For a location known primarily for best of class skiing Lake Tahoe offers an amazing choice of activities. Even though outdoor activities are the most most familiar ways to have fun there are so many indoor activities that everyone is sure to find something to please.
Let’s start with the casinos. Most of the Nevada side casinos, including MontBleu Casino, offer a full range of activities besides gambling. Also featured are top live shows, truly fine dining and every kind of shopping.
Hiking has always been among the favorite activities at Tahoe in the warmer months. The Mount Tallac/Glen Alpine trail offers a six mile hike to a breathtaking vista of Lake Tahoe, Fallen Leaf Lake and the High Sierra. For the truly adventurous there is the Tahoe Rim Trail which, at 152 miles, completely circles the lake and provides some of the most jaw dropping landscapes to be seen anywhere in the world.
For a glimpse into the heritage of the Lake Tahoe area try the Thunderbird Lodge, begun in 1936, which started out to be a vacation resort, but as the building went on the eccentric owner found himself more and more interested in the indigenous history, the flora and fauna of Tahoe. The site was eventually sold to the US Forest Service and the mansion remains as the last and best example of a great individual residence in the area.
For those interested in the natural wildlife of Tahoe no stay could be complete without a stop at Eagle Lake, famous for the wild Eagles often spotted at the lake. It can get very busy on weekends so plan to arrive early.
Additional leading hiking trails typically include Echo Lakes offering an easy to moderate trail past both the lower and upper Echo Lakes and many other smaller lakes along the way. An even easier choice is the Rainbow Trail which is a handicapped-accessible, paved trail and features many signs by the walkway creating a self-guided tour.
Another great view point that isn’t well known is the Stateline Fire Lookout just a 45 minute hike off the road. The lookout area is cleared so nothing obstructs the alluring views that are worth the easy walk.
A beautiful way to enjoy the lake if you enjoy biking is the Ring Around the Lake bike trail. At 72 miles you will probably just select one portion to do.
While we’re talking about the lake we must mention the Dixie Queen paddlewheel boat providing daytime and dinner cruises. The Dixie Queen offers a fun and memorable bring out of any trip to the Lake.
If you want the ultimate in views with very little effort then check out the Squaw Valley Tram. The tram runs year round from Squaw Village up to the observation facility, restaurant and swimming pool build for the 1960 Winter Olympics. Heavenly also offers an thrilling Tram ride operating all year.
This list should not be considered close to complete. I haven’t even touched on many of the other popular adventures such as hot air balloon rides and, of course, the main winter attraction of downhill skiing and boarding.
With so many fun adventures awaiting you why are you sitting there reading this article? Go have some fun. Go find some Tahoe fun!
It is incredible that within a one to two hour drive of a full-feature city like Reno, Nevada, there are more than a dozen world-class ski resorts. Add the attraction of gambling casinos, fabulous restaurants and showrooms and you have a winter vacation destination at Lake Tahoe that is second-to-none.
If you are in Reno for a visit to a casino or on a business trip, it is a very simple to just rent a car or hop on a shuttle bus down to Lake Tahoe and enjoy a day of awesome skiing with absolutely breathtaking views of the lake from the snow covered slopes.
In the South Lake Tahoe area you will find a little piece of skiing heaven called, appropriately, Heavenly. This beautiful and massive ski resorts’ lower slopes can be seen from the Stateline/South Lake Tahoe highways and from most of the lake itself. Many people consider Heavenly to be one of the most spectacular ski areas on the planet.
Heavenly opened in 1955 with only one chair lift and a small hut on U.S. Forest Service land. Today it covers over 4,800 acres and is literally a massive operation. The resort was purchased in the spring of 2002 by Vail Resorts Inc. who has pumped over $36 million in on-mountain capital to improve and upgrade the site. Enhanced snowmaking on 70% of all mountain trails, expanded grooming, outstanding terrain parks, new signage and access to tree skiing are just a few of the improvements that have been made.
