Six Sierra Ski Weekends


Close your eyes for a minute.

We know you have lots of work to do. Imagine it’s Friday and you can leave early from your job, grab your skis, your snowboard and your sense of adventure, and head to the slopes. Then, pretend you have your own personal travel agent who can map out a weekend itinerary: lodging, dining, places to ski and snowboard, even nonskiing activities.

Well, guess what? We’re here for you—every step of the way. From what’s new on the slopes to where to get the best breakfast or martini, the ideas below should offer a winter’s worth of fun.

Weekend No. 1:

Friday, 5 P.m.—Arrive at Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley (14255 Highway 88, 800-423-9949;, one of the most magical resorts in the Sierra, tucked away in an aspen forest amid scenery that rivals the Alps. Each of the 28 cabins (some allowing pets) has its own charm. One example: The Chapel, reconstructed from the former Santa’s Village near Santa Cruz, is a log cabin with white chinking, hand-hewn doorways and a wood stove on a rock hearth.

Friday, 6 p.m.—Seated at one of the round tree trunk tables at Sorensen’s Country Cafe, dine on housemade beef-burgundy stew. Complete your meal with berry cobbler served with a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream.

If you visit the resort on Friday, March 25, take the full-moon cross-country ski or snowshoe tour (also held on Jan. 25 and Feb. 23). Dessert and hot cocoa afterward sweeten the deal. Cost is $40 ($35 with your own equipment). Reservations are required. (530-694-2266)

Saturday, 8 a.m.—Drive 25 minutes to Kirkwood ski resort. First stop for experts: the new Expedition Kirkwood headquarters and Salomon Test Center in the Village Plaza, where you can try the latest demos, including new Telemark and Randonee gear. This also is where you sign up for Expedition programs such as Powder Cat Skiing, back-country clinics and Quests (a six-summit guided Telemark tour).

Beginners can try Kirkwood’s new learn-to-ski program. Kirkwood guarantees that first timers will improve dramatically during the two-hour lesson, or the next lesson is free. USA Today ranked Kirkwood’s beginner area, Timber Creek, as one of the top 10 places to learn to ski.

Expert skiers can conquer the resort’s black diamond runs, this year expanded with high-angle grooming, guaranteeing steep corduroy.

Also new this winter: Kirkwood tripled the size of its Stomping Grounds terrain park, with a longer superpipe.

Sunday, 10 a.m.—Let your ski vacation go to the dogs. Hop aboard an hour-long Husky Express Dog Sled Tour, which escorts visitors through Hope Valley. Cost is $90 for adults, $45 for children. Back-country ski tours and clinics are another way to explore Hope Valley. Call (775) 782-3047 for information or visit

Weekend No. 2:

Friday, 5 p.m.—Check in at the Black Bear Inn (1202 Ski Run Blvd., 877-232-7466;, near Heavenly Ski Resort. Co-owner Jerry Birdwell, a criminal court district judge-turned-innkeeper, decorated the rooms with antiques from his home state of Texas. End tables are made of butcher blocks and egg incubators. Some of the closet doors were taken from an old sharecropper’s cabin. A blacksmith’s apron hangs on the wall of one room inside the lodge, while an old barn door serves as a mirror frame in one cabin. The antiques fit into the classic Tahoe architecture: hand-hewn trusses, rock and wood walls, massive fireplace in the lodge.

Friday, 6:30 p.m.—For some of the best pasta at the lake, head to Scusa On Ski Run (1142 Ski Run Blvd., 530-542-0100) or Primavera at Caesars (800-648-3353). At Primavera, watch “Mt. Vesuvius” erupt on your table when waiters set aflame a brandy-splashed dessert.

Saturday, 8 a.m.—Red Hut Cafe (two locations—next to the Post Office on Kingsbury Grade, 775-588-7488, and in the middle of town on Highway 50, 530-541-9024) is South Shore’s breakfast hot spot, with huge portions served in a ’50s diner atmosphere. Credit cards are not accepted. On the way to Sierra-at-Tahoe, Chris’ Cafe (near the agricultural inspection station on Highway 50, 530-577-5132) serves up homestyle breakfasts and lunches in a country coffee shop atmosphere. On select days, the restaurant serves a very moist chocolate cake. Eat dessert first is the motto here; the cake disappears faster than you can say “frosting.”

Saturday, 9:30 a.m.—The slopes beckon. Heavenly has invested $10 million in on-mountain enhancements this season. The resort plans to open a new high-speed, six-passenger lift, Powder Bowl Express. The new Dopplemayer six-pack will replace two triple chairs mid-mountain on the California side, cutting the ride time in half.

New snowmaking guns will give Mother Nature a helping hand at Heavenly’s “Face” and Adventure Peak beginner’s area at the top of the gondola. With the five new acres of snowmaking at Adventure Peak, the resort expects the earliest opening ever.

At Sierra-at-Tahoe, a fleet of bike taxis will patrol parking lots, transporting guests and their gear for free from the outer reaches to the ski lifts.

On the slopes, Sierra created a supersized terrain park on Bashful in the West Bowl. Bashful has the most vertical terrain of any of Sierra’s parks, and it features a 17-by-20 foot wall ride and a five-jump line. Sierra also added a fleet of 11 rails and jibs to its parks this season.

The slopes will be in stellar shape, thanks to Sierra’s $400,000 investment into new grooming equipment, including two state-of-the-art Bombardiers.

