Kirkwood Ski Resort

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Kirkwood is the mountain itself—the massive rock face of thimble peak at 9,800 feet (2,987 m) dominates and leads to a forest of gully trails dropping down to allow a massive vertical fall-line. Here you’ll find the deepest and best snow quality in the Lake Tahoe region.

Once a simple way-station for weary trans-Sierra travelers, then a humble ski resort founded in the early 1970s, the Kirkwood Mountain Resort is now a favorite for those who enjoy the best snow and some of the best skiing and riding in the western states.

At Kirkwood skiers will find America's deepest snow  (600"+ annually) sprinkled with luxurious accommodations, shopping and fine dining, all within the confines of a brand new mountain village. Kirkwood is famous for deep snow. In fact, in the 2000's the resort boasted the deepest snow in North America for seven of the 10 seasons. And lest one think the measurements are pure PR bluster, the resort verified its measurements against those taken by government agencies in the surrounding areas.

But forget the statistics, Kirkwood is all about powder. When it snows, Kirkwood can pile up snow totals that are so high they are almost unskiably deep. All this snow is put to good use at Kirkwood filling in horseshoe-shaped, cornice-lined mountains dotted with steep chutes and wide open bowls. Add to that a vast surround in every direction of endless miles of protected Wilderness and Forest Service Land, and you have a unique balance of a world-class mountain with all the creature comforts in a pristine sanctuary. No wonder the resort attracts a variety of enthusiasts. However, unlike many other resorts with world-class expert terrain, such as Jackson Hole, the atmosphere at Kirkwood is definitely low-key. Nightlight and restaurant options are limited. Kirkwood is a place where people gather for one purpose - skiing.

Kirkwood Ski Area

Because Kirkwood is at a much higher elevation than the rest of the South Shore resorts—its base elevation begins at 7,800 feet (2,377 m)—it consistently receives the most and the best snow.

So its 2,300 acres (932 ha) of wide-open terrain promises something for everyone-from gentle groomed trails through hair-raising steeps and chutes, but most of the skiing is for intermediates and above with only 15 percent of the ski area suitable for beginners. Artificial snowmaking covers 5% of the resort (115 acres). From the base elevation of the village the highest point of 9,800 feet (2,987m) allows a maximum vertical descent of 2,000 feet (610 m).

Kirkwood Ski Lifts & Lift Passes

Kirkwood’s ski area is served by two high speed quads,eight chairlifts, and two handle tows, with a capacity for 17,905 skiers per hour.

The lift system is graded to match level of difficulty of the terrain accessed from the top of each lift. The easiest, distinguished by the usual green circle, gives access to the beginners' trails off chairs #1 and #9, and off chair #7. The more difficult intermediate terrain is shown by a blue square and includes trails off chairs #2, #3, #4, #5, #7, and #11. For advanced skiers and riders, a single black diamond is used which includes trails off chair lifts #4, #6, and #11. Finally the expert trails are denoted by two black diamonds and are reachable by chairlifts #4, #6, and #10. Lifts start from 8:30-9:00 am and close at 4:00-4:30 pm.

The resort recently installed its first high-speed quad chair (the first of several planned high speed detachable ones), which will transport skiers from the Mountain Village to the top of the mountain in just four minutes. Other new lifts and upgrades will increase lift capacity from the Timber Creek area to the Mountain Village and incorporate an on-mountain restaurant at the top of Caples Crest. Kirkwood's new Mountain Master Development Plan (MMDP) will, over the next decade, provide lift access to hundreds of further acres of "hike-to" terrain and reduce travel time from the front side to the back side of the resort by more than 50 percent.

Kirkwood Beginner Skiing

Kirkwood's beginner skiing choices are somewhat limited. The Timber Creek area is home to the bulk of Kirkwood's green trails.

Most of the green trails are located in the Timber Creek, and because the area does not appeal to the advanced skier, it is a much more comfortable, less intimidating experience for the first-time skier. Four green trails are serviced by the Bunny Triple Chair. On the other side of the Timber Creek base area, the Timber Creek Express Quad services a lone beginner run - Squirrel Ridge. The Mighty Mountain Children's Center is also located at Timber Ridge Base.

On the main side of the resort, beginners have only one lift which services green terrain - the Snowkirk Triple. Two runs - Snowkirk and Hay Flat - are the only options. There are no green runs from the summit.

Kirkwood Intermediate Skiing

Intermediates have 50 percent of the total terrain to carve up. Elevator Shaft is the steepest intermediate run.

A classic ski itinerary might be to warm up on chair #7 for a couple runs then take it up and ski down Up 'n' Over to the front side of the mountain. Try the runs on chair #5 starting skiers right on Lower Monte Wolfe and moving skiers left to Mokelumne, and then Lower Zachary.  Next head to chair #11 and take Buckboard, if with children, also try Snowsnake Gully.

Good time for a lunch break at Bub's Sports Bar and Grill or Monte Wolfe. After lunch head to chair #2 and try Bark Shanty. After a couple runs on chair #2 head over to the backside, chair #4, via Herringbone Straight and Bud's Alley, and try Elevator Shaft and Happiness Is.

Kirkwood Expert Skiing

Kirkwood's expert skiing is on par with anywhere in North America. The best area is accessed from chairs #6 and 10 and Thunder Saddle (off chair #4) while the toughest skiing is Look Out Janek; Steep and Deep Wagon Wheel Bowl and Thunder Saddle.

