Nowhere in North America do plentiful sunshine, acclaimed cuisine, and world-renowned wines compliment abundant snowfall and breathtaking scenery more so than in California.
Often viewed as Squaw Valley's less hyped little brother, Alpine Meadow is a world-class ski resort waiting to be discovered. The relaxed pace and family-friendly environment at Alpine Meadows makes it a popular resort. However, as one might expect, being Squaw's next door neighbour also means that Alpine Meadows has some seriously intense terrain and outstanding snow. At Alpine Meadows you have the chance to enjoy the natural life while skiing some of the toughest terrain in North America. Little wonder that Skiing Magazine called Alpine Meadows "a mountain with a distinctly split personality: a mild side and a wild side."
Arguably America's most beautiful ski resort with incredible vistas of North America's largest mountain lake, few ski resorts can match Heavenly's 24-hour "nightlife", abundant snowfall and sunshine. A day spent schussing down Heavenly's 4,000+ acres will be sure to have most skiers remembering the breathtaking views for years to come. Heavenly's expansive network of lifts, terrain and trails boasts Lake Tahoe's highest elevation, longest vertical drop and largest snowmaking system. Not tired after all that vertical and acreage? Then head to the Nevada side for a night of slot machines, table games and unsurpassed nightlife. Heavenly truly is more than one kind of ski destination.
A short hour's drive south of Lake Tahoe lies one of America's best kept ski secrets - Kirkwood. A rugged mountain with a decidedly mean streak, Kirkwood is big mountain skiing at its finest. Throw in over 400 inches of annual snowfall and you've got a Shangri-la that'll have you acting like a kid again in no time. Feel like playing hooky? A quaint and convenient alpine village offers a variety of lodging options to suit most budgets.
Ask a skier to name a resort that they've never skied, but would give an arm and a leg to visit (keep the leg…you'll need it) and Mammoth Mountain quite often tops the list. The problem with Mammoth ski resort is accessibility. Getting there is simply a pain. The addition of nonstop flights from L.A. this winter has alleviated some of the problem, but for most, Mammoth remains a whispered promise, a mystical powder paradise hidden in a far-flung corner of the Sierra Nevada. However, those who make it to Mammoth certainly aren't complaining. The resort has one of the longest seasons anywhere in the world (typically early November to June), soaks up over 300 days of sunshine per year and boasts a gaudy 3,500 skiable acres. Simply put, Mammoth is a beast worth visiting.
New management transformed a decideldy average ski area into California's hottest destination ski resort. Northstar is Tahoe's ugly duckling that grew up to be a swan. With a new Ritz Carlton scheduled to open in 2010, Northstar's metamorphosis is nearly complete. The resort has one of the best and swankiest base villages in North America, replete with high-end shops and restaurants, many of which are surprisingly affordable. While some complain the skiing is less than exciting, recent terrain expansions have brought some fun and sporty ski trails within the resort's boundaries. An excellent choice for families and intermediates, Northstar is a worthy addition to any Tahoe ski vacation.
It may be one of the less heralded ski areas in the Lake Tahoe region, but don't let Sierra-at-Tahoe's unassuming demeanor fool you. 480 inches of snow, 2,000 acres of terrain and 2,112 feet of vertical rise combine to make Sierra-at-Tahoe one of Tahoe's top ski destinations. Three express chairlifts will whiz you up the hill and stunning views of the lake will captivate you on the way down. While, Sierra-at-Tahoe's terrain compares favorably to many of the resorts in the region, lodging options are limited. Those looking for slopeside accommodation after a long day at this California gem will be disappointed to learn that there is no on-site lodging or pedestrian village at Sierra-at-Tahoe. The closest hotels are in South Lake Tahoe, a quick 12 mile drive away.
From the moment you arrive at Squaw Valley, you know you've reached a special place. Host to the 1960 Winter Olympic Games, Squaw Valley has some of the steepest, baddest terrain in North America. And while the death-defying steeps of KT-22 seem at odds with the charming new pedestrian village at the mountain's doorstep, no one seems to notice. After a day of sun-soaked laps on the tram, even the most hardcore skier can't help but love a little pampering, a good meal, and a warm bed. Located on the north shore of Lake Tahoe, Squaw's terrain is complimented by excellent views of the lake from the upper portions of the mountain. Squaw is renowned for its expert terrain, but beginners will love the learning terrain located on a large flat ridge atop the mountain. All in all, Squaw is one of America's finest ski destinations and one which is not to be missed by any serious skier.
Getting to California
Skiers visiting California can choose from a wide variety of airports. The most popular choices for visitors to the Tahoe region is Reno-Tahoe International Airport in Nevada, some 45 minutes from South Lake Tahoe. San Francisco International Airport is also a good choice, particularly for those traveling to North Lake Tahoe resorts such as Squaw or Alpine Meadows. Located roughly 3.5 hours from North Lake Tahoe, San Francisco has the advantage of being a major hub with hundreds of nonstop flights. Be forewarned, however, that the drive from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe involves navigating treacherous alpine passes and winding roads. Snow tyres, 4-wheel drive and/or snow chains are often required. The Amtrak train from San Francisco/Oakland to Truckee is an excellent option for those not accustomed to mountain driving.