Sierra mountain resorts are buzzing with excitement this season. That’s because 2014 is a Winter Olympics year, and the athletes are training or competing in Olympic finals at some local ski areas. Head to the hills for your chance to rub shoulders with the experts. What else is new this season? For starters, new lifts, new territory, and an easier way for beginning skiers and riders to learn the sport.
But this winter, our Sierra snow update isn’t just about skiing and riding. In addition to sharing the lowdown on what’s new at the mountain resorts, we’re also giving you some great suggestions for off-slope activities—everything from yoga to ice fishing to winter mountain biking, not to mention bowling at an alley that doubles as the Pebble Beach golf course.
Alpine Meadows/Squaw Valley
Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley terrain parks now have a combined $70,000 in new features. Expect more variety and creativity in the park layouts thanks to an expanded arsenal of jibs along with additions to several signature features.
Also new: Squaw Valley’s parent and child lessons. Parents receive tips on skiing with their little ones (ages 3 to 5). In addition, Squaw and Alpine have invested more than $2 million in snowmaking guns, new piping and system upgrades.
Best Off–Slope Adventure: Practice a little soul flow or vibrant vinyasa at Squaw Valley’s new Wanderlust Yoga Studio, with its dramatic views of the snow-frosted peaks. Many classes start in the studio and finish with skiing and riding.
Bear Valley Resorts
In the past, beginners taking lessons were either ahead of others in the group and impatient to move on or embarrassed about holding the class back. Bear Valley now has a solution: Five learning stations included in the beginner lesson package allow beginning skiers and boarders to progress at their own pace. Instructors at the stations teach balance, introduction to the wedge, speed control, turning and chair lift use. Stay at each station as long as you like or return to a station for a refresher course. Also at Bear Valley: The Cub Club Ski and Snowboard School for children ages 4 to 8 has doubled in size.
Best Off–Slope Adventure: Explore the Mokelumne Wilderness on a guided backcountry snowshoe adventure. mtadventure.com
Boreal Ridge/Soda Springs
We know there will be skiing and snowboarding—snow-making machines at Boreal were starting up in the fall—but at press time, we couldn’t verify what’s new at these resorts this season. Don’t let that stop you from making the short drive to these hills.
Best Off-Slope Adventure: Bounce on the Super Tramp, the “largest trampoline made in the world,” located inside Woodward Tahoe at Boreal and made especially for freestyle skiers and riders who want to perfect their aerial skills. woodwardtahoe.com
Access two ski resorts for the price of one when Diamond Peak and Homewood Mountain Resort team up to offer season pass holders reciprocal skiing. Mix things up a little by taking advantage of a total of four days of all-mountain-access skiing or riding at Homewood.
Best Off–Slope Adventure: Buy a day pass at Incline Village Parks & Recreation Center and splash around the indoor pool. Take an aqua fitness or liquid cardio class or have fun on your own. inclinerecreation.com
Explore new territory at Dodge Ridge thanks to the recently installed Doppelmayr T-Bar 643 surface lift accessing the second summit. The lift opens up more than 20 skiable acres in-bounds. Expert skiers can now fly down 1,000 feet of north-facing vertical black diamond runs, doubling the length of The Shots.
Best Off–Slope Adventure: On your way through Sonora, stop in at Indigeny Reserve’s tasting bar for a glass of hard cider or apple brandy made with apples from the organic orchard. indigenyreserve.com
Donner Ski Ranch
There’s a lot more to Donner Ski Ranch than meets the eye. “A lot of people are surprised we’re so much bigger than we appear from the front,” says Kathy Mosby, the owner’s assistant. Although there isn’t anything new at the resort, Mosby says they pride themselves on what hasn’t changed—they’re still family-owned and -operated.
Best Off–Slope Adventure: Take your kids (ages 6 and younger) to the KidZone Museum in Truckee. Babies or toddlers have fun in the aquatic- and nature-themed Baby Zone and little Einsteins can visit the museum’s exploration station to experience hands-on science activities. kidzonemuseum.org
Use Granlibakken’s lifts to access the cross-country trails at the property’s upper reaches and you won’t have to pay a dime. Granlibakken will let you use the lifts for free (when the lifts operate: Friday–Monday and holidays) whether you bring your own skis or snowshoes or rent them at the resort.
