Ski season is in full swing in South Lake Tahoe with near perfect weather for hitting the slopes regardless if one wants to ski, snowboard, sled or just take in the otherworldly beauty of the Lake Tahoe area.
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With most county residents being within an hour’s drive of the closest resort, Sierra-at-Tahoe is 2,000 acres of runs and forest plus another 300 acres of back country skiing for expert skiers.
Located at the top of Echo Summit, the resort receives the most snow in the Tahoe Basin, according to Steven Hemphill, communications manager at the resort.
“We average 480 inches at Sierra-at-Tahoe,” he said. “This year we have 63 inches to date, so we’re a bit behind,” he laughed. But Hemphill says he’s optimistic, adding that winter is just getting started.
On Friday with seven lifts and 23 runs operating, skiers and snowboarders were making full use of the resort.
“We have a great product,” said Hemphill, saying the snow and weather were perfect for being on the hill. “We have a terrain park with features for all ability levels and are ranked among the best terrain parks in the nation. We also have lessons for kids as young as 3, including the Burton Star Wars Experience which teaches kids ages 3 to 6 how to snowboard. But we have lessons and skiing for all ages. We have a gentleman in his 80s who skis here every day.”
Aside from skiing, snowboarding and tubing, there are also trails for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. However, Hemphill said they are waiting for more snow before those trails are opened.
Something new at Sierra-at-Tahoe, which is still in the process of being completed, is an expansive après ski area that is slated to open a few weeks after the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. With a full view of the slopes, the $5 million, 30,000-square-foot plaza promises to be an inviting place to relax around a fire pit with friends after skiing while enjoying a drink and some hot food. “We’re very focused on enhancing the overall ski and snowboard experience,” said Hemphill, “so come and check it out.”
Hemphill went on to encourage people to take up skiing. “It’s really great exercise and you’re outside in the mountains in California with the sunshine. You can go to the top of our mountain and have an incredible view of Lake Tahoe, of the basin and of the Desolation Wilderness. And the sensation of sliding on snow is second to none. It’s also something you can share with others since skiing and snowboarding is as much about doing it as it is about being with friends and family and experiencing it together. So come and check it out for yourself,” he said, adding that people will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the snow.
“You need to ski it to believe it,” he said.
High energy at Heavenly
A short 30 minutes from Sierra at Tahoe is another great ski area — Heavenly Mountain Resort, a 4,800-acre resort that not only has spectacular ski runs but incredible views of the Tahoe basin and the lake.
Straddling both California and Nevada, Heavenly consists of skiing and snowboarding runs scattered at different elevations as well as a gondola that climbs to Tamarack Lodge at 9,000 feet. From there, other lifts take skiers to the top of the mountain at over 10,000 feet and offers skiers the choice of skiing in either state depending upon which run they take.
Sally Gunter, communications manager at Heavenly, said the resort has the highest elevation in Tahoe. “There is a difference of 3,000 feet between the lake and the top of gondola, so it can be raining at the lake and snowing at the top of the lift,” she said. The resort also has the largest snow making system on the West Coast, which they have been using since November to supplement the natural snow.”
“Right now our snow base is 31-39 inches,” said Gunter. “People don’t anticipate it will be as good as it is. Guests coming up over the holiday were very happy, based on the customer satisfaction ratings we received. We make snow as often as the conditions allow. A couple of days this week we made it around the clock.”
One of those skiing at Heavenly for the first time was Patrick Holleran, 21, of Mendham, N.J. A snowboarder, Holleran said the skiing was better here than on the East Coast and the views were awesome, although he expected more snow.
Last weekend, Holleran got his wish as the area received 2 to 3 inches of new snow after a small storm passed through.
At present Heavenly has 18 beginner to intermediate trails open, said Gunter, but eventually it will have everything open from beginner to expert, including double black diamond terrain. Activities at the resort include world-class skiing, snowboarding, tubing, lessons, sightseeing and sledding.
Of course, along with skiing at Heavenly comes the Unbuckle at Tamarack Lodge après ski party complete with half-priced drinks, food specials, a live DJ, dance floor, go-go dancers called the Heavenly Angels, swag and music loud enough to rearrange one’s body organs. Not restricted to just skiers, anyone can take the gondola up and party down at Tamarack.
“It’s an experience people have really embraced,” said Gunter, adding they have also recently unveiled a mobile music box loaded on a retrofitted grooming machine that travels the ski runs playing music. It’s little wonder that Heavenly Valley Resort is known as the “wild child” of Vail Resorts, the parent company of Heavenly.
Future plans at the resort include reopening its 3,000-foot zip line called the Heavenly Flyer. By summer they expect to open a second, but shorter, zip line, two ropes courses and a canopy tour.
All of these different attractions just add to the thrill of skiing said Gunter. “It’s all about it being high-energy. High-energy skiing and a riding experience unlike any other resort in the country. And the views are unparalleled.”
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.