Skiing in Lake Tahoe at Heavenly: Trip Recap + Resort Review

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Heavenly Ski Resort

Skiing at Heavenly was, well, heavenly.

Located on the southeast shore of Lake Tahoe, the ski resort is famous for its scenic views of sparkling turquoise water below snow capped tree runs. 

After spending my first ski season entirely on the East Coast, I was looking forward to discovering if West Coast skiing lived up to the hype. 

So, after a bachelorette weekend trip to Napa, I decided to extend my stay in California and spend an extra two weeks skiing around Lake Tahoe.

There are 11 ski resorts concentrated around the lake that never freezes – but only one with epic views!

Heavenly ski resort straddles the border between California and Nevada, and offers scenic groomed runs, thrilling tree bumps and heart pumping nightlife. 

If you’re planning a ski trip to Heavenly and the Lake Tahoe area, here’s everything you need to know!

 

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Lake Tahoe in Winter

Lake Tahoe is beautiful in the winter.

Nestled 6,000 feet above sea level in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the turquoise blue lake never freezes, despite receiving an average 215 inches of snowfall each year!

In fact, the lake receives so much snow that it’s often measured in feet, not inches!

At the same time, Lake Tahoe averages 300 days of sunshine a year. So skiing and snowboarding around Lake Tahoe is often a surreal combination of deep powder and sunny blue skies!

 

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Skiing in Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is home to the most concentrated number of ski resorts in America (a whopping 11!).

There’s Palisades Tahoe (formerly known as Squaw Valley and host of the 1960 Winter Olympics), Sugar Bowl (a picturesque resort located on Donner Summit), Mt. Rose (a great place for advanced skiers) and many more.

It’s hard to narrow down which ski resort to visit first, but if you have the Epic Pass, there are three Vail-owned resorts around the lake.

Vail’s Tahoe trifecta includes:

  • Heavenly: famous for its two state skiable terrain
  • Northstar: the most luxurious ski resort in the area, with a quaint village at the base
  • Kirkwood: a favorite mountain for locals, due to its more challenging terrain and back bowls

Each resort offers something slightly different!

We skied at all three during our trip, but today’s post is dedicated to Heavenly – most famous for its two-state skiable terrain, round the clock entertainment (Nevada allows casinos) and breathtaking views of the sapphire lake. 

 

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Getting In

Heavenly is located on the southeast shore of Lake Tahoe. It’s a popular ski resort for people living in the Bay Area, since the mountain is about a 3-4 hour drive from San Francisco.

 

Flying to Tahoe

Lake Tahoe spans two states – California and Nevada.

The two closest major airports are San Francisco International (SFO) and Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO). Coming from NYC, we flew in to SF and then flew out of Reno.

Both are convenient options and have their pros and cons!

San Francisco tends to have a lot more flight options and cheaper fares. But, you’ll need to rent a car and drive about 4 hours to reach Tahoe. 

Reno is much closer to Heavenly, about a 1 hour drive from South Lake Tahoe, and also is an hour shorter flight route back to New York. 

But, Reno is quite a small compact airport.

During our trip, there was only one nonstop flight option each day, a red-eye on Jet Blue that departed at midnight. We noticed Reno airfare is also a bit more expensive.

I recommend setting a flight alert and comparing your options!

Check flights and set fare alerts for Tahoe here.

 

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Driving to Tahoe

You definitely need a car to visit Heavenly.

I highly recommend renting a hatchback or SUV so that the car has room for all your ski and snowboard gear. Also, make sure to select a rental car with AWD or 4WD – you want the car to have enough power and control when it snows!

As an extra safety precaution, buy snow chains for your trip. Tahoe does a great job of clearing snow from roads quickly, but we did have one instance where the car skid on ice

We rented an SUV in downtown San Francisco and it took us about 4 hours to drive to South Lake Tahoe, without traffic. On the way home, we dropped off the car at Reno Airport (thankfully the car rental company stays open late!) and flew out of Nevada.

On weekends in peak season, traffic can be insane so plan ahead!

The last two hours or so around Lake Tahoe are primarily a local two lane road, so traffic can easily get backed up. Try to avoid traveling from San Francisco to Tahoe on Friday to skip the crowds.

There’s also lots to see and do in the villages around Lake Tahoe, so a car really comes in handy to explore!

Check here for rental cars for your dates.

 

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Where to Stay in Tahoe

The lake spans two states, California and Nevada, and is often divided into North and South Lake Tahoe. The two sides of the lake are as different as night and day.

 

South Lake Tahoe is more popular, because it has all the nightlife, casinos and bars!

