The Best Places for Snowboarding in Lake TahoePublished on 10/28/2022 · 16 min readLooking for a fun new place to snowboard this season? Check out these suggestions from Snowboard Expert Steven Rubinstein around the Lake Tahoe area!
Photo by Lukas Souza
Nestled in the northern reaches of the Sierra Nevada, Tahoe is one of the most storied locations in winter sports. From Donner Summit to Kirkwood, the legendary terrain around Tahoe has launched countless pro careers and served as the set piece for innumerable video parts. Prone to massive snow totals on a good snow year, Tahoe has an incredible variety of terrain packed into a relatively small geographic radius. Just a short drive from Reno, Tahoe is widely accessible by plane and is close to some legendary dining and nightlife, along with plentiful lodging opportunities. Whether you’re a park rat, a pow hound, or anything in between, Lake Tahoe ski resorts have some of the best skiing and riding on the planet and deserve to be on every winter bucket list.
Olympic Valley (Palisades Tahoe): Best for Extreme Terrain
- Location: Olympic Valley, CA
- Elevation: Base - 6,200’ Summit - 9,050’ Vertical Drop - 2,850’
- Skiable Acres: 3,600
- Average Snowfall: 400”
- Number of Lifts: 29
Olympic Valley (formally known as Squaw Valley) is one of the most storied ski areas in the world. Home of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games, the torches still burn at Olympic Valley. Known for its extreme and technical in-bounds lines, there are few better places to go than Olympic Valley if you are looking to hone your skills alongside some of the best skiers and riders in the world. While Olympic Valley used to be its own singular resort, it merged with neighboring ski area Alpine Meadows in 2012, and as of the 2022-23 winter season, they’re connected by a base-to-base gondola that has been many years in the making. If you want two cents and then some, ask a local on the chairlift how they feel about the new gondola! However you feel about it, with the connection of the two areas, Palisades Tahoe has become one of the largest resorts in North America. Both areas offer something distinct and are worth plenty of time to explore.
Beginner and intermediate riders will have a wider variety of runs to choose from at Olympic Valley, where there are several learning areas on both the upper and lower mountains. There are also plenty of cruiser blues and greens from the top to the bottom to keep those more keen to stay on the piste happy. Advanced skiers and riders will never run out of things to do. Take KT-22 to survey one of the most legendary lift zones in the world. If it’s a powder day, direct your attention to The Fingers, looker’s right of the chairlift on the way up. With a pitch that tops 50 degrees in places, the snow forms movie set-piece-worthy spines on a good year. This is where the first big show of the day will go down. Just get there early if you want to see it, even more so if you’d like a piece for yourself.
When you’re ready for a beer, head up the funitel to watch the show on the Palisades (the distinct, sheer cliff face that seems to extend above the whole resort, looker’s left of the Siberia Chair) from the deck. The namesake of the resort, the Palisades is where countless gainers (in varying states of undress), rowdy straight lines, and hairy multi-stage cliff drops have gone down over the years, not to mention the occasional highly dramatic T-Hawk and/or bomb hole. The Palisades is a rite of passage for anyone looking to make a name for themselves in the Tahoe freeride scene and should not be missed. On the biggest snow years, the Silverado lift accesses some of the most serious descents and biggest drops that can be found from a lift anywhere. Airs off of China Wall top 100 feet!
Olympic Valley’s reputation is well deserved. It’s one of the best places in the world to ride based on the sheer volume of terrain alone. But something else about it can be difficult to put into words. There’s an energy in the air here. You can feel its long and storied history. Anywhere you look, you're likely to see someone whacking away at a cornice with a ski pole or loudly proclaiming their status as "best skier on the mountain," immediately before pointing it down any one of the hundreds of named lines that cover the resort. Of course, these are all references to the game of GNAR (Gaffney’s Numerical Assessment of Radness. The short film of the same name is required viewing for anyone planning a trip here), which encapsulates everything that we love about our chosen winter pastimes: Getting sendy with our friends, sometimes getting away with it, sometimes not.
