Our good friend Mara Gorman is managing a ridiculously clever “Back to Ski” carnival on her blog Mother of All Trips this week. I kicked off our 2012-13 family ski vacation coverage on Ciao Bambino with my tips for skiing in Europe with kids post in September. Of course, if you live in the US, it’s much less expensive to ski at any one of our glorious ski resorts across the country.
I’m going to join Mara’s skiing with kids celebration with some tips for skiing in Lake Tahoe. I grew up skiing in California and look forward to our weekend ski getaways all year long.
Lake Tahoe had fallen behind other resort areas in terms of development and top-notch infrastructure. This is no longer the case. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows have both made significant investments over the past few years, and now that Vail Resorts, one of the leading mountain resort companies in the world, has entered the picture with their acquisitions of Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood, things just got much more interesting for families.
If you are mulling over a trip to Lake Tahoe to ski this season, here’s my list of basic-yet-essential tips.
Strategize Around Drive Times
Unless you are combining a Lake Tahoe visit with a trip to San Francisco, it’s best to fly into the airport in Reno and then drive more or less one hour to Tahoe (further to go to South Shore).
Flying into San Francisco may be more cost-effective, although the three to four hour-drive to Lake Tahoe can be miserable and requires meticulous planning. Highway 80 from the Bay Area to Lake Tahoe must be one of the worst corridors in the country for traffic.
Avoid Friday afternoon and the early evening at all costs. Leaving post dinner on a Friday is your best bet, even though it means you will arrive late with kids. The Sunday afternoon return is no better. If you have a flexible schedule, leaving at dawn on Monday is better than the return on Sunday.
Stay In/Around A Ski Resort
I love staying as close as possible to the lake in the summer months, but for skiing, keep the hassle factor to the minimum by staying within one of the ski areas. The home/condo rental market is extensive in Lake Tahoe and VRBO, Homeaway, and many of the main rental agencies offer condo and home inventory within the ski areas.
We love condo-hotels on Ciao Bambino and highly recommend The Village at Squaw Valley and the Resort at Squaw Creek in Squaw Valley. The Marriott Timber Lodge at Heavenly is also recommended by our readers.
Vail Resorts-owned Northstar is one of the most family-friendly ski resorts in the country. We stayed at the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe a few summers ago and for a luxury, ski in/ski out holiday, this is a phenomenal option. Otherwise, I have friends who rave about the Tahoe Mountain Resorts Lodging at Northstar, although we haven’t had an opportunity to test drive one of these ski-out condos for our portfolio.
Except for a handful of very upscale restaurants, most of the restaurants around Lake Tahoe are kid-friendly. O’Shaughnessy family favorites include the bar at PlumpJack for fantastic wine and gourmet bar food, as well as Sunnyside on the West Shore for incredible lake views.
We just ate at the Lone Eagle Grill at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe at Incline and this may be my new all-time favorite restaurant in Tahoe with a cozy interior, surreal lake and mountain views, and incredible food and wine. Stay tuned for my full review of this full service hotel in the next few days.
Ski Lessons Programs
Understand the ski lesson programs at the different resorts ahead of time. Some of the resorts offer daycare for potty-trained preschoolers (some even offer care for non-potty trained kids), while most lessons are offered for kids ages 4 and up.
Exit Pre-Donner Pass
If you are driving to Lake Tahoe from the Bay Area, Donner Summit is one of the places that can back up in bad weather, or worse, close all together in poor driving conditions. Sugar Bowl is another old-time family ski area and is located before the pass which shaves 45 minutes to hours off a winter drive.
I grew up skiing at Sugar Bowl. Despite expansion efforts over the past few years, the resort still feels intimate and the there’s a sense of history here. The main lodge is a bit dated, but a good value for ski-in/ski-out lodging. There’s terrain here for all levels of skiing.
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