Advice for skiing North Lake Tahoe
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Roger Z
February 19, 2004
Member since 01/16/2004
2,181 posts
Hey All- I'm going to be skiing in the Lake Tahoe area for the first time ever in a little less than two weeks. I will be staying in Truckee and am planning on skiing North Tahoe, but haven't decided on which places to go. I have three days of skiing planned, and like advanced/expert skiing (except for cliff jumping), moguls, trees, chutes, and occasional afternoon groomers to enjoy the views. Any recommendations on which resorts I should go to? My inclination is at least one day at Alpine Meadows and one day at Sugar Bowl, but I am vacillating on Squaw (mostly due to the ticket price). Is Squaw worth the extra 20 dollars? Am I missing anything by not going to Northstar? Is Sugar Bowl worth the trip? Is there some other resort that should be on the list up there in addition to these four?

Any input you all can provide would be greatly appreciated. Mucho thanks!!!

dtqjr
February 19, 2004
Member since 12/5/2001
15 posts
I skied two years ago and loved Alpine Meadows and Squaw. Heavenly was OK. Favorite area at Heavenly was Mott Canyon. Northstar sucked.
(Anonymous)
February 19, 2004
Absolutely, Absolutely SQUAW VALLEY.

My fav resort in the US.

Also check out Northstar -- great place, the backside is amazing there as well.

But Squaw is unreal -- KT22, Granite Chief -- there is a reason I have skied over 25+ days at this resort. (The Fingers) -- the locals at Squaw are amazing as well -- great people. If you have advanced/ expert ski ability -- the locals can guide you to places that are not only steep but incredibly technical -- I can't say enough good things about Squaw. It is a MUST ** MUST ** do in Tahoe.

Squaw also has what might be the most innovative/ efficient lift system in the US, which means rare lines (unless there on a weekend, when the resort can literally see 50,000 people). Even then -- lines are not that bad.

Let me elaborate on Northstar -- which is really more of a "crusing" than steep place (Squaw can be very steep/ moguled). Northstar's backside is one of the most amazing secrets @ Tahoe, long trails, great grading on them -- ... truely a fun place (And cheap hot chocolate at the top of the Backside).

Additionally, Alpine Meadows = great resort, and so is Kirkwood (which is South Lake Tahoe, but a real gem).

ONE MORE -- MT ROSE is wonderful for a day trip -- the lodge is (eerily) similar to Winterplace/ Schaver @ Snowshoe, but the mountain is extremely fun (Especially east bowl). Just so every else knows, next year THE CHUTES @ Mt Rose open, which means more incredibly steep/ technical in bound skiing for us snow fans .

SeaRide
February 19, 2004
Member since 03/11/2004
237 posts

I was there for one week during March 2002. I stayed at South Lake Tahoe. I rode Heavenly(twice), Kirkwood, Sierra-at-tahoe, Squaw, and NorthStar. I sure hope you would go for more than three days of skiing. For a nice view of lake tahoe while skiing, I would say Heavenly hands down. For some backcountry and some chutes, I would go for Kirkwood. For trees, I would go for either Northstar or Squaw's black or Heavenly's dbl black Motts Canyon/Killebrew on Nevada side.

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Roy
February 20, 2004
Member since 01/11/2000
609 posts
I concur with Searide. You should go to Kirkwood. Squaw is definitely one for the list. I haven't done Northstar so I can't give any feedback.

If your only going for 3 days, Heavenly is not worth it. While it has some great trails, you also spend a lot of time trekking around the mountain.

tommo
February 20, 2004
Member since 01/16/2004
303 posts
The main problem with Kirkwood is that, from Truckee, it's a long (though beautiful) drive around the west side of the lake and then further west after that. Heavenly is realtively easy to get to via the east side. And it does have the best lake views (at least from the CA side). As stated below, Killibrew and Motts are rightous - but the rest of the mtn is pretty much cruising terrain.

MUCH closer to Truckee, it's hard to argue with Squaw and Alpine Meadows. Personnally, I like AM much better, but mainly because it's much less "developed" and stikes me a more of a "mountain" experience. Squaw does have some great terrain, but also HUGE crowds and the attendent parking issues, esp. on the weekends. It's sort of like the Alta (AM) vs Snowbird (Squaw) contrast in UT.