Olympic Valley should be near the top of any resort bucket list. That being said, this is a destination resort within easy reach of one of the most densely populated regions in the country, and if you go on weekends or holidays, you will feel that too. On all but the busiest of holiday weekends, the lift lines are manageable once you're on the hill, but parking and traffic need to be planned for accordingly. If you’re someone who wants to spend most of their time in the terrain park, you should know that there is not a lot here until late in the season, and even then, it generally leaves a lot to be desired compared to other more park-focused mountains.
- Kirkwood: Just outside the Tahoe basin, Kirkwood sometimes sees fewer crowds but just as much snow and world-class terrain. It can be tough to get to on big snow days.
- Sugar Bowl: Located on Donner Pass, known for some of the gnarliest lines you can find anywhere in-bounds in Tahoe. It can feel small compared to Palisades after a while.
Alpine Meadows (Palisades Tahoe): Best for Big Mountain Sidecountry
- Location: Alpine Meadows, CA
- Elevation: Base - 6,835’ Summit - 8,637’ Vertical Drop - 1,802’
- Acres of Skiable Terrain: 2,400
- Average Snowfall: 400”
- Number of Lifts: 13
When you’re ready for a change of pace, head over to Alpine Meadows. This side of the resort may appear smaller than Olympic Valley at first glance, but looks can be deceiving. While it’s shorter on amenities than many of the other resorts in Tahoe, including its connected neighbor, the terrain around Alpine Meadows is nearly endless, and even the most hardcore will find something to challenge them. The more you are willing to hike, the more you will be rewarded with unbroken powder lines and truly some of the gnarliest big mountain terrains you will find inbounds anywhere in the lower 48. If you’re feeling confident, ask a friendly local to show you around the Pacific Crest Bowls. Extending north and south from the Summit Six chair, you’ll be boot-packing along the actual PCT for up to an hour if you feel so inclined, but you have plenty of drop-in options along the way if you’re looking for slightly hotter laps.
Ski patrol only opens this terrain when avalanche conditions permit, and riders venturing into this area should have a solid awareness and understanding of how to navigate natural, big mountain terrain. While these runs are generally marked on the trail map and are in bounds, they are more prone to the natural variability you would experience in backcountry terrain. On powder days, most locals will wear beacons out here, and while the resort doesn’t require or check for them, nobody wants to be the one who’s caught out unprepared. The same goes for a shovel, probe, and a solid understanding of how to use these tools. Respect ropes, closures, your fellow riders, and everywhere else on the mountain, and you’re going to have a good time. And don’t forget to thank ski patrol when you bump into them way out there. Pro Tip: They know where the good stuff is, so be friendly, and it could pay dividends.
Alpine Meadows may not receive the same kind of press that Olympic Valley gets, but chalk that up to a good thing. Comparatively, Alpine Meadows has a less resorty, more down-to-earth vibe. However, it still has a bit of that old-school charm we are all looking for. For those who prefer lap lifts, there is plenty of fun to be had, but it may feel small after a time. If you are willing to earn your turns, however, there is a lifetime of opportunity here. As with Olympic Valley, you’ll need to consider crowds and traffic if you plan to ride here on a weekend, especially if there is fresh snow. The lots can and do fill up by 10 a.m. or sooner on big weekends. If you can make it up on a weekday, the world is your oyster. Just know that you'll still have to work for the first chair if you want it.
It’s also worth noting that while Alpine Meadows used to host world-class terrain parks, these days, it is only with a stroke of luck you might find a small area with a feature or two. Freeriding is the name of the game here, and there are better options if that’s not your preferred way to shralp.
