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What I Love About Five Tahoe-Truckee Ski Resorts

It’s finally winter here in Truckee-Tahoe! I feel like I say that every winter since I moved here in 2010, and it immediately snowed four feet overnight. What can I say, my expectations have been high ever since. Even though fall is my favorite, I love winter here and spend most of my winter weekends snowboarding at one of the local resorts. Over the years, I’ve ridden most of the resorts, and, while I definitely have a favorite, all the resorts have something fun to offer! Below is my non-exhaustive list of a few of my favorite resorts, my favorite things about them, and their downsides.

Heavenly Lake Tahoe Ski Resort is where I learned how to snowboard, and will always have a special place in my heart. See my detailed resort report on Heavenly here.

Pros

  • In Town Accessibility: Heavenly is by far the easiest resort to get to without staying on site. There are two main access points, one right in Stateline, Nevada at the gondola and the other on the South Lake Tahoe, California side up Ski Run Boulevard. There are also access points on the backside if you’re coming up from Reno or Carson City.
  • Huge acreage: This resort is HUGE – much bigger than it seems, especially if you are used to spending most of your time on the front side. It’s got 4,800 skiable acres – currently the biggest in Tahoe and runs that drop 3,500 feet in one shot.
  • Great for mixed ability levels: Like I said, this is where I learned to snowboard, and it’s a great place for your first day, with lessons and a couple of beginner focused areas. There’s also some incredibly challenging terrain, advanced skiers and riders should check out Mott and Killibrew Canyons. Heavenly is a great resort to visit if your group has a mix of skill levels. New riders will have runs to build confidence but not be overwhelmed and the advanced people in your group will not be bored.

Cons

  • Crowds: Hoo boy, Heavenly can get crowded on a busy weekend, especially if you start from the in town bases. The backside might still be fairly empty, but you could be waiting a long time (like more than an hour) at some of the choke point lifts.
  • Cat tracks: This is a snowboarder specific one, but the different areas of the resort are frequently connected by long, flat cat tracks which are sometimes unavoidable and occasionally stressfully crowded. 

Diamond Peak is a resort I went to for the first time just a couple of years ago, and it is a hidden gem that doesn’t get much attention. Click here to read my detailed resort report on Diamond Peak.

Pros

  • Views: While Alpine and Heavenly get all the press for their amazing views, I’m going to go against the grain and say that Diamond Peak has the BEST views of any of the Tahoe-Truckee resorts. WHAT? Yep, the best. First off, it’s got amazing lake views that rival any of the other lake facing resorts, next, you also look east into Nevada and you get the visual of the incredible rain shadow that the Sierra makes to the east, and, finally, you are looking across the lake to the impressive peaks that surround South Lake Tahoe, my favorite mountain view.
  • Small size: Diamond Peak is not a big resort compared to some of the others in the area, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. The terrain they do have is fun, and it’s easier to learn the layout and runs at a smaller resort if you’re only there for a few days.
  • Affordability: Skiing and snowboarding are expensive sports for sure, but lift tickets can be found much cheaper for smaller, less well known ski hills. A 3-day lift ticket for adults can start at $88.

Cons

  • Lack of expert terrain: If you are looking for a ton of gnarly terrain, Diamond Peak might not be for you, as there aren’t any double black diamond (expert) runs at this mountain.
  • Older lifts: I’ve been spoiled by detachable quad lifts that are present at most of the larger resorts,so it’s an adjustment to get used to the older style of lifts here. The old-school ones are too fast when you’re getting on and off, and too slow on the ride up.
For some reason, this is the only photo I have of Northstar.

Northstar California Resort often gets overshadowed by the other, flashier local Vail-owned resorts, but this is a solid, convenient option with some great terrain.