The south side is much more developed – with modern conveniences like grocery stores, gas stations and shopping here – so most people stay on this side. 

You can find something to do at every hour, from hiking to skiing to shopping. If you plan to ski at Heavenly or love backcountry skiing, stay on the southern shore.

The south side also has a huge variety in hotels. You’ll find everything from budget options to casinos to boutique properties.

Browse hotels in North Lake Tahoe.

 

North Lake Tahoe is a bit quieter, with less people and less urban development. The vibe is a bit more rustic and relaxed!

North Lake Tahoe also has more ski areas compared to the south, so if you’re a diehard skier looking for varied terrain you might prefer staying on the north side.

There’s also some fantastic restaurants (both fine dining and hole in the wall spots) on the northern section of the lake!

There are more limited hotels in the north, and most are more upscale. But, you’ll find a variety of condos and house rentals.

Browse hotels in North Lake Tahoe.

Browse house rentals in North Lake Tahoe.

 

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Heavenly Ski Resort

Heavenly Mountain Resort is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of South Lake Tahoe.

Straddling the California – Nevada border, Heavenly spans 4,800 acres and sits at the highest elevation out of all the Lake Tahoe ski resorts, at 10,067 feet.

With its expansive views of the sapphire-blue waters of Lake Tahoe, Heavenly reigns as one of the most unique ski resorts in the country. 

 

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At a Glance

  • Base Elevation: 7,107 feet
  • Summit Elevation: 10,067 feet
  • Vertical Drop: 3,500 feet
  • Lifts: 28
  • Runs: 97
  • Skiable Acres: 4,800 acres
  • Terrain:
    • 8% beginner
    • 62% intermediate
    • 25% advanced
    • 5% expert

 

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It’s also one of the largest. 

Heavenly got its start when a couple moved to the California side of the valley, with the dream of opening a sporting goods shop. Instead, they created Heavenly Valley, a simple ski resort with a couple of rope tows and a double chairlift in December 1955.

A couple years later, they sold Heavenly Valley to an enterprising San Francisco attorney named Hugh Killebrew. Killebrew saw the potential for a two state ski resort, and began developing the Nevada side of the mountain. 

The resort changed hands several times, and Tahoe simultaneously began a reputation as a winter destination. The 1960 Winter Olympics in nearby Squaw Valley and 14 World Cup events helped cement the area as one of America’s best ski spots.

In 2002, Vail Resorts took over the mountain. Vail also operates two other resorts around Lake Tahoe, to form a ‘Tahoe Trifecta’ of ski options!

 

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Skiing at Heavenly

Today, Heavenly is the largest ski resort in California with 97 runs, 28 chairlifts and the most extensive snowmaking capabilities in the region.

Few places can match Heavenly’s scenic beauty and variety in terrain.

The most striking aspect of Heavenly is the tree skiing it offers! I heard one estimate that over 75% of the resort’s 4,000 skiable acres is in the trees.

 

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Heavenly Lodges

Heavenly is so large that it’s spread across 4 base areas:

  • California Lodge
  • Heavenly Village + Gondola
  • Boulder Lodge
  • Stagecoach Lodge

The first two base areas are located on the California side. California Base Lodge has the most parking and is a great introduction to Heavenly, since it’s near the learning area.

Heavenly Village is where you’ll find the scenic gondola. It’s also walkable from downtown South Lake Tahoe.

Boulder and Stagecoach lodges are on the Nevada side and primarily lead to blues and black runs. Boulder Lodge is more beginner friendly while Stagecoach is quite popular with locals. 

We stayed right near Stagecoach and found it super convenient! We also liked the quieter Nevada side of the mountain more.

 

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Epic Pass

Heavenly is part of Vail Resorts and is one of 3 Vail-operated mountains around Lake Tahoe. If you have the Epic Pass or Epic Tahoe Local Pass, you can ski at Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood!

Heavenly is located on the southeastern shore of Lake Tahoe and about an hour’s drive from both Northstar (up in the northwest section of the lake) and Kirkwood (farther south of the lake)

Each mountain is different, with its own unique features, so I do think it’s worth skiing at all 3!

 

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Rentals

Heavenly has rental locations at the gondola, California Lodge, Stagecoach Lodge and Boulder Lodge.

I recommend reserving your rentals in advance to get the best rates and also to save on time. Typically, you can pick up your gear after 3pm the day before you need them, for no extra charge.

Also if you plan to bop around between Vail’s three Tahoe resorts, you can pick up and drop off your ski gear at different locations.

