In my last post, I talked about what it’s like to be in Lake Tahoe during a snowstorm. To get a better feel for the storm I was in, don’t forget to check out this post. Long story short, we almost got snowed in for, at least, another day. In this post, I wanted to expand more on Lake Tahoe snowboarding in the snow.
There are many Lake Tahoe ski resorts to choose from. Since the introduction of snowboarding in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, Lake Tahoe has been a hub for snowboarding activity.
Some of the first snowboards used were long pieces of wood with handmade bindings. Nowadays, the science and sport of snowboarding has grown. With it the number of snowboarding features at many Lake Tahoe ski areas has similarly increased, including halfpipes and rails.
As a quick primer, there are over a dozen Lake Tahoe resorts that feature ski and snowboarding (in alphabetical order):
- Alpine Meadows Ski Resort
- Boreal Ski Resort
- Diamond Peak Ski Resort
- Donner Ski Ranch
- Heavenly Ski Resort
- Homewood Ski Resort
- Kirkwood Ski Resort
- Mt. Rose Ski Resort
- Northstar at Tahoe Ski Resort
- Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort
- Squaw Valley Ski Resort
- Sugar Bowl Ski Resort
Each has their pros and cons, their prices, and history. Some are bigger, some are smaller.
Probably the biggest thing to note about them is their location.
If you’re driving from The Bay Area, or basically California side, you’ll want to note the character of the roads. Though South Lake Tahoe is a little warmer and the weather may be a little better during Lake Tahoe winter time, Highway 50 is smaller and more treacherous.
On the flip side, North Lake Tahoe and Truckee/Donner Pass area tends to be a little colder. Interstate 80, however, has much better road conditions during the winter with more frequent snow plowing.
With this in mind, we stayed in the town of Truckee, California and went snowboarding at Northstar at Tahoe Ski Resort.
Considering that there was a snow storm coming, Miracle March as they called it, we knew we wanted to get to Northstar as early as possible (the first lift opened at 8:30 am) and to leave, possibly, before the last lift closed at 4:30 pm.
To accomplish this, we picked up our rentals the evening before and left all of our equipment in the car.
For rentals, I recommend Tahoe Dave’s. They have relatively inexpensive gear that’s sturdy and will do the job. They offer a variety of rentals including skis, ski poles, ski boots, snowboards, snowboard bindings, snowboard boots, helmets, snow clothing rental, snowshoes, and so much more. Tahoe Dave’s also has a policy of allowing rentals for any given day to be picked up the day before after 3 pm and dropped off the following day by 10 am, without extra charge.
When we got to the ski resort entrance, there was already a line of cars. There was mostly a long line because many cars had chains and they were driving at 35 mph.
There is a free shuttle lot at Northstar, but we elected to pay $10 at an automated kiosk to be closer to the action. The last thing we wanted was to be stuck waiting in a large snow flurry. This lot, Lot Yellow, offered convenient pickup right in front of the kiosk where you pay for parking.
Though we intended on getting to the resort at lift opening (8:30 am), by the time we got to the ski resort it was 10 am. People were still arriving at this point, so Northstar was not very crowded.
Even at its peak, Northstar was not that crowded. The most crowded places were the dining areas and The Village at the foot of the ski resort.
There were a bunch of kids learning how to ski and snowboard. This population was probably followed by families, then friends.
After getting our entire group together, we picked up the Big Springs Express Gondola from The Village at Northstar up to The Lodge area. Because we rode a gondola up, we didn’t have to snap into our equipment.
We simply placed our gear outside of the gondola and sat inside for the quick ride up.
The area in front of The Lodge is a mostly flat area that contains four ski lifts, leading to various parts of the mountain. After getting off of the Big Springs Express Gondola, we headed to the Vista Express lift to kick-off our runs with a beginner run.
This was the view from the top of Skid Trail (green circle), leading down to Lumberjack (green circle).
This run starts off pretty level before becoming more steep. You can maintain a nice level of speed going down the entire way back to The Lodge area.
As we proceeded down the mountain, the snow started picking up.
When we got back to the main lodge area, this is what the slopes looked like. Everyone was definitely bundled up by now with hoods and goggles on.
We went up a few more times to the top of this run. Each time we went up, the weather became slightly more precarious.
On the last run, it felt like whiteout conditions with you barely able to see 100 feet in front of you.
Due to the weather, half of the mountain was inaccessible including the highest runs and the backside of the mountain.
Despite the cold, the temperature hovered around 30º Fahrenheit. It wasn’t too cold, in this regard. My friends and I had prepared for the cold by wearing fully insulated jackets and lots of layers.
The worst part for me was probably getting stuck in almost of foot of fresh powder, numerous times. I’m used to either, slushier conditions like those at many Big Bear resorts, or at the very least, conditions where the snow is fairly worn.
In many cases, on many lesser traveled parts, I found myself traveling straight into flat, thick snowfall.
Somewhere in the photo above, is my snowboard.
Waddling downhill on the last run, we eventually met up with friends who were making a snowman on the skating rink. Down at The Village, the weather was significantly better in terms of visibility. It was still snowing gently, but the winds were gone and you could see at least a half a mile in front of you.
After getting our entire group together, we separated into our cars and headed back to the shuttle area.
By the time we boarded the shuttle around 5:15 pm, there wasn’t really a line to board the bus. Within two minutes, we were picked up.
When we got to our car, there was almost a foot of fresh snow on top of the car. It took us a few minutes to remove our boots, store our equipment, and brush the snow on top of our vehicle off. Soon enough, though, we were on our way back to our cabin, on our way to decided just what we would do the next to avoid being snowed in.
Whether you’re going to Lake Tahoe for snowboarding or skiing, I highly recommend checking out Northstar for the number of amenities they have. This resort, which features a Ritz Carlton, has a reputation for having easier intermediate runs. At one point, I heard the term Flatstar pointed out, due to the volume of flat runs.
Especially if the snow is light, I can see this Lake Tahoe ski resort being quite beautiful. From the lifts to the friendly personnel, I thought the experience was great. The major downside for me was just being safe amid whiteout conditions. Though I never felt unsafe, it was slightly unsettling being on a ski lift during high winds.
If you’re thinking of going to Lake Tahoe for snowboarding or skiing, I hope this insight helps. Let me know your favorite resort. I hope to check out many more in the future.