Either way, though, Tahoe is simply a spectacular place in every season.... Have a great trip (and watch those cliffs ;-) )

JimK - DCSki Columnist
February 20, 2004
Member since 01/14/2004
2,644 posts
I've never been to Tahoe either, but my second hand 2 cents is: stick to your plan to stay/ski at north end, esp if you've just got 3 days, and ski Alpine, Squaw, and either a repeat of whichever one of those you fell in love with, or go to Northstar for 3rd day. If the first two wear you out, then you can hit groomers at Northstar on last day.
JimK - DCSki Columnist
February 20, 2004
Member since 01/14/2004
2,644 posts
PS: hope you'll give us a back brief when you return.
Rich
February 20, 2004
Member since 11/30/2000
194 posts
Stayed in S. Tahoe under the Heavenly lift. Skiing is like pizza...there is no "best" - it's a matter of personal taste. Took the boat across to Squaw. Didn't care for it - one big open bowl easily socked in by bad weather. Heavenly was just big...but that was about it. Backside of Northstar had the longest, steep blacks I'd seen...seperated by tree lines, weather not a problem. For me...if I had one day I'd do Northstar...if I had 2 days, I do Northstar twice!

[This message has been edited by Rich (edited 02-20-2004).]

Roger Z
February 20, 2004
Member since 01/16/2004
2,181 posts
Thanks so far, and keep it coming! The main reason I went to Truckee is I like slower paces, don't care for gambling or night life etc., and was told that North Lake Tahoe is slower than south; plus Truckee is supposed to be a very nice historic town. I'd like to stay close up there and so will most likely not make it down to Heavenly or Kirkwood or Sierra-at-Tahoe (I'd like to try those latter two though). Oh and the reason I'm only skiing three days is that the main purpose of this trip is to visit family and friends in the SF area; skiing is kind of a midweek diversion.

Northstar is getting some surprisingly good reviews. WP_Employee-- how does Squaw handle if weather moves in? Is it still good or does it's bowl-like skiing create a lot of flat-light? And is the 6200 foot elevation a problem for snow/rain? And anyone have any thoughts on Sugar Bowl? Finally, how steep is Northstar's backside? Any thoughts on the terrain at Alpine-- it's less developed character sounds great and it looks like it has some nice intermediate skiing; what about the blacks and chutes there?

[This message has been edited by Roger Z (edited 02-20-2004).]

(Anonymous)
February 20, 2004
If weather moves in at Squaw here is what happens:

Now this goes for ALL, ** ALL ** Tahoe resorts -- on storm days (when I was in Tahoe 3 years ago, it snowed 5.5ft" in a matter of 72hrs) the wind will be unreal along the ridges. Literally -- you are talking 55+ mph at the ridgelines @ Squaw (and the top of Northstar, Alpine for that matter). Whereas at Northstar/ Alpine (moreso Northstar) which have a lot more tree cover down the mountain -- it is easy to evade such wind (but it may shut a lift down).

Now at Squaw on the other hand -- if it is windy every single lift (and nearly every lift *is* on a ridge) will be on a "wind hold". Now -- this does not mean all is lost. The funitel (the only one in the US) can operate in nearly *any* weather conditions (it is a double wired gondola, best way to desrcibe it).

You can look for the following lifts to be closed on most storm days that are heavy w/ wind:

Squaw One Express
Headwall
Emigrant
Pulse* [Which is more transportation anyway]
Squaw One Express
Broken Arrow [which has some of the most insane terrain on the mountain, and is hard to find open at any rate]
KT-22
Cornice II
The Cable Car [really takes a lot to close this one, but the funitel runs a similar route so not all is lost].

Basically -- look at their lift map and for any lift on a ridgeline -- it will not be open if a huge storm moves in.

Northstar is definetely a more sure bet on a storm day -- but in any case you always have to check the reports. I was at Northstar (when the storm first moved in, before it snowed 5.5ft) and while it was *insanely* windy at the top/ ridge, as soon as you went over the hill no problem (kinda like Snowshoe). This is, of course, thanks to great tree cover.

