How to Pick the Perfect Reno Tahoe Ski Resort
Experience the Sierra Nevadas while rocketing down the slopes.
Lake Tahoe is an idyllic wilderness just minutes from downtown Reno. It's home to excellent casinos, a mirror-like body of water, and some of the best skiing on the West Coast, making it a magnet not just for Bay Area weekenders, but for tourists from around the globe looking to experience the Sierra Nevadas while rocketing down the slopes.
Reno Tahoe boasts the highest concentration of ski resorts in North America, each one possessing its own distinctive personality and winning character traits. And each area brings a completely different experience. There's a customized corner for every type of skier or snowboarder, whether you’re an expert who wants to huck cliffs, a beginner craving plenty of space, or one of those people who's more in it for the après experience. This year, of course, will look a little different. And more than ever, choosing the right resort for you and your group is key. So here’s all the intel on how to pick the right mountain for the right skier and experience you’re looking for.
Situated a mere 30 minutes from the Reno-Tahoe International Airport, Mt. Rose is no joke when it comes to quality terrain. With the highest base elevation in Tahoe (8,260 feet), this eight-lift, 65-run area is frequented by locals knocking out two-hour morning or afternoon workouts and practically every Reno-based skier has had a season pass here since they were a toddler. Naturally divided from the top, you'll find beginner terrain to the left and chutes in the middle, bookended between intermediate terrain that can take you to either of the two lodges on two sides of the mountain. With its proximity to Reno, Mt. Rose is begging for a few laps just after the landing wheels touch down. Make sure to stop for a local craft beer at The Lodge or Beer NV afterward to swap stories about your day on the slopes.
People often overlook Diamond Peak because it's smaller than other Reno Tahoe resorts, but its smaller size gives it a local vibe. This also means you'll save on the price of lift tickets compared to larger resorts. When it comes to terrain, there are some true gems among its 30 trails, including the trio of runs that take you down the spine of the ski area: Crystal Ridge, Ridge Run, and the aptly named Lake View, from which you’ll have to watch your speed so you don’t smash into something while you’re gaping at the lake. Its numerous intermediate trails take you through confidence-building wide glades, and the black runs are legit, short and steep. You can grab some tasty beers at the nearby Alibi Brewery afterward or hang with the lifties and ski school instructors into the wee hours at Snowflake Lodge Sun Deck.
What's your winter style? Checking double black diamonds off your list or sipping a double espresso? Either way, Reno Tahoe has what you're looking for - lake views and city vibes within 30 minutes of each other. Spend the day on the slopes, exploring a winter wonderland, then kick back in the Biggest Little City in the World, filled with top-tier restaurants, luxurious resorts and plenty of craft breweries and coffee shops. Start planning your next getaway at VisitRenoTahoe.com.
Best for: Hitting the slopes with the family in tow
Ranked among the most family-friendly resorts in the entire country, Northstar offers a bounty of mostly intermediate terrain (100 total runs, 20 lifts, and nine terrain parks) but also some unreal gladed steeps (looking at you, Martis Camp). Another huge selling point is Northstar’s immaculate, self-contained, upscale village rife with offerings that will lure puffy outerwear-clad toddlers at a high-speed waddle. These include an ice-skating rink, snow tubing hill, ski lessons, fire pits for roasting s’mores, and even a movie theater. Full service dining is also making a comeback in the village, so anyone who's après ski tradition includes hearty pies at pizza joint Rubicon are in luck.
Let’s be honest, Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows could qualify as No. 1 on every type of Tahoe skier’s hit list. The combined resorts’ sprawling terrain amounts to a mind-boggling 245 ski runs, with beginner slopes stretching broadly across the mid-mountain region, chutes, and steeps (regularly hosting annual extreme competitions) both jutting into the village and accessible from the summit and wide open cruisers everywhere. Squaw Valley and Alpine Valley are technically one resort, and you can ski both with the same lift ticket, but they're about a 20 minute drive from one another on two sides of the same mountain ridge.
Alpine Meadows is the more family friendly of the two, whereas Squaw Village emanates a distinctive Swiss Alps vibe, with a massive village that sizzles from afternoon into late night: try to grab fresh seafood and wine at Plumpjack Café—set to reopen in December—or hit up Fireside for everyone’s favorite pizza.
Spring is truly when Squaw shines, however, as it is known to stay open into June and, as the days get longer, offers the rare, unforgettable opportunity to soak in a giant, mid-mountain hot tub to a soundtrack of live DJ tunes with dozens of like-minded spring fever seekers. Hopefully, that's one tradition that will be back on the table as we ease into 2021.
Families looking for a more rustic first-time skiing experience should consider the oft-overlooked Tahoe Donner. Located on its very own lake (Donner Lake) with only 600 feet vertical (17 runs and two chairlifts), this beautiful, old-school ski area delivers one of the gentlest, least intimidating, most affordable downhill ski experiences in the West. It is also home to more than 60 miles of cross-country trails, as well as numerous learn-to-ski package deals (both downhill and XC) for kids and adults. The place also has a fantastic lunch and dinner venue—Alder Creek Café—with upscale pub fare and live music on the weekends.
Best for: Powder hounds; old-schoolers
It’s really no surprise that the aptly named Sugar Bowl ranks among the best resorts for skiers and riders who love to swim in the white stuff. Tahoe’s oldest resort (circa 1939) not only averages nearly 500 inches of snow every winter, but more than half of its terrain—100-plus runs spread across four mountains—is north-facing, meaning that the snow maintains its powdery, sugar-like surface and potential for fresh tracks for days after a storm. Although it is smaller and markedly vintage compared to other Tahoe areas and offers a shorter vertical rise (1,500 feet), it’s rarely crowded and you get steeps aplenty, with expert powder seekers typically flocking to Crow’s Peak for the most satisfying face shots.
The glistening waters of Lake Tahoe can be seen from just about every local ski area, but if you want the sensation that you may actually make a big splash while bombing toward the base area, Homewood delivers Tahoe’s token “slopes to shores” experience. What many don’t realize is that this small (67-run, eight-lift), old school resort is also one of Tahoe’s best kept secrets for amazing glades and is almost entirely protected from the wind that can hammer the region’s higher elevation slopes. Yes, the lifts are slower and more rickety, but lift tickets are (relatively) cheap, the vibe chill, and the views stunning. Some of the ‘Wood’s best powder stashes are in the trees off of Ellis Chair and if you have a big group, the resort’s guided snowcat experience to the top of Ellis Peak is almost guaranteed to yield some untouched powder.
Famous for its après scene, Heavenly is one of Tahoe’s largest resorts (28 lifts and 97 runs) and highest (10,067 feet) with by far the most vert (3,500 feet from top to bottom). It stretches between both Nevada and California and opens up to what might be the best views in America.
Located mid-mountain and nearly straddling the state borders, Tamarack Lodge is usually abuzz with drink specials from 3-5pm. Alternatively, the fire pits at LAT38, the California Lodge's rooftop bar, make it an ideal spot to people-watch and warm up after a day on the slopes. And within walking distance from Heavenly, The Montbleu often hosts live music and comedy acts.