When the snow begins to fall, millions of powder-hungry skiers and boarders swarm the slopes of Lake Tahoe. Over a dozen resorts make Tahoe a Mecca for skiers all around the world. Each resort has a unique edge over another and has something to offer for every type of skier and snowboarder, from the bunny slope bomber to the veteran ski bum. So when the time to shred comes, it’s absolutely essential to know exactly which resort will satisfy.
Gnarliest Vert: Squaw
For the more advanced riders who are looking for some sheer steep face gnar, Squaw Valley is simply the place to be. In fact, a man by the name Robb Gaffney revolutionized the word “gnar” when he and friends created the game “Gnar” because they felt that Squaw Valley had become too serious and competitive. The game is scored by “Gaffney’s Numerical Assessment of Radness” (GNAR) points, guidelines which lay out combinations of the craziest, most gut-wrenching runs, in addition to bonus points for pulling them off under often hilarious conditions.
For example, players are awarded massive amounts of points for skiing down the treacherous “Palisades” butt-naked. They are awarded even more points if they call their mothers while doing so.
In any case, this guideline paved the way for access to some of the gnarliest vert available in Lake Tahoe – or at least, made the seemingly impossible runs possible. The KT-22 lift is a gateway to arguably the gnarliest runs in Tahoe. “The Nose” is famous for being the stomping ground for Squaw’s top athletes, a run finished by hucking “The Fingers” – flying mercilessly over a “hand” of 40 foot rock cliffs. On the other side of the resort, the stoic Granite Chief face offers some of the most exhilerating vert on the mountain.
Best Secret Stashes: Alpine
Though Alpine Meadows may be smaller than Squaw or Heavenly, its beauty resides in its hikeable stashes. For starters, three huge bowls on the face of Ward Peak stare grimly at those riding the Summit Chair – Idiot’s Delight, Beaver Bowl and Estelle Bowl. The combination of the three can quench any skier/snowboarder’s thirst for gnar: Idiot’s Delight has the extreme downhill, while Beaver has the tree runs if one traverses early. Estelle Bowl has the closest feeling to backcountry while still being part of the resort. These bowls are glorious on a bluebird powder day.
Another great hike at Alpine is the High T hike over the top Alpine Bowl and into Sherwood Bowl, where there are loads of runs with untouched pow if one goes early enough. For the even more curious, the hike around Summit Peak is home to some killer downhill. These stashes are the perfect escape from the crowded slopes on the holidays and are for those seeking some adrenaline-infused solitude.
In addition, Alpine Meadows has an Open Boundary Policy, meaning that there is always more to explore. Not many other resorts give their customers the opportunity to find and claim a secret backcountry stash for themselves.
Best Trees: Heavenly
Even though Heavenly boasts huge boulevards of groomed runs, take one cut into the woods and you will find unbelievable tree skiing through ancient snowcovered “Sugar Pines”. The “Nevada Woods”, off of Olympic Express, is home to a luscious grove of widely spaced trees. Powder days make for an unbelievable experience within the sunlit glade, especially if it’s early in the morning and the face is still untracked. The skier mantra, “No friends on a powder day” couldn’t hold more truth than in this situation.
More incredible unmarked runs lie in “Pinnacle Woods”, just off the top of Sky Chair. The trees here are so widely spaced that the experience almost begins to feel like a trip to the deep backcountry. The untamed yet accessible nature of the woods makes this an iconic Tahoe destination. On the other side of the mountain, the Powderbowl woods live up to their name with a sweet stash that has its own dedicated lift servicing it. Also, since Heavenly is a sprawling 4,800 acres, the possible tree runs across the entire mountain are basically limitless.
Best Parks: Northstar
Northstar is the clear winner in the terrain parks category. The resort has seven parks filled with all types of terrain. There’s “The Stash”, a natural environment filled with nature-inspired wooden jibs, jumps and stumps. According to Northstar, all the materials in the stash are all locally harvested and all natural, providing a unique backcountry feel to a quirky terrain park.
Following “The Stash” is one of the best all-around parks in Tahoe – Pinball. Perfect for intermediate riders who are looking to become more comfortable and technical with boxes and rails, this jibyard can keep the park rats entertained for hours. For the ultra gnar, or for people looking to get hesh (look that one up), there are the half-pipes, which have been ranked in the Top 10 Pipes in North America for the past seven years.