Best Off–Slope Adventure: Soar 15 to 50 feet above the ground at Granlibakken’s Treetop Adventure Park, voted the No. 1 Tahoe activity on TripAdvisor. Reservations are required. granlibakken.com
Heavenly Mountain Resort
Fresh out of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, freestyle athletes will converge on Heavenly to compete in the U.S. FreestyleChampionships March 28–30 on the moguls of Gunbarrel. Freestyle skiers such as U.S. Ski Team athlete Sho Kashima will showcase their talents.
Best Off–Slope Adventure: Families can take a spin around the ice skating rink at The Village at Heavenly or at the South Lake Tahoe Ice Arena (tahoearena.com). Or they can watch a hockey game at the South Tahoe rink. Singles finish their ski day at Heavenly’s Unbuckle at Tamarack, rated the No. 1 après ski party in North America by Forbes and CNN Travel. This year, the party—3:30–5:30 p.m. daily—moves to the patio.
Homewood Mountain Resort
Moms, dads, grandparents, kids and grandkids can spend quality time together at Homewood with the Heritage 3 Generations Pass. Two adults, two children/teens (ages 5 to 18) and two seniors or “super seniors” (70 and older) receive unrestricted Homewood season passes for $1,299.
Best Off–Slope Adventure: Admire moonlight reflections on Lake Tahoe during the full moon snowshoe tours at Sugar Pine Point State Park. Call West Shore Sports to ask about this year’s dates and to reserve your space. (530) 525-9920
Mammoth Mountain’s neighbor, June Mountain, re-opens with full operations beginning in mid-December. Mammoth Mountain MVP season pass holders can ski or ride at either resort.
Best Off–Slope Adventure: Drive to nearby Mono Lake and admire the tufa towers rising up from the shoreline or get a glimpse of volcanic craters. Serious shutterbugs with SLR cameras can participate in the workshop The Forgotten Season: Winter Photography in the Mono Basin Jan. 17–19. Call to register. (760) 647-6595
Want to know how well your children are doing on the slopes? Enroll them in Kirkwood’s Ski and Ride School and, as part of EpicMix Academy, you’ll receive a report card of your children’s lesson. Track their accomplishments online bycreating a profile at epicmix.com. Adults also can create an EpicMix profile to share their progress on the slopes with friends and family back home. Other improvements include moving the ski patrol into a new building at the top of chair 10, additional bathrooms in the plaza area women’s facility and a ticket kiosk at the top of the grand staircase to reduce bottlenecks in the regular ticket area.
Best Off-Slope Adventure: Go ice fishing on 600-acre Caples Lake. For safety’s sake, check for at least 6 inches of ice. For conditions, call Caples Lake Lodge (open Christmas through April). (209) 258-8888
The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association chose Mammoth Mountain—celebrating its 60th anniversary this winter—as an official training ground for U.S. freeskiing and snowboarding athletes preparing for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. The excitement builds Jan. 18–19, when the 2014 Olympic Snowboarding Team for the new halfpipe and slopestyle Olympic events is announced at Mammoth during the final Sprint U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix.
Best Off-Slope Adventure: Play golf in Pebble Beach one minute and bowl in Mammoth Lakes the next inside the new Mammoth Rock ’n’ Bowl, opening early winter 2013/2014. Have a ball in the 12-lane bowling alley, lit up by laser lights on some weekend nights. Or use real clubs to hit real golf balls across high-definition computerized depictions of famous courses such as Pebble Beach or the Old Course at St Andrews. After pursuing your virtual hole-in-one, feast on gourmet cuisine while gazing at spectacular views of the Sherwin Range and Mammoth Mountain at the center’s upscale restaurant.
Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe
It’s much easier this year to walk from the upper parking lot to the base area thanks to two sets of staircases connecting lots 3 and 4. Keeping in touch with friends, family and business associates also is easier thanks to the expanded
Wi-Fi service in both the Main Lodge and the Winters Creek Lodge. Meanwhile, more seats at Mountain View Dining in the main lodge make it less of a challenge to find a place to sit on crowded days.
