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State since: September 9, 1850
Total Resorts: 18
You’ve probably seen the California commercials of Arnold Schwarzenegger hitting the slopes in the sun with a bunch of beautiful people, drinking bubbly, snorting lines off hookers tits and throwing around 100 dollar bills like he’s Jay Z. Yep, that’s California. Actually, those commercials were filmed in Northern California, or NOR CAL to those who live here.
Haven’t been out here? Fucking blowing it, dude.
While the nether regions of northern california are sparsely populated with shred heads, massholes who have moved here from the east coast to live the dream, and pot growers, the majority of Tahoe’s massive crowds come from the San Francisco Bay Area (15+ million plus people) within a 3 hour drive or so. Weekends are fucking packed. Roads are treacherous in the snow with idiots who have no idea how to drive on snow, nor how to operate their four wheel drives correctly (try slowing down and downshifting, kook).
That said, we’ve got it all, duder. Big mountains, big parks, lots of snow (usually – storms in the 4-6 foot range aren’t uncommon), easily accessible backcountry, urban galore (Reno!) a shit ton of resorts and nightlife that’ll will leave you watching the sun come up in a haze and doing plenty of walk of shames, scratching new names in your little black book (South Lake & Reno) and hoping it dumped a foot or two during the night while you were getting your pickle wet.
While Nor Cal has resorts stretching from Mount Shasta in the North to resorts south of Yosemite, we’re only going to focus on the holy grail, the mecca, the epicenter of California shredding – Tahoe. Sure, you’ll come here to check out some the resorts in South Lake, follow it up with some stops in North Lake, next thing you know you are motorboating some 33 year old English girl in the Cal Neva. After that, you love this place so much, you and her and 3-4 of your closest friends settle into a 2 bedroom apartment in Kings Beach. Sounds pretty sweet, huh?
A few resorts are staying open into Mid May. The backcountry can be your oyster, too. Get here right now. The airports are always open and the gas stations are never closed and neither is Reno*. Come on out, friends.
*Not technically Nor Cal, but what’s 20 miles and a state border?
Norcal: Ethan Diess approved. Photo: Blottophotto.com
Best Park: Northstar-At-Tahoe
Best Powder: Kirkwood
Best Pipe: Northstar-At-Tahoe
Best Chair lift: KT-22 (Squaw Valley)
Most abundant fake boobs: Northstar-At-Tahoe
Night Snowboarding: Boreal
Best Shop: Tahoe Dave’s
Best Vibes: Sierra-At-Tahoe
Best Drive: Sierra-At-Tahoe
Worst Drive: Anywhere off Hwy 89 coming from I-80
Best Side Country Access: Sugar Bowl (ASI) or Sierra-At-Tahoe (Huckleberry Canyon)
Worst Vibes: Northstar-At-Tahoe
Best place to ride the actual mountain: Squaw Valley
Best Contest(s): Kidwell Classic and Unity Day
Best Nightlife: South Lake Tahoe
Best Bloody: Bar of America in Truckee
Best Mexican Food: Taco’s Jalisco in Truckee
Best month to visit: March
Best Lodging: Tahoe Biltmore
Top ‘o the world: 9,800 Feet
Bottom: 7,800 Feet
Vert: 2,000 Feet
Get Gnar In: 2,300 acres
Little to no gapers, sits smack dab atop the Sierra crest, the ‘wood gets more snow than any other resorts in Tahoe annually, not much park though for you park rats, so why would you bother? Ha. Kirkwood kicks ass. Plan to stay a day or two if you head out Hwy 88 this way. A freeride paradise, this place holds a lot of North Face Masters events and the cirque, aka headwall, might well relocate your balls to your throat. Man up and head out this way for a good time.
