Three faces of wintertime Tahoe | Writen by Jill K. Robinson | Shared from SFGATE.com
Skiing may be a gear-intensive sport, but winter at Lake Tahoe embraces it all: Alpine resorts, Nordic trails, sledding for fun — all within view of the serene blue lake against a background of stark white.
And in this season of abundant snow, folks who have been disheartened by low snow totals in the recent past are flocking to the Sierra as if yearning to make up for those years of subpar shredding. According to Bryan Allegretto of OpenSnow.com, “All of the ski resorts have more than last season’s total already — some double or more.”
If you’re a frequent visitor, you have your travel details dialed in, much like migratory birds. But if you’re only an occasional Tahoe traveler, here are three ways to approach the destination, based on value, family style or luxury.
South Lake Tahoe’s 1950s-era motels are widely known by budget travelers, and the casinos across the Nevada border are notorious for packing a lot of value under one roof. But sometimes you also want to feel as if you’re in a ski destination.
The vintage feel of 968 Park Hotel’s rustic Alpine design makes it seem as if you’re staying in a cabin/boutique hotel, and all just steps from the South Lake Tahoe action. From my après-ski spot in the hotel’s CoffeePub, it seems I’m one of the only nonlocals who prefer to stop by after a ski day. But it’s not just coffee that’s on the menu. From wine to craft beer to post-ski cocktails, it’s all covered.
From here, the best of South Shore is nearby. Run off to the casinos for entertainment and gambling, or hit the ski trails at Heavenly and Sierra-at-Tahoe. If you’d like to dip your toe in and try skiing without making a heavy commitment, check out Sierra-at-Tahoe’s $49 First-Timer Lesson Package, which includes 2½ hours of instruction, gear rental and a limited-access lift ticket.
While lakefront dining has a beautiful vista to enjoy with your meal and beverages, quality dining establishments without the romantic view serve up great meals for locals, and they usually know what’s good. Two South Shore favorites, the Blue Angel Cafe and Getaway Cafe, are tried and true and offer decent kids’ menus for families.
There’s no need to think that a budget winter trip to Lake Tahoe means you have to stay far away from the action and miss out on ski lessons. Nearly anything is possible.
Winter family time is often spent in nonstop activity: building snowmen, looking for animal tracks, sledding, getting wet, drying off, skiing, snowshoeing, making s’mores, then collapsing to do it all over the next day.
When you’re staying somewhere that has only a few of those activities available, parents have a harder task — shuttling kids from this resort to that hotel. But when it’s all in one place, like at Granlibakken near Tahoe City, winter fun can be just like summer camp. Only with snow.
If your family includes hard-core skiers, you’ll want to add some time at nearby Homewood for better trail coverage for advanced skiers. But between the two, plus all those extra activities, it’s more than enough for a winter day. Unless the family is divided between Alpine and Nordic skiers, in which case you may want to add a trip to the Tahoe Winter Sports Park.
When it’s time for some hearty nourishment after all that activity, swing by Moe’s Original Bar B Que, a Tahoe City favorite. This waterfront joint proves that you don’t have to pay top dollar for lakeside dining, and a menu with options to eat in or take away allows families a lot of flexibility with their schedule.
If you can keep your eyes open long enough, live music at Granlibakken’s Cedar House Pub can round out your day. Or conserve energy, make it an early night, and do it all again tomorrow.
If time in traffic, crowded lift lines and packed resort-village restaurants take away from your ability to enjoy a ski getaway, there are ways around some of that. For a price. Those who value their time and opt for peak experiences often would rather pay extra for prime locations and fewer people.
Waking to views of snowy open space, I pick up my ski gear at the Resort at Squaw Creek’s ski shop, and walk no more than 20 feet to the snow. From there, the Squaw Creek chair connects me to the rest of Squaw Valley — without having to get in the car or take a shuttle.