--

A little more on Squaw -- the left side of the mountain [Snow King] has one of the scariest lift rides I have been on in America. At one point, the lifts 'Red Dog' and 'Squaw Creek' are literally 30 - 40 feet ** above ** the trees below -- these are two of the few lifts where I actually do put the bar down .

(Anonymous)
February 20, 2004
Great info and great site. I am heading to Tahoe the first week in April for a week. Probably staying on the South side. Was wondering if I needed a rental car with 4x4 (SUV) or could I save a little money and get a cheaper rental. Flying into SAC. Not sure of the chain restriction policy out there? Any suggestions?..Thanks.
RogerZ have fun and give us a report when you get back.

(Anonymous)
February 20, 2004
Sorry forgot to address one issue:

Yes light can get flat at Squaw... yes the elevation change does make quite a difference in weather. It hasn't rained out there in sometime -- I would not worry to much about that.

But it is reason for concern -- @ 6200 ft the difference is huge (as you can see in the base amnts on Squaw's website)... it is almost 1:3 (ratio of snow @ 6200:8200).

--

You know someone else on here mentioned a dislike of Heavenly because you do so much "trekking" -- I really have to agree with this. I never did find myself fond of the layout of Heavenly (well, the Calif. side, the Nevada side I find nice for cruisers/ trees). In any case, I would venture to say you are not missing much here.

The backside of Northstar is relatively steep -- what is unique about it is that it is not so steep that it is impossible to ski -- but at the same time, when you SEE how LONG the trails are down the mountain, you won't believe your eyes.

I have a lot of pictures from Northstar/ Squaw i will try to put online later today -- I have one @ Northstar, looking down the trail "Rail Splitter" -- in the picture you can see the trail get smaller, and smaller, and smaller in the distance, but you can't see the end. Northstar will wear you out.

Lookout Mtn @ Northstar (which is relatively new) is just a little steeper than the Backside... very nice contrast, but the trails are not nearly as long.

Just a quick tip -- if you are riding in the tree's @ Northstar (which is very easy to do) don't ski out of bounds . A few years ago (this would be about 5) a friend and I were cruising in the trees off the backside -- we heard an extremely loud machine noise at one point and sure enough we had skied right past the lift. Easy to do when you're having a lot of fun and conditions are just that good.

Enjoy your trip.

SeaRide
February 20, 2004
Member since 03/11/2004
237 posts
Roger Z
I forgot to mention one thing about driving around Lake Tahoe especially on hwy 89 (rt 89?) on the western side of the lake. There is a certain part of the hwy between Emerald bay & Homewood where it's prone to avalanche and that will close the hwy which prevents anyone going north or south. Of course that depends on the snowstorm or the warm weather whichever may cause the avalanche. I had to turn around twice and go to another mtn.
(see a nice map of hwys around Lake Tahoe on http://www.virtualtahoe.com/GettingHere/)

As for Truckee town, I took my friend to the cute little Truckee hospital from Northstar for dislocated shoulder treatment. If you want, you can step inside the hospital and earn a bragging rights for being in the "Broken Bone Capital of USA". Yep, that little hospital is famous for handling the most broken bone cases in the USA. If I remember from reading the newspaper clip, the hospital at one time handled 345 broken bone cases in a day. I was told by someone there that not only that the broken bone cases are from skiing but also from rock climbing, mountain biking, water skiing, wake boarding, running, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and numerous other extreme sports that occurs around Lake Tahoe.

I think it's about 3 hr drive from Sacremento to Lake Tahoe.

Have fun at Lake Tahoe!

JimK - DCSki Columnist
February 20, 2004
Member since 01/14/2004
2,644 posts
As I mentioned earlier, I've never skied in the Tahoe area. But I read an interesting bit of geographic trivia recently on why all the extreme skiing out there. Besides the inherent craziness in the Californian personality, there is a climatological reason. The dense, heavy snow they get in the region is good for sticking to very steep terrain, which might not otherwise be capable of holding drier snow. So "Sierra cement" has it's plus side.
I too have heard that Northstar is the place to go on a foul weather day.
snow1214
February 21, 2004
Member since 09/28/2003
16 posts
Having rencently moved from the bay area I know Tahoe very well.

