Happy New Year! I hope you all are easing nicely into 2016. I ducked out for a bit here, took some time to be offline and even skied in Lake Tahoe. The break was good and I feel like there is so much I want to share. I thought our getaway and some tips for visiting Tahoe in winter might be a nice start here. I think it’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet and for those of us in the Bay Area, so close. I had forgotten how gorgeous it can be, especially in winter.
Lake Tahoe is surrounded by many cute towns, fabulous ski resorts and unparalleled natural beauty. At a little more than 6,000 feet up, Tahoe is North America’a largest alpine lake. The lake is set between Nevada and California and is 22 miles long and 12 miles across. It’s really huge and has to be seen to be appreciated. As beautiful as photos are they don’t impress as much as seeing the whole lake in person. As a native Californian I had the good fortune to spend many summers and winters as a child in Tahoe and it’s magical!
Tahoe has the best skiing in California with nine ski resorts all a short distance from each other. This trip we hit two biggies -Northstar and Squaw Valley and a smaller one popular with locals, Homewood.
Northstar is known for it’s many long meandering runs through the forest which I love. It’s also got it’s own village which is convenient, but it can get crowded. Some pictures above and below from the very snowy day, but also the best powder skiing we all ever experienced. Cold, but unbelievably great snow conditions that day! You can see at the top it was almost white out conditions.
Squaw below, is open and so huge it rarely feels crowded. Squaw’s giant gondolas, cable cars and Tyrolian look village you make feel you are in the Alps.
Homewood, below, is smaller, but pleases it’s small resort feel and with panoramic views of the lake that will make you stop in your skis. We still love returning here each year. The run below gives just a glimpse of the lake, but you can see the whole view from the top.
Since driving to Tahoe from the Bay Area can be about five hours, a good plan is to leave early morning and stop for lunch somewhere. This time we had lunch in the historic and funky town of Truckee which is twenty minutes before Tahoe City. I love the town’s Old West feel and charm.
Truckee has some very good restaurants and cool shops. It’s also very cold as it’s location at the Sierra Nevada Crest makes it open to big storms. It frequently has the coldest temps in the U.S. and has had temperatures as low as -28F! Paul McCartney loves the town and often shows up at his favorite bar – Moody’s Bistro and asks to plays piano. How lucky were those people to catch his impromptu jam sessions?
No McCartney sightings on this trip, but apparently my husband became Jacques Cousteau sometime between the Bay Area and here! This was a cute spot called Pizza Bar.
So a few tips if you are heading to Tahoe in winter…
Renting skis, helmets, and all that..
We needed to rent skis on this trip for some of us. Rather than drag them all the way up to Tahoe we rented there. I absolutely can recommend Tahoe Daves. Located in Tahoe City, we stopped there when we arrived in town and picked up what we needed for the next three days. Much easier than doing this at the ski hill in the morning. Tahoe Dave’s people were knowledgeable and I think I had the best skis and boots I’ve ever rented. I also bought my helmet there and the woman helping was adamant my helmet fit right, was safe and would not let me buy one until it was perfect for me. I loved that, so a big shout out to this well trained and kind crew. You will be happy you stopped there. They have four locations around the lake.
Where to stay?
We stayed at a spot that is near and dear to my heart, Granlibakken (above and below here,) and also a bit of a hidden secret, so don’t tell too many people. This resort is just south of Tahoe City set on 74 beautiful acres bordering the forest and has been owned by the same family for almost 40 years. They have a collection of townhouse and condos that are connected to a lodge and the cozy Cedar House Pub/restaurant.
This spot is where I came with my family as a girl and learned to ski. It charmingly hasn’t changed much except for the updated decor and a huge buffet breakfast that is now included each morning. It’s old school here and I love it for a family vacation!
Most of the ski hills are a quick drive from Granlibakken, but they have their groomed hill on site for sledding as well as a warming hut that serves hot drinks and authentic Mexican food while you thaw out. Attached to the sled hill is the first Tahoe ski hill still in operation, ski rentals and lessons and though steep (it was used for olympic trials and a ski jump,) it can be a good spot to gets one’s feet wet with skiing. Speaking of getting wet..