Saturday, 4:30 p.m.—Avoid the traffic by visiting Sierra-at-Tahoe’s Sierra Pub or Tiki Bar on deck for happy-hour food and drink specials, live entertainment and dancing.

Saturday, 6 p.m.—Find your cheeseburger in paradise at The Burger Lounge (717 Emerald Bay Road, 530-542-4060), a convenient stop on the way back from Sierra-at-Tahoe. Lake Tahoe Pizza Company (1168 Highway 50, 530-544-1919), also on the way from Sierra just before the “Y,” serves housemade pies with sauce that’s the right combination of sweet and tangy.

Sunday, 10 a.m.—Spend a leisurely morning at Llewellyn’s champagne brunch at Harveys (775-588-2411). Made-to-order omelettes, elegant entrées and a selection of French pastries are accompanied by an uninhibited Lake Tahoe view from the 19th floor.

Sunday, noon—Just down the street from Harveys, in the field across from Caesars, spend a tranquil afternoon on a sleigh ride (Borges Sleigh Rides, 775-588-2953). For a more adventurous excursion, skip the leisurely brunch and head over to Lake Tahoe Adventures (530-577-2940; for a snowmobile ride or an ATV excursion in the Pine Nut Mountains—watch for the wild mustangs. Snowmobiling also is available at Zephyr Cove Resort (775-589-4907;, on Highway 50, east of the casinos.

Sunday, 5:30 p.m.—While gazing across Lake Tahoe, order from the casual bar menu at Riva Grill (900 Ski Run Blvd. in the Ski Run Marina Village, 888-734-2882; The mahi-mahi fish tacos are legendary.

Weekend No. 3:

Friday, 6 p.m.—Check-in time. One option: the “Old Tahoe” style Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino (800-233-1234; The Hyatt’s Stay and Ski package includes lift tickets to Diamond Peak ski resort, lodging and complimentary transportation to the ski resort from $109 per person, double occupancy. Want to splurge? Then reserve a lakeside cottage with a fireplace and kitchen.

At the Cal-Neva Resort, Spa and Casino (800-225-6382;, once owned by Frank Sinatra, every room has lake views. The resort is classy yet homey.

Friday, 7 p.m.—Dinner is served at the Lone Eagle Grille, on the lakeshore at the Hyatt. Sip a drink in a lounge that feels more like the great room of a grand Tahoe estate, then enjoy the “Old Tahoe” ambiance in the dining room with its two rock fireplaces and an open-beamed ceiling. The cuisine includes everything from Dungeness crab cakes to certified Black Angus steaks. Sunday brunch is popular here.

Saturday, 8:30 a.m.—You’re out the door for Diamond Peak Ski Resort, where skiers and boarders can challenge the Snowbomb Superpark, bigger and better this year. Another option, nice for couples, is the Last Tracks program, every Saturday from Jan. 29 through March 26. From Snowflake Lodge, guests can admire the sunset over Lake Tahoe while sampling fine wines and appetizers. At dusk, guests ski and snowboard down a freshly groomed corduroy run to the bottom of the mountain. Purchase $25 tickets at Diamond Peak’s guest service window. Start and finish times vary as the days grow longer. Participants must ski or snowboard down from the event and must have at least intermediate ability.

Saturday, 5 p.m.—An alternative to Last Tracks is dinner at the lakeview Big Water Grille (341 Ski Way, 775-833-0606), on the way down from Diamond Peak. The specialty? Martinis—locals in the know recommend the Purple Rain, a martini made with Chambord, a raspberry liqueur. The bar menu offers casual fare while the dinner menu is a fine dining feast of everything from seafood and pizza to lamb, veal and game.

A more casual choice is Austin’s (120 Country Club Drive, 775-832-7778), a taste of Texas in a log cabin atmosphere. The homestyle cooking includes steaks and burgers, but the restaurant is best known for its huge salads and generous portions of cornbread.

Sunday, 8:30 a.m.—So much to do, so little time. At Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe, expert skiers have eagerly awaited the opening of The Chutes this winter. Providing some of the steepest in-bounds skiing in the United States, The Chutes boasts almost 200 easily accessible, skiable acres and plunges nearly 1,500 vertical feet. This north-facing bowl will add double-black-diamond terrain to Mt. Rose.

Mt. Rose also has purchased a new six-passenger, detachable chairlift for the East Bowl (formerly Slide Mountain), resulting in high-speed, base-to-summit access to the East Bowl’s 550 acres of blue and black runs, Double Down and Badlands terrain parks, some of the best glades in Tahoe and wide-open bowl skiing. The new lift will significantly reduce ride times and increase the uphill capacity by 33 percent.

Sunday, 3 p.m.—Leave the ski resort early to visit the Incline Village Recreational Center, where you’ll find a European sauna and an Olympic-size swimming pool. Or pamper yourself at the renovated 20,000-square-foot Stillwater Spa at the Hyatt. Couples can enjoy side-by-side treatments—such as après ski facials—near a private fireplace.

At the Cal-Neva European Health Spa, overlooking Lake Tahoe, Sothys Karisoftness massage treatment ($179) is one example of the pampering offered here. The treatment is two hours of decadent relaxation that begins with a skin peel to soften the skin and ends with a one-hour massage using shea butter.

Sunday, 6 p.m.—Grab a to-go meal at a local hot spot, T’s Mesquite Rotisserie (901 Tahoe Blvd., 775-831-2832), which serves cooked-over-the-spit specialties, including whole roasted chickens and tri-tip burritos.

For the rest of this story pick up a copy of Sacramento magazine’s December issue.