Are you planning your spring break?
Last year, my boys and I went to Lake Tahoe to ski Sierra-At-Tahoe and Squaw Valley. You can read about our visit to Squaw Valley here. This post is all about Sierra-At-Tahoe. Portions of it were originally published by Tahoe South, on April 5, 2013.
“Cold,” I replied. Adding, “We’re going to Lake Tahoe.”
It turns out the surprise was all mine. My answer should have been “Cold…and hot.”
With temperatures in the 50s and a cloudless blue sky when we arrived, the temptation to rent bikes and set out for the beautiful Tahoe beaches was real. Still, we traveled from Colorado to California to ski, and ski we did.
I visited South Lake Tahoe for the first time in 2012 and skied four days at Heavenly, Kirkwood and Sierra-at-Tahoe. The day at Sierra was incredible. Sixteen inches of fresh snow, with more falling all day. The visibility was just about zero and I spent the summer wanting to come back and see where I had skied.
This time I brought my two sons, ages 13 and 16.
The Sierras Aren’t the Rockies
First impressions mean a lot, especially to kids. Driving up Echo Pass, my two Colorado natives quickly noticed that the Sierras are not the Rockies. “Those boulders are massive,” one exclaimed. “Yeah, and look at the trees — I’ve never seen such big trees,” chimed in the other.
Arriving at Sierra-At-Tahoe, we got oriented, picked up our skis and zipped through the line at the Grand View express quad. “Everyone is really nice,” one son noticed. “This is going to be fun.”
As we zoomed up the mountain, anticipation ran high.
All Weather Fun at Sierra-At-Tahoe
Blue skies and lots of sun were the hallmarks of our first day at Sierra. Falling snow and colder temperatures were the highlights of day two.
Sun or snow? Hot or cold? It was all good.
With 2000 acres and 2,212 vertical feet, Sierra-At-Tahoe is a surprisingly sizable mountain. There are three high speed quads, six fixed grip chairs and five surface lifts. The mountain is divided into three sections, Grandview, Backside and West Bowl.
Grandview is on the front side, with access to a wide variety of terrain ranging from right-under-the-lift moguls on Dynamite to themed adventure zones for kids, along with groomers, glades and most everything else you might want to ski or ride.
From Grand View, it’s easy access to Backside, where you’ll find a boarder cross course and several terrain parks. The only downside to Backside? It’s south facing, so on sunny spring days, you have to ski it in the morning. On day two, when it was overcast and snowing, the conditions were good all day.
All told, Sierra has five terrain parks spread across the mountain — even on the bunny slope, right under the beginner lift. As resort rep Steve Hemphill put it, “we believe in park progression — right from the beginning.”
Clearly, this emphasis on freestyle terrain has paid off, with three local athletes, Jamie Anderson, Maddie Bowman and Hannah Teter competing in the Sochi Olympics.
The third section of the mountain is West Bowl which has a nice mixture of intermediate and advanced terrain, moguls and groomers, as well as perfect glades for tree skiing. With a high speed quad, yet more freestyle features and the Baja Grill at the base of the lift, one could easily ski West Bowl all day.
Three More Reasons to Ski Sierra-At-Tahoe
On our second day at Sierra, we were joined by our friend and long-time Tahoe local Curtis Fong. Curtis has spent his life skiing the Tahoe resorts and he characterizes Sierra as the “local’s mountain.”
That being said, why should visitors ski where local’s love to tread?
1. Value. Single day lift tickets at Sierra-At-Tahoe are a relative bargain, especially if you buy a three pack of tickets. A one-day adult ticket during peak season will set you back $82, while a three pack will give you three days of skiing or riding for only $55 per day. Rates for young adults and children are even more affordable.
Thinking about lessons? First-time adult skiers and riders can score a half-day lesson including rental gear for only $39 (booked online). And, if you like what you learned, a lesson three pack works out to $58 per day.
For kids, Sierra offers the acclaimed Burton Star Wars Experience for little snowboarders ages 3-6 and Wild Mountain for young skiers.
And then there’s the food. I rarely classify ski resort food as a “value,” but I do at Sierra. Check out the on-mountain smoked ribs, pork and brisket at 360° Smokehouse BBQ. You get an enormous sandwich and a generous helping of sweet potato fries. Even my two teenagers were impressed and overwhelmed. Next time, we’ll share.
2. Snow. With an average of 480 inches of snow per season, Sierra-At-Tahoe is located in one of the snowiest spots at Lake Tahoe. Read that again: 480 inches of snow. And then contemplate this: an average winter daytime high of 45 degrees and an average winter overnight low of only 19 degrees.
3. Terrain. In addition to Grandview, Backside and West Bowl, Sierra also has “The Gates,” 320 acres of inbounds terrain in Huckleberry Canyon. When The Gates are open, expert skiers enjoy glades, pillows, chutes and cliffs, all within easy access from the top of Grandview.
Sierra-At-Tahoe is well-known for its trees. In addition to being really big (at least to our Colorado eyes), the glades are perfect for skiing, with broad lanes and plenty of room for turns as tight or wide as you want to make them. Local history holds that when miners settled the area, pine and spruce were cut liberally for timber, while the softer red fir trees got left behind. One hundred years later, the thinned out forest makes a perfect playground.
While spring conditions didn’t allow us to ski Huckleberry Canyon or any of the glades, I know from my previous visit, that the tree skiing is excellent.
As we stood on the deck at the 360° BBQ, we looked out at the chutes falling from the top of Huckleberry Mountain.
“This is really fun,” my younger son shared. “But next time, I want to ski those chutes. I want to be here in winter. We need to come back.”
When You Go…
Sierra-At-Tahoe is about a thirty minute drive from South Lake Tahoe. A free shuttle service runs all day between the town and the resort.
We stayed at the independent Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel (formerly an Embassy Suites) in South Lake Tahoe. Same large rooms, same amenities and the same central location make this property a good place for families.
Finally, when you’re out and about, don’t miss Base Camp Pizza. With après pizza and beer specials, live music and a deliciously fresh pizza and pasta menu, it’s a good spot for families and friends alike. Save room for the hot pear crumble.
- California Dreamin’ Part Two: Ski Heavenly*, October 8, 2012.
- Do Kids Have to Ski Before They Ride? March 15, 2012.
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