A ski resort with terrain for all levels and closeby lodging, lots of apres ski activities and a good ski school make for great vacations on snow.
There are two sides to everything, and beautiful Lake Tahoe is no exception. It straddles two states – California and Nevada - and you can get your skiing and snowboarding kicks on both the North and South shores of this fresh water “ocean” at 6,237 feet located in the Northern High Sierra. It’s the largest alpine lake in North America.
How deep is it? You won’t want to dive to the bottom after skiing. The maximum depth of the lake is 1,645 feet. That’s the equivalent of a 125-story building. It’s 22 miles long and 12 miles wide with 72 miles of shoreline. Two-thirds of the lake is California, one-third in Nevada. When you come to ski, only gorgeous Emerald Bay might be frozen in some years. The rest? No way.
There are 14 ski areas that ring the lake from world class ski resorts such as Heavenly (owned by Vail Resorts – think Epic Pass), Palisades-Tahoe (recently renamed from Squaw Valley and owned by Alterra Mountain Co. – think IKON pass) and Northstar California Resort (also owned by Vail Resorts) to smaller, fun areas such as Sugar Bowl and Homewood.
Reno-Tahoe International Airport makes easily accessible ski resorts within reach.
A Tahoe ski vacation comes with terrific built-in nightlife no matter which side of the water you choose. You’ll find casinos and nightlife (often all-night life) on both shores. But there are some differences.
The South Shore is probably your best bet (literally) if you are looking for exciting entertainment, gambling and nightlife into the wee hours. The south shore is filled with bars, live music, and the casinos appeal to the 24-hour crowd looking to dance all night in their clubs and ultra-lounges. Dining options include everything from American to Chinese, Japanese to Vietnamese, Italian to Thai and even a burger or two.
So, if you fly late with the owls and can still get yourself out of bed in the morning to fly with the eagles, Heavenly’s gondola base is right smack in the border-straddling town of Stateline. It may seem a bit farther to go, but Kirkwood Ski area is about a 30-minute drive here. Similarly, family friendly resort Sierra-at-Tahoe is also about 30 minutes away. But, Heavenly is king here.
Heavenly Ski Resort, owned by Vail Resorts is definitely an elf the world class ski resorts at Lake Tahoe. The ski area doesn't limit itself to California, but spills over into Nevada. The gondola departs right from the center of Statelines and brings you into ski-snowboard paradise with 28 ski lifts, 97 trails and over 4,800 acres to enjoy.
You’ll witness sweeping views of Lake Tahoe in one direction and the vast Carson Valley in the other. You won’t need to worry about sunshine either as Heavenly usually delivers 300 days of yellow rays a year. Most everyone who skis or rides here will agree this may be one of the most beautiful ski resorts in the world. You’ll have the feeling you will ski right into Lake Tahoe.
The 4,800 skiable acres spreads across the two states and there’s non-stop tree skiing in Mott and Killebrew Canyons. The snowmaking system here is strong, covering about 75 percent of the mountain, though the natural stuff is so plentiful it is sort of an oxymoron. Heavenly lives up to its name for sure.
Kirkwood, also owned by Vail Resorts, is about a 30-minute drive from Stateline. The resort is well-known for terrific intermediate terrain, but there’s plenty of space for beginners. It is also an ideal mountain to ski or snowboard for advanced and expert skiers. There are 15 ski lifts, 86 trails and 2,300 acres to explore. The resort is known for quality snow and a variety of terrain. Lodging is in the form of condos and motels. The secret: Pow!
Sierra-at-Tahoe is family-friendly, small, but fun in Twin Bridges, about 12 miles south of Stateline. This a laid-back, no hassle ski area with 2,000 acres to play on and 46 trails. There are 9 chairlifts. There are no lodging options at the ski area.
North Lake Tahoe is comprised of multiple lakeside towns, including Truckee, Tahoe City, Kings Beach and Incline Village. While each area offers its own unique atmosphere, they're all big on ski resort access and lake views. This is the largest cluster of ski areas with 10 of them within a long snowball’s toss. The promoters like to accurately say, “Visitors have the freedom to make things as mild or wild as they want any time of the year—on water or land, in the sunshine or snow."
