Lake Tahoe Skiing

Downhill Skiing Tahoe

How can something as small as a snowflake create such an amazing impact in our lives? One day you are hiking down a mountain, and the next thing you know, after a huge Sierra storm, you are flying down through the powder on that same mountain. Is it dreaming, or do the seasons in the Lake Tahoe area really arrive so quickly?

No, you are not dreaming. The winter comes fast in Tahoe, and with more than 300 inches of snow in many resorts, it is one of the most desired locales to ski or board. And you can have your choice, as the Sierras provide the largest concentration of ski resorts in North America, offering something for everyone.

I love to plan for the Lake Tahoe winter. Get my skis tuned, check out the weather reports, and then head out to one of the many mountain resorts. Each day is new as I stand at the top of the world ready to push off. The frigid air is a wake-up call to reality that although this is too good to be true, I am not dreaming. In fact, I have arrived right back where I belong. Will I remember how to carve through the freshies, tear down the mountain, and make a hard hockey-stop turn at the bottom, only to jump back on the chairlift and fly down the mountain again? How many vertical feet can I rack up in one day? There is only one way to find out: let’s get going!

From the top of the mountains, you get a glimpse of the Jewel of the Sierras, Lake Tahoe. The colors will amaze you—aquamarine, turquoise, and emerald green—so beautiful that they can take your breath away. But don’t stop breathing. You have to see, touch, taste and participate in all that the Lake holds in store for you. Enjoy the moment and this postcard setting (wish you were here). The sun shines brighter in these high mountain altitudes, and with more than 300 days of Sierra sun you will wear a smile for a long time.

The speed of downhill Alpine skiing certainly makes my heart beat more quickly, but I also enjoy watching the cross-country skiers. The quiet dedication of the telemarketers as they kneel into their turns is reminiscent of one genuflecting to acknowledge the miracle of this amazing place. Ski, kneel, turn. Ski, kneel, turn. With a multitude of ways to travel the terrain, whether over the bumps, on the corduroy, or through the trees of the backcountry powder, this is where everyone’s dreams come true. You may love this place so much that you will want it to remain a secret. Tahoe is a possession that you will want to keep for yourself—it is a rare gem.

I encourage you to bring whatever it takes to make your moves on the snow, but most of all, bring yourself. Once you are here, I promise you will never be the same again. That is why I chose to stay!

Extreme Tahoe Skiing

The two skiers calmly looked into a steep, rocky hourglass nestled against a triangle of heavily wooded cliffs in a section of Kirkwood called “Thunder Saddle.” The area’s 1,200 feet of vertical ranged in pitch from 42 to 57 degrees, with trees, rocks and cliffs bisected by an ugly avalanche chute as narrow as the aisles between airline seats.

“This looks pretty good,” one skier said to the other.

According to some historians, the beginning of extremism was born in 1939 when two Frenchmen, Emile Allais and Camille Tonnais, ascended 4,000 feet up the Glacier du Mileu to the top of the 12,680-foot peak called Argentiere. Strapping on their stiff wooden boards, they descended down a narrow rock-walled needle of snow, over 40 degrees of slope. It was beyond rational thought, but in one afternoon the two alpinists redefined the limits of skiing.

In today’s ski industry the wooing of “extremism” is so big that no one can deny its influence. The movement has changed the perception of ski terrain radically. High risk means high pleasure. Emboldened by modern ski technology and spurred by adrenaline, freeskiing’s increasingly popular disciplines have grown hand-in-hand with modern MTV-brainers. Wall Street ad men pitch its romanticism. And if one-upmanship is not the rule of the day, it still hasn’t been lost on equipment, beverage, and sportswear designers.

The Lake Tahoe Basin, surrounded by a dozen alpine resorts and blessed with big mountains complemented by big snowfall, is extreme skiing’s breeding ground.

“Lake Tahoe is the biggest proving grounds for up-and-coming freeskiers,” states Chris “Uncle E” Ernst. Ernst is the announcer for Olympic, X-Games, and other big-time freeriding competitions. Ernst believes that extreme skiing – or “competitive freeskiing” – the politically correct term among the high mountain rippers – is going to pass traditional ski racing in the public eye. Tahoe’s terrain “is a rite of passage for the ski or snowboarding enthusiast, especially Squaw Valley,” says Ernst.

Consider the Palisades above Squaw Valley’s Siberia Lift. These upper rock cliffs of over 9,000-feet elevation loom over Squaw’s upper mountain like a monstrous sentinel. The Palisades are big. Their gargantuan geography makes first-time visitors feel as though they’re looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Dropping into some of these chutes is as abrupt as dropping into an elevator shaft. Straight-lining the steep plunges is a forbidding thigh-burner.

“Squaw Valley is the mother ship for extremists, but certainly not the only Tahoe area which offers lift-accessed extreme terrain,” adds Eric Deslauriers, noted author and adventurer.

“Sugar Bowl, Alpine Meadows, Kirkwood, Sierra-at-Tahoe, parts of Heavenly and even Homewood offer a full-fare buffet that lets your mind and skis wander enough to satisfy any thrill seeker’s appetite. That’s what makes Lake Tahoe a freeriding paradise. You combine terrific snowpack with big mountains, and you have skiable snow in resort areas not found in any other region of the country.”

Tahoe Area Slopes

Lake Tahoe has many great ski slopes from which to choose. This chart will help you in choosing the right one.

All phone numbers are Snow-phone numbers. Call resorts for prices.

Child Programs (P) Child Care (C)
Night Skiing
Superpipe (S) Terrain Park (T)
% Expert
% Intermediate
% Beginner
Vertical Drop (ft.)Peak
Alpine Meadows
# of Lifts: 14
# of Trails: 100
Elevation: 8,637 ft.
1,802 25% 40% 35% T No P
# of Lifts: 7
# of Trails: 41
Elevation: 7,700 ft.
500 30% 55% 15% S T Yes P
Diamond Peak
# of Lifts: 6
# of Trails: 30
Elevation: 8,540 ft.
1,840 18% 46% 36% T No P
Donner Ski Ranch
# of Lifts: 6
# of Trails: 52
Elevation: 7,781 ft.
750 25% 50% 25% T No P
# of Lifts: 30
# of Trails: 94
Elevation: 10,067 ft.
3,500 20% 45% 35% T No C P
# of Lifts: 14
# of Trails: 72
Elevation: 9,800 ft.
2,000 15% 50% 35% T No C P
Mount Rose
# of Lifts: 8
# of Trails: 60
Elevation: 9,700 ft.
1,800 20% 30% 50% T No P
Northstar California Resort
# of Lifts: 20
# of Trails: 97
Elevation: 8,610 ft.
2,280 13% 60% 27% S T No C P
# of Lifts: 14
# of Trails: 46
Elevation: 8,852 ft.
2,212 25% 50% 25% S T No C P
Ski Homewood
# of Lifts: 7
# of Trails: 60
Elevation: 7,880 ft.
1,650 15% 50% 35% T No P
Soda Springs
# of Lifts: 2
# of Trails: 15
Elevation: 7,352 ft.
652 30% 50% 20% T No P
Squaw Valley USA
# of Lifts: 30
# of Trails: 170
Elevation: 9,050 ft.
2,850 25% 45% 30% S T Yes P
Sugar Bowl
# of Lifts: 13
# of Trails: 95
Elevation: 8,383 ft.
2,000 17% 45% 38% T No P
Tahoe Donner
# of Lifts: 5
# of Trails: 14
Elevation: 7,350 ft.
600 40% 60% T No P

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