Pros

  • Close to town accessibility: It’s not quite as “in town” as Heavenly, but Northstar is very accessible – only 15-20 minutes from downtown Truckee and about 15 minutes from North Lake Tahoe. There are also lots of on-mountain lodging options.
  • Great for intermediates: I think that Northstar is a great place for intermediate skiers and riders. Some resorts have good beginner runs and fun stashes for people with advanced skills, but intermediates are left out to dry. This isn’t true for Northstar, and the midlevel runs have great variety and scenery.
  • Full of surprises: Especially when compared to other large North Lake/Truckee resorts, Northstar can get a reputation that it’s not as good as the other mountains. I think it’s full of fun surprises, especially if you’re able to explore off the beaten path, like braving the tow rope over to Lookout Mountain.

Cons

  • “Flat-star”: There’s a reason that Northstar has this nickname. It is lower and flatter than many of the surrounding resorts, so it sometimes misses out on storms that dump huge amounts of powder on the other mountains.
  • Traffic/Parking: Maybe because of its proximity to Truckee and Kings Beach, the traffic into and out of Northstar can get really backed up. There’s also been a battle over free and paid parking in the last couple of years, and unless you get there really early or pay for parking, you’ll probably have to take a shuttle from the parking lot to the lifts.

Homewood Mountain Resort may not be Alpine or Squ*w Valley, but it is a great West Shore ski area with gorgeous views. Here’s my detailed resort report on Homewood Mountain Resort.

Pros

  • Independent & Prices: Homewood is one of the remaining independent mountains still hanging on. It’s also got some of the cheaper lift tickets available, with a three pack of adult tickets going for $96 per day. You can also often find even better deals for tickets.
  • Fun Trees: I love the tree riding and skiing at Homewood! It’s a great place to build up your confidence in the trees. It’s steep enough that you don’t get stuck, but not so steep that it’s overly intimidating. There are lots of little pockets with trees with different spacing, so you can most likely find a patch that suits your skills. The orientation of Homewood also makes it so the trees really hold on to the powder, so they don’t seem to get tracked out very quickly
  • Lake Views & Access: Homewood has incredible views – you basically can ski or ride down to the lake from their front side.

Cons

  • Aging Infrastructure: Homewood has old school, slow lifts. If you want to do as many laps as possible before the bell, you’ll be frustrated on the long rides to the top. I also got pretty cold sitting still for so long between runs.
  • Gaper City: Because of its prices and accessibility, Homewood tends to attract a lot of new skiers and riders. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you’ll definitely have to watch where you’re going and pay attention to your surroundings.

Sugar Bowl is the resort where I’ve had a pass for the last five years, and it’s no secret that I love this resort for its terrain, views, atmosphere, and the best Bloody Mary in all of Truckee-Tahoe! Check out my detailed resort report on Sugar Bowl here.

Pros

  • Terrain: While not the biggest acreage, I think that Sugar Bowl has the best mix of terrain of any resort I’ve ridden in Tahoe or Truckee. Also, because of its size, there aren’t many long traverses to get to the good stuff, which I really appreciate as a snowboarder.
  • Ability to progress: Because of Sugar Bowl’s variety of terrain, I really improved as a snowboarder when I started to ride there regularly. I was able to get into harder runs without completely committing myself to tight trees, like you need to at a lot of the other resorts, and I didn’t have to tire myself out with long traverses or hikes to get to off-piste terrain.
  • Backcountry Access: If you are looking to access the backcountry from a resort setting, you can do that at Sugar Bowl. People can skin up or take the lift, and then get out into the backcountry. If you do that, be sure you have proper equipment, training, and have checked the avalanche forecast, as those areas are not patrolled.

Cons

  • Not Always Great for Beginners: When there’s a snowstorm at Sugar Bowl, they often don’t groom very many of the runs, which can be super fun for intermediate or better skiers and riders, but can be very challenging for beginners. Greyson and I went on Friday after a big storm, and there wasn’t even much grooming connecting the runs to each other, and there were a few times that we struggled to get where we were going because of this.
  • Price: Sugar Bowl is another one of the few independently owned resorts, but that does not make it cheap to ski or ride there – weekend lift tickets are around $132! Deals are available though, especially if you want to go midweek.
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Snowshoeing Sawtooth Trail in Truckee

Looking for an easy to access, beautiful snowshoe hike in Truckee? Sawtooth Trail is definitely both of those! Sawtooth Loop is a mixed use trail that I do on my mountain bike pretty frequently in the summer, and it turns into a great place to snowshoe or even cross country ski in the winter.

