Lake Tahoe: A Weekend for Skiing

It’s been a very dry winter so far—the ski resorts were looking mighty forlorn when we visited just after the New Year. But this weekend put a smile on everyone’s faces (and there’s more snow on the way!). We drove up on Thursday night, as the storm rolled in and brought fresh snow to the mountains. Lake Tahoe is beautiful at any time of the year, but I love the way it glows in white.

As for activities, we spent a fair amount of time on the slopes. There are 16 downhill ski areas in the Tahoe region but the stars of the North Shore are Squaw, Alpine, and Northstar. We also really enjoy Homewood (our local resort, just five minutes down the road from our cabin). This year was our first time visiting Diamond Peak, in Incline Village, and it was a great spot for families with young kids. Here are some photos from the weekend and some notes about the ski resorts nearby. I’d love to hear about your favorites in the comments…

Diamond Peak
First of all, every child six and under skis for free! And lessons can begin as early as age three (some resorts start at four). Reciprocity with Homewood meant that Aron and I skied for free with our Homewood passes, but on another visit we learned that they’ll also let you do alternate skiers on a single pass. So on one occasion we would switch off skiing with Hudson and sitting with Skyler—and the whole day only cost us the price of one $90 adult lift ticket. In other words, while it’s a small resort, it’s a good value—especially for families. Most importantly for us, the elevation mixed with their snow-making abilities meant that they’ve had more runs open than some other places. And it has great views of the lake!

On our first day, we signed Hudson up for the morning group lesson and took turns skiing with him in the afternoon. We also signed up Skyler for the private 3-year-old option, but were unsuccessful. We got the call back after about an hour to pick her up. She was so sad! They were so great about it though—they gave us a full refund. I’m not sure every spot would do the same.

Diamond Peak is close to the Hyatt, which has a great bar and restaurant and some beautiful views in the Eagle Lounge.

Our local resort, we’re a bit partial to Homewood—it has the most incredible lake views, tends to be fairly uncrowded, and offers inexpensive lift tickets. It doesn’t have many chair lifts, but when the snow is good, it can be such a gem: the runs are long (like 2-mile Rainbow Ridge) and varied. Unfortunately this also means that when the snow isn’t there, Homewood can really shut down. It’s at lake level, so it’s more likely to lack coverage. Last year, Hudson took the majority of his lessons here and we appreciated the affordability: the Learn to Ski/Ride 3-pack is often $69/day and includes three full days of lift tickets, rentals and lessons. You can start the lessons at age 4, however there isn’t any childcare for younger siblings. We were lucky to find a local babysitter on this visit who sat with Skyler for two hours in the lodge while we skied with Hudson. Then, with some skis we’d rented for her for less down the road, we took her out for free on the magic carpet.

There’s no lodging at Homewood (for now, they’ve got big plans), but the West Shore Cafe and Inn is across the street, and Sunnyside is down the road. Of course there’s also our cabin and other home rentals.

It’s been a long time since I’ve skied Northstar, but we’ve been on the mountain frequently to visit the Ritz or the Village at Northstar. I feel like its dining and lounging options make it a really appealing option for a group mixed with non-skiers. I’d describe the scene as family-friendly and luxe—at the hotel, you can get help with your equipment from the “ski concierge” and end the day with s’mores. Or, in the village below, go ice skating before settling in for fondue.

As for the skiing, it’s a fairly compact mountain, but with a nice mix of terrain. The backside is mostly black diamonds, so experts can set up there for the day; but there’s plenty for beginners on the front side, too. Their ski school also begins at age 3—though lessons are a bit more pricey—and they have a range of private and semi-private in addition to group lessons. They also have a full-day childcare option called Minor’s Camp for non-skiers ages 2-6 (reserve two days in advance).

On of the Epic resorts, a Northstar season pass lets you ski at Kirkwood and Heavenly as well.

Famous for having the most challenging runs of any, and the former site of the 1960-Olympic Winter Games, Squaw often makes the list of best resorts in the country. Its popularity, however, means that ticket prices are steep and the crowds—on peak weekends, especially—can be thick. Still, there are few views as lovely as the one crossing Squaw Meadow and looking up at Granite Chief. There’s a lot of ground to cover between the two resorts, and next year they plan to add a gondola that will connect the bases at Squaw and Alpine and make one of the largest ski resorts in the world.

We haven’t taken the kids yet, but there are a ton of great off-hill activities at the skin-in/out Resort at Squaw Creek—ice skating, dog sledding, tubing and kids’ clubs are some options—so I imagine we’d have a great time. There’s also the Village at Squaw Creek which has a nice selection of restaurants, bars, and shops (including a first-rate children’s store). The pizza place keeps games and puzzles at the host station, so we often end up there. On the mountain, lessons begin at age 3 and both Squaw and Alpine have the usual private and group offerings as well as some season-long camps. The beginner terrain at Squaw is fairly high up the mountain, but nicely segregated from trails frequented by faster skiers and riders, and convenient to the on-mountain High Camp and Gold Coast lodges. I’m less familiar with Alpine, but understand they offer similar programs, but without the amenities (shops/restaurants) on site.

If you’re planning a trip, be sure to check Open Snow for current conditions.

If you like to ski in Lake Tahoe, what are your favorite resorts? Any insider tips on kids’ programs and family offerings? 

P.S. A Lake Tahoe Winter Guide, and more posts on Lake Tahoe for all seasons.


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