North Shore communities include some posh resorts, bistros, and tons of vacation rentals and plenty of wilderness. While there’s plenty of casino and late night action, it’s a bit tamer on this side of the pond. That said, there’s the legendary Cal-Neva Resort (think Frank Sinatra), Crystal Bay Club, Hyatt-Regency Hotel and the Tahoe Biltmore.
Owned by Vail Resorts, just outside of the south shore town of Truckee, Northstar California Resort is a complete pristine destination with its own Ritz Carlton Club at mid-mountain and a delightful village at the base. Northstar offers 20 ski lifts, 100 trails and 3,170 acres. If you are looking for an upscale family experience in one of the most beautiful self-contained resorts in North America (and the world for that matter), this one should be your first choice.
The 300 inches of snow the resort usually receives are impeccably groomed on Mt. Pluto, an extinct volcano that last erupted more than two million years ago. Now it is the perfect place for cruising. It has a moderate pitch, panoramic views of the lake East Ridge trail, and wide-open runs. More advanced action is available here on 400 acres of Lookout Mounatain. Logger’s Loop will give your legs the ultimate test. It’s the longest run on the mountain at 14 miles. There also are plenty of bumps and glades to keep adventurous skiers and riders more than happy on the backside.
There’s all types of lodging, but if it’s elegance and convenience you are looking for and your credit card will allow, by all means check into the ski-in, ski-out Ritz Carlton Hotel.
Palisades-Tahoe was recently renamed from Squaw Valley and is a favorite for its phenomenal views of the lake, long runs and challenging terrain with more than 177 runs. This is not a self-contained resort, so you can stay anywhere in the region and get to the hill via ski bus or car, though there is plenty of lodging on site including the Village or down the hill at the luxurious Resort at Squaw Creek.
You may be old enough to remember that the very first televised Winter Olympics was held at Squaw Valley in 1960 with the ceremonies produced by Disney. The name change was spurred by the appellation “Squaw” becoming offensive to indigenous women over the years. The region is known as Olympic Valley.
Skiing and snowboarding at Palisades is a great experience any time of the winter. However, it is especially welcoming during its long spring season, culminating with a festival in the village most years Memorial Day Weekend. It has become an epicenter for spring skiing and riding with the longest season in Tahoe. Those sunny skies and major accumulation of snow make for some unforgettable times you’ll “warmly” remember.
Palisades-Tahoe is owned by the Alterra Mountain Co. and the name change seemed appropriate as they also merged with neighboring Alpine Meadows, another long-time favorite resort of the San Francisco Bay Area skier base.
A long-awaited base-to-base gondola is planned to open for the 2022-23 ski season. It will take 15 minutes and there are no intermediate stops. It is expected to significantly reduce road traffic between the two popular ski areas. And, road traffic on I-80 can be formidable. Many believe this is among Lake Tahoe's best resorts with good reason.
This is fairly small (380 acres) and draws a young crowd. It's big enough for 8 ski lifts, however. Boreal gets a big-time 400 inches of average annual snowfall. Add in the California sunshine and this means that Boreal is a perfect place to ski and snowboard all year long. The vibe is pure snowboard. Night slopes are open until 9 p.m.
Boreal is home base to a Woodward Camp facility, an action sports hub, including the Bunker, an 33,000-square-foot indoor building as well as a terrain park system on the mountain. Woodward Mountain Park starts with base area learning zone, and then the parks gradually work their way up and down the mountain. Each park is an entire experience built for each ability level. It's clearly a local favorite.
It’s smaller yet, but has 6 ski lifts and 655 acres of terrain, providing astounding views of Lake Tahoe from its main quad lift. The Hyatt Regency Casino Hotel is located here in Incline Village. It’s a high-end lakefront resort with classy rooms, 7 bars and restaurants, a spa, pool and ski shuttle.
