As I exited Tamarack Lodge at Heavenly Mountain to take the gondola back down to Heavenly Village, I stopped in my tracks. I set my snowboard to the side and plopped down in an Adirondack chair facing the 49er blue trail, where snowboarders and skiers shredded down the mountain. Behind me, classic tunes blared out from speakers. To the left sat groups of friends in Adirondack chairs sipping hot chocolate and cold beers, taking turns at cornhole (known to many as “beanbag toss”). To the right, families engaged in friendly fire, throwing snowballs at one another. And behind me, tubers zipped down snow-tubing lanes. It was the epitome of the ski weekend experience as implanted in my mind by pop culture. The only thing missing? A hot tub—though even that wasn’t far away, waiting for me back at the bottom of the mountain at the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel.
As the mountain’s name implied, the scene was somewhat heavenly. I hadn’t anticipated a powder-filled weekend, because, during my first visit to South Lake Tahoe, in February, it rained the entire trip. As with my most recent winter getaway, to Alberta, Canada, I wanted to experience what was beyond the slopes in Lake Tahoe.
Though we were more than a week into spring when I hit Tahoe, my first day saw me hiking through feet of snow around Lake Tahoe. One of Lake Tahoe’s most unique features is the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail that circles the lake (where fellow Expedia Viewfinder Matt Villano went snowshoeing). The trail features numerous entry points so you can do it at your own pace (or only do a portion at a time). While this particular day found me hiking parts of the Rim Trail on the southeastern side of Lake Tahoe, a few other South Lake Tahoe hiking trails I recommend include Mt. Tallac (which features multiple trails of varying difficulty), Bayview, and Cascade Falls, the latter of which are near each other, accessible by way of Bayview Campground.
The number one activity on my South Lake Tahoe to-do list: Snowmobiling! When South Lake Tahoe gets a good snowfall, snowmobilers can ride over peaks that overlook Lake Tahoe; this winter though has seen much lower-than-average snowfalls, so my snowmobiling trip required going deeper into the cut. Fortunately, that’s just where I wanted to be.
Lake Tahoe Adventures offers a few different snowmobiling experiences, including their most popular excursion, the “summit tour.” This 2-hour ride begins in Hope Valley and continues deep into the wilderness past historic cabins built by early settlers. From there, it follows the rim of Charity Canyon, offering views of landmarks that include the 10,000-foot Sierra Crest and Jeff Davis Peak, a volcanic plug which is a stark contrast to the typical Sierra mountain. Lake Tahoe Adventures also offers an “ultimate tour” for those who have ridden before and want to go off the beaten path. A few weeks from now, when Lake Tahoe goes from winter wonderland to summer playground, Lake Tahoe Adventures will substitute ATVs for snowmobiles.
Heavenly Village serves as the area’s base camp. It’s where the action happens, with numerous restaurants and bars, the Stateline Brewery, shops, a movie theater, and the Grand Residences by Marriott. My home for the weekend, the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel, underwent a facelift in 2013 and made renovations and upgrades to all 400 of its suites. For me, however, the hotel’s big attractions were the hot tub and the bar (the latter of which features a free daily Happy Hour for hotel guests). A half-mile away along the lake itself, the area’s first five-star property, The Landing Resort and Spa, opened in early 2014 and offers a free daily Happy Hour for its guests. (Are you getting a sense from me what’s important in a hotel?)
Viewfinder Tip: Late-season is a great time to buy passes for the following year; discounted prices usually run anywhere from $450 to $730 for the season.
Heavenly Mountain also offers amenities for those who don’t ski or snowboard, including a 500-foot snow tubing hill with a 65-foot vertical drop, a weekend après ski party involving go-go dancers and a DJ atop a snowcat (yes, that’s a thing), and the Heavenly Observation Deck, which offers a panoramic view of Lake Tahoe in its entirety. If you don’t have a pass or lift ticket, a ride up the gondola to the top of Heavenly Mountain (which includes access to the Heavenly Observation Deck, après ski party and Tamarack Lodge) costs $45 for adults, $37 for teens, and $27 for children.
Generally, the slopes in Tahoe are open to skiers and snowboarders until mid-April, when they close for the season (passes are available for purchase now, including the local pass for Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood and the Epic Pass for 11 Vail resorts in the U.S. and numerous Europe and Asia resorts). The summer of 2014 was expected to see an expansion to the Adventure Peak at the top of the Heavenly Gondola, which will include a 4-line zipline center, the reopening of Heavenly’s 3,000-foot zipline (The Blue Streak), two new ropes courses, and a canopy tour.
What are your favorite things to do off the slopes on a snowcation?