So, you can start your trip skiing at Heavenly and end at Northstar and won’t have to worry about driving an hour back just to return your skis!

 

Parking

There’s free parking at California Lodge, Stagecoach Lodge and Boulder Lodge.

By far, the largest parking lot is at California, so most people start their day there. 

There’s also paid parking available at Heavenly Village in the parking garage, and behind Raley’s in town. If you’re visiting on a holiday or weekend, I recommend showing up early. Parking fills up incredibly fast!

There is also a shuttle that connects the lodges.

 

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Lessons

Heavenly has a fantastic ski school and offers a variety in lessons.

Make sure to book in advance, and note the lesson location. The two main learning areas are at California Lodge on the California side and Boulder Lodge in Nevada.

I signed up for a full day lesson and worked more on my form and turns with the help of an incredible instructor! It’s always well worth it to get lessons, in my opinion.

 

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Heavenly Gondola

Heavenly has a famous aerial tram that connects the town of South Lake Tahoe to the mountain.

Located on the California side right by Highway 50, the Heavenly gondola stretches 2.4 miles up into the sky, hoisting you directly above the blue lake.

I recommend riding it at least once!

About halfway up you can get out at the scenic viewpoint for a breathtaking view of not only Lake Tahoe but also the surrounding Sierra Mountains and Carson Valley, Nevada.

And, you can ride the gondola whether or not you want to ski. 

You can purchase a lift ticket for just the gondola, or use your Heavenly mountain lift ticket to access the tram.

Non skiers can ride the tram to the top, and stop for lunch at Tamarack Lodge. There’s also Adventure Peak, an adventure park and tubing hill for kids and families.

 

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Best Runs at Heavenly

Heavenly offers an almost dizzying number of ski trails, with 97 runs spread out across 4,800 acres. When it comes to planning your day, you’ll have to choose whether to focus on the California or Nevada side!

The California side is home to Heavenly’s most scenic runs and offers constant views of the sapphire blue lake.

Chances are, you’ve come to Heavenly for its views.. but so has everyone else! The California side has a great mix of green and blue terrain but also draws more crowds. 

The Nevada portion has predominantly blues and blacks. It does have views… but of the brown Nevada desert, ha!

 

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Personally, my favorite runs were the mile long, wide cruises on the Nevada side – like Orion, Galaxy and Dipper.

I could spend all afternoon cruising through the groomed blue runs and occasionally attempting to ski between the trees.

The Nevada side of the mountain seems to get more snow and is where most of the mountain’s hidden evergreen glades and black diamond trails are. 

Note: a couple of the more remote lifts on the Nevada side close early, so make sure to try them out early in the day.

 

Best Beginner Runs at Heavenly

If you’re a beginner skier, I recommend starting on the California side. 

  • Enchanted Forest: the learning area and bunny hill right by the California Lodge parking lot
  • Maggie’s: another easy green on the California side, with some new views of Lake Tahoe
  • Boulder: one of the more gentle slopes on the Nevada side, with a wide open trail

 

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Best Intermediate Runs at Heavenly

About half the resort is composed of blue trails, most on the Nevada side.

  • Ridge Run: an iconic run at Heavenly known for its beautiful view of Lake Tahoe along the entire ridgeline
  • Skyline: another great scenic trail with a panoramic view of the Sierra mountains. Opposite Ridge Run off Sky Express
  • Olympic: the longest trail on the mountain and a nice wide 5.5 mile cruiser

 

Best Advanced Runs at Heavenly

There’s less expert terrain at Heavenly compared to say, Kirkwood, but there’s still plenty of steep chutes and tree runs if you want a thrill!

  • Gunbarrel: a 1,700 foot long steep run filled with moguls
  • Mott Canyon: a quick-turning run with chutes on the Nevada side
  • Milky Way: a wide open bowl on the Nevada side. Take Skyline Trail about halfway down then drop in on the right
  • Off Pinnacle lift, you can find gladed runs in Bohemian Grove if you want to ski through the trees

 

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Après-Ski in South Lake Tahoe

There’s plenty to do in South Lake Tahoe after a day on the slopes! Here were some of our favorite restaurants and bars in town:

  • Community Speakeasy: our favorite spot in town, with a hidden speakeasy. Amazing drinks!
  • Edgewood Tavern: upscale hotel with a cool lobby bar. I’d recommend just the drinks
  • Scusa: great Southern Italian pastas

 

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Heavenly Ski VLOG

SKIING AT HEAVENLY | mountain review, best runs + South Lake Tahoe travel tips (vlog)

 

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