Woman and Yellow Dog snowshoe in front of boulder

Once Truckee gets buried under heavy snow in the winter, the main parking area for Sawtooth Trail is behind a closed gate on the 06 road. There is a small parking area outside of the gate on Thelin Road (click here for the location on Google Maps) that is right next to the Sawtooth Lower Connector, the best way to access Sawtooth Trail. Note: from November to May, the Town of Truckee can and will tow your car if it’s parked on the road if it impedes snow removal.

Sawtooth Trail is a popular, but not crowded, spot for winter hiking and snowshoeing, so there will most likely be a trail already broken that you can follow that starts from the right side of the parking area. It’s also a great place to bring your dog! I’ve never done the full Sawtooth Loop as a snowshoe, which would be 11-12 miles, but this trail is also great as an out and back. Since snowshoeing is much more of a workout than regular hiking, I usually do 3-4 miles round trip.

Yellow dog runs through the snow

While every time I’ve been to Sawtooth in the winter, an easy-to-follow trail has already been broken, an app like Trailforks is a great resource for finding trails and helping to not get off track (especially in the snow). Trailforks is a paid service, though at only $3 per month, I think it’s well worth the cost. To do this as a snowshoe from the lower parking area, you start on a short uphill, the Sawtooth Lower Connector which connects with Sawtooth Trail (Lower Ridgeline) At about 1.5 miles from the lower parking area, there’s a great viewpoint, looking down at the Truckee River. Often, this is the point I turn around for a nice 3 ish mile, mostly flat round trip journey. Keep going as long as you want before turning around for an out and back. Past the lookout, the trail gets less flat and starts gaining elevation. The full loop has quite a few climbs and descents, with around 700 feet of elevation gain.

Woman and Yellow Dog sit on a rock above a river

Before you go out, be sure to check the avalanche forecast from Sierra Avalanche Center and be sure you’ve packed with everything you need for safely recreating outdoors in the winter. While snowshoeing is usually less risky than something like backcountry skiing, it’s still important to be informed and prepared before you go.

Click here to see some of my favorite snowshoeing gear.

Click here for more awesome snowshoe hikes in Truckee-Tahoe.

Trail Stats:

Mileage: To the Riverview Lookout: 3 miles, Full Loop: 11-12 miles Elevation: To the Riverview Lookout: ~150 feet, Full Loop: ~700 feet Difficulty: Easy
Strava route to the Riverview Lookout
Wašišiw Ɂítdeh (Washoe) Land

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VIDEO: First Ride on the 2021 Ibis Ripmo

I made an exciting purchase at the end of 2020 – a brand new Ibis Ripmo! I finally got to take it on a ride last week, and I had an amazing time on Mills Peak Trail. Watch below to hear my first impressions of an awesome bike!

Click here to see my Strava route for this ride.

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VIDEO: Jackass & A1 Trails, Truckee

It’s getting pretty dusty here in Truckee! The trails are still fun, even if they’re loose and beat up. I did a lap on Truckee’s most popular trail, Jackass and one on A1, the new-ish trail in that network.

Check out my Strava Ridelog here!

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Five Must Do Fall Hikes in Truckee

I love hiking in Truckee in the fall! Read below for a few of my favorites places to hike before the snow starts falling. All of these hikes are on Nisenan & Wašišiw Ɂítdeh (Washoe) Land.

Donner Peak Hike // tahoefabulous.com

Donner Peak: Hiking to the top of Donner Peak is one of my favorite short and sweet hikes that still works up a sweat. It’s just under 4 miles round trip and just under 1,000 feet of climbing, with a unique view of Donner Lake through a “window” in the summit. You can check out my Hiking Donner Peak trail guide here. Note: I wrote that guide for hiking it in the spring/early summer. By fall time, there likely won’t be much, if any, running water on the trail.

