So much new! Now that pandemic panic has faded, California ski resorts came off an epic year — one that stretched ski season to midsummer — with hopes for another on the way. The flakes are already flying, a big El Nino event is predicted to bring mega-precipitation during the coming season and resorts are gearing up for projected opening dates before Thanksgiving.
Opening dates depend on Mother Nature, of course, along with ever-more- sophisticated snow-making operations. But go ahead: Wax and tune your boards and get ready to ride!
Meanwhile, there’s non-ski news all around the lake, from the much anticipated rebranding of the former Embassy Suites/Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel in South Lake Tahoe to the Margaritaville lifestyle brand — a nod, of course, to the late Jimmy Buffett. The new Tahoe Blue Event Center down the road in Stateline, Nevada, is making a splash in the meetings and events world, hosting everything from lectures and conferences to concerts and even the Harlem Globetrotters. Ever tried curling? Learn to curl – or just observe — at the two-lane, year-round Epic Curling Club, also in Stateline.
“It was an amazingly long season. People will be talking about it for decades to come,” notes Mike Reitzell, president of Ski California, a non-profit trade organization that counts 35 snow resorts as members. He’s referring to the 8 million-plus skier visits during the 275-day, 2022-2023 season. Plus a massive 723 inches of snow that buried houses at Tahoe, created 20-foot drifts on the sides of the roads and closed highways and resort operations on more than one occasion.
Incredible as it was, “a normal snow year would be great for everybody,” Reitzell says.
This year’s “what’s new” is not so much about new lifts and runs as it is about facility renovations and enhanced visitor experiences. Pay attention also to new paid parking procedures and transportation options geared to mitigate traffic congestion.
As for lift tickets: Don’t even think about daily passes — at more than $150 a day at some resorts, they rival a day at Disneyland. Instead, look at 3-to-4-day tickets and midweek season passes, which will get you on the slopes for less than $100 a day. Buy online in advance for the best deals. Check resort websites for details and sign up for notifications, as promo deals come and go all season long.
Now, here’s a quick “what’s new” rundown for Tahoe resorts.
Boreal/Woodward Tahoe: The closest Interstate 80 resort to the Bay Area includes a downhill ski area long popular with families, as well as an indoor “bunker” with foam pits, skateboard ramps and drops and other equipment for indoor fun. It’s the only Tahoe resort that regularly offers night skiing and riding. “Go Time” tickets with variable pricing let visitors pick the time they want to start. “Play Forever Fridays” are scheduled once a month with $25 tickets. rideboreal.com
Diamond Peak: This Incline Village resort on Tahoe’s Nevada side has redesigned its food court and upped its grooming equipment. It’s bigger than you might think, offering 655 acres of ski terrain with 28 developed trails, 13 named tree skiing/riding areas, three terrain parks and beautiful views of Lake Tahoe. Last Tracks Wine and Beer Tasting events are staged Wednesdays in February and March. diamondpeak.com
Donner Ski Ranch: Generations of California kids have learned to ski and ride at what may be the most affordable resort in the Tahoe area. Located near Donner Summit, it offers “Old School Days” with $59 lift tickets on Tuesdays through Thursdays starting Jan. 10, excluding holidays. Still got those 205s and one-piece outfits? Pull ‘em out and have some fun! donnerskiranch.com
Granlibakken Tahoe: Sledding and snow play are the main winter attractions at this family-friendly West Shore conference center/visitor destination. There’s a small downhill ski and snowboard area, too, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are available right out the door, and lessons are offered too. granlibakken.com
Homewood Mountain Resort: The management has changed — Discovery Land Company is the new owner — but no big on-slope changes have yet taken place, despite big development plans on the horizon. The views of Lake Tahoe are perhaps the best of any regional resort. Just zoom up to mid-mountain, grab a chair, sip a beverage and be awed. skihomewood.com
Palisades Tahoe: An umbrella name for the two resorts previously known as Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, Palisades keeps churning out the changes. Last year, the Base-to-Base Gondola made its debut, connecting the two base areas while keeping traffic off the roads. This year, a reserved parking system is being implemented. “We’re very confident this will help reduce traffic craziness,” says resort spokesman Patrick Lacey. The new policy will be in effect on 46 high-volume days of the season. Check out parkpalisadestahoe.com to create an account and absorb the details.
Also at Palisades, take a peek at Gold Cost Lodge renovations and several new dining options. And mark your calendar for the Stifel Palisades Tahoe Cup, Feb. 25-26, a World Cup event featuring some of the best slalom and grand-slalom men skiers in the world. Tickets are already on sale. Find it all at palisadestahoe.com.