For powder it has to be Palisades Bowl, Wagon Wheel Bowl, Thunder Saddle and Fawn Ridge. For advanced or expert skier the classic route really depends on the weather and conditions. Powder days are totally different than non-powder days and there are many powder days at Kirkwood.  

On a non-powder day perhaps take a few warm- up runs on chair #11 (Wagon Trail and Conestoga).  Next head to chair #6 and ski Sentinel Bowl, Olympic, and Monte Wolfe. When conditions are good off-piste, go for Lost Cabin and over to Rabbit Runs. After a few laps on each of these trails head to chair #10 and look for the best lines from the chair.  The Wall, Eagle Bowl, and Norm's Nose are all popular trails. Finally make your way over to the backside and take a few trails off chair #4 before heading in via Thunder Saddle.

Boundaries are open at management's discretion and there is unlimited expert terrain accessible. Wagon Wheel Bowl from the top of the cornice (accessed by chair #6 or chair #10) offers steep terrain, which funnels into narrow chutes. Chamoix from chair #6 is a narrow, steep chute. If you continue to explore right of Chamoix, there is a series of great steep pitches with often some of the best snow (no sun exposure). There are numerous snow-filled steep chutes in the Thunder Saddle area, the toughest being Hell's Delight (right along the Cirque boundary line).

Kirkwood Snowboarding

Kirkwood is a favorite among freestyle skiers and snowboarders because of its big mountain terrain.

With the varied terrain, especially the number of steep shoots and gullies, the entire resort is a bit of a natural terrain park. In response to a growing demand by skiers and riders for a terrain park system that rivals Kirkwood's natural terrain, Kirkwood is committed to its terrain park program.

Kirkwood now has three terrrain parks, Adventure Land offering gentle rollers and ski-through tunnels; DC shoes playground which has beginner and medium sized jumps designed to hone jib skills; and Kirkwood's main park DC shoes Stomping Grounds, which has jumps, a sound system and a Superpipe. Park riders can always find a variety of freestyle terrain suitable for their ability and interest. The parks offer hits, jumps, tables, spines, and handrails.

Kirkwood Mountain Restaurants

There are eight restaurants on and (mostly) off the mountain offering cafeteria and deli-style refreshment as well as more upscale dining at the resort’s main full-service restaurant, Off the Wall Bar & Grill.

Located in the Lodge at Kirkwood, diners can appreciate spectacular views (along Kirkwood's ridge tops from Thimble Peak to Martin Point) in an intimate setting complete with a cozy fireplace and overstuffed chairs. Sunrise Grill near the base of chair #4 is a quick-stop place serving barbequed ribs, burgers, chicken, snacks, and beverages for avid skiers who want to keep their energy levels high without coming in off the slopes. Outdoor seating in beach-style chairs, and good music make it a great place to just relax in the sun. Bub's Sports Bar and Grill in the village is the place to go for a family-friendly atmosphere. Bub's specializes in all-American cuisine.

Kirkwood Resort

The small resort is currently undergoing a US$250 million metamorphosis from a day skier’s mountain to a year-round destination resort.

It's already showcasing a new ski-in, ski-out Mountain Village with numerous stores and restaurants and an ice rink at the plaza's edge, offering full amenities to serve both destination visitors and the local community, much like the famous Telluride Ski Resort in Colorado. Other new developments include Kirkwood's Cornice Café, remodeled and reopened as Bub's Sports Bar and Grill, and now a popular place for families. A swimming and fitness complex has also been completed for year-round operation.

Kirkwood Bars & Restaurants

Kirkwood has six bars and Bub’s Sports Bar and Grill is the most popular bar and evening hangout for all age groups. Bub’s boasts a full-service bar, big- screen T.V.s, pool tables, and a warm, inviting atmosphere.

For a great spot to end the day, skiers head for Off the Wall Bar & Grill. Only 35 highway miles (56 km) away, South Lake Tahoe has over 100 dining establishments, 65 lodgings properties, shopping, dancing, live music, entertainment, and gaming action at the casinos where celebrities take the stage every night of the week.

Kirkwood Other Activities

If you seek other snow thrills, sample some of the 50 miles (80 km) of scenic cross-country skiing, or try a horse-drawn sleigh ride.

But you don't have to be skiing to enjoy your time at Kirkwood. Just outside Kirkwood there are several trails for snowmobiling. There are lakes for ice fishing, and Grover Hot Springs- a natural outdoor mineral pool -in Markleeville is just a 45-minute drive down the mountain. Slide Mountain Tubing Park opened two years ago.

Kirkwood Rating
  • Ski Area star rating
  • Snowsure star rating
  • Advanced star rating
  • Intermediates star rating
  • Beginners star rating
  • Ski Lift System star rating
  • Lift Queues star rating
  • Scenery star rating
  • Resort Charm star rating
  • Apres Ski star rating
  • Non-Skiers star rating
  • Getting There star rating
  • Kirkwood Statistics
  • CountryUSA
  • StateCalifornia
  • Beginner15 %
  • Intermediate50 %
  • Advanced35 %
  • Number of ski lifts10
  • Surface lifts2
  • Riders per hour17905
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