Located near the California-Nevada border near Truckee, Northstar is one of America’s up-and-coming ski resorts. A new base village has transformed an oft-overlooked ski area into Tahoe’s trendiest destination resort.
While advanced skiers complain that the resort's terrain is uninteresting and generally unchallenging, families and intermediates will love the abundant grooming and excellent snow conditions. Lake Tahoe is visible from several points on the mountain.
One of the Lake Tahoe ski resorts, Northstar has a reciprocal lift pass system with Alpine Meadows, Heavenly, Kirkwood, Sierra at Tahoe, and Squaw Valley. Between them they access over 17,000 acres (6,800 ha) of skiing. Northstar itself has 2,420 acres (979 ha) of skiable terrain and excellent snowmaking capabilities. With the ability to cover 24 football fields with a foot (30 cm) of snow in 24 hours, it can open early with a full mountain. The ski season runs from mid-November to mid-April. Peak season is November 25th to December 31st, and Jaunary 14th to February 19th. There are 16 lifts serving the all-ability ski trails, six terrain parks, two halfpipes and facilities for cross-country skiing and tubing.
The varied terrain includes long cruisers, moguls, tree skiing and a variety of freestyle terrain features for all levels of experience. The longest trail is 2.9 miles (4.7 km), and the most challenging trail-the black diamond Iron Horse-is a great challenge for intermediates. It's long and steep but groomed.
Lookout Mountain is a recent addition. It has 200 acres (80 ha) of advanced terrain accessed by a high-speed quad, Lookout Mountain Express. Lookout Mountain includes snowmaking, a vertical drop of 1,200 feet (360 m) and five black-diamond trails: Prosser, Stampede, Gooseneck, Boca, and Martis.
The ski area includes terrain parks for boarders and trick skiers, and for younger skiers and snowboarders, there are Adventure Parks-terrain parks built just for kids where everything is their size. The parks are designed with bumps, jumps and secret hideouts as well as special snow play areas where kids can kick off their skis and snowboards and just have fun in the snow. And since the trails are built right off mainstream trails, parents are never far away. Adventure Parks are patrolled by Northstar's ski patrol. There are Adventure Parks at various locations-check the trail map to see where each park is located.
Out of the village, you can take either the Big Springs Express Gondola to mid-mountain or the new Village Express high speed quad chairlift to Vista Express. There is also one rope tow, bringing skiers to the top of the Lookout Mountain and three Magic Carpets in the ski school area. The lifts open 8:30 am to 4:00 pm during the regular season and 8:00 am to 4:30 pm during peak season. Lift lines can be long on major holidays and busy weekends, but skiing on the Backside or Lookout Mountain can be surprisingly quiet even on busy days. There are plans to replace the Pioneer double chair with a high-speed quad.
Another option is to take the Vista Express quad and follow Skid Trail, then Lumberjack and into The Gulch, through the Bear Paw learning area and down Village Run to the base of the Big Springs Express gondola, where you started. Then you can do it all over again. Most beginners, once comfortable on skis or a snowboard, can handle the blue trails off the Arrow Express chair.
One choice might be to take the Arrow Express and then the Comstock Express quad to the summit. Then take the East Ridge trail to the top of the Vista Express quad, then Logger's Loop and The Woods to the base of the gondola. Alternatively you could take the West Ridge trail from the summit, then Lookout Road and Boondocks to join up with Home Run back to the base of the gondola. Between these two ridges are plenty of other single blues that join up easily with one another, making a day's skiing for intermediates full of variety.
Take the Arrow Express and Comstock Express to the summit and head in the opposite direction from East Ridge along the black diamond Sierra Grande. There are several choices for descent (all black diamond trails): Rail Splitter or Challenger, or continue along Sierra Grande to join up with Challenger further down. Then either go for some backcountry skiing along Sawtooth Ridge (conditions permitting) or carry on along Down Under to the bottom of the Backside Express Chair and do it all over again. In 2000 a new black diamond area was opened on Lookout Mountain, with plenty of steep mogul and tree trails. It joins the rest of the mountain via the Pioneer chair. The Backside trees are best for powder. There are no double black diamond trails so experts may be disappointed. The only off-piste skiing area (conditions permitting) is at Sawtooth Ridge, off the black diamond trails below Mount Pluto.
