Take one of the largest ski resorts in the United States. Add jaw-dropping views of Lake Tahoe. Mix in a little casino action. Welcome to Heavenly -- California’s largest resort, with 4,800 skiable acres, a 3,500ft vertical drop, and 97 trails. Boasting a grab bag of trail styles (from tree-skiing and cruisers to double-black canyons and terrain parks), a crushing après schedule, and solid lineups of food, suds, and nightlife, Heavenly's a seductive mistress to which you just can’t say no.
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When to go: The Heavenly season usually begins mid-November, and runs through mid-April. This year, catch the High Roller Hold ’Em, a $50K big-air snowboard competition going down April 5th, complete with DJs, fireworks, and laser lights.
How to get around: Heavenly’s gondola is located in Heavenly Village, walking distance to most of the hotels and casinos. There's also a free shuttle that'll drop you between town and the resort’s four base lodges.
Three runs not to miss: 1. On the California side of Heavenly, Ridge Run, off the Sky Express, swoops down the mountain's Western periphery and is awesome for views. 2. Bump fans will love the classic Gunbarrel, also on the California side, although they’ll need to have their mogul skills down solid. 3. When the powder is fresh, hit Milky Way Bowl, which boasts some of the best snow at Heavenly.
Dining: From cafes and brewpubs to casino buffets and food from the Fatherland, there's plenty to plate-up. Blue Angel Cafe's a longtime local fave that slings solid sandwiches, pizza, and pasta. If you want to build your own burger (whilst sampling from 100 different microbrews), catch a game, or soak in some sweet views, on-mountain Booyah’s is the spot. Like fish tacos and "Wet Woody" frozen rum cocktails? Both are house specialties at lakeside Riva Grill off Ski Run Boulevard. And finally, pretend it's Oktoberfest all season at the Himmel Haus, near the California Lodge -- a German-themed bar/resto with communal tables stacked with brats, pretzels, and giant steins (not to mention 3L boots) of German suds.
Local brews: Speaking of suds, mere steps from the California/ Nevada border in Heavenly Village, Stateline Brewery boasts a solid selection of beers, including their White-Out Wit wheat brew, Darker Parker (a malty, strong ale), and the aforementioned 5.6% ABV Avalanche Ale (American-style pale ale). There's also the Brewery at Lake Tahoe, billed as "Lake Tahoe's original brewpub" (having opened in 1992). They pour $4 pints every day from 3-5p, including their Star Lake oatmeal stout and a strong signature brew, the 7.75% ABV Bad Ass Ale.
Après: You know how it’s smart to do some ski-focused workouts before you hit the slopes at the beginning of each season? It’s a good idea to do a little après prep before visiting Heavenly. Unbuckle at Tamarack, Lake Tahoe’s highest-elevation post-slope party, features music, drink specials, dancing, and the Heavenly Angels -- a group of no-nonsense go-go dancers. Shoot some stick while chilling to live tunes at McP’s Pub; or, if you prefer a little vino with your happy hour-priced apps, head over to Apres Wine Company.
Nightlife: There's three kinds of nightlife in South Lake Tahoe -- bars, casinos, and bars inside casinos. Kick the night off at Turn 3, a sweet dive with heavy pours, pool tables, and a juke box; then skip over to Whiskey Dick’s Saloon for some live tunes and cheap booze. From there, hit the ATM and settle in at one of the aforementioned establishments of gaming, where you can either channel your inner-Matt Damon from Rounders, or get your dance on at one of three Vegas-style nightclubs -- Cabo Wabo, PEEK at Harrah's, or Opal.
Other than skiing/ boarding? Heli-tours: Give your legs a day off and soak in the snowcapped mountains from a different view; as in, right above 'em. Snowshoe cocktail races: Get competitive by taking part in the once-monthly snowshoe cocktail races at Camp Richardson Resort’s Beacon Bar & Grill. Participants hold a tray of drinks and run through an obstacle course, while wearing snowshoes. Snowmobiling: Mount your sled and cruise over 45mi of groomed trails as you head up to the top of 9,000ft Spooner Summit.
Where to stay: There are a ton of chain hotels lining the shore of South Lake Tahoe, and they often offer great ski-season deals. But for a stand-out go-to, book the Basecamp Hotel; it rocks an outdoorsy vibe and boasts both a cozy bar and hot tub/ fire pit. If Basecamp is full, 968 Park Hotel is another stylish but rustic spot just steps from Heavenly Ski Village. Prefer to ski during the day, and double down at night? Then MontBleu Resort, Casino & Spa is your best bet, as it offers a good opportunity to pay for the stay with your winnings.