessie opted to join an intermediate class, because of her knee. I was in the advanced class with only two other guys, so it was like having a semi-private lesson for free.

Our instructor was a young gal named "Debs"ho was from New Zealand. She was an excellent skier. My small group decided to work on moguls, so off into the bumps we went. We took a run down Clipper with Debs demonstrating the proper way to absorb the bumps with your legs. We were all given a something to work on and our small class skied down the hill, making only a couple of brief stops.

For our next run, we went to a slope that was groomed and "Debs" had us work on skiing all with our legs and not raising and lowering our upper bodies as we usually do on groomed snow. We adopted a much lower stance than usual, and tried to do all our turning by extending our legs out to the side with no up and down movement with our upper bodies. This is an excellent exercise. We practiced the movement on the groomed snow and then moved over to the bumps. Bu getting used to skiing more with our legs, when we got into the bumps, we found that it was easier to absorb the moguls. The lesson was excellent and "Debs" is a really good instructor. She didn't give us too many things to work on and we were able to understand what she wanted us to do and able to incorporate it into our skiing. For the rest of the day, I practiced the exercise she had taught us and was skiing the bumps a little bit better as a result.

After the class, Jessie and I took a couple more runs and explored more of the interesting terrain on that side of the mountain. Jessie's knee was holding up just fine and we had a really great morning. For Jessie, the class was well below her ability, but she treated it as a "refresher course" and one of the prices she had to pay because of her bad knee.

We headed into the main lodge for lunch. We could not believe all the kids that were there having lunch. We had not noticed many children on the slopes but all the kids in the lodge having lunch made the place look like a real "family" ski area. There seemed to be five kids under 16 for every adult we saw. The choices in the lunch lines seemed to be burgers or Mexican and they dealt with the crowd very well. We wolfed down our lunch amid all the noise and confusion of the crowded base lodge and were back on the mountain, in no time.

We rode up the Grandview Express to the summit and made several runs down the black diamond Castle trail. We skied Preacher's Passion and enjoyed the way you could still find powder and bumps. It was snowing a little and the wind was starting to blow. After a couple more runs, we headed into the restaurant on the top of the mountain for a cup of hot coco. We got there just before they closed and had the lodge almost all to ourselves. After warming up with the hot chocolate, we took another run and headed in. We were tired and all skied out. We had skied all the best ski areas at Lake Tahoe and had a remarkable ski trip that we will remember for a long time to come. Sierra-at-Tahoe was the last ski area on our list and we really enjoyed it.


On the South Shore, there are free shuttles to Heavenly, Kirkwood, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Squaw Valley. Northstar-at-Tahoe runs a free shuttle from Truckee and North Tahoe and there is a free shuttle to Diamond Peak. Alpine Meadow also provides a shuttle service but you need to call for the schedule.


There are plenty of hotel accommodations at every price. Signs on the main street of South Lake Tahoe advertised rooms for as low as $30 per night. Spas and fireplaces are common and I am sure "high rollers" can even stay for free at the casinos, if they promise to gamble. We were lucky to stay at three very nice places. The Best Western Timber Cove Lodge Marina Resort was on the lake and conveniently located for skiing and summer activities. It had moderate rates and we enjoyed the outdoor spa and took advantage of the in-house ski shop to pick up a few things that we had forgotten to pack. Our room was very nice, with a gas fireplace and view of the lake. There was an Italian restaurant in the hotel that offered a complementary breakfast and discounts on dinner and drinks that we took advantage of.

The most interesting place we stayed at was the Fantasy Inn. With all of its theme rooms, luxurious decor, in-room spa and kinky ambiance, resplendent with mirrors over the bed, in room spa and European shower, the Fantasy Inn was certainly a FANTISY. There was even a charming wedding chapel that seemed to do a brisk business. This romantic getaway is just the ticket for an intimate wedding ceremony and honeymoon or a little vacation that can put the spice back into a relationship that needs a little more romance.

For families or groups, the condo we stayed in at the Lakeshore Lodge and Spa is excellent. It had a fully equipped kitchen with free coffee and pastries every morning. There was a large livingroom with a hide-a-bed couch and fireplace and a nice size bedroom. The condo was only steps from the lake and the rated were reasonable ($179 per night) for what you got. They also have rooms for as low as $109.

All-in-all, Lake Tahoe has more ski areas than any other place I have visited in the USA. When you add in the casinos, and recreational activities, Lake Tahoe is hard to beat. With the inexpensive airfare and exciting ambiance, put Lake Tahoe on the top of your list for ski destinations that can be easily be enjoyed for a modest outlay of cash. Lake Tahoe gets as much as 500 feet of snow in the upper elevations and averages 273 days of sunshine, This all combines for a really extraordinary vacation spot and a mecca for the serious skier.