Funny side note… My parents also tried skiing for the first time here in late 70s with us and my poor dad literally took off from the very top of this steep mountain without stopping. He had some monstrous old skis rented to him and was barreling past us though the instructor and we kids kept yelling, ‘Pizza dad, pizza!’ ( If you are unfamiliar that’s a beginner ski stop.) He ended up in a creek and my mother laughed so hard she couldn’t stop and had to leave the ski hill. That’s was my dear crazy nuclear family..That was it for my parents. They never skied again, they basically smoked at the warming hut while we skied, (well it was the 70s,) but it made for great stories. Gee I hope that wasn’t too off-putting about the hill. It’s a historic and lovely spot.
Granlibakken also has a huge jacuzzi and pool that is great after a day of skiing and is always hot. This stay we were in one of the corporate 2 bdrm suite which was not as fancy as some of the condos, but it had a family room, wood burning stove, dining room and kitchen and 2 full bedrooms and a bath. I think it was just right for us and the two teen boys. The staff couldn’t be nicer here and we especially like the proximity to Tahoe City’s restaurants and shops just 5 minutes away. In my opinion this is a perfect family ski lodge.The resort has lately added a ropes course for kids in milder months. Check the midweek specials as they are always having good deals.
Granlibakken on a snowy morning walk and historic photos of a ski team on their hill in the 1920s from the lodge.
Other options are the Resort at Squaw Creek, which is set in a terrific location overlooking Squaw with a fantastic lodge and condos, rooms and studios to rent. This is a nice choice if you want to literally ski out the door to the resort and don’t have the use of a car. They also have a lively patio all year round that skiers and non-skiers flock to for the sun, mountain views, drinks and food. Another ski-in and out option is The Ritz-Carlton at Northstar which opened a few years ago. This is for those who want a luxury ski holiday and it is beautiful. Other people prefer to rent a cabin or home and VRBO is a good place to find them. North or West Shore Tahoe are ideal locations to stay if you want to be close to the majority of ski resorts.
I have to confess my favorite part of skiing is apres ski. I’m not a cold weather fan or a great athlete, and I have to get my ski mojo back each time I go, but I do it to be with my family. Besides that I love the whole ski culture- the lodges, beautiful views and cozy dinners. There is nothing like relaxing at the lodge with a warm drink after a cold day on the slopes!
One of our favorites is the The Blue Agave in Tahoe City. It’s traditional Mexican fare in the historic Tahoe Inn log cabin building. This place is just what the doctor ordered when you want comfort food and a good margarita after a long day of driving or skiing. Something about those big plates of refried beans and rice feel well deserved after a strenuous and chilly day.
Jason’s Beachside Grill is in King’s Beach is iconic spot to experience a true Northern California apres ski vibe with it’s sunken fire pit and wooden carved booths (I dare you not to slide off!) They have a famous giant salad bar – which fits it’s authentic 1970s look. This is the place to get your prime rib, hot wings and nachos…i.e. cold weather comfort food. I personally like the teriyaki chicken and onion rings. The bar has a fun buzz about it and most everyone is still in ski sweaters and snow boots. Make sure you take time to peek at the lake while you are here as it’s right behind this restaurant. I love it when the snow is on the beach. So pretty.
While at Squaw you may be tempted by one of the newer restaurants in the updated village, but wander a bit back by the Olympic House and you find a little corner of the old Olympic Village preserved and a few restaurants left from the original resort. Le Chamois sounds fancy, yet it’s anything but and the kind of locals hangout place we love to find. We had our name in for another pizza spot (with an hour wait) in the new village and by happenstance found it. Le Chamois has a pizza spot, Italian food and a bar and has been open since 1969. If you like chatting with young skiers spending their last $12 on dinner and 80 year olds still hitting the hills this is your place. Pizza and atmosphere were great and it wasn’t $100 for dinner for 4 of us!
Tahoe House, just south of Tahoe city on Highway 89, is a gem I never miss when in North Lake Tahoe. This gourmet bakery and coffee house has some of the best local roasted coffee and their European machines make lattes that are unbelievably yummy. The Swiss family that opened this spot in 1977 still runs the bakery and shop. The shop is the perfect place to get gifts and mementos of Tahoe with a good selection of rubs, dressings, spices, jams, books, and darling keepsakes. A deli area with sandwiches and salads to grab for a hike or for lunch on the slopes is here too. All their breads and pastries are made on the premises daily and are fantastic. I make it a point to stop here when we are on our way out of town and grab coffee and a few goodies to bring home with me.
Everything at Tahoe House is amazing. (Yes I said that like the Californians.;P)
More North shore views…