Best Off-Slope Adventure: Trade cornices for culture at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, about a half-hour drive from the ski resort in good weather. Admire high desert views from the serpentine Mt. Rose Highway and appreciate exhibits by artists such as Andy Warhol. nevadaart.org
Northstar’s Big Springs Gondola went to the plastic surgeon. The new look includes refurbished cabins with new doors and windows, more cushioning in the seats, upgraded ski and snowboard racks, plus an exterior makeover. Winter Olympics fans will enjoy visiting Northstar Jan. 9–12, when Sprint U.S. Snowboarding & Visa U.S. Freeskiing Grand Prix competitors vie for their place in the 2014 winter games. At the event, watch the newest Winter Olympic sports including ski halfpipe, ski slopestyle and snowboard slopestyle.
Best Off-Slope Adventure: History buffs will enjoy the Emigrant Trail Museum at Donner Memorial State Park, which pays tribute to Native Americans, the Donner Party and builders of the transcontinental railroad. (530) 582-7892
Royal Gorge Cross Country
Find your way around Royal Gorge much more easily this season with improved signage. You’ll also find enhanced food and beverage options at the lodge and the on-trail warming huts.
Best Off-Slope Adventure: At Royal Gorge’s new Sierra Snowkite Center, a wind-powered kite tugs you downhill and uphill. It’s like windsurfing on the snow, with a snowboard under your feet. But be warned: Snowkiting isn’t for the casual beginning boarder. It’s challenging to keep your balance (sierrasnowkite.com). Another alternative? Winter mountain biking on Royal Gorge’s
new fat-tire snowbiking trails. Ride single-track trails through the snow on winter-specific bikes.
Sierra at Tahoe
Sit on the deck and soak up the sun or warm up by one of the fire pits at the new $4.5 million, 9,000-square-foot facility at the mountain’s base. This base-area plaza is home to the resort’s new spring concert series plus more live music and events throughout the season.
Best Off-Slope Adventure: Coast down the slope on a tube at Sierra at Tahoe’s Blizzard Mountain, which added another tubing lane this winter.
The new Crow’s Peak chairlift—a fixed-grip Doppelmayr triple—will whisk skiers and riders 1,000 feet up to advanced and expert terrain on the resort’s west side and provide easy access to the Strawberry Fields area. Up until this year, you could only reach this area by hiking from the Disney Express Chair. With the new lift, skiers and riders can sail down two new groomed runs, tree ski through glades, chutes, and cliffs, and enjoy a wind-protected area on inclement weather days.
Best Off-Slope Adventure: If you’re staying at Sugar Bowl’s lodge or village, or if you’re a resort homeowner, you’ll have access to the new $4.5 million SportHaus within the snowbound village. Swim in two lap lanes, soak in outdoor hot tubs, get in shape at the fitness facilities, or relax in the yoga studio or spa.
Take a break from ski school lessons to warm up in the new 700-square-foot slopeside yurt or enjoy the view from the wraparound deck. Separate from the public areas, the yurt saves ski school students from having to venture too far away when they need a rest.
Best Off-Slope Adventure: Visit the Truckee Railroad Museum, inside a Southern Pacific Railroad caboose. Look at railroad artifacts and learn about the area’s logging history. Open weekends and holidays. truckeedonnerrailroadsociety.com
NORTH LAKE TAHOE
Tahoe Biltmore (tahoebiltmore.com) in Crystal Bay has opened the new Bilty’s Brew & Q restaurant, which serves house-smoked meats and such barbecue dishes as baby-back ribs and pulled pork with handcrafted sauces.
Like your food fresh? It doesn’t get any fresher than Squaw Valley’s Rocker@Squaw restaurant (squaw.com/the-village), where the new farm-to-table winter special allows diners to feast on recently harvested food provided by local farmers.
Northstar skiers and riders will appreciate the convenience of The Backyard Bar & BBQ, opening at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe (ritzcarlton.com) in mid-December. Ski into the restaurant for lunch or après ski drinks and appetizers, and savor St. Louis smoked ribs, brisket and pulled pork platters drenched in housemade barbecue sauces.
