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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- “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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.