Where do you go to ski in Northern California on New Year’s Day for light crowds, easy access, good snow, fun terrain and insanely beautiful views of one of the most spectacular lakes in the ski world? Homewood ski area on the western shore of Lake Tahoe meets all the criteria, plus it’s a pretty good bargain. My 22-year old son Vince and I were in the midst of a fantastic, but logistically challenging western ski safari when we made the decision to visit Homewood for crowd avoidance on one of the highest traffic ski days of the year. We had a great time and along with the aforementioned benefits stumbled onto something unexpected and unforgettable, one of the prettiest double black diamond runs of my life.
Homewood has a folksy base area. Actually, there are two of them a short distance apart, North and South Lodges. Nobody parks more than about 75 yards from a lift at either spot. The road that leads to Homewood is Highway 89/West Lake Blvd and what I found amazing about it is that one side of the street has ski lifts and the other has lake front homes. Unassuming as it may seem at first glance; this is a neighborhood of simultaneously slopeside and lakeside real estate and illustrates just how close the ski area is to Lake Tahoe. If you want to incorporate fantastic, in-your-face lake views with your visit to the Tahoe region, then Homewood is a must ski.
The base area looks very intimate, but this is deceptive. Although modest in size for the Tahoe region, Homewood has four chairlifts that rise in the neighborhood of 1,000 vertical feet each. The trail layout blossoms into a lot of varied ski terrain as you ascend the lifts, 1,260 acres of varied terrain to be exact. The North Lodge base features a small beginner area served by surface lifts, but also provides access to the upper mountain via the very steep Madden Triple Chair. From there we found a bunch of fun intermediate groomers off the Old Homewood Express Quad. This trail pod is where intermediates can cruise to their heart’s content with a spectacular Lake Tahoe backdrop on almost every run. Even by noon time on New Year’s Day the lines were very manageable here.
Moving towards looker’s left (south) of the Old Homewood Express quad the terrain feeds into a natural valley split by the Ellis Triple Chair. It climbs to the ski area’s highest point, elevation 7,880’ and serves some great terrain, including steep groomers, bumped-up hillsides, and glades ranging from blue square to double black diamond in difficulty. Riding the Ellis Triple Chair we could see off in the distance a steepish open mountainside at the southern boundary of the ski area called Quail Face. It looked to have good snow and no people.
Our outing at Homewood started as a scenic, mellow recovery day from a long drive the prior night after skiing all day in Oregon. But later in the afternoon I told Vince we should check out Quail Face just to say we got a look at what humble Homewood considers double black diamond “sidecountry.” To get there we had to take a long, tree-lined cat track requiring a few short herringbone climbs, just enough trouble to keep out the riffraff. When we made it to the ski area boundary at the end of the cat track a view opened up of Lake Tahoe that was absolutely jaw-dropping. I was happy for Vince because he had never skied the region before and this was “postcard” Tahoe.
Then I looked down Quail Face (specifically, the section identified on the trail map as Main Cirque). It was a whole lot steeper than it looked from a mile across the other side of the ski area, a whole lot! Vince never hesitated, but when he dropped over the edge I cried out, “I’m scared. Don’t get too far downslope in case I have a problem.” There was no one else within sight, or thank goodness, earshot.
Main Cirque was maybe 700 vertical feet of non-stop-steep and loaded with soft, cut-up stale snow from a five foot dump ten days before. It was the kind of tricky, semi-bottomless stuff you couldn’t make a pole plant in if you got stuck. Everything worked out, we had a great run, and Vince was very patient. But for myself I’ll remember it as the flail on quail. I’m pretty sure Main Cirque was the steepest pitch of anything I personally skied on our two week trip encompassing seven different ski areas. All of them were larger and more famous than Homewood. What an eye opener, never underestimate the little guy.
Skiing can be expensive around Lake Tahoe, but Homewood offers some nice deals such as numerous $44 value days midweek and on Super Bowl Sunday, free non-holiday skiing for active duty military, and $35 Thursdays for pass holders from any other resort. Check the Homewood website for details and more offerings.
Husband, father and retired civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim's ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism's Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article.