The ski season at Heavenly runs roughly from mid-November to late April. The vertical drop is 3,500 feet and the top elevation is 10,067 feet. The mountain spans California where the base elevation is at 6,540 feet and Nevada where the base elevation is at 7,200 feet. Annual snowfall is 360 inches on average but they had 480 inches during the 2004-2005 season.
The resort has 30 lifts, 15 in California and 15 in Nevada, highlighted by an eight-person gondola and an aerial tram. As far as skiing goes, the mountain offers something for everyone. 35% of trails are rated expert/advanced; 45%are intermediate; and 20% are beginner.
Heavenly has a veritable cornucopia of additional amenities and close access to all the lodging, shopping, dining, recreational, entertainment and fitness facilities that you could possibly imagine. It is truly a fantastic resort.
At the north end of the lake we find Squaw Valley USA, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. It was founded in 1949 amidst 8,000 acres of wilderness preserve in the California High Sierra. Today it boasts over 4,000 acres over six Sierra peaks.
Squaw Valley offers skiers a unique experience since there are literally thousands of acres of open bowl skiing as opposed to the trails that most people (especially Easterners) are accustomed to. Skiing in wide-open bowls in consistently deep snow allows skiers of all levels to kick their skill sets up a notch. There are 16 open bowls to choose from and over 100 runs that are serviced by 33 lifts. The terrain is rated at 25% beginner, 45% intermediate and 30% expert.
The area receives over 450 inches of snowfall annually and boasts one of the most advanced and sophisticated grooming operations around. Three terrain parks and two half pipes round out the operation to include something for everyone. The summit is 9,050 feet with a base of 6,200 feet, making the vertical an impressive 2,850 feet.
Squaw Valley, like Heavenly, offers close proximity to the Lake Tahoe area with all the added attractions and amenities. An absolutely world-class resort, you also have the additional perk of skiing down slopes once graced by Olympic athletes.
These are only two of the many world-class ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe region but they clearly give an indication of the fine facilities that are available. For winter sports enthusiasts who enjoy a nice meal, a relaxing spa and terrific shopping after a day spent on some of the most awesome runs anywhere in the world, Lake Tahoe is a must visit.
About the Author
Michael Russell is your Independent guide to Lake Tahoe
Whistler-Blackcomb is renowned as North America’s leading ski resort. The two mountains rise up majestically from the valley, with over a vertical mile up to the peak. So imagine you only have a single day to ski. Which mountain do you choose? Each has their advocates. Some people will always head for the Whistler Village Gondola or the Creekside gondola, both of which head up Whistler Mountain, and others head unerringly for the Excalibur gondola or the Wizard chair, the main gateways to Blackcomb. So what are the differences? What kind of skiers choose one over the other? Is there any real difference between the two mountains? Which conditions favour Whistler over Blackcomb, and vice-versa?
Powder days (for experts)
If the weather gods have blessed the day with fresh powder, there is little question that Whistler is the mountain of choice for expert skiers. Two words explain why: Peak Chair. The Peak Chair on Whistler gives access to an immense variety of off-piste runs to cater for all levels of powder skier. (If you are at the very high end, you can head for Air Jordan, a terrifying leap off a cliff which involves a 50 foot descent to a intermediate landing point only 60 foot square, after which you have to take off again and descend another 40 feet to the soft snow below. Fluff your first landing and you are looking at several months in hospital…if you are lucky.) There is no lift on Blackcomb to compare to the powder terrain opened up by the Peak Chair.
Powder days (for the rest of us)
Less accomplished skiers in the powder head for the Blackcomb Glacier on powder days. This is an enormous bowl where you can still find fresh tracks two or three hours after the lift has opened. Whilst the over-ambitious can easily do themselves a lot of damage in the many couloirs and cliffs off the Peak Chair, they can’t come to too much harm on the Blackcomb Glacier.