Summit: 8,852 Feet
Base: 6,640 Feet
Vertical Drop: 2,212 Feet
Number of Chairs: 10
Terrain: 2,000 Acres
The best vibes and some epicly wonderful times await you at Sierra-At-Tahoe. Sierra might be the best “hidden gem” in Tahoe if there is such a thing (you’d be hard pressed to think that on a weekend here). Hannah Teter has her own parking space out front. The parks and pipe rival those of North Lake’s Northstar And Boreal, but minus the scene and crowds. Travis Parker worked at the resort a couple years and you see him there all the time, so that gives you an idea of the legitness of this place. Some of the best parks, tree riding, open bowls and accessible backcountry (huckleberry canyon) in the entire lower U.S. awaits you. Park on the left snowbank on the lead up to Mountain View express chair, toke up and get ready to rip. Don’t forget the casinos are 35 minutes away and you can be at a whore house in an hour.
Summit: 10,067 Feet
Base: 6,565 Feet
Vertical Drop: 3,500 Feet
Terrain: 4,800 acres
Heavenly – sometimes I think they should rename this place hell. Heavenly boasts that it’s “the largest resort in California” and the “highest summit in Lake Tahoe” but don’t let that fool you. This place is a fucking skier’s mountain. Get ready to traverse. Don’t get me wrong, if you are with the right buddy, this place can and does rock. South Shore Soldiers was a huge deal here for years and they can make a mean ass park. The gondola from stateline is rad as shit, gets you up to the mountain for some quick laps, and walaa! You can be back down the hill a couple hours later, smoking spliffs, drinking hot toddies and playing craps with a hot blonde on each arm. That said, Heavenly has the 2nd best view of the lake (next to Homewood), builds decent parks and has some epic terrain if you get a foot or two dump and know where the fuck to go. Watch out for the moguls. Get ready to traverse.
Top ‘o the world: 8,637 Feet
Bottom: 6,835 Feet
Vert: 1,802 Feet
Get Gnar In: 2,400 acres
It’s been 30 years, but one of the gnarliest avalanches in Sierra history killed 7 people in or around the lodge on March 31st, 1982. Alpine Meadows is steep and deep. If Squaw Valley, just to the north on Hwy 89 isn’t your thing, the relaxed atmosphere of Alpine might be up your alley. Since merging with Squaw last year (one ticket, dude!), Alpine did a great job with snowmaking this year and building top to bottom jumps, jib hits and other tomfoolery for shredding. That, along with some rad bowls, chute, gulleys and tree riding make Alpine a mellow alternative to some of the more glitzy bullshit that awaits elsewhere in the Tahoe Basin.
Top ‘o the world: 7,700 Feet
Bottom: 7,200 Feet
Vert: 500 Feet
Get Gnar In: 380 acres
Boreal’s history of supporting snowboarding and snowboarders is immense – Jibassic park was one of the first snowboard parks on the west coast, helped the launch the career of many a pro (think Noah Salasnek, Kevin Jones, Mikey Basich), and the success has continued today – Boreal routinely opens first near the end of October, has the first pipe, and is a top to bottom playground of anything and everything you want to shred. They are open from 9 to 9, right the fuck off I-80 and supportive as shit of everything and anything snowboarding related. Woodward West opens this summer and makes Boreal a legit, year round rider’s choice. You already knew to come to Boreal, so get here already or be damned.
Top ‘o the world: 8,383 Feet
Bottom: 6,883 Feet
Vert: 1,500 Feet
Get Gnar In: 1,500 acres
Sugar Bowl flies somewhat under the radar and it probably shouldn’t. It’s the first exit for people from the bay and Sacramento, 6 quads access 4 peaks and plenty of chutes, bowls, cliffs and even the occasional living room size cave to shag the friendly girl you met on the lift in, or have a safety meeting with the bro’s on the down low. Heck, they use to have permanent bong in one of these caves, that’s just how rad sugar bowl is, friends. I left out the part about Mt. Judah accessing some of the best backcountry terrain in Tahoe (ASI) right off the backside. Go huck yourself over an Amtrak train. Don’t worry, you’re not even close to being the first person to doing this. Oh yeah, Sugar Bowl has a park and Walt Disney was one of the original owners.