Sawtooth Trail // tahoefabulous.com

Sawtooth Loop: I’ve mainly done the Sawtooth Loop as a mountain bike ride, but it’s also a popular hiking trail. If you want a longer hike, you can do the full loop, which is about 10.75 miles and ~650 feet of climbing. For something shorter, just treat it like an out and back. Start by parking at the Sawtooth Trailhead parking area here. The trail is pretty well marked, but there are a few social trails as well, so it’s good to have an idea where you’re going. To do the full loop, start on Lower Ridgeline. I’d recommend hiking it counterclockwise, so continue on to Upper Ridgeline, then Martis Creek Meadow, Bald Meadow, and finally back on to Lower Ridgeline.

Tinker Knob Hike // tahoefabulous.com

Tinker Knob: For a long hike with a scrambly summit, I’d recommend hiking to Tinker Knob on the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s about 15 miles with 2,500 feet of elevation gain. The views on this hike are among my favorite of any hike I’ve done in the area. If you’re interested in a most-of-a-day hike, here’s my guide to hiking Tinker Knob.

Summit Lake: The out and back to the gorgeous Summit Lake is another route I’ve mainly done as a mountain bike ride, but it’s a beautiful spot to hike into. The way I go, it’s about 900 feet of climbing and 6 miles round trip, mainly uphill on the way out and mostly down on the way down with a beautiful lunch spot at Summit Lake at the midpoint. Park here, at the Castle Valley trailhead and head up the Castle Valley Fire Road for about 0.57 miles before turning right onto Donner Lake Rim Trail/Castle Valley East, which is usually signed. The DLRT crosses the PCT (don’t turn here!) and becomes the DLRT Castle Valley section and then the DLRT Summit Lake Trail which will bring you to Summit Lake. You can also get to Summit Lake via the PCT Castle Valley and the Summit Lake Trail, which I’d like to do someday!

Castle Peak Hike // tahoefabulous.com

Castle Peak: I think that this is the most challenging hike on my list, even if it isn’t the longest! The incredible rock outcroppings and miles of views make it totally worth it though! It’s about 7.12 miles round trip, with about 1,900 feet of climbing, though a lot of that climbing happens in just a couple of miles. The downhill on this hike is almost as challenging as the climb, and I’d recommend trekking poles for this one. Here’s my guide to summiting Castle Peak. 

Click here for some my favorite gear for hiking in Truckee and Tahoe in the fall!

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Favorite Gear for Fall Hikes in Tahoe

Fall is such a great time to go hiking in Tahoe. The mornings are crisp, the afternoons are sunny, the air is (hopefully) clear of wildfire smoke, and the trails are less crowded. Most of the fall hikes in the Tahoe area can be done with pretty simple gear – basically hiking clothes and the ten essentials. While hiking clothes and equipment can be really expensive, they don’t have to be. Below, I share some of my favorite gear at a variety of price points.

Tinker Knob Hike // tahoefabulous.com

The temperature can swing pretty wildly throughout the day, so having layers is critical. In the fall, I usually wear a sweat wicking, tech tee – either a Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily ($45) or the REI Coop Shift which goes on sale frequently. I think I paid less that $20 for mine. Next up is a long sleeved, light layer. Since last summer, I’ve been all about sunshirts for this layer. I love not having to re-apply sunscreen on long hikes! I have the Patagonia Tropic Comfort Hoody ($69). I love the slim fit, back zipper pocket, and the hood that adds even more sun protection. For a cheaper option, I also have the REI Coop Sahara Button Down (currently on sale for $36). I actually bought the men’s version for extra length (I’m 5’11”), and I am very sad that they didn’t have the plaid options when I got mine! We don’t tend to have a lot of rain in the fall here, so I usually skip a raincoat in favor of a slightly water resistant windshirt. I bring my Patagonia Houdini ($99) basically everywhere. Right now seems like a great time to buy a wind breaker – there are a ton of options on sale at REI right now. This Ultimate Direction Breeze Shell for $31 seems like an amazing deal! For early morning, evening, and late fall hikes, I also add a vest. I have a Marmot down vest that’s a few years old – the Women’s Highlander ($123) seems to be the current version. If you don’t want down, they have a synthetic Women’s Featherless Avant ($105). REI Coop also has a down vest, currently on sale for $56.