When the weather is stormy and winds of 70km/hour are battering the high alpine, it is likely that the uppermost lifts are closed. Almost certainly the Glacier Chair and Seventh Heaven on Blackcomb will be shut, as well as the T-bars on the Horstmann Glacier. You’ll probably find that Crystal Chair is also closed. This leaves most of the interesting terrain in Blackcomb inaccessible. However on Whistler, even if the Peak Chair and the Harmony Chair are closed, you still have the Village gondola (which has the added bonus in a storm of offering a sheltered ride all the way to the top), the Garbanzo Chair, Big Red and the Emerald Express. These lifts will remain open in any conditions that you want to be up on the mountain at all in. Garbanzo in particular gives access to many tree-sheltered runs which can be great in a storm.
Most of both Whistler and Blackcomb is faces north or west, and receives the sun only obliquely. This is one reason why the snow lasts a long time. However, on a cold but sunny day (and most sunny days are cold in the Whistler winter), you want the sun full on to soften up the piste and to keep you warmer as well. At these times you want to be on Seventh Heaven, the only major south-facing slope in Whistler.
Both Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains are well-covered with trees in the bottom two-thirds of the skiable terrain. However Whistler has the edge in terms of the sheer area of skiable treed terrain. Runs like Club 21 and Sidecut on Whistler are similar to Bark Sandwich on Blackcomb, but the tree runs off the Peak Chair are incomparable.
If you are one of the people for whom ski runs are short intervals between lengthy doses of café cognac, and for whom lunch is the central part of the day, Whistler has little to offer, and you will probably spend more time on Blackcomb. None of the restaurants in Whistler has much atmosphere, whereas Blackcomb has a couple that are passable: Christine’s in the Rendezvous and the Crystal Hut.
So each mountain has its supporters, and each mountain is better for certain conditions and certain types of skier. Just make sure you try them both when you come. And if you are looking for somewhere to stay, give a try to Holiday Whistler, who have a great choice of Whistler chalets, as well as condos and townhomes.
When it comes to snow sports, Italians tend to be a little more laid back with their skiing compared to their French, Swiss or Austrian cousins. In Italy, rather than queuing to catch the first lift to the summit, skiers are more likely to rise late, take a long lunch and finish early for an après ski Peroni beer, a glass of Cinzano or a shot of dark espresso. On a sunny day, you’re likely to find more sun seekers than snow seekers, and it’s not uncommon to see people stripped down to the briefs and bikinis, sitting on a slope-side sun deck soaking up the rays.
Italy is normally overshadowed as a ski destination by the better known ski resorts in France, Switzerland and Austria, but the Italians have a superb selection of their own resorts and are perhaps happy to keep their skiing secrets to themselves.
However, as hosts of the 2006 winter Olympics which took place in and around Torino (Turin), Italy has proven itself worthy of competing as a ski destination in the international arena and for many clued-in Brits, Italy’s laid back attitude to life, love of fine food and wine, good value for money and beautiful mountains are an ongoing draw.
Italy has over 100 resorts scattered throughout the northern part of the country, in the Italian Alps, and the jagged Dolomites. With plenty of cheap flights to Milan, the city is one of the gateways to Italian ski resorts, with a number of superb options less than three hours’ drive from the airport.
Bardonecchia, the French border town which hosted snowboarding events for the 2006 Olympics, is a truly authentic Italian experience with tree lined streets and rustic chalets. Cervinia, has a long ski season running from December to May, and is also linked to Zermatt in Switzerland, meaning you can pop over the border for lunch, should you feel the need for a chunk of Swiss chocolate!
One of the more recent favourites with British skiers is the duty free ski town of Livingo. Known for its lively nightlife, (not surprisingly fueled by the availability of duty free alcohol), wide open and expansive pistes and one of the best terrain parks in Italy, the resort tends to attract a young crowd looking for a great value destination with superb skiing and snowboarding.