On an incredible powder day, it may seem as if the entire Bay Area is in the lift line ahead of you. But one of the benefits of Squaw Valley’s North Face Mountain Guides Program is that you get to skip the lines (by way of priority lift line access). If you’re not a regular on this mountain, the guides’ in-depth knowledge helps you find hidden groomers and secret stashes. But even if you know the black runs like the veins on the back of your hand, guides take you beyond.
“I know the feeling firsthand,” says Billy Haupert, my guide. “You go to a resort and wonder, ‘How do I get over there?’ Come ski with us, because that’s where we’re going!”
He points to a spot on the trail map where I see no marked trails. That’s our goal. For an entire day, we zip across the mountain, cherry-picking our route. Skipping lines and crowds, we’re able to spend most of the day skiing, until we decide it’s time to retire to the bar.
“When you ski with us, there’s very little time waiting around,” says Haupert. “We prefer to use our time skiing and après.” And that’s the mark of a perfect winter day.
The next day, at Northstar California Resort, I pick up my ski gear from the mountain concierge desk at the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe, walk outside and ski over to mid-mountain, where a handful of lifts allows me access nearly anywhere I wish. But I’m always just a few runs away from my hotel room, where I can return with ease even in the middle of the day to drop a layer without missing too many skiing minutes.
Where to stay
968 Park Hotel, South Lake Tahoe, www.jdvhotels.com, (855) 544-0698. It’s near casinos, shops, restaurants and the Heavenly Ski Village gondola, so there’s no need to use your car once you arrive. Complimentary parking and Wi-Fi add to the value. Weekday rates from $79 ($159 on weekends).
Where to eat
Grab lunch or dinner at the Blue Angel Cafe, where the menu covers everything from chicken wings to pizza. From $9. www.blueangelcafe.com, (530) 544-6544. Breakfast and lunch offerings at Getaway Cafe cover hearty egg dishes, burgers and more. From $6.50.
What to do
Sierra-at-Tahoe’s First-Timer Lesson Package costs $49 for 2½ hours of instruction, gear rental and limited-access lift ticket. The resort’s Blizzard Mountain has lift-accessible snow tubing lanes and a snow play and sledding area. $30 for two hours (children under 42 inches free with paying adult). www.sierraattahoe.com, (530) 659-7453.
Where to stay
Granlibakken Tahoe, Tahoe City, www.granlibakken.com, (800) 543-3221. With an on-site skiing and boarding hill, sledding area, access to cross-country and snowshoe trails, and a group beginner lesson package, it’s possible to get quality family time without having to drive to every activity. Rates from $150.
Where to eat
Enjoy barbecue in winter at Moe’s Original Bar B Que, where you can order by the sandwich ($10) or platter ($12), get a kid’s meal ($6), or even get to-go family packs.www.moesoriginalbbq.com, (530) 583-4227.
What to do
Take advantage of kids’ lesson 3-packs at Homewood Mountain Resort, where the package includes lessons, rentals and tickets for a lower per-day rate than you’d get buying a day at a time. Adult first-timer packages are $52 per day. www.skihomewood.com, (530) 525-2992. The Tahoe Winter Sports Park has nearly 2.5 miles of groomed trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and walking. Park pass rate: $10.
Where to stay
Resort at Squaw Creek, www.squawcreek.com, (800) 327-3353. Take advantage of ski-in/ski-out access to Squaw Valley and the feeling of being set apart from the village down the road. Rates from $229.
At Northstar, enjoy an equally simple access to ski runs at Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe . www.ritzcarlton.com, (530) 562-3000. Midweek rates from $399; weekend rates from $549.
Where to eat
The Chef’s Table at Manzanita in the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe at Northstar seats up to eight guests for $175 each (or $230 each, including wine pairings). www.ritzcarlton.com,(530) 562-3000. The Northstar Mountain Table Dinner Series in Zephyr Lodge features a winery or brewery paired with the menu. Tickets are $120. www.northstarcalifornia.com,(530) 562-1010.
What to do
The North Face Mountain Guides program at Squaw Valley has an advance booking rate of $699 (or a regular rate of $739) for a guide to accompany up to four skiers or riders for a full day. www.squawalpine.com, (800) 403-0206.