Fall Hikes in Tahoe Clothes // tahoefabulous.com

My bottom layers tend to be way more simple! If the temperature is above 45 degrees, I wear shorts. I usually stick to running or athletic shorts – I’m not sure if I even own “hiking” shorts anymore. I alternate between the REI Coop Active Pursuits 4.5” ($40). They frequently go on sale, and I think I paid around $15 each for mine. This summer, I bought long spandex shorts for yoga, and I discovered how much I love hiking in them. I bought this 90 Degrees two pack ($40), and they’ve held up really well. I like the high waist to reduce rubbing from a backpack, and the legs are tight enough that they don’t roll up, but don’t dig in. On colder days, I wear leggings, usually cheap ones like these CRZ Yoga Naked Feeling Leggings ($24), so I don’t feel too bad about snagging them on a bush or scraping on a rock. These ones have held up really well for the price, though! 

I exclusively hike in my trail runners at this point, even in pretty rocky terrain. My current favorite is the Salomon X-Mission 3. It fits my duck feet (wide forefoot, narrow heel) really well, and I have been very impressed with how well they’ve held up over the years. They’re currently on sale for $86 from Salomon, and you can find them even cheaper in limited sizes on Amazon and at REI. The other trail runners I’ve had and liked were the Saucony Peregrine ($120). They were comfortable and stable, but they wore out faster than my current Salomons. The Saucony Peregrines are also on Amazon for as low as $72.

Fall Hiking Gear Truckee // tahoefabulous.com

Since I want somewhere to stash my layers and need a way to carry my safety gear, I need some sort of pack. If I’m planning on a shorter hike or doing any trail running, I use the Ultimate Direction Race Vesta. I have version 4.0, which is on sale on Amazon ($70) and REI ($87). This is an incredible deal, and the 4.0 version is awesome. In fact, when I bought mine from Tahoe Mountain Sports, the woman helping me said she preferred the 4.0 over the 5.0 that was about to come out, because of the additional pockets in the 4.0. The Ultimate Direction Vesta 5.0 ($139) is available now, too. For a longer day hike where I want more food and water, I repurpose my mountain biking hydration pack, a five year old Camelbak Solstice ($135).

I haven’t always been the best about carrying the ten essentials on familiar day hikes, but something unexpected could happen anywhere. For navigation, I tend to rely on my iPhone and the Trailforks app. There are some GPS tracking watches that have route uploading capacities and navigation aids. Greyson has an older version of the Garmin fenix ($690), but we haven’t really figured out how to use that feature very well. For sun protection, I ALWAYS have sunglasses with me. I’m hard on my sunglasses, so I like ones that aren’t too expensive but can handle some abuse. For warm weather hiking, I love the Goodr OGs ($25) because they have a non-slip pad on the bridge of the nose. For sunscreen, I stick to the ones with physical blockers like thinksport ($9).

I have a small first aid kit like this Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight one. Be sure to check in on it every six months or so. More than once, I’ve discovered that the band aids are gone when I really need one! In addition to the water I carry, I also have a Lifestraw ($15) for emergencies. Also in the category of things I hope that I don’t have to use, I have a lighter and matches, a space blanket ($5), and a Petzl Tikkina headlamp ($20). 

Later this week, I’ll share some of my favorite fall hikes to do in the Tahoe-Truckee area, so be sure to check back! Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale as compensation – at no additional cost to you. I promise to only recommend products that I use and enjoy!

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VIDEO: Mother Lode & True Grit Trails in Tahoe Donner

I climbed to the top of Hawkes Peak in Tahoe Donner and rode down Upper Mother Lode and True Grit. In typical August fashion, it was dusty and loose.

Check out my Trailforks Ride Log here!