As I saw mentioned Squaw is the place to go. Terrain for all levels. But the more advanced you are the better the moutain is.

I would suggest taking a lesson while out there because skiing at tahoe is noting like skiing on the east coast. If you are an advanced skier then you must do KT-22, after you get of of the lift traverse left on red dog ridge and then drop in, you will always find some great powder stashes there. (local stash!) The front shoots tend to get tracked out very quickly because that's where everyone goes. Granite Chief is anthoer great lift. After getting of the lift hike up a little ways to the peak and you can huck in for some great lines. Also the slides are closed on weekends (to many ediots trying to ski them), so if want to take your shoot at them then you need to go on a weekday!

Alpine Meadows is my second best. Small compared to other tahoe resorts but huge terran. In my opinion it has the best bang for it's buck! Great steeps and tight steep chutes. Some of the chutes. If you go on a powder day then watch out in the chutes their, they tend to get a lot of slough! Just go to the backside and you will see!

Sugar Bowl is nice but unless there is some fresh then I wouldn't make the trip there with just 3 days to ski.

If you don't mind making the trip Kirkwood is also an experts playland!

But In three days and having skied all the tahoe resorts the list is as follows:

1. YES you must do Squaw! The lifts at 8200' only close on windy days and that means that there is also some fresh falling! When they close head over to KT or Red Dog. And keep on rippin!

2.Alpine Meadows, great terrain easy to get around and endless stashes!

3. Kirkwood As an advanced skier I would do. They do have a bus that you can catch in the morning to the resort if you don't want to make the drive.

PS If you would like to do some backcountry then you should check out Sierra at Tahoe, great backcountry from the gates and there guides are really good!

Roger Z
February 21, 2004
Member since 01/16/2004
2,181 posts
Thanks for all the advice-- due to it I think I've scratched Sugar Bowl from the list of places to visit and added Northstar. I know you didn't list this one snow1214 but between some of the comments here and the website's bragging about glade skiing, thought it'd be good to give it a try; perhaps the legs will be strained after two days of steep skiing anyway. Also, regarding the lessons: I've done a fair share of skiing out west including Washington and Oregon state. Are the snow conditions so different in Tahoe as opposed to the Cascades (or the Wasatch, Rockies, etc) that it would warrant a lesson? Finally, my rule about backcountry skiing is it is a definite NO without a knowledgeable local guide. Whether that guide is someone you've hired or just a few people you've met who know the area well isn't important, but I've had some near disaster experiences with backcountry alone and unless it's very clear, very easy access back onto the mountain (eg-- the bowls to the right of 7th Heaven at Whistler come to mind), I won't touch it. Though I will definitely keep Sierra in mind for a future visit!

So, it looks like a day at Squaw, a day at Alpine, a day at Northstar. One day at any of these places probably aren't doing them justice but it's a sampler platter; what can I say?

Thanks again for all the advice! To norfolk-- I'll be there a month before you and I got a cheap rental car. Yeah the weather could come down but my schedule is flexible, so it's no big deal if I get out a day later or get stuck at the Lake for an extra day or two.

Will provide a report when I get back; though with only one day at three different ski areas, not sure I will get an ample sample for fairness in the report!

Roy
February 22, 2004
Member since 01/11/2000
609 posts
norfolk, I don't know about April, but if you went in February or March (or earlier), having a 4X4 is the better way to go. If you plan on traveling around the area, and there was a storm, you will need a 4X4 or tire chains to pass through some spots. You can get by with a regular car but if you're not used to using tire chains, it's easier with the 4X4.

We went from Heavenly to Squaw one day and had a convoy of 3 vehicles: 2 4X4 trucks and 1 car. We stopped and put chains on the car because the Heavenly side was getting pounded with snow and it was required to pass north of the lake. Once we drove out of the storm, the sky cleared and all 3 vehicles went to 55 mph. We did not stop and take the chains off (yes I know this was stupid but there were 11 people on this trip and they weren't getting along and the 3 drivers were the biggest a**holes of the group. Another story, another time).