As Britain’s skiers become increasingly well traveled, Italy, along with other countries slightly less well known for their skiing, are likely to become even more popular for those looking to experience the laid back lifestyle, incredible scenery and warm Italian reception.
Andrew Regan is an online, freelance author from Scotland. He is a keen rugby player and enjoys traveling.
Working for AITO (the Association of Independent Tour Operators for those who don’t know) has some unusual benefits, the most exciting of these is the in depth specialist knowledge that our members can offer. In the field of ski holidays, for example, we represent over 30 independent tour operators who deal predominantly in ski packages and winter sports – that’s a lot of knowledge that I have ready access to.
And from dipping into this resource, I’ve been able to compile a concise list of ten ski resorts that 10 of our members endorse on their websites. The immense combined expertise these ski operators boast means that I, despite not being a huge winter sports buff, feel confident to take their word and promote these as AITO’s favourites.
So here are AITO’s top ski resorts, along with the companies that offered them superlative laden endorsement. Narrowing the list down to the 10 best ski resorts was a real challenge, given that AITO members offer over 175 between them!
1 St Anton – Austria:
Skiworld recommend St Anton as one of the best ski resorts in the world, and their endorsement seems to be matched by the World Alpine Skiing Championship organisers, who gave the resort the honour of hosting the event in 2001. The peaceful village nearby is a stark contrast to the buzzing internationally renowned ski slopes, but the two seem to fit together perfectly despite their obviously different feels. As the resort attracts ski enthusiasts from all over the world, there is a real cosmopolitan feel to the resort, although English remains the dominating language on the slopes.
Off of the slopes, St Anton’s main street provides plenty of distractions, giving shoppers opportunity to search for jewellery, music, antiques, clothing and local crafts. The latter are worth a special mention, as traditional woodcarvings from the region are exported all over the world.
But what of the slopes themselves? Well, they’re not for beginners, that’s for sure. It’s been said that in St. Anton, a blue run is a red, while a red is a black – they’re pitched at experts and ambitious intermediate level skiers, but those that have the ability are sure to find the slopes endlessly rewarding. The only downside to it is that unless there’s been a fresh snow-fall, conditions are sometimes less than perfect, because of the south-facing aspect. That said, if you’re in luck with the snow-fall, then you’re guaranteed to have one of the best European ski holidays of your life.
2 Courchevel – France:
No list could be complete without mentioning Courchevel – with its stunning reputation, the only downside is the premium price point often bandied around by ski operators when dealing with this most exclusive resort. Regarded as many as the best ski resort in the world, Courchevel offers some of the best ski holidays in Europe – albeit at a high price! One of the best things about the region is that the 600 kilometres of pistes offer a challenge for all abilities – beginners need not leave their comfort zone on the ample green pistes, while those of intermediate ability can ski a challenging selection of red and blue runs. Those feeling particularly daring can head straight for the secret powder stashes that await experts on the black runs – some of the steepest in Europe.
The resort itself lives up to its exclusive reputation with some of the most exciting and expensive nightlife on the European ski holiday circuit. Courchevel 1850 attracts some of Paris’ top cabaret acts and DJs as well as a variety of other entertainments from places to be pampered to bowling and a cinema. The more traditional village centres of Courchevel 1300 and 1550 have a lower key atmosphere with a selection of lively pubs and traditional mountain cuisine.
3 Aspen & Snowmass – USA:
There are 4 mountains in this region, offering a skier over 5,000 acres of skiable terrain and 341 trails allowing everyone from beginners to experts to find an exciting variety of routes on their holiday. This is one of Colorado’s most attractive resorts, and the fact that all the four mountains are covered by the same lift pass means that this ski resort can offer excellent variety – especially if you are experienced enough to take on some of the more challenging runs in Aspen Mountain and Highlands, with their exciting mix of tree runs, gullies and chutes. Beginners and intermediate level skiers are well served as well though, with a large selection of wide cruisers at Buttermilk and Snowmass.