Donner is located near I-80 and Boreal, provides 8 ski lifts across 505 acres. Yes, this is where the ill-fated Donner Party spent a winter of discontent, murder and alleged cannibalism. This is one of the oldest ski areas in the Western U.S. (1937). It’s high elevation at 8,000 feet at the top means there can be plenty of powder to play in. There’s plenty of terrain for beginners, intermediate skiers and advanced skiers and snowboards here. By the way, Donner Ski Ranch was one of the first areas in the west to welcome snowboarders.
Homewood ski resort is located on the west side of Lake Tahoe (close to the North Shore) and serves skiers and riders with 8 lifts and 67 trails. It’s definitely “homey” and the vibe is primarily local, but if you’re looking for a relatively inexpensive and relaxing day away from the “megas,” give it a ski. It's fun for the whole family.
This is the longest running ski resort in California, dates all the way back to 1931 and offers 2 ski lifts and 15 trails. It sits at a lower elevation – 6,700 feet - and some 80 percent of the terrain is devoted to beginners and intermediates. Take a day for nearby cross-country skiing at Royal Gorge.
This is a convenient stop if heading up from the Reno Airport. It's a large area that deserves some of your attention, particularly if you choose to stay in “The Biggest Little City in the World” and take advantage of good hotel rates, gambling and entertainment. There are 6 lifts, 60 trails and 1,200 acres. Tahoe Donner, although small, is very family-friendly with a ski school for all ages.
Here's another winner and a historical resort on Mt. Disney, with 13 ski lifts, 103 trails and 1,500 acres across four mountain peaks. Here’s a dirty little secret: This sugar is wonderfully sweet! Don’t look for a major mega-destination resort here. It’s not the largest ski resort, but if you combine skiing for a few days with visits to other Tahoe ski resorts, you’ll be more than happy.
This is is the closest major ski area to Sacramento and the Bay Area, so it receives a good number of day trippers on weekends. Still, Sugar Bowl resort can be wrongfully overlooked, so it provides less of a hassle.
Walt Disney himself was an original investor here, dating back to 1939, but there’s nothing Mickey Mouse about the place. It’s not glamourous or glitzy. But, it’s modern with a good lift system, solid grooming and some terrain parks. You’re wise not to pass it by.
There really is a town that straddles both California and Nevada – hence the name, “Stateline.” Stateline is probably the most popular place to stay and play on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. It is right on the border of California, but since casinos are not allowed in the Golden State, you will need to be on the Nevada side to do any gaming. The small town has 5 casinos, including its famous Harrahs, Harvey’s Ballys and the Hard Rock. There are lots of tourist attractions as well.
Tourism marketers promoting the Reno Tahoe area say: “This is where the largest alpine lake collides with the Biggest Little City in the World.” Reno's nickname arose as a result of the wide range of cosmopolitan amenities in a city of its relatively small size. Reno is located in the western part of the state near the California border and what it lacks in glitz or reputation more than makes up for in attractions and amenities, including first-rate hotels, golf courses and casinos to rival Las Vegas, its southern counterpart. Also like Las Vegas, Reno has become a popular destination for families where Galena Creek Park offers nature trails even young children can navigate, plus organized educational events for families.
The small mountain town sits on Lake Tahoe’s north shore and at the head of the Truckee River and is a walkable community with a vibrant mix of recreation, lively culture, and natural beauty.
There are several winter activities in addition to skiing or snowboarding in Lake Tahoe that are family-friendly, such as snow parks and ice skating. Love animals? Take a ride in a horse-drawn sleighs. Try snowshoeing to locate the beautiful vistas. Feel the need for speed? Take an exciting snowmobile tour. With a heritage dating back to the Gold Rush, when fortune hunters passed through on their way to mine for silver in the Comstock Lode, North Lake Tahoe’s Tahoe City has a rich history. The town is home to museums and historical landmarks.
