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When Canadians think of California they’re more likely to envision surfboards than snowboards. Similarly, a trip to Nevada conjures up images of desert and casinos, rather than world-class powder skiing. A visit to Lake Tahoe, which conveniently straddles the two states, will assuredly alter those perspectives.
Heavenly and Northstar are two of Vail Resorts’ premier destinations, and they are located about an hour apart, at opposite ends of Lake Tahoe. Technically, the slopes at Heavenly weave around both the Nevada and California borders, while Northstar is firmly planted in California. Both resorts are easily accessible from Reno airport.
In less than two-hours you can be at Heavenly, buckling up your ski boots and heading up the amazing 3,500 foot vertical to take advantage of 4,800 acres of skiable terrain.
The gondola provides a breathtaking view of North America’s largest alpine lake (Lake Tahoe, itself), surrounded by the natural beauty of the Nevada desert. There are 34 miles of expertly groomed “cruising” runs, as well as some of the best treeline skiing in the country. Heavenly is the past and current host of the U.S. Freestyle Championships, and has long been the destination for skiers who love to carve through thick powder. Its uphill capacity is a staggering 52,000 skiers per hour. With an average snowfall of 360 inches per year, skiers won’t get tired of the 95 trails accessible by 29 lifts. The mountain is open from November 16 to April 14 for the 2012-2013 ski season.
If you’re new to the slopes, you can rent all the ski and snowboard equipment you need at Heavenly Sports, which can also be done online before you arrive, to save time and money. If you or the kids are just starting out, Heavenly offers a range of lessons at the Heavenly Ski and Ride School, whether you want private or group.
At the end of the ski day, most adults head to the après ski party voted number one by Forbes Magazine. “Unbuckle” is Lake Tahoe’s highest elevation ski party, taking place at Tamarack Lodge on the top of the hill, and goes from 3:30 to 5:30 daily, with a live DJ, dancers, giveaways, as well as food and drink specials. A convenient shuttle transports you back to the hotels.
The Marriott Grand Residence Club is located at the base of the Heavenly gondola and offers accommodations from studios all the way up to three-bedroom suites. The whole family will enjoy the outdoor heated swimming pool, hot tubs, a spa, and kids’ activities available onsite.
Heavenly Village has many shops and restaurants (81 at last count) right at the base of the gondola, across from the main part of the hotel. But turn right instead of left and you’ll leave this quaint California ski village for the state of Nevada, where you can try your luck at legendary casino Harrah’s Lake Tahoe, or Harvey’s Resort and Casino, or check out the fine dining at Friday’s Station Steak and Seafood Grill, perched on the top floor of Harrah’s and offering a beautiful view of the Heavenly area.
If your idea of “nightlife” is more gazing at the stars than spinning the roulette wheel, you’ll want to check out the more natural setting of Northstar, California.
Situated at the north end of Lake Tahoe, Northstar has a more laid back California feel to it than Heavenly; except when you get on the slopes. Northstar’s perfect “corduroy” groomed hills are award-winning, and its vertical of 2,280 feet provides 93 trails, accessed by 19 lifts, giving it 3,000 acres of skiable terrain. They receive an annual snowfall of 350 inches, and the mountain opens November 16 for the season (closing date dependent on snowfall).
Snowboarders flock to Northstar, which is the training home to the legendary “Flying Tomato,” Olympic gold medallist Shaun White, who designed their 22-foot Superpipe. White is a fixture at Northstar, and his personal training half-pipe is secluded from the main part of the mountain so that he can develop and perfect signature moves without fear of media coverage. When he is not in residence, the half-pipe is used for other world class competitors to train on, or even filming a Warren Miller movie.
For young beginner boarders, the new Burton Riglet Park offers lessons for three to six-year-olds.
Northstar is celebrating its 40th anniversary in December, 2012, but this resort has invested over a billion dollars since 2004, plus an additional $30 million during the last season, which includes the Shaun White Superpipe, a new high-speed chairlift, a new ski pod with glade skiing, and additional trails on the backside of the mountain, as well as a new 700-seat “on mountain” restaurant. There are many dining options available both on the mountain, and in the village, for all budgets and ages.
The award winning Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe offers the convenience of ski-on/ski-off as well as the luxury of their Ski Concierges, who will take care of heating the boots, and even buckling them up for you. They also store your skis and boards, even laying the down in the snow for you to simply snap in. After skiing all day, you can walk out to the gondola, which will take you down to the Northstar Village and its upscale shopping, or just to enjoy the outdoor couches, fireplaces, and inventive après ski gourmet coffees and drinks. There are shuttles available to take back to the hotel, after hours. The spa at the Ritz-Carlton is its centrepiece, with 16 treatment rooms, a fitness centre and an adults-only heated lap pool.
One of the great things about getting away for a ski trip is the feeling of being “off the grid” and not being connected to the virtual world, or dealing with technology. Although, technology and technical skiing come together at these and all Vail Resorts with Epic Mix (www.epicmix.com). There is the “Epic Pass” - a lift ticket that uses radio frequencies to track trails skied, vertical feet traversed, as well as tracking the kids as they make their way around these expansive mountains. Epic Mix Racing allows skiers to see how they perform against their family and friends on the hill, and also measures them against Olympic ski racer Lindsey Vonn’s times. In addition, their Epic Photo service provides professional level photography on the hill, so you don’ t have to worry about losing your iPhone in an epic wipeout. Photos are taken and then uploaded onto their site, where you can view and share low resolution images via email or social media. For a nominal fee, you can get a high resolution image as well. Look for the green jacket, big cameras, and even bigger smiles.
Vail Resorts owns both Heavenly and Northstar, as well as Kirkwood in Lake Tahoe. Their Colorado properties include Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone. United Airlines, operated by Air Canada, flies direct to Reno. Visit www.snow.com for more information.
Kathy Buckworth visited Heavenly and Northstar on a sponsored press trip, complements of Vail Resorts. GL
|ABOVE Northstar’s powder skiing
Photo by Corey Richok
The legendary “Flying Tomato,” Olympic gold medallist Shaun White,
designed Northstar’s 22-foot Superpipe. White is a fixture at Northstar.
Shaun White catches some epic air at Northstar.
Breathtaking view of North America's largest alpine lake
from the gondolas at Heavenly
Photo by Corey Rich
Situated at the north end of Lake Tahoe, Northstar Village has a
laid back California vibe and skating rink
Northstar’s summit is at 8,610 feet
photo by Jack Affleck