I get asked a lot of questions on Instagram, which I love. I’m always happy to offer advice on adventures in Tahoe. But one thing I get asked SO MUCH that I figure’d I’d do a quick round-up on it is “what’s the difference between the different resorts, and how do I pick one?” So here’s a quick and dirty guide to the resort’s, from one local’s perspective.
A local’s guide to Tahoe Ski Resorts
Starting clockwise at the top of the Lake:
Northstar: Northstar has a reputation for being the fanciest resort at the lake: for fancy bay area families, if you will. It’s the most similar to east coast skiing, with very defined runs and excellent grooming. The majority of skiers here are tourists, not locals, which makes it busy on the weekends but one of the least busy “major” resorts on the weekdays.
- Base area has an expansive (and expensive) village with an ice skating rink and happy hour s’mores
- Probably has the most defined terrain around the lake
- Known as more of a park mountain than some of the others
- Not unusual to see a mix of silicon valley nerds and gapers in blue jeans
Diamond Peak: DP is one of the most affordable mountains and, along with Homewood, offers probably the best views of Lake Tahoe. Diamond Peak particularly has one trail that looks like you’re going to ski directly into the lake – but (bonus!) it actually leads directly to a mid-mountain bar.
- Fewer trails, but great progression (if you’re a beginner, it’s a good place to start on blues; if you’re skiing blues it’s a good place to work up to black, etc.)
- Very short lines; one of the least crowded
- Really great for kids and lessons; if you’re skiing the steeps, you’ll have a lot of space to yourself
Mount Rose: As the highest resort along the lake, Mt. Rose gets brag-worthy amounts of snow. It’s also the closest resort to Reno, so it tends to get pretty crowded with tourists. The front side is good for families and expert skiers will love the steep chutes on the backside.
- Steep and popular chutes in the back
- Has the highest elevation, so gets a really ridiculous amount of snow
- Off of Mt. Rose highway, the highest year-round pass in the U.S. You’ll need snow tires or chains and a brave soul to go here during storms
Heavenly: Probably the most well known resort at the Lake, Heavenly offers expansive terrain and the ability to ski from Nevada into California, and vice versa – pretty cool! This place gets pretty crowded and is in South lake Tahoe, which means it has more of a spring break/party vibe than the more relaxed resorts of North Lake.
- There are a handful of traversses and passes here, so snowboarders will want to be waxed, unless you want to unstrap all day
- Has the most and cheapest lodging of around the lake, thanks to the fact that the gondola is smack in the middle of the town of South Lake Tahoe
- Walking distance to casinos and bars, so a great option for people looking for great skiing/riding and nightlife
Kirkwood: The furthest from the Tahoe basin and most remote, Kirkwood still has an old-school vibe and is best known for being steep and deep. Experts and powhounds will love Kirkwood, which is known for it’s great powder and fantastic trails and bowls deep in the mountains
- Remote: true story, a friend skied here during a storm this year and got trapped there for five days until the roads were cleared/opened
- Not much in the way of nearby bars/hotels/anything
- Least crowded of the Vail resorts and retains the most authentic feel of any of them
Sierra-at-Tahoe: With a little bit of an old-timey feel and a good amount of intermediate and progressive terrain, this is a good choice for skiers and riders who want to be close to South Lake but without the huge crowds of Heavenly
- Less crowded than Heavenly but still close enough to stay in South Lake Tahoe
- Fun, laid-back, not-too-corporate vibe
- Only 46 trails, but a good amount of steeps
Homewood: Ahh, Homewood. The mountain that’s never crowded and offers views for days. In my opinion, the downsides of Homewood are pretty minimal: there are fewer F&B outlets, and it doesn’t have a village. No big, and the amazing views more than make up for it
- This is a beginner and family mountain, so if you stick to the upper chairs you’ll probably have the place to yourself
- The parking lots are small, so get there early. But the flip side is the mountain is never crowded, since there’s nowhere to park!
- Actually has a pretty decent amount of terrain vis-a-vis the ticket price – it’s probably the best kept secret in Tahoe
Alpine Meadows: Alpine Meadows is a massive resort, with one high-speed lift that goes top-to-bottom in under 10 minutes, and about nine other lifts leading out to it’s expansive bowls. No village and only a few places to grab food or drink, but amazing terrain. It’s a little more insulated from high winds than sister resort Squaw
- Owned and managed by the same company that owns KSL. If you want to know why this is a downside, ask literally any local
- Even when Summit chair is closed for winds, other lifts can operate and access most of the same terrain
- Gets way less crowded than Squaw – but that said, it’s still on a busy weekend one of the most crowded resorts in Tahoe
Squaw Valley: Ahh, Squaw Valley. The resort that put Lake Tahoe on the map by hosting the 1960 winter Olympics. The terrain is amazing and they have a ton of lifts, but questionable management practices not always aimed with the customer’s best interests have soured a lot of locals on this mountain
- Huge: Thousands of acres of terrain, 20+ lifts
- Bad traffic: A drive from Truckee that should take 15 mins can take more than two hours during busy days, and yes, that does mean you may wait 45 minutes or more for the lifts
- Objectively, they probably have the best and most fun terrain (bowls, cliffs, chutes) and they have a very fun, social village at the base
Sugarbowl: This is one of my favorite mountains, and for good reason: it gets a ton of snow, it has a vintage wooden gondola you can take to get to the resort, and there’s a variety of terrain for all ability levels
- Because it’s generally less crowded, pow days last longer here
- It’s off of Old 40, a windy, steep road which often closes during the winter/icy days
- Great learn to ski and ride deals and close enough to Truckee to stay in town and enjoy the social scene
Boreal: Truthfully, I’m a little hesitant to even put Boreal on here as it’s basically just a park mountain, but it’s good at being that. It’s also off of highway 80, meaning you don’t actually have to drive IN to the basin to get there (a huge perk on busy days.)
- Small, not very steep, and full of teenagers
- Excellent for people who want to improve their park skills and beginners who don’t want to spend much on a pass
- Being on 80 has a downside, too: 80 often closes or requires snow chains during busy storms, so getting trapped there for a few hours isn’t totally out of the question