‘Going all in’ is the phrase plastered over the promotional material from Heavenly this season (2017/2018) and they’re not wrong. There is a huge ski area of 4,800 acres. To put that into perspective – Hyde Park in London is only 350 acres, the ski area is 3,200 football pitches or 9.5 times the size of Monaco.
You have spectacular views of Lake Tahoe from the mountains giving you holiday snaps to make your Instagram followers truly envious. The main town of South Lake Tahoe, where our accommodation is based, is split - like the mountain - over two states. The low rise Californian side and across the border what seems like high rise Vegas. It’s Casino galore and you can gamble into the early hours. But there’s also a bustling bar scene to soak up some atmosphere.
Being a town with an economy based on gambling, as you may expect, it doesn’t have the ski village beauty of the small European resorts or even the old mining town charm of Breckenridge. But once you get up into the mountains, it more than makes up for it.
Coming to Lake Tahoe opens up a fantastic opportunity to explore the many resorts around the lake at least for a day or two. They’re easy to get to and depending on what pass you buy, many are already included on your lift pass.
This is a resort we definitely recommend hiring a car for a little adventure. If you go for the Tahoe Value pass, for example, it includes 7 days in Heavenly and then you also get to ski in Kirkwood, best for expert skiers (45 minute drive) and/or Northstar, high end, great ski village, shops and snow park (1 hour drive).
Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar are all owned by Vail Resorts which is why you can ski each of them using the same lift pass. And, depending on your dates, you can get some fantastic value out of the epic passes. There are further resorts available, 7 in total around the lake and none much more than an hours drive from Heavenly. To ski the other resorts such as Squaw Valley you would need to buy a separate lift pass.
You can also take boat cruises on the lake during the winter which makes for a novel winter experience.
Skiing in the resort
Heavenly ski area is linked to the town of South Lake Tahoe via gondola so you have easy access from where you stay, but you can’t ski back to the town.
Skiing Heavenly, you get the impression of really travelling around the mountain with wide open fields and wonderfully spaced trees full of fresh powder. The Majority of the blue runs are on the easy side, which is great for beginners. More experienced skiers will want to test out their powder skills or brave their knees on the mogul fields.
A major draw is the views. You can ski in two states – easy-going California and never-stop-the-party Nevada. With a backdrop of turquoise Lake Tahoe or the surreal deserts of Nevada, it’s definitely an unusual resort. Ridge Run is a highlight with spectacular views of the lake the entire way down. And the fact that the beginner area is at the top of the gondola means that the views are accessible to all levels.
As a bonus, the temperatures tend to stay fairly mild due to the proximity to the Pacific. Far more friendly than the lofty resorts of Colorado.
Après starts as the sun goes down with live DJ’s and half price drinks at the Tamarack Lodge. You’re still 9,000 feet up on the mountain and the musically converted Snow Cat gets the dancing going with its 52 speakers and custom built DJ station on the back. Bringing the party to the mountains quite literally.
Back in town, the bars are heaving. It’s less Austrian oompah blaring table dancing and more great night out worthy bustling bars with good music and tasty food. The bar at the gondola station will be the focal point of the après when the weather is good. But many bars will have various discounts and happy hours, so keep an eye on the local papers and flyers (there are 108 bars and clubs in total). The casinos keep the party going at all hours, and drinks are complimentary no matter what you're betting - no need to luck out at blackjack (just make sure you tip a dollar if you want a second drink). It’s certainly a one-of-a-kind ski town where sleep comes as an afterthought.
The closest airport is Reno (13 hours 30 minute flight including a stopover) which is a 1 hour 15 minute transfer to Heavenly. There are no direct flights from the UK into Reno at the moment so you would have to make one connection. From Reno, you can either hire a car (we recommend this) or we also have private and shared transfers to take you to resort.
Alternatively, you can fly into San Francisco (11 hour flight) from which it's a 4 hour self drive (car hire only), but this is an easy drive and it can be a good idea to stay overnight in San Francisco on your arrival. You'll be up and about early due to the jet lag so can still ski that day or alternatively spend a day or two exploring the city before moving onto the mountains at a leisurely pace.
What we like
- The tree skiing is incredible with terrain suitable for intermediates and up
- Fun fact; Lake Tahoe is the 2nd deepest lake in the US, 16th deepest in the world
- Crossing over the state line between California and Nevada, Big Sur vs. Vegas
- The views are incredible to have a backdrop of water when you're skiing is quite spectacular
- Getting a connecting flight into Reno for a shorter transfer doesn't necessarily save you any time
- Having a car is very handy if you want to explore the resorts around Lake Tahoe
- Food and drink in the casinos are very reasonably priced as they want you in there to gamble - but you don't have to