The town was originally defined by its mining trade, but with the ski traffic it has developed into one of the finest ski communities in North America. There are 100 bars and restaurants competing for your attention and an eclectic selection of boutiques and galleries to explore while you take time off the slopes.
4 Verbier – Switzerland:
One common complaint that people used to have with this famous ski resort was its long queues and poorly planned lift transport. Nowadays, things have improved considerably and the reputation of the resort should improve alongside. Verbier is still considered one of Europe’s top ski resorts, and manages to attract skiers from all over the world every year – courtesy of its excellent skiing opportunities for experts and a legendary nightlife. There are over 410 kilometers of pistes and it has an excellent snow record.
The downside to the excellent ski opportunities offered to experienced skiers is that it offers little in the way of entertaining runs for beginners, with just a handful of blue runs at Bruson. And while there is a variety of off-piste entertainment available including a sports centre, swimming pool and skating rink, beginners are still better served looking at other ski holidays in Europe or further afield..
5 La Rosière – France:
This child-friendly ski resort offers a range of slopes for skiers of all abilities, as well as options for non-skiers. This accompanied by the ski school meeting point (a development with catered chalets, bars, restaurants, shops and a bowling alley) and an excellent snow record ensure that La Rosière is a great choice for keen skiers.
The ski runs are divided as follows: 6 green ski runs, 23 blue, 32 red and 12 black runs for the experts. All of these take in the imposing vision of Mont Blanc, and you can even see the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa in the distance, making for some excellent photos and memories that will ensure you come back time and time again when looking for a European ski holiday.
6 Les Arcs – France:
With its breathtaking views of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps, an excellent snow record and ski slopes for those of all abilities, it’s no wonder that Les Arcs has quickly established a world class reputation amongst ski aficionados.
Although the resort is well served with ski runs for beginners, intermediates and advanced skiers, the highlight here is the off piste options. One of only two European stops on the world freeride circuit, the terrain is steep, amazingly varied and long and a must for skiers who have the ability to enjoy it!
The resort is one of only 40 in France to have earned the “Famille Plus” badge. The accolade is awarded only to those who offer outstanding childcare and family services, so those with children can be sure of safe and welcoming surroundings on their ski holiday in Europe.
7 Val d’Isère – France:
Describing the ‘typical’ visitor to Val d’Isère is a near impossible task, which says a great deal about its universal appeal. You get everyone from dedicated ski enthusiasts, to off-piste lovers to families and ‘ladies who lunch’. The majority of the skiing is above 2300 metres and the snow record is, unsurprisingly, excellent.
The choice available is the biggest problem facing visitors to this top ski resort. Visitors have the difficult decision of whether to stick to the ample ski opportunities on the doorstep of the accommodation, or take the trip to the top of Grand Motte – at over 3600 metres high, the view is simply outstanding and well worth the trip.
Once the skiing is done, there are plenty of ways of entertaining yourself. There’s live music at the Folie Douce, while there is a wide selection of bars, pubs and clubs in the town. Those who are looking for something more low key will perhaps be more interested in the pampering body treatments or shopping options however.
8 Klosters – Switzerland:
Arguably the most charming and aesthetically pleasing ski resort in this list is Klosters. Located in the Prattigau valley, the village offers charm and history at every turn. The chalets are a traditional timber fare adding to the idyllic atmosphere of the place, and it’s all part of the experience that you can come off the piste to a cosy chalet to relax.
The experience offered is unique to each skier, with 97 snow runs catering to all abilities. And although the resort has been popularized by Prince Charles’ patronage, it is still the kind of resort that offers a unique experience to each skier, giving them much to discuss in their cosy chalet in the evening, over a reviving hot drink.
9 Zermatt – Switzerland:
Nestled in the foot of the imposing Matterhorn, Zermatt is a top ski resort with an image built on exclusivity – the town is littered with gourmet restaurants, luxury hotels and expensive shops.
