While the skiing and riding is tough to beat in Colorado, sometimes a change of scenery is nice, especially when it involves the shimmering centerpiece of Lake Tahoe. And for those really searching for adventure, it’s worth visiting the less-raucous part of the lake, further from the casinos that dot the California–Nevada border. North Lake Tahoe offers access to a dozen ski areas with rugged terrain that will have your knees knocking, and features deeper overnight snow dumps than you’ve likely ever experienced. Plus, it’s easier to reach (and more affordable) than you’d think.
Getting there: The nonstop flights from Denver to Reno take a little over two hours.
North Lake Tahoe is home to 12 ski areas, all of which can be accessed within about 45 minutes of one another and most within an hour’s drive from Reno International Airport. From Reno, the closest is Mt. Rose, which towers above the city, boasting the highest base elevation in Tahoe at 8,620 feet. With 65 runs, it is roughly the size of Eldora, with terrain for skiers/riders of all abilities naturally divided by the landscape. While not on the Ikon or Epic pass, Mt. Rose offers $37 lift tickets for anyone with a boarding pass showing they flew into Reno earlier that day.
Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows actually offers free afternoon lift tickets to anyone with a same-day boarding pass and offers free parking in the Village, a short walk from the lifts. Owned by Alterra and thus free for anyone with an Ikon Pass, the combined areas feature a jaw-dropping (and as aforementioned, knee-knocking) playground of 55-degree steeps and cliffs. Squaw, with its Funitel (cable car) and six jagged peaks that resemble the cone-shaped mountains you might have drawn as a 4-year-old, has a distinctly European feel about it.
While the lake’s dark blue surface can be spotted from atop numerous vantage points at ski areas throughout the region, the slope with the most winning lake views is Homewood Mountain Resort, which, coincidently also offers some of the best glade skiing you’ll find anywhere, each run starting and ending with the dizzying feeling that you’re plummeting directly into the lake. While not partnered with major, multi-resort season passes, you can land an online lift ticket for $64, park next to the chairlift (across the street from the lake), find untouched snow long after a storm, and never stand in a lift line.
If you’re looking to parlay this trip into an opportunity to try new gear, the O-House Demo Shop rents top-of-the-line skis and snowboards, including locally made Jones boards, a game-changer for boarders arriving on a big powder day. Alternately, Tahoe Dave’s has a handful of locations in the area and offers consistently high-quality gear and service.
Eat & Drink
When you ski North Lake Tahoe, the Denver weekend warrior equivalent is the Bay Area weekend warrior (San Francisco is only about a three-hour drive away). This means you’ll find a myriad of foodie-approved restaurants. Start your day with a homemade bagel or oozy chocolate chip cookie at Wildflour Baking Company. Later in the day, sit at a window a few feet from the lake while sipping a sugar and cinnamon-rimmed cocktail and dipping into a fresh-caught dish at Sunnyside Restaurant & Lodge, or warm up with an order of dumplings or steaming bowl of Cioppino at Plumpjack Café. For local suds, the afternoon scene is lively at Alibi Ale Works in Incline Village, and you just might find your new favorite hazy IPA at Fifty Fifty Brewing Co. in Truckee.
You can’t go wrong with digs that are steps away from the chairlift. If the objective is budget-mindedness, most Squaw Valley Lodge units come equipped with multiple beds, kitchens, and refrigerators, not to mention heated outdoor pool and hot tub. If you want to go a littler higher end and still be at the base of the slopes, Resort at Squaw Creek is a solid choice. The aforementioned Sunnyside Restaurant & Lodge also has cozy rooms, constant lake views, and a central location from which to reach numerous ski areas.
If You Do One Thing…
Take the aerial tram to High Camp at Squaw Valley. The panoramas—including the lake in the distance—are dramatic, the poke and fish tacos at Granite Bistro are amazing, and if you visit in spring, bring your swimsuit and towel for a soak with 50 of your new best friends in the giant, high-elevation hot tub.