By Michael Russell
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