Two other changes: The West Shore Cafe (westshorecafe.com), with its elegant Old Tahoe atmosphere, has a new chef, and The Grill at Homewood now has an expanded menu and an outdoor winter beer garden.
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE
If you’d like a side of sunset with your après ski appetizers or dinner, stop by the recently reopened Boathouse restaurant (tahoebeachretreat.com) on the pier at Beach Retreat and Lodge.
Authentic Greek food, meanwhile, is on the menu at The Landing Resort & Spa’s new restaurant (thelandingresortandspa.com), specializing in wood-fired Greek seafood and traditional Greek dishes such as moussaka.
Gunbarrel Tavern and Eatery (gunbarreltavern.com) is conveniently located next to the gondola in The Village at Heavenly, but even if you’re not skiing there, go out of your way to eat at this restaurant. The Lamb “Lollipops” are as tasty as they are creative, and the custardy bread pudding is a delight.
Finally, Artemis Mediterranean Grill (artemismediterraneangrill.com) also deserves a nod. Go for the Greek lettuce wraps.
Kirkwood has opened the new City Bar on the Village Plaza. Encased in glass walls, the restaurant features an umbrella top that folds back on good-weather days to reveal the Sierra sky.
CAMPO restaurant (campomammoth.com), run by celebrated chef Mark Estee, opened in The Village at Mammoth to the delight of Eastern Sierra foodies. Esquire recently named Estee’s original CAMPO, located in Reno, one of America’s best new restaurants. Another good choice: the Lakefront Restaurant (tamaracklodge.com/Lakefront_Restaurant), where you can watch the sunset over Twin Lakes, sip a hot mulled wine or housemade cider, and enjoy the cuisine of new executive chef Marc Mora.
Spend the Night
NORTH LAKE TAHOE
In mid-December, Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino (laketahoe.hyatt.com) will unveil a complete redesign of its 24 lakeside cottages. The Village at Squaw Valley (squaw.com/the-village) also has completed $1.2 million worth of renovations of its slopeside condominium suites. Each bedroom in every condominium now has new mattresses and modern, triple-sheet bedding. Many condominiums also have received new furniture, carpet, additional flat-screen TVs and air conditioning.
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE
Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel (tahoeresorthotel.com) is working toward
replacing its past identity as Embassy Suites by investing $5 million in renovations. By winter, the resort hopes to infuse more of an alpine ambiance into the lobby, where you’ll be able to play checkers or chess or read in front of a dual-sided fireplace. In the remodeled all-suite rooms, sink into new Serta perfect sleeper mattresses and snuggle up under 300-thread-count sheets. Other touches include new flat-screen TVs in the suites’ living areas and bedrooms, new bath surrounds, granite countertops and new headboards.
Other hotels that have undergone renovations include Timber Cove Lodge, which has become Beach Retreat & Lodge at Tahoe (tahoebeachretreat.com); Tahoe Beach & Ski Club (tahoebeachandski.com), in its third year of a five-year renovation; and The Ridge Tahoe Resort (ridgetahoeresort.com), which just added a new pickle-ball court (a mix between tennis and pingpong) as part of a 10-year plan that includes more than $10 million in improvements.
Plus, a high-end boutique hotel overlooking Lake Tahoe called Landing Resort & Spa (thelandingresortandspa.com) has replaced The Royal Valhalla Lodge.
Sorensen’s Resort (sorensensresort.com) in Hope Valley is hosting several new events this winter. On Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m., relive the adventures of John “Snowshoe” Thompson as he makes the trek from Genoa, Nev., to Placerville in the late 1800s. It’s a great deal for kids ($5) and adults ($10). But be prepared: You might hear the siren call of Sorensen’s berry cobbler. Sorensen’s lodging guests receive discounts to two other new events, including the Holiday Cards in Woodblock Printing Class Dec. 3–4, where you’ll walk away with unique, handmade holiday cards. And on March 1, take a guided tour in search of bald and golden eagles in the nearby Carson Valley.