Why Northstar California Earns a Ski Vacation Gold Star

Northstar California is a consistent family ski vacation favorite with kids of all ages. This fact is not surprising given that Northstar is also one of the resorts that has made a significant investment in quality everything over the years, thanks to its parent company Vail Resorts. The exceptional on and off-the-slopes guest experience is what makes Northstar stand out from the crowd in Lake Tahoe and beyond.

Although I grew up visiting Northstar, I had the pleasure of looking at it with my parent lens last month. The resort gets a 10 for ease-of-use and service. Here’s a look a the highlights:

Northstar’s village is family fun central

Northstar California Review for Families


The village at Northstar is exceptionally appointed with a variety of restaurants, shops, and a wonderful social atmosphere around an ice skating rink and lounge zone. The footprint is small, so it’s easy to navigate and literally at the foot of the mountain kids’ ski school zone.

We love that the village is kid and pet-friendly. It’s optimal for parents or kids who aren’t skiing and there is a fabulous après-ski scene complete with live music and s’mores.

Northstar offers an optimal mountain experience to families

Ski Experience

Northstar feels compact yet there is plenty of terrain (3,170 acres) for all abilities; 27% of the trails are advanced, 60% are intermediate, and 13% are rated as beginner. The longest run is 1.4 miles and there are nine 1-mile long runs on the back side of the mountain, which means skiers can avoid spending an inordinate amount of time in lift lines. There’s a dedicated beginner teaching area and a number of terrain parks and pipes — family ski essentials.

Northstar gets crowded on peak weekends, although they do have solid number of quad and high speed lifts to alleviate line pain. And of course, they have a comprehensive ski and snowboard school program for ages 3 and up, including Ultimate 4 Lessons, where a maximum of four people participate in a lesson, as well as private lessons. There’s also a Burton Academy for budding snowboarders.


The conditions in the past few years have been rough in Lake Tahoe and excellent snowmaking is critical to ensuring that skiing is even viable through a variable season. Northstar’s snowmaking gets rave reviews for creating optimal conditions, even when Mother Nature is not cooperating.


One huge standout feature for families at Northstar is their licensed childcare facility for children 2(!) and up. This is a perk that enables parents to get ski time when kids are different ages.

All-family nordic trail outing

Cross Country and Snowshoe Trails

One of my favorite features at Northstar is their extensive network of groomed back country trails. They have cross country ski and snowshoe equipment for all ages.

This was our 11-year-old’s first venture on cross country skis and the staff in the center were wonderful about giving on-the-spot lessons and tips. Getting out on these trails is a fantastic all-family aerobic activity. There are also trailers available for ambitious and in-shape parents who want to pull little kids down (and up) the trail.

Families have plenty of things to do off the slopes too

Additional Activity Options

One of the key ways for families to save money on a ski trip is to have some off-the-mountain days. Northstar has plenty of activities to keep everyone entertained including a tubing hill, bungy trampoline, and the in-village ice skating rink. Families staying in Northstar accommodations have access to a Recreation Center with a lap pool.

Tahoe Mountain Resorts Lodging luxury condo. Photo by TMRL


There are 220 onsite units available via Northstar reservations. They offer everything from basic hotel rooms, to condos, to full rental homes.

Tahoe Mountain Resorts Lodging: Another Northstar highlight is the extensive accommodation selection for luxury-loving families. Tahoe Mountain Resorts Lodging offers 1 to 4-bedroom condos right in the village. Although these units are individually owned, they all meet a minimum quality standard. We stayed at the Catamount Lodge and found it spacious, well-appointed, comfortable, and unbelievably convenient as it is just steps from dining, shops, and the gondola.

Tahoe Mountain Resorts has their own welcome desk and concierge service, as well as access to fitness rooms and outdoor hot tubs. There’s private underground parking and ski storage. It couldn’t be more user-friendly!

Constellation Residences at Northstar: Our team also checked out Constellation Residences this season and loved the ski-in/ski out experience. The full service hotel has incredible room features for families and guests can use the facilities at the adjacent Ritz-Carlton. Read the full Constellation Residences Northstar kid-friendly review for details.

Cozy lobby lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe: The addition of The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe is an incredible option in Tahoe for families who want full pampering. For guests and non-guests alike, the inviting lobby is a brilliant relaxation zone with an impressive chimney that hosts multiple fireplaces spread thought the lounge. It’s a great place to enjoy kid and adult beverages.

Sophisticated yet kid-friendly dining at Manzanita at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe

We had the pleasure of dining at Manzanita, the signature restaurant, with a open kitchen and an intimate yet lively atmosphere. The interior design is mountain modern featuring wood and natural stone with clean lines and cozy seating. It offers the best of adult meets kid-friendly dining with a hearty menu including pizza, in addition to sophisticated options for parents like 12-Hour Bordeaux Braised Shortribs and Skuna Bay Salmon with fava bean mash, wild mushrooms, and pea shoots. Ingredients are fresh and beautifully presented. A gondola runs from the Ritz to the village, so parents not staying on the property can appreciate a car-free gourmet evening.

One important note for families is that Ritz-Carlton just completed a brand wide update of their Ritz Kids program. Lake Tahoe is offering a multitude of special eco-centric activities (fee-based) designed for children 5-7 and ages 8-12, including educational adventures that teach kids about native animals and plants in Tahoe, as well as themed nature inspired arts and crafts. Stay tuned for an upcoming article on the full Ritz Kids initiative for families.

Need Help Planning a Trip to Lake Tahoe with Kids?

We can help! Our Family Vacation Consultants can provide expert advice on the best ski vacation for your family. Request assistance on our Connect with a Travel Advisor page.

Relevant Links:

Luxury family vacations tips and advice 

Best family ski trips

Lake Tahoe with kids

Editor’s Note: Ciao Bambino was offered a media package to review Northstar for families.  As always, our opinions are our own. Photos by Amie O’Shaughnessy unless otherwise noted.

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