For a shot of adrenaline, head to the award winning Freestyle Parks and hit the bumps, jumps, jibs, tabletops, and halfpipes. The superpipe and halfpipe are located at mid-mountain. All the freestyle terrain parks and features are located off Vista Express chairlift on the front side of Northstar. All parks have snowmaking for solid cover. A professional grooming crew shapes and cuts the terrain features on a regular basis, providing fresh options for skiers and snowboarders.
All the restaurants have special kids' meals for those aged 12 years and under. On the mountain the best spot is the Summit Deck & Grille at the top of Mount Pluto, with great views of Lake Tahoe, but you must be able to ski/ride down on intermediate trails. The other choice is the Lodge at Big Springs. Open for breakfast and lunch daily, it has pizzas, burgers and salads, and for entertainment you can watch the boarders in the Superpipe below. Picnic tables are also available at the top of Vista, Pioneer and Comstock chairs.
The Tahoe Mountain Club maintains a private, members-only facility near the top of the Zephyr lift. This facility, known as Schaffer's Camp, serves outstanding cuisine in a relaxed environment. No ski boots in here - members trade in their boots for comfy slippers.
One of the finest base villages in North America, the Village at Northstar incorporates posh new hotels, condominiums, restaurants and retail into a vibrant and inviting alpine setting. The centerpiece of the new complex is a large outdoor skating rink, complete with heated rinkside bar booths so parents can watch their youngsters while they enjoy an adult libation.
Take a stroll around the Village at Northstar and you'll be sure to see plenty of smiles. Whether it's a group of children roasting s'mores over a firepit, a couple skating hand-in-hand around the rink or a family strolling through the plaza, one thing is certain - the Village at Northstar is a happy place.
All the bars are primarily après-ski places, so they are suitable for all and there are no restrictions on children coming in. The Alpine Bar features major sporting events on multiple T.V.s, live music, games, pool tables and an arcade. Appetizers and full bar are available. The minimum legal age to be able to buy or drink alcohol is 21 years.
In the village, Timbercreek Restaurant has been voted one of Tahoe's best restaurants. Try out its California-American cuisine, with hints of Pacific Rim flair. The Ski Express breakfast buffet, lunch and dinner are served daily mid-December through April. There's also an après-ski bar with café and children's menu. Reservations recommended. At Cippolini's Pizzeria there's homemade pizza and calzones with soup and a salad bar. Use the on-mountain pizza phone at the top of the Big Springs Express Gondola to place your order. Takeout orders are welcome. Go to the Village Food Company for daily breakfast specials, sandwiches and sushi for lunch, and dinner specials.
A unique feature at Northstar is Polaris Park, across from the Lodge at Big Springs, an evening adventure park for skiing, boarding, tubing, snow toys, live entertainment and dancing. It's open most Fridays, Saturdays and peak season evenings until 7:00 pm. Tickets can be obtained from the Tubing Center at the top of the gondola.
While Baxter's, TC's Pub, and the Chocolate Bar are popular options for enjoying a post-skiing cocktail, the best place to grab a hot toddy or irish coffee is the Cabana Bar, adjacent to the ice skating rink. More "South Beach" than North Lake Tahoe, the chic Cabana Bar is one of the hottest apres-ski scenes in California. Come early to grab one of the heated booths or a coveted spot around a firepit.
The Swim & Racquet Club has a pool, three outdoor spas, a youth center with a full range of activities, and a fitness center.
Snow toys are available from Tube Town at mid-mountain from noon to 4:00 pm. Head down the mountain on a snowbike or take to the half-pipe on a snowscoot. Or maybe try your hand at a skifox, which will carve short or long turns. All snow toys are for 12 years and older except for the K2 Juniorbike for ages 8 to 12. There's also a packed events calendar that takes shape every season-check out the website at www.northstarattahoe.com for full details.
Northstar resort recreation center
The Recreation Center is open year-round, 8:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. It has a heated pool, outdoor spas, game room, fitness centre and adult quiet area.