Needless to say, the chains wrapped around the axles, we had to tow the car, and the day was ruined for those in the car (but the rest of us skied). Chains are a pain and if you can avoid them, then avoid them.

(Anonymous)
February 24, 2004
Roy,

Thanks for the info sounds like one heluva story. Chains are a pain so I most likely will end up getting a SUV of some sort. Found one on travelocity for $340 for 8 days.I am trying to hit a fair amount of resorts while I am there so I figured better to have reliable transport than getting stuck in a late season storm. Any advice on Alpine Meadows? Noticed they have alot of hikeable terrain inbounds?

JohnL
February 25, 2004
Member since 01/6/2000
3,509 posts
Pretty much agree with what's been said here so far, but I'm a bit surprised at how much love is being showed Northstar. It's a nice mountain and worth going to, but it's no where in the same league for advanced terrain as Squaw and Alpine Meadows. If you have the legs for it, I'd do the third day at either one of the two. If the visibility is poor, I agree that Northstar is the best option.

I have personal experience with the following Tahoe areas over two trips (April, January) about seven years ago.
Squaw - 6x (ski clinic)
Northstar - 2x (mixed group) Lookout Area has since opened.
Homewood - 2x (mixed group)
Heavenly - 1x (mixed group)

Haven't been to Alpine Meadows, but have heard great things about it wrt advanced terrain. Sugar Bowl is also the home mtn of Eric DesLauriers, and I believe they have recently opened some radical terrain.

If you do ski Northstar, a real nice gladed area is to skier's right of the Vista Express Quad. The pitch is relatively mellow here, but there is some nice open tree spacing with some interesting features. You can really let your skis run in this area. I didn't have as much luck with the backside trees; I found pretty tight spacing in the areas I explored. The backside trails are fun, but not epic.

For Squaw, there is some great uncrowded terrain off the Granite Chief chair. From skier's right off the lift, follow the upper ridge and drop down to the treed ridge which separates Granite Chief from the Shirley Lakes chair. Some great steep treed stuff in there. Or take skiers left and hit sections of the huge face which slopes towards the lift. Plenty of rock jumps in that area.

There are some nice trees off the Red Dog and even the Exhibition lifts.

I think the wind closures and flat lighting at Squaw are a bit exaggerated. I was there for one extended dump where it snowed 2 feet per day for four straight days. Granite Chief was the only lift that remained closed during the storm. The first or second day, there were minor slides all over the mountain (pre-storm base was pure ice) and the mountain closed early. That one day, KT-22 closed very early (10ish) due to a slide and the whole mountain was closed by 3:30 or so since there was even a slide off of Exhibition. Except for that one day, we were skiing the whole mountain during the storm.

(Anonymous)
February 29, 2004
I want to put in a plug for Sugar Bowl over Northstar. Like Mt. Baker, Wash., the area skis much bigger than it is - there is some very serious expert terrain, and being on the windward side of the Sierra's crest, it gets more snow than many of the other resorts. From what friends have told me, Northstar is a "family" place, not a go-big-or-go-home kind of place.

Kirkwood is really too far from N. Tahoe for an easy day trip, especially if there's weather at all. But if you have the chance to go on another trip, do it.

(Anonymous)
February 29, 2004
JohnL>

While you may think that wind closures are exaggerated... Squaw's mountain was practically shut down while the last storm went through (over the past 3 days).

Still my fav Tahoe resort by far though...

snowbird
March 1, 2004
Member since 02/28/2004
51 posts
i love squaw as well. that mtn has got some of the sickest terrain in the tahoe basin. heavenly is bigger but squaw is not as flat. heavenly has lots of flat spots scattered thorought the mtn. a little tip from some1 whose been out there quite alot as well. if its windy go to homewood resort is a little south of alpine meadows you wont have to contend with the wind. its pretty sheltered from the wind and gets just about as much snow as squaw and alpine. its much smaller but bigger than anything in the southeast.
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