An Expert Guide To Ski & Snowboard Resorts in Lake Tahoe

Published on 12/15/2022 · 10 min readLake Tahoe has some of the best ski resorts in the world. So if you're planning a trip, check out this guide to some of the best places to ski or snowboard.
Aidan Anderson, Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Aidan Anderson

Heavenly Ski Resort. Photo by Ethan Walsweer

Lake Tahoe is a bit of an enigma in the ski and snowboard world. If you’re from the West Coast, Tahoe is regarded as one of the best places to find resort-based winter sports access in the state of California. In 2019, resorts in Tahoe received well over 20 feet of snow just in the month of February. However, folks in other parts of the country might be surprised to learn it even snows in California at all.

Lake Tahoe ski resorts are home to some of the best kept secrets of resort skiing and snowboarding, and Tahoe is a goldmine of different options for different kinds of people. In the greater Tahoe area, you’ll find up to 15 resorts offering anything from bunny hills for beginners, to world class terrain home to some of the best skiers and riders in the world. For the purposes of this guide, I’ll cover 5 resorts within the Tahoe Basin and break down what you’ll find at each.

Heavenly Mountain Resort: The Best For Vertical

Photo by Jonathan Cook-Fischer

  • Location: South Lake Tahoe
  • Season: November through April
  • Number of Runs: 97
  • Number of Lifts: 28
  • Summit Elevation: 10,067ft
  • Average Annual Snowfall: 360in

Heavenly Mountain Resort is perhaps one of the best known resorts in Tahoe for a few reasons. Coming in at 10,067 feet at its peak, Heavenly is the highest elevation mountain in the basin. As a result, the views offered from the slopes of Lake Tahoe and the Sierras are unrivaled. Few places offer as incredible a backdrop for a day of skiing or snowboarding, and few places in Tahoe can match just how much terrain Heavenly has to offer. Twenty-eight lifts and nearly 60 miles of dedicated trails mean there’s more to explore than most people could ever take advantage of.

This also means the mountain can handle much more crowds, without feeling as though you’re on top of one another. Another of Heavenly’s attractions however can also be one of its drawbacks. The village at Heavenly is home to hotels, casinos, shopping, and entertainment. There are tons of options for families, friends, and fun to be had off the slopes as well. That being said, those amenities will draw a different crowd than some of the more diehard resorts. If you’re interested in the experience as a whole, and would take advantage of everything Heavenly has to offer, it might be the mountain for you.

Local’s Tip

If you’re wanting to ski Heavenly, pick lodging in South Tahoe. If you find yourself on the West Shore of the lake and Hwy 89 closes through Emerald Bay, you’re looking at driving all the way around the lake the other direction to access the mountain. When you’re done skiing, check out Base Camp Pizza Company to refuel.

Northstar California Resort: The Best For Trees

Photo by Chris Leipelt

  • Location: Hwy 267 outside Truckee
  • Season: November through April
  • Number of Runs: 100
  • Number of Lifts: 20
  • Summit Elevation: 8,610ft
  • Average Annual Snowfall: 350in

Moving around the lake to the north, next up is Northstar. Topping out at 8,610 feet, it’s significantly lower than Heavenly, but don’t let that sway you. With less elevation, and just over half as many surface lifts at 14, Northstar still manages to pack in the same amount of mileage on their trails, if not even slightly more than Heavenly.

That being said, Northstar is not a steep mountain. It’s a long dormant volcano, and consists of mostly lower-angle slopes. The lack of major elevation does detract from access to truly aggressive skiing and riding. Seven high-speed quad lifts provide access to several thousand acres of skiable terrain, many hidden in gladed tree skiing runs that are some of the best around. Quoted at 60% intermediate terrain, Northstar has something for everyone, and that includes the village and amenities found at the base. The Ritz-Carlton Northstar is quite the shining star in terms of mountain lodging, and the rest of the typical Vail Resorts features are in line with that level of luxury. The mountain has a well-regarded children’s ski school program, and is set up to work well as a leader in family-friendly resorts. Those bells and whistles do come at a price however, and the village at Northstar can be tough on the wallet.

Local’s Tip

If the Ritz-Carlton isn’t quite your speed, there’s plenty of lodging to be found in Truckee for more reasonable rates that also offer more access to restaurants and shops. Additionally, you’ll find less traffic coming from Truckee than from the lake side, and you can do yourself a favor and stop at Tacos Jalisco in downtown Truckee after you’ve skied all day.

Palisades Tahoe Resort: The Best For Terrain

Photo by Alex Wolowiecki

  • Location: Olympic Valley
  • Season: November through May
  • Number of Runs: 170
  • Number of Lifts: 29
  • Summit Elevation: 9,050ft
  • Average Annual Snowfall: 450in

Coming around towards North Lake Tahoe, we hit Palisades Tahoe. Formerly known as Squaw Valley, Palisades Tahoe is perhaps the most famous resort in Tahoe, and known throughout North America. Home to the 1960 Winter Olympics, countless ski and snowboard films, and some of the world best winter athletes, Palisades has a reputation that it’s never struggled to uphold. With a peak elevation of 9,050 feet, and a total of six peaks across the resort, Palisades offers a truly massive amount of aggressive steeps and advanced terrain. A total of 29 lifts provide easy access to different zones of the mountain, which is well broken up to lend itself to different ability levels. This also means however that for a first timer, Palisades can be difficult to navigate. Rarely are all the lifts operational and running, and often pieces of the mountain can be closed due to avalanche concerns or insignificant snowpack.