A visitor to Trip Advisor said it all: “One of our favorite places to visit is Truckee, partly for its proximity to Northstar, Donner Lake, and Lake Tahoe, and also because it's a little closer to the Bay Area than Tahoe (about 20-30 minutes). Plus, the town is so laid-back and the setting so beautiful that we can't help but love it.”
Donner Pass, including Donner Memorial State Park, is a good side trip when visiting Truckee. And the same goes for the nearby Historic Downtown.
Yes, Royal Gorge Cross-Country Ski Resort is located off I-80 near Donner Memorial Park. It’s extensive trail network covers thousands of acres of High Sierra wilderness. It brands itself as “North America’s largest cross-county ski resort” and with 9,000 acres of skiable terrain and 600 inches of average annual snowfall, there’s not much argument to the claim. There is lodging throughout the area and in Soda Springs. There’s nothing really like it in the country.
February is the snowiest month of the year at Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts and you can generally count on great conditions. However, many Tahoe enthusiasts will tell you that springtime in the abundant sunshine is absolutely ideal. The ski season runs from Thanksgiving until late April and often beyond.
We show you all the resorts where you can currently ski. Just check out our Open Ski Resorts at Lake Tahoe.
We vote for the North Shore because of the sheer number of resort choices and the more relaxed atmosphere. That, said, you must drive around the lake to ski Heavenly for at least a day. It has few rivals.
Of course, that’s where Heavenly and Kirkwood reside. There are just not as many choices.
Lake Tahoe’s communities daily temperatures hover around 18 degrees F. Normally, you won't see temperatures climbing above freezing at 32 degrees F in January and it will typically stay above 4 degrees F. January is the coldest month. Lake Tahoe’s mountains get an average of 215.4 inches of snowfall, or a little under 18 feet.
Upper elevations can get between 300 and 500 inches per year. March is usually the snowiest month around the lake. Some ski resorts are open through May, though some operate through June and occasionally into July.
During the winter, the weather at Lake Tahoe varies from blizzard conditions to clear, crisp sunny days, and it's always cold. The sun might shine clear in the morning and by afternoon you might find another foot of snow on the ground. Driving conditions from the Bay Area can sometimes be dicey. Check before you go.
The Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Reno is the closest major airport to Tahoe at 48 miles with commercial airline services. Several passenger airlines fly in and out of Reno, and the airport has recently added a number of non-stop flight destinations from the Lake Tahoe region. There also are hotel shuttles, shuttles up to the lake resorts, Reno bus service and car rental agencies.
The airport offers 23 non-stop flights serviced by 9 airlines, including American, Alaska, Delta, Frontier, with convenient connections from virtually any city in the U.S. and abroad. Several airlines are offering direct connections to new flights to Orange County and Palm Springs, in Southern California. The Orange County flights, via Southwest Airlines, are seasonal, as are the Alaska Airlines flights to Palm Springs.
Several Lake Tahoe ski resorts offer Reno shuttle service from the airport and/or area casino resorts. You can grab an Uber or Lyft if you’re heading to Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe only minutes from downtown. North Lake Tahoe Express shuttle service offers year-round service between the Reno-Tahoe International Airport and the North Lake Tahoe and Truckee area.
You can schedule your shuttle to and from several North Lake Tahoe locations, including Northstar, Kings Beach, Incline Village, Tahoe City and more. The Diamond Peak free shuttle is available to skiers traveling from Incline Village to Diamond Peak. Enjoy the convenience of being dropped off right at the resort with easy access to the slopes. For those heading to Heavenly Ski Resort, the Tahoe Transportation District connects South Lake Tahoe and Carson City and the Carson Valley.
A ski vacation to Lake Tahoe ranks right up there with a vacay to Colorado or Utah. The snow is plentiful (though not as powdery) and the nightlife beats both of those states if you love to gamble and play late. The region is one of the most beautiful places on earth and that, alone, is a good reason to come here. You may want to rent a car so you can sample several resorts during you time here. That’s the beauty of Lake Tahoe skiing and riding.