Mammoth Mountain: Yes, it’s a trek from the Bay Area, and you’ll want to stay several days. But Mammoth is, well, mammoth, with more than 3,500 skiable acres and 150 trails spidering down from an 11,000-foot summit. The town of Mammoth Lakes is a totally engaging community with many lodging and activity options. Look for new lifts, lodge renovations and an alpine coaster and summer tubing lanes to be added for next summer. mammothmountain.com
Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe: With the highest base area at Tahoe (8,260 feet), Rose is often the first ski area to open (target date this year is Nov. 7). Guests will enjoy a new deck, improved grooming and remodeled food venues. skirose.com
Sierra-at-Tahoe: With an incredibly loyal following, Sierra continues to resurrect itself after the devastating 2021 Caldor fire. Look for repaved roads, parking lot improvements, the return of day-care services and a new “Earn While You Turn” season pass option. sierraattahoe.com
Sugar Bowl: Yes, it’s 85 years old this year, with quite a history, including investors such as Walt Disney and California’s first downhill ski lift. Look for anniversary celebrations this season, as well as a new ski-racing venue, warming hut, special events and “sweetened” offerings at the Sugar Rush tubing and snow-play park. Look also for “calendar-based lift ticket pricing”, to find the best deals for your trip to the slopes. sugarbowl.com
Soda Springs: It’s small but oh-so-cool, with major sledding and tubing venues (Tube Town and Planet Kids) for families. “Play Forever Fridays” are scheduled once a month with lift tickets for $25 with 5% going to local nonprofits. It’s close, too; just take the Soda Springs exit off Interstate 80. skisodasprings.com
Tahoe Donner: This major cross-country destination isn’t just for residents of the community of the same name north of Truckee. Its Cross-Country Center is one of the most highly rated in the country, with more than 100 kilometers of ski and snowshoe trails meandering over 2,800 acres. There’s a small but engaging downhill ski area, too. tahoedonner.com
Vail Resorts: Vail’s three Tahoe Area resorts — Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar — are sharing new technology this season. The My Epic app lets guests store their pass on a phone, keep the phone in a pocket and get scanned hands-free, without waiting at the ticket window.
Heavenly will host the big Toyota Air & Apres March 1-3 with professional athletes showing off their tricks and stunts on a 45-foot jump visible from the California base area. Check out the monthly food, drink, music and beer tastings at the new Brews & Views apres experience at Lakeview Lodge. Northstar’s new bar-restaurant, Vous, will be open from first run to last call. And Kirkwood will showcase some favorite community events, including Banked Slalom and Vertical Drop. skiheavenly.com, northstarcalifornia.com, kirkwood.com
But wait, there’s more… Of course, California’s mountain resorts extend beyond the Tahoe area. Check out resorts ranging from Mt. Shasta Ski Park to Dodge Ridge, China Peak, Big Bear, Bear Valley and others at skicalifornia.com.
Snowshoe tours: There are many guided snowshoe tours at Tahoe, but the standout is Tahoe Adventure Company’s Full Moon Treks, which depart near Truckee. Participants will learn about natural history and astronomy topics as well as facts about the moon. Good for all ability levels; tahoeadventurecompany.com.
If You Go
New ways to park: Reserved parking options are available at both Palisades base areas and at Heavenly’s California base. At the latter, reservations — $20 for vehicles with one to three passengers, free for four or more — will be required on weekends, holidays and peak periods until noon. Parking will remain free at the Nevada base areas, and subject to demand pricing at the lots and garages near the Gondola; skiheavenly.com.
Parking at both the Palisades and Alpine base areas will remain free on weekdays; reservations ($30) will be required on weekends and holidays, with license plate scans at the entrance rather than ticket check-in; palisadestahoe.com.
New ways to get around: Mountaineer, the van service that provides free, on-demand transportation in Olympic and Alpine Valleys, is expanding its schedule for the 2023-24 season. Daily service in Olympic Valley and between the two resorts will be extended until 11 p.m., while service within Alpine Valley will be expanded to five days a week, Thursdays through Mondays, until 6 p.m. Download the app, leave your car elsewhere and get dropped off right by the lifts; mountaineertransit.org.
On the South Shore, the Lake Link shuttle service, which has ski and snowboard racks, provides free rides on fixed routes covering the casino corridor, beaches and resorts; tahoelakelink.com.
On the North Shore and beyond, Tahoe Truckee Transit (TART) provides free bus transportation to destinations including Donner Lake, Sunnyside, Tahoe City, Palisades, Northstar, Homewood, Kings Beach and Incline Village; tahoetruckeetransit.com.
Source: Orange County Register