By Amy Whitley
You’ve booked a Tahoe ski vacation for the Sierra powder and signature bluebird skies.
Chances are, neither will disappoint, but the key to a great Tahoe ski day isn’t the weather or even the breathtaking scenery.
All you need is a little planning and some pre-trip know-how.
If you’re staying in a Northstar condo or vacation home, take advantage of the free shuttle service for your morning arrival.
It will stop directly at your door and deposit your crew at the village.
If you’re driving, drop passengers off at the marked Drop Off zone, then park for free above Big Springs Drive (follow signage).
Valet and preferred parking is also available for a fee.
Walk through the Northstar Village and grab a complimentary gear wagon if you need it.
On the opposite side of the village ice skating rink, you’ll pick up your lift tickets and meet ski school instructors.
If you’ve got a few minutes to spare after signing the kids in or picking up tickets, warm your hands at one of the many ice rink fire pits, or grab a coffee and breakfast treat at Starbucks.
Once you’re ready to hit the slopes, there’s only one way to begin: Take the Big Springs Gondola to the Lodge at Big Springs base area.
Before boarding, hand your skis or board to the lift operator, and enjoy the covered ride.
At the end of the gondola, find the learning area (and the Burton Snowboard Academy) to your right.
Take a few runs off the Arrow Express lift to warm up with some green and blue cruisers, then graduate to the Comstock Express lift (off the top of Arrow) for some more challenging blue and black runs.
Grab lunch at Zephyr Lodge, then tackle the Backside Express and Lookout Mountain in the sunny afternoon.
Done for the day?
It’s easy to meet up with your group at Northstar: Simply ski all the way down to the village via the Village Run.
It will deposit you at the top of the village, where you can step out of your skis or board and chill on the deck of the Cabana Bar with a margarita while the kids jump on the bungee trampoline (how do they still have energy?).
If you’re staying in the village for dinner, we love Rubicon Pizza with the kids, TC’s Pub to catch a game, or Tavern 6330' for a nice sit-down meal.
Whether you’re visiting Heavenly with or without kids, it’s smart to use the mountain’s shuttle service if you’re staying nearby (look for the blue shuttle stop signs).
If you’re parking, look for the free lots at California, Boulder, or Stagecoach lodges.
Heavenly’s village and parking areas are massive, so make sure to park where you want to start your ski day.
If you’ve booked lessons at the ski school, check in at California Lodge.
If you’re looking for moderate or easy terrain to get your feet wet, take the Gunbarrel Express or the Aerial Tramway up from California Lodge, or start in the village proper and take the gondola to the Tamarack Lodge base area.
Want to jump into big terrain?
Offload the gondola, hop on the Tamarack Express, and follow the California Trail to Sky Express.
Plan to cover a lot of ground at Heavenly, as trails lead back and forth over the California-Nevada state boundary line.
East Peak Lodge is a less-crowded place to stop for a mid-day rest or lunch (as most skiers will have pressed further up the mountain by this time).
When you’re ready to call it a day, return to California Lodge via Round-a-Bout, then visit the Cal Bar for drinks.
As one of the more laid-back Tahoe resorts, Kirkwood is easy to navigate.
But, lodging here isn’t as abundant as it is near Heavenly.
A good option is to book a room in South Lake Tahoe and take the South Tahoe to Kirkwood shuttle, which departs from area hotels (like Harvey’s) or the state line transit center.
If you’re driving, parking is very straightforward.
There’s a lot of advanced terrain at Kirkwood, but beginners should not be intimated: Start at the Timber Creek Base Area instead of the Mountain Village area.
If you’re in need of a quick breakfast, grab pastries and coffee at Timber Creek Cafe, then hit the Bunny lift for beginner terrain, or the Express lift for intermediate groomers.
It’s easy to move your way left across the mountain to more advanced terrain over the course of the day.
Stop for lunch at Outback Mountain Grill, located on the backside near Chair 4.
By this time, the outback snow has softened up, and is ready for some nice, controlled turns.
Lunch at the K-Bar is a good alternative on sunny days, if you find yourself ready to eat while down in the village area lower on the mountain.
At the end of the day, ski into the village and stop at Cornice Grill.
With or without kids, this is the place to be for après ski, with eight beers on tap and plenty of kid-friendly foods for the little ones.
No matter which Tahoe resort you visit, spend a few minutes the evening before your ski day familiarizing yourself with the trail map and planning your parking strategy.
Once you arrive, you’ll already know what terrain to seek out…and what to avoid until you have your ski legs under you.