When It Rains, It Snows: A Round-up of Tahoe ski resorts

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Every rainstorm in San Francisco brings a few noteworthy changes to the lives of UCSF students. For most people, this means breaking out the galoshes, remaining indoors and perhaps feeling a little less guilty about staying in to study.  But for some, the rain means one thing: there’s got to be snow somewhere. This last major storm brought 15-30 inches of fresh powder to the mountains of Tahoe. 

The rain could not have come at a more perfect time for UCSF students: right before UCSF lets out for winter break. With a few weeks away from their books, students have the chance to stash away their backpacks and get in a couple of good days of skiing or snowboarding. 

There are few things I enjoy more than a ski trip.  It starts with packing up the car, grabbing a cup of coffee, filling up the gas tank and heading to higher ground.  A ski day is the perfect combination of catching up with friends on the chair lift and cruising down the mountain, an experience that is as meditative as it is aerobic. 

San Franciscans are, perhaps, the most spoiled citizens of all. We have the luxury of living in one of the most culturally diverse, exciting cities in the world, while downhill adventure through California’s incredible terrain is only a few hours away. 

Tahoe, however, is a large place, with a number of mountains to choose from.  So how do you decide where to go?

With so many options and incredible scenery throughout, it’s hard to make a bad choice, but here’s the low-down on some of the major mountains within our reach. 

  • Heavenly, in South Lake Tahoe, boasts 97 trails and 29 chair lifts. Adult day passes start at $90, with peak holiday passes at $95. 
  • Kirkwood, also on the southern side of the lake, includes more than 72 trails and 2,300 acres.  Kirkwood “tends to be a little less busy, the hill is fun and a little closer than the rest of Tahoe,” said Jill Coddington, a second-year physical therapy student who has been skiing in Tahoe since she was a child.     
  • North Star, in North Lake Tahoe, is a family-friendly resort with 3,170 acres to ski and an ice skating rink at the base of the mountain.
  • Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are near Tahoe City on the northwest corner of Lake Tahoe.  Squaw Valley, the home of the 1960 Olympics, encompasses six peaks, 3,600 acres and four terrain parks.  Squaw Valley lift tickets are can be used at Squaw or Alpine Meadows, and early season lift tickets start at $84.
  • Alpine Meadows opens on December 7 and consists of 2,400 skiable acres.   Alpine is “fantastic, steep and unpretentious,” said Emily Hargraves, a Tahoe winter resident and lifelong skier.
  • Homewood, a mountain nestled along the west side of Lake Tahoe, is one of the smaller mountains, with 1,260 acres of skiing.  However, lift tickets for the peak holiday season are $58, and the throughout the season, the mountain offers $44 value days.

A good ski trip is all about preparation. A little planning can save you time, as well as a boatload of cash. If you don’t have skis or a snowboard, renting equipment can get pricey.  Stop by one of the three Sports Basements in the city to rent equipment.  Sports Basement rents ski equipment all year round, and travel days are not considered rental days, so you can pack up the car and get right to skiing once you’re up there.

Most of the Tahoe resorts offer discounted ticket rates online, rather than at the mountain, and you can also buy discounted lift tickets at Sports Basement and REI for the majority of the ski season.  Food at ski resorts can also add up, so plan ahead and pack a lunch. In addition, Snowbomb.com offers $150 memberships, which include several free lift tickets, and free hotel stays, as well as free rentals and tune-ups.

As for transportation, it’s a great idea to carpool and save on gas, but the Bay Area also offers ski bus trips that take you up to the mountain and often include your lift ticket.  For example, Bay Area Ski Bus, Tahoe Snow and Sun and Sports Basement run trips at least once a week, starting at $105, $48 and $50, respectively.  You can take these trips to one of eight resorts. Most of these trips are just one day, which saves you from having to find a hotel for the night. 

If you do want to stay the night, however, UCSF has its very own Tahoe ski cabin, located 10 minutes from Truckee.  The cabin is leased for the winter months, and students can rent it out for the weekend or midweek dates.  The cabin sleeps 15 people, and so far this year, 52 nights are booked.  There are still dates available, including half- off weeks in March that can be booked for $250, which is quite a deal split among 15 people. (http://campuslifeservices.ucsf.edu/fitnessrecreation/article/outdoor_programs/1009)

As students, we tend to stay inside a lot, so over this break, make sure you get a chance to get outside and enjoy the season.  Let’s take advantage of all this rain — and make tracks out of it.