All your questions about travelling to South Lake Tahoe in the winter for a ski trip answered! What’s the best resort in Lake Tahoe for skiing? Heavenly? North Star? What city should we stay in during our trip to Lake Tahoe? What airport? What area has the best ski town? These are all the questions running through my head when we were booking our Tahoe trip for the first time.
Before I get started into answering all the winter guide to Lake Tahoe questions, I preface by stating – I ACTUALLY SKI AND SNOWBOARD. I said the same thing last year in my Breckenridge Travel Guide. I’m not just a bubbly girly girl fashion blogger that decided she wanted to go to the snowy mountains for pretty pictures. I’ve been skiing since I was 3, then I switched to snowboarding when I met Ross so we could try something new together on the mountain. Meaning, this guide is not just filled with restaurant recommendations and sight-seeing spots – it’s has reviews of what the mountain is like and comparing it to other areas in the US I’ve skied and snowboarded before.
This post is completely unsponsored and we spent triple the normal rate going the week of Christmas! Advice – maybe don’t go the week during Christmas if you want a good deal. Or just know to expect it and you might have to lower your expectations on where you stay (I had to come to terms with this).
There are tons of Ski Resorts in Lake Tahoe! Why did you pick Heavenly?
Lake Tahoe is huge, and there a few different ski resorts sprinkled around the area: Heavenly, North Star, Kirkwood, Squaw Valley, Sugar Bowl, Mount Rose, and Homewood. Wow! That’s a long list. Based on research, Heavenly, North Star, and Squaw Valley are the largest and most resort like with villages.
To narrow it down even further, we prefer skiing mountains associated with Epic Pass, a network of ski resorts around the world. We buy an annual unlimited pass for the year and go on a minimum of 2 trips a year for the benefit to outweigh the cost. Heavenly and North Star were “in network”, so Squaw Valley was out.
Squaw Valley was a bummer to miss out on, as it’s home of held the 1960 Olympic Games and has a European style Olympic Village. However, after hearing some comments from other skiers on the mountain during our trip, Squaw Valley apparently has tons of cat tracks. If you’re a snowboarder, you know what that means. Lots of flat land and not a lot of movement on the board. Since we’re snowboarders, we were happy we didn’t end up there for this reason.
Back to the North Star, Heavenly, and Kirkwood debate. On Google Maps, Kirkwood appeared south of Lake Tahoe and no views. So we nixed it. North Star vs Heavenly. Heavenly is located in South Lake Tahoe, and I had heard great things about the town, so that’s what we picked! Heavenly was also the largest resort in the area.
Where’s the Best Place to Stay in South Lake Tahoe?
Where to stay in South Lake Tahoe 100% depends on if you are there in the summer vs winter, and if you are there to actually ski/snowboard or just there to hang out. Since we were snowboarding, location and proximity to the gondola was 100% our number 1 deciding factor on where we stayed.
When searching for hotels, you’ll discover the town of South Lake Tahoe is filled with motels, inns, and lodges, and not really any national chains. This had me STUMPED on where to stay, considering I wanted to be in walking distance to the gondola.
We also prefer having a kitchen or kitchenette, so AirBnB is something I always check. I could only find really outdated looking cabins that I was honestly scared to stay in for our price range. So Airbnb was out – there wasn’t much choice for the dates we were looking, but it doesn’t mean you won’t have success!
This was probably the MOST indecisive I’ve ever been in a hotel choice. It probably didn’t help that the prices were 3x the normal rate ($200 a night hotels were now $600) since we were staying Christmas week, so I had to lower my expectations in the quality of hotels within our budget.
Ideally, I wanted to stay at the Marriott Timber Lodge or Marriott Grand Residences at the base of the gondola. If we had gone a different week, we would have been able to stay, but the Christmas week prices were just a little too pricey for us.
We ended up staying next door, 1 block from the gondola at Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel. It was not aesthetically pleasing in any way and therefore I did not take a single picture inside the room. BUT, it was a SUITE. Meaning we had 2 rooms! And with all our snowboarding gear taking up space, it is really nice to have a bedroom, then another living room area with a kitchenette, table, couch and another tv. It is an extremely family friendly resort, you won’t get any romantic vibes as couple. I had to remind myself we were there for the snowboarding, not the hotel, and get passed the fact that it was Instagram worthy.
