Northstar is “the Little Resort that Could.” Actually, it is far from little, but is often eclipsed by its more famous neighbors on the Lake - such as Squaw Valley, Mt. Rose, or Heavenly. The blizzard forced some of the resorts to close all or part of their mountain, so our scheduled trip to Heavenly that day was cancelled. Perhaps more of the areas should have closed, including the resort close to Las Vegas. There, a surprise avalanche swept a 13-year old snowboarder to his death - the force was so intense it knocked him off his chairlift and buried him in 7 feet of snow.
Northstar, on the California side, was excellent. Much of it is sheltered by trees, and it did not have the intense wind of the other resorts. It is a family-friendly mountain, and we saw many families skiing together. The resort has a total of 70 trails and 17 lifts. The highest elevation, Mt. Pluto, is 8,610 feet. Fifty percent of the trails are listed as intermediate - it is not the place that attracts the extreme, acrobatic skiers and boarders we saw at Squaw and Mt. Rose. Frankly, I felt very comfortable at Northstar - it suits me, and deserves the numerous awards it has won.
The visibility was improving (briefly), with no whiteout conditions. But the wet snow continued to stick to goggles and gloves. We were not able to view Lake Tahoe below us, but everyone assured us the massive lake was there. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed a few hours of skiing, and there was no drama or fight for survival. At one time, on a secluded trail on the edge of the woods, Charles said we should stop and listen to the sound of the snow falling on our ski helmets. It was beautiful, alone in the woods, sharing “the sounds of silence.” Very few people came by, and we had the trail to ourselves. That is great if you are not lost or hurt.
After a few hours, our legs were spent, fighting the wet snow. We did not get into much powder, and were on groomed trails as much as possible. But, the endless series of blizzards - which had begun on December 28th, made skiing a difficult undertaking.
I would definitely recommend Northstar for a few days if visiting the area. It is a good mountain, which tries hard to please. They have special programs, such as one called “the Parent Predicament Ticket.” This means parents can share a ticket, and take turns helping out the children (before they get too good and take off without you!) Northstar also hands out cups of hot cocoa to guests, waiting for the shuttle buses to take them to other areas in the village. The resort is expanding, with new condos under construction close to the slopes.
After Northstar we went back to our luxurious hotel in Reno - a drive of over an hour in the snow. Visits to other hotels, casinos, and restaurants had to be altered, but we still had more than enough to do. Our bus made it through smoothly, and did not get stuck over the infamous Donner Pass, as had some other vehicles and trains during the weekend. I am certain there were many nervous, sick jokes made by the passengers, who wondered if they would have to turn to cannibalism, as did the hapless, stranded travelers who made the pass famous in the 1800’s. Instead, we made it back to our Casino-Hotel, The Silver Legacy, for a good supper, a hysterical, ribald comedy show, and some sleep before the next adventure in the blizzard.
One final thought - never underestimate the value of the ski and hotel packages offered by the casinos. For about $70 dollars a night, you can get a package which offers a luxury hotel in Reno, bus transportation to the ski slopes, and lift tickets. At that price, it is difficult for other areas to compete. Food is also excellent and inexpensive, and there are terrific airfare bargains. Of course, the casinos want you to gamble, and that is where you can lose it big time. But, if you pass by all that noise and glitter, you can have an incredible, inexpensive snow vacation in some of the best mountains in the world. Check out RenoTahoe.com for a list of ski packages. With all the snow they have this year, they may be able to run those bargains until May.
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.
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