Heavenly: Best for Lake Views and Nightlife
- Location: South Lake Tahoe, CA, and Stateline, NV
- Elevation: Base - 6,540’ Summit - 10,067’ Vertical Drop - 3,527’
- Acres of Skiable Terrain: 4,800
- Average Snowfall: 360”
- Number of Lifts: 28
While the steeps and drops of north Lake Tahoe can entertain even the most hardened adrenaline lover, not every good day on the mountain has to involve a lot of risks. Sometimes, you just want to cruise with your friends, splurge on the drinks, and enjoy being out. There are few better places to take in the emerald waters of Lake Tahoe than from Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe. Famous for straddling the border, you can literally ride back and forth between Stateline, NV, and South Lake Tahoe, CA.
Heavenly is best known for its wide-open groomers in terms of terrain. But there’s actually a little something for everyone at Heavenly. Beginners and intermediates will enjoy relatively stress-free blues and greens with lots of mid-mountain amenities for taking a break. Gunbarrel is legendary for its leg-burning, relentless pitch if bumps are your thing. Freeriders will be pleasantly surprised by the terrain in the Mott Canyon area if they catch it on a good day. To top it off, Heavenly is known for its well-maintained and progressive terrain parks. No matter your preference, Heavenly has something for you.
There is something special about unstrapping, throwing your gear in the car, and walking across the street to catch your favorite band at the outdoor amphitheater. The resort is also extremely convenient to numerous lodging, dining, and entertainment options in South Lake Tahoe, making it an easy choice for those looking for a vacation that extends beyond the last chair.
Heavenly occupies an interesting space in the winter sports world. In some ways, it represents a lot of the biggest challenges the modern snowboarder/skier faces. Owned by Vail, popular with the masses, visibly impacted by climate change by way of fire and some truly dismal snow years, compounded by its location just east of the Sierra Crest. But in a lot of ways, it's reminiscent of the days before that: glitz and glamour, hot dogs, and hair metal. These things all still live in South Lake Tahoe and still have their place in the snowboarding and skiing culture.
And beyond the nostalgia, there is a lot of terrain at Heavenly that actually does deserve more attention than it tends to get. Weekdays will always be the ideal time to ride due to crowds, and some riders may not like the frequent trail intersections and occasional flat spots, but they are manageable once you learn your way around the mountain. Heavenly is a different experience from most of the other mountains on this list, but it is a worthwhile one.
Northstar: Best for Terrain Parks
- Location: Truckee, CA
- Elevation: Base - 6,330’ Summit - 8,610’ Vertical Drop - 2,280’
- Acres of Skiable Terrain: 3,170
- Average Snowfall: 350”
- Number of lifts: 20
As the crow flies, Northstar is fairly close to Palisades Tahoe; in fact, you can see the latter from the chairlift. In terms of riding, however, they are a world apart. The riding at Northstar is relatively tame compared to the do-or-die nature of Palisades, but it makes up for it with world-class terrain parks and tree skiing. With four distinct lanes of increasing difficulty, all connected at various points while remaining visually separated, and all accessed by a very hot lappable lift, it’s hard to imagine a better venue for progression in the terrain park. From beginner-friendly features to XL features fit for the world stage, all of them are reachable within a single run, you’ll never run out of options. It’s for this reason that you may very well see some of your favorite snowboarders and skiers practicing here. Northstar also maintains a well-manicured 18’ half pipe, perfect for intermediate pipe riders who want a stepping stone to the super-pipe.
While local powder hounds will often turn their nose up at Northstar in favor of the gnarlier terrain to the north, anyone who likes the sound of untouched powder turns through wide open trees and the occasional surprisingly rowdy pillow (in other words, pretty much everyone reading this article) needs to give Northstar a look. Typically more heavily attended by park riders and intermediates, the powder in the trees can go a surprisingly long time untouched, and there are even a few gates hidden around the resort that grant access to some genuinely great freeriding. As with any other gated terrain, everyone should access these places respectfully and with a buddy. Advanced riders should head towards the Martis Camp area of the resort. This zone is consistently steeper than most of the resort and is laden with natural features to blast off of and smash through on a powder day.