Top ‘o the world: 7,781 Feet
Bottom: 7,031 Feet
Vert: 750 Feet
Get Gnar In: 505 Acres
Donner Ski Ranch was one of the first resorts in Tahoe to allow snowboarding and most all of the early photos of pioneers hitting the original “Donner Quarterpipe” and the rest of this radical mountain were shot here. The east face has some rad pockets, the palisades on the front could lead you to glory or break your back, the lift tickets will always remain cheap and the chili is always a good call (but you will fart alot). The ranch is a throwback and the mellow place to bring beginners and kids, or the place you want to come to experience the above statements, which is seriously a good call and going to be a rad day of shredding. I fucking love the ranch. You’ll love the ranch. Everyone loves the ranch.
Top ‘o the world: 9,050 Feet
Bottom: 6,200 Feet
Vert: 2,850 Feet
Get Gnar In: 4,000 acres
Squaw Valley is the home mountain of Jeremy Jones, Ryland Bell and Ralph Backstrom. 8 peaks for action, they had the 1960 Olympics here, it’s the 2nd largest resort in Tahoe, 360 degrees of exposure, more cliff lines, steep faces and wide open run outs than anywhere else in Tahoe. If you want to come to Tahoe and ride a gnarly mountain, spot your line from the chair, then ride the white wave down like the maniac that you are, then you my friend need to get the fuck to Squaw Valley. This is one of North America’s best mountains. SPT Technologies stepped up and is doing Squaw’s parks now and they aren’t half bad with 2 in operation this season. The whole mountains a skatepark. Get ready to get buck and bring your snorkel on a pow day and weed to smoke in the funitel. After a day of riding cold smoke, Don’t forget tall cans are $2 bucks a tall can at Dave’s Deli.
Top ‘o the world: 7,880 Feet
Bottom: 6,230 Feet
Vert: 1,650 Feet
Get Gnar In: 1,260 acres
The only resort on the West Shore of the lake, Homewood seems to literally rise from the lake, and on the ride down you feel like you could literally pond skim right back into the lake. This is the best lake view from any resort, the place to be for a fun pow day because of lack of crowds, or hit up Quail Face after a little hike and tame the 55’ chutes. It’s steep and you’ll have a good ole time here.
Top ‘o the world: 8,610 Feet
Bottom: 6,330 Feet
Vert: 2,280 Feet
Get Gnar In: 3,170 acres
When it comes to wrapping it up with a shiny bow, the winner would go to Northstar-At-Tahoe. Are we in Aspen, Dad? A Ritz-Carlton, ice rink, plenty of fur coats. Did I forget to mention the best parks in Tahoe, the Burton Stash, the fucking Shaun White half pipe? Northstar’s either your lipstick on a pig, or your dream mountain – pick your poison. They’ve got a little bit of everything here – hell, Lookout Mountain has some pretty good tree riding on a pow day, but you didn’t come here for the powder, you came to get radical. High fives to that.
Top ‘o the world: 9,700 Feet
Bottom: 7,900 Feet
Vert: 1,800 Feet
Get Gnar In: 1,200 acres
Located just across state line on the Nevada side of the lake, Mt Rose has insane views of both Lake Tahoe and the Reno skyline, but that’s not why you should come to Mt Rose. You should come here to ride the chutes, an inbounds 1,500 foot vertical drop into the pleasure room. Think steep, deeps, spines, cliffs to launch off of and white room galore. It’s no joke. People have died inbounds riding this shit. The park can be decent here, the scene is non existent and park on the slide mountain side for easier parking and better tailgating from the vehicles after a hard day of shredding.
Honorable Mentions: Diamond Peak, Dodge Ridge, Mt Shasta Ski Bowl, Soda Springs, Kingvale Terrain Park (R.I.P)