Location, 10/10. Size of room 10/10. Free Breakfast 4/10.
Of course, a few days before the trip, I found this boutique style hotel Basecamp. It was smaller, 2 blocks farther, but Instagram worthy. I REALLY wanted to switch hotels to this one, but it was too late to cancel our other reservation. It wasn’t a suite, but the actual room is updated and they have campfires with smores every night! So cute! No, I didn’t stay there, but I would recommend it!
Where to Eat in South Lake Tahoe?
Since we were staying 1 block from Heavenly Village and the gondola, all the restaurants were right at our fingertips! Our location of the hotel really was great to be able to walk every day.
Base Camp Pizza – how can you go wrong with pizza? This place is poppin’ after the slopes with live music, heated outdoor seating, and a take out line if you wanted to bring it home.
Azul Latin Kitchen – The best outdoor ambiance in the village. Sit outside under the heat lamps with cozy blankets on every chair, or cuddle up to the fire during happy hour and enjoy the live music in the plaza. Amazing margaritas and queso here! The chips were addicting. Ross also got the chicken wings and YUMMY!!
California Burger – We didn’t actually eat here but I really wanted to! It’s next door to Azul Kitchen so the outdoor ambiance is similar and reviews all said they had delicious burgers.
Fire and Ice – It’s a chain, but still perfect for a more casual night. It’s one of those raw bars where you make your own bowl and then you watch the cooks cook it on a hibachi grill.
Ten Crows BBQ – Craving pulled pork or mac’n’cheese? Go here. I swear every restaurant in Tahoe has a good outdoor ambiance, and this one doesn’t disappoint with the live music again!
Nestle Toll House Cafe – I mean, it was on our walk home every night. We couldn’t help it.
Creative Crepes South Lake Tahoe – we came for breakfast! Highly recommend the Nutella Waffle, Ross ordered it and I obviously stole some bites. I went healthier with a scrambled egg crepe! They have breakfast, lunch and dessert crepes here!
Heaven’s Little Café – small cafe perfect to hit before heading up the gondola, as it’s right next door!
Honestly, we didn’t do much else except snowboard and eat. That was our itinerary every day!
How did you like the snowboarding in Lake Tahoe compared to resorts in Colorado?
This was our first time to Heavenly and we really enjoyed the breathtaking views of the lake while going down the mountain. These were the differences we saw compared to the ski resorts in the Rocky Mountains:
- Lake Tahoe had WAY more “non skier” tourists. Lol, so if you are reading this, and not a skier, South Lake Tahoe IS the town for you! This wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but here’s where it infringes upon a skier and snowboarder. At Heavenly Village – it’s not ski in/out style. You HAVE to take the gondola up and down to access the ski hills. So in the morning, when you’re trying to get up the mountain, you’re fighting the line with regular people who just want to go up and see the views. The gondola line was 45 minutes long! This killed our vibes that morning and was something we wish we knew ahead of time. In my humble, personal opinion, from 8 am – 10 am the gondola rides should only be for skiers and snowboarders. The non skiers can come up later in the day when the morning rush clears.
- The second thing, Heavenly is more of a “skier” mountain than a “snowboarder” mountain. What does that mean? There’s a ton of “trails” or “cat tracks” that are flat, making it harder to keep your speed and momentum on a board. On a powder day, you slow down even faster. There was a lot of unstrapping and walking done to get down some of the hills.
What airport did you fly into?
I recommend flying into Reno. It’s only about a 45 minute – 1 hour drive to Lake Tahoe. We rented a car and recommend it to go to the grocery store and explore other parts of the city! Definitely need 4 wheel drive and an SUV in the winter as well.
Overall, South Lake Tahoe is unlike anywhere we have visited and the views are unparalleled! I would recommend it more as a tourist destination than a snowboarding destination. We want to come back in the summer to hike and explore more of the lake!