Northstar has always had some of the best terrain parks in the country and has been the location for countless park shoots, video part builds, and edits. While management of the parks has changed hands over the years, and its lost a little bit of its charm with the closing of the Stash, all in all, it’s still one of the best places to get good at riding park, anywhere. The way the park is set up, you have a lot of flexibility in how you can shape every single run. You can go from tiny to massive, stay in the middle, jump straight to the money booters, or any combination thereof. It’s an ideal setup for progressing with a pretty quick lift and always a healthy population of fired-up park riders raising the energy. I have also personally had many incredible powder days at Northstar.
Sometimes the weather at the resorts along the crest can be too gnarly to get a lot of the good stuff open. Still, Northstar is in a relatively protected location with terrain that more easily lends itself to a quick opening. When you have a deep storm cycle, you must choose your lines carefully on certain parts of the mountain because it can actually become too deep for the pitch. But to be honest, usually when this happens, I’m too busy choking on snow from the turns prior to be unhappy about it. The biggest gripe there is to have about Northstar is the traffic and parking situation. You may be noticing a pattern here, but the traffic jams at Northstar, in particular, are no joke. When you have the perfect storm of bad weather and holiday traffic, it can get break-out-the-sleeping-bags-for-the-night bad just trying to leave the resort. I strongly recommend watching the weather closely and prioritizing weekday and non-holiday visits, but if you can arrange for lodging at the resort, it eliminates that problem.
- Boreal: Short on vert, hot on laps, and with a Woodward training facility on site, Boreal could easily be considered the number 1 for park in Tahoe, depending on what you're looking for. It’s a small mountain, though, so be prepared for short runs.
Diamond Peak: Best for Local Mountain Vibes
- Location: Incline Village, NV
- Elevation: Base - 6,700’ Summit - 8,540’ Vertical Drop - 1,840’
- Acres of Skiable Terrain: 655
- Average Snowfall: 325”
- Number of Lifts: 6
In this day and age of mega passes and sky-high lift ticket prices, we all crave a little bit of the old days. Fortunately, there are still plenty of small, independent ski areas keeping that dream alive, and Tahoe has several of them. For example, in the small, residential town of Incline Village is Diamond Peak. Owned and operated by IVGID (Incline Village General Improvement District), Diamond Peak is a mountain of the people, for the people, and you can feel it when you ride there.
What it may lack in expansive terrain, it makes up for in vibes, views, and a neighborly sense of community. Diamond Peak also has amazing terrain parks and you’ll often catch the area's up-and-coming park riders getting laps in between classes at Sierra Nevada College. Don't sleep on the tree riding here either. There is enough pitch and enough airtime hidden about the resort to keep you grinning ear to ear on powder days, not to mention shorter lines than you’ll find at any of the more mainstream resorts around the basin.
Small hometown ski areas are where many of us started on snow, and there’s always something special about a small resort with a mostly local population. Nowhere in Tahoe is completely immune to big weekend crowds these days, but some places fare better, and Diamond Peak is one of them. Similar to Northstar, its location east of the Sierra Crest makes it a hidden gem on powder days that shut everything else down. On days without fresh snow, the terrain parks at Diamond Peak are always on point, and the sun seems to shine there often. The views make it worth a stop on its own. It’s also incredibly easy to get to if you live in Incline Village or one of the nearby towns.
- Homewood: Tucked away on the lake’s west shore, this is another sleeper hit on storm days.
- Mt. Rose: Home to some of the steepest terrain you can get to from a lift anywhere, this mountain retains its independent spirit and feels homier than you would think for its location so close to Reno.
No matter what you’re looking for on the slopes, Tahoe is a destination worthy of a lifetime of exploration. But if there’s one thing every Tahoe local knows, it’s that the weather can be extreme and fickle, and the terrain is endlessly diverse. Having the right gear is essential for maximizing fun on the hill, and it’s not always an easy choice. Fortunately, the Snowboard Experts here on Curated can help you find exactly what you need to get the most out of your trip to Tahoe. Get in touch with us and we’ll help you find everything you need to focus on fun when you get there.