While this could indicate a reputation not built on the skiing experience, the options available at Zermatt are actually world class – especially for intermediate and advanced skiers. There are 313 kilometres of some of the highest north and west facing slopes in Europe. Expert skiers should be sure to check out the heli-ski trips as well for the experience of a lifetime.
Off the piste, the village is worth a visit – car free (with only electric and solar powered vehicles and horse-drawn sleighs allowed) with a handful of excellent restaurants. For the best restaurants though, the mountain steals the show with 40 dotted throughout the range. Some of them are truly world class and threaten, without ever managing, to overshadow the splendid skiing experience and become the focus of the European ski holiday.
10 Whistler – Canada:
The best ski resort in Canada, and one of the most highly rated in North America, Whistler is an outstanding winter sports location. Last year it recorded record levels of snow, with 45 feet adding to the crisp piste! But it’s not just the 8100 acres of fabulous skiing which makes Whistler one of the best ski resorts in the world – it has an atmosphere incomparable to others.
Whistler caters for every skier from beginners who barely know how to put skis on, to experts looking for a challenge. There are steeps, deeps, chutes, high alpine bowls, glades, long cruisers and gentle rollers – essentially something for everyone. Around half of the ski runs are aimed at intermediate users, with over a quarter devoted to experts and the rest for beginners. The excitement of some of the tougher intermediate runs and the expert runs provide the perfect incentive for skiers to improve, while the beginner slopes offer the facilities to do so.
But I mentioned the atmosphere didn’t I? It’s about the off-slope activities as much as the on-slope, and there are spas and shopping opportunities aplenty, with Vancouver nearby if it isn’t enough. The Après Ski at Whistler has won numerous awards, however, and visitors will find some wonderful dining experiences – whether you’re in the mood for fish, steak, sushi or gourmet cuisine. For those who have the energy, some of the clubs in the region offer the best nightlife on the world ski circuit.
Narrowing it down to just the 10 best ski resorts was always going to be tricky, but if you’re a skier who wants to make sure they’ve seen it all and if you haven’t visited all of these, then what are you waiting for?
For some families there is nothing better than good old winter family vacations. There are some really fabulous places to travel to if you like winter family vacations and want to get out there in the snow and get active, or maybe just lounge around in a luxurious chalet.
If you are interested in planning and making the most of your winter family vacations but you are not sure where to start, then know that there are a few basic steps you can follow which will help you through the entire planning process of your trip.
Where to go
One of the very first things you are going to have to determine is where you want to go for your winter family vacations. Aspen, Austria, the Rockies, Montana, there are some really great choices, areas that are beautiful and breathtaking and perfect for a family winter vacation.
Where to Stay
The next thing you have to do is find a place to stay. There are many different types of accommodations that you can choose from including lodges, chalets, resorts, and even condos that offer a kitchen and living room. It all really depends on how many people you are traveling with, what your interests are, and what you are looking to do during your time there.
If you want to spend a day on the slopes and then come home and cook your own dinner, then a condo is going to be your best option because it is the most similar to a regular house and offers the amenities that you are going to be looking for here. If you would rather the option of ordering room service then a hotel may be more your style.
What to do
Of course one of the most important things for all winter family vacations is deciding what it is that you are going to do. If you have younger children coming on the winter family vacations then you are going to have to include them in activities, whereas if it is just you and a partner you can go skiing on treacherous slopes, go dining and dancing for the night, or just relax in a hot tub overlooking the beautiful snow-lined landscape.
Winter vacations always offer a great time for the whole family and are even perfect if you are planning on going solo on the trip. Just make sure that you plan properly beforehand so that you have everything taken care of and can really make the most of your time there.
About the Author
Ian Botham runs his own online sports goods mail order business as well as several sports related websites. Check out this great Ski Vacations site or the more specific Heavenly Ski articles and resources.