The mountain proper however is home to amazing intermediate and beginner terrain, as well as world class terrain parks and one of the longest runs in Lake Tahoe. Mountain Run, coming in at just over three miles long, is a great way to traverse most of the mountain at a pace approachable to all types of skiers. When the chairs close at the end of the day, the village at Palisades Tahoe offers tons of events and options not found at many other mountains. From live screenings of ski and snowboard movies to music festivals, the village and its two hotels can accommodate a lot of people and a lot of action, which in turn means that it’s tough to find a day that Palisades isn’t crowded.

Local’s Tip

A crowded day at Palisades means parking will be a nightmare. Park in the satellite lot near the Olympic Village Inn and save yourself the trek from the back of regular day use parking. Additionally, this will put Wildflour Cookie Shop directly in your path, which is an absolute must hit before and/or after a day of skiing.

Alpine Meadows Ski Resort: The Best For Exploring

Peak of Summit Chair. Photo by Lei Jurv

  • Location: Alpine Meadows
  • Season: November through May
  • Number of Runs: 100
  • Number of Lifts: 13
  • Summit Elevation: 8,637ft
  • Average Annual Snowfall: 450in

Just a couple miles down the road from Palisades, we have the other half of what is now Alpine Meadows under the Alterra Mountain Company. Though the resorts are linked, they stand alone in what each has to offer. Alpine is just a bit shorter than Palisades at 8,637 feet, and offers less than half the lift access with 13 lifts across the mountain. However, what Palisades lacks in ease of navigation, Alpine offers up with no problem. Alpine is largely made up of a series of huge bowls all offering lake views, meaning that no matter where you end up, pointing yourself downhill will bring you back to the base lodge.

Where Alpine truly shines, however, is the amount of in-bounds hiking access there is. If you’re a more advanced skier or snowboarder who wants to thin out the crowds and access more advanced terrain without going into the backcountry, Alpine is the place to be. The flip side of that is, you’ll spend a lot more time and energy getting to that line you saw from the chair, and so will ski patrol. Many of those sections of the mountain are often closed, which can shrink the available acreage on the mountain significantly. Alpine’s base area also offers no lodging and very little in terms of restaurants or shopping, though the Palisades Alpine shuttle will happily take you back to the village at Palisades to meet that requirement.

Local’s Tip

Crowded day at Alpine and they tell you the parking lot is full? You can park at Palisades Tahoe and take the shuttle over to save yourself the hassle of waiting for parking on a powder day. Alternatively, park down near the Subway lift at the back of the parking lot and take the chair up to the main lodge. On the way out, stop by the Crest Cafe at the bottom of Alpine Meadows Road for drinks or food. Pro tip: Thursday is sushi night and you don’t want to miss it.

Homewood Mountain Resort: The Best For Peace and Quiet

Photo by J. Gonera

  • Location: Homewood
  • Season: December through April
  • Number of Runs: 67
  • Number of Lifts: 8
  • Summit Elevation: 7,880ft
  • Average Annual Snowfall: 450in

Homewood Mountain Resort is a hidden gem on the west shore of Lake Tahoe. With a summit elevation of 7,880 feet, it’s one of the lower elevation mountains in the basin, and with only eight ski lifts, has some of the smallest acreage of any local resort. That being said, Homewood caters to a different kind of crowd. Cheaper lift tickets, lots of beginner access, and no fancy village makes this resort a go-to for families and beginner skiers and snowboarders. Some of the best views of Lake Tahoe skiing, a great mid-mountain bar, and a mellow atmosphere are great for hanging out and easing into snow sports if you’re not looking for an intense vacation.

But there’s another reason Homewood is a favorite of locals and out of towners alike. Homewood is so low, and so well protected, there’s virtually no avalanche danger or wind on the entire mountain. That means when all the other resorts are closed or on wind hold, Homewood is plugging away under feet upon feet of fresh snow. Similarly, when all the fresh snow is gone at Palisades and Heavenly the day after the storm, Homewood will have fresh tracks aplenty for probably a week after it’s stopped snowing. Unfortunately, the mountain doesn’t have many steeps or technical terrain to entice more advanced riders and skiers, but if you’re after a fun day of mellow terrain, it’s tough to find anything better.

Local’s Tip

Renting skis? Homewood’s rental department is notoriously difficult, and eye-wateringly expensive. West Shore Sports, located between the North and South lodges, is a great alternative for rentals and demos at a better price with a larger inventory. If you’re heading to or from Tahoe City, West Shore Market is a must for coffee and pastries in the morning, and sandwiches and dinner post skiing.

Final Thoughts

Although these five ski areas stand out for different reasons, there are tons of other options in and around Tahoe that didn’t make the list. Just outside the basin are Sugar Bowl and Boreal on Donner Summit. To the south, Kirkwood Mountain Resort is a short drive from South Lake Tahoe. Peppered in between are small mountains like Diamond Peak and Mt. Rose.

With so many options in such a small area, it’s impossible to cover everything and everywhere thoroughly. However, no matter where you end up in Lake Tahoe, there’s something for everyone. Other sports like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are abundant, and there are tons of local resources to help you out once you’re there. If you’re looking for more advice on your trip this winter, or need help outfitting yourself for a trip you’ve already planned, reach out to a Ski or Snowboard Expert on Curated! Our experts have skied all over the world, and we’re always stoked to share our recommendations with you.

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Read next

New and Noteworthy