The dirt on … 5 Ski Resorts in North Tahoe

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Alright, this is the moment you’ve all been waiting for! After all, I didn’t go to Tahoe to eat smoked trout and guzzle coffee – I went there to ski. And I’m gonna spill the beans about where you should go. Bear in mind that conditions were icy, and mid-day temps were in the mid-forties. Bummer conditions for skiing. Can’t fault the mountains for that – it’s just plain ol’ bad luck.

1. Northstar-at-Tahoe – This is where we spent our first day of skiing. It’s a darn nice hill with a plethora of blue runs. It’s big, with lots of lifts headed to many places. The staff is really friendly, and the trails are pretty well-marked. The views on the southeastern-most trails are beautiful. Problem is, there’s a lot of homogeneity to the blue runs. Not a lots distinguishes them. They are long, so you get a nice, long, groovy glide. Be sure to check out the tubing park about halfway up the mountain. I didn’t, and regretted it. There’s lots of great food everywhere, especially at the condo/shopping area near the outdoor ice rink. Earthly Delights is pretty awesome. Oh, and don’t buy gear at any of the shops there. Rip-off! Oh, and Northstar is packed with sprogs. If short people put a harsh edge on your shred, best to avoid it.

Awesome view from a Northstar run.            From tahoe
At the very top of Northstar after clouds roll in.      From tahoe

2. Homewood Mountain Ski Resort – The most laid-back, genuine and unpretentious ski resort I’ve ever seen! Tons of great blue runs and lots of nasty, mogully black-diamond stuff for you animals out there. I’d love to ski here after a huge storm of fresh powder. The blue runs are all very different from each other, from wide but steep trails to bobsled-style runs. Some of the lips before the trail drops are imposing – but they’re usually worse than they look unless the snow is icy and you’re a big dude who’s also a scaredy-cat. It’s a very convenient setup here – Homewood is right on West Lake Boulevard. You pull into the lot, buy your ticket, pop on your skis or snowboard and go! Services here can be a little sporadic, especially on weekdays. You have to go to the north lodge to get food or water, which can be a pain. They could also do a better job of penning up the smokers to prevent them from stinking up the nice mountain air, though. The staff is friendly, and the views are spectacular. On many runs, the deep blue of Lake Tahoe looks so close that it feels like you’re a blown turn from swimming in it. If the kiddies at Northstar give you the willies, the crowd is lots older here. Also, the value here is sick … a weekday pass was something like $39. Super-cheap, as Alfred E. Neuman would say!

Can you believe that view?                          From tahoe
Early morning at Homewood.           From tahoe

3. Squaw Valley – We didn’t ski here. After two days of alpine and one day of XC, our legs were simply too shot. Just as well. (Gulp) Squaw Valley scares me. I didn’t see a single run from the lodge that I’d feel comfortable skiing. These mountains are craggy and beastly looking, and huge cable cars and gondolas carry people around. Except for at the bunny hill. You’d have to go there and see it in-person to see how scary it is. I was genuinely intimidated. I think Squaw Valley is also kind of silly in charging non-skiers $22 for a gondola ride to the High Camp, where they have a skating rink, tennis courts and other cool stuff. Seriously. Especially on week days. Silly.

4. Boreal – This is a perfect place for the newbies. The runs are short and unassuming, and there are barely any black runs. I’d probably fall asleep on these trails, but it’s perfect for either getting your ski legs for the first runs of the season, or helping a new skier get some confidence. Be sure to get a load of the lodge, especially the arcade. You’ll feel like you fell into a DeLorean aimed straight into the neon and spandex heart of 1985. Livin’ on a prayer, baby! This could be a fun place to snowtube … if they were actually open during their posted hours. Lazy bums.

5. Soda Springs – We went here to look into snow tubing. No dice – it was all torn up, and the staff seemed to have no idea what was going in. They sent us to Boreal, where we were denied again. But as far as the skiing, this seems like it would be a great place for a solid blue skier to get a taste of the black diamonds. This is a pretty unassuming place, with a lot of wide-open spaces for beginners to dial in their greens and move to blue. I would mind trying the black runs here, since none of them seem to long or intimidating – definitely less scare-factor than Squaw Valley or Homewood!

Your heroic guide, Wandering Justin.        From tahoe

Well, there you have it! I’d definitely consider Homewood the value king. But if you’re an awesome skier, Squaw Valley will keep you occupied. It has more ritz and glitz, if you appreciate that sort of thing. Homewood is more Guns ‘n’ Roses, where Squaw Valley is the London Symphony Orchestra.

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Four Places in Tahoe to Go Grubbin’

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You can only cram in so much skiing, especially when the slopes are icy. There comes a time each day when you’ll have to troop indoors for a bite. Or sometimes before you board the lift.
I can’t say North Tahoe cuisine titillates the tongue. It’s a lot of Mexican food, steaks and pizza. But there are a few neat little places tucked around, if you know where to look. Let me save you some time driving up and down the winding roads. In no particular order --

FiftyFifty Brewpub – There’s a lot to like about this spot in Truckee. And I’m not just talking about the oak-aged barleywine, which is a rare treat you shouldn’t miss. But you can also get some great entrees. I went for a BLT served with seared ahi tuna. And get this – FiftyFifty offers a side of black beans! Far healthier and tastier than fries or chips, no? I’d like to go back and try a pizza. The service was also excellent.

Tahoe House – Our hostess at the Firelite Lodge pointed this one out to us. We never would’ve found it otherwise, since it’s just off the junction that splits Tahoe City traffic to either Truckee or Homewood. If you head toward Homewood, Tahoe House is just a few hundred feet away. They brew really strong coffee by the cup (no sitting around and getting sour here) and have awesome baked goods. My coffee paired nicely with a smoked ham and gruyere croissant. I also stocked up on some goodies for the plane ride home: a rum ball, a slice of chocolate cappuccino coffee cake and a slab of pecan fudge – each tasted even better than it sounds. I was tempted to also grab some homemade smoked trout, but I would’ve endeared myself to none of the passengers. Load up on the desserts because they’re the best you’ll find around. The décor is also very homey Swiss style.

Jason’s – This became our favorite spot in King’s Beach. You could eat healthy with some decent veggie angel hair, or go for a burger or porterhouse. Jason’s also has a decent salad bar, a friendly vibe and a very good staff. The desserts are pretty good (though not as awesome as Tahoe House), as are the spiked hot cocoa drinks. Parking can be tough – be sure to look around the back of the building for more spaces if the front is crammed.

Gear and Grind Cafe – This is an awesome spot in Tahoe City. They brew seriously strong coffee, and it doesn’t sit around getting stale. You order it, they grind it, they pour hot water over the filter. BOOM! Serious coffee. And they make a great ham & egg croissant, too. If you’re lucky, Sierra the Calm but Friendly Shop Dog will appear to hang out with you. She is most excellent company. They also open early and can set you up with supplies you might need before you hit the slopes or trails. Lots of good reading material on-hand if you’re solo that day. A very friendly staff, in both the cafe and sports portions.

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