“We’ve been coming to Northstar since our son was young,” explained Don, a Silicon Valley engineer and my dining partner to the right.
“Now, our son brings his kids and we ski with our grandchildren most weekends.”
We were enjoying a night out together, even though we’d just met. Don and his wife, along with me, my son, and three friends were amongst the crowd of eighty at a Northstar Mountain Table Dinner.
A wine (or beer) and food pairing, with proceeds going to local charities ( Tahoe Food Hub, on this night), Mountain Table Dinners are held throughout winter and are popular with visitors and locals alike.
The on-mountain Zephyr Lodge, a buzzing hive of activity during the day, was dressed up with long tables and endless glassware. Live acoustic guitar filled the background, while the chatter was mostly about skiing.
“We honeymooned in Aspen,” continued Don. “But we fell in love with Northstar.”
A Mountain For All
Northstar is unique among California resorts in terms of location, terrain and atmosphere.
Established in 1972 on timber lands owned by Georgia Pacific, all of the runs are cut from the forest and the tree-skiing is legendary.
Originally, most of the terrain was beginner and intermediate and limited to the front side of Mount Pluto, a rolling 8,610 foot summit with Lake Tahoe views.
Expansion to Mount Pluto’s backside, where you’ll now find steep, mile-long bump runs and glades, and the opening of additional tree runs and steep shots on Lookout Mountain, changed this profile.
While you won’t find cliffs from which to jump or extreme exposure at Northstar, you will find skiing for everyone.
And that’s what makes Northstar so good for families, of all ages, abilities and generations.
The word I choose to describe Northstar is effortless, as in as in no stress and complete enjoyment.
A few years ago, I spoke about family skiing at a large travel symposium. Here’s what I believe and what I presented: when families go on vacation they want time to relax, time to have fun together and time to make memories they can share.
It’s easy to do all three at Northstar.
While you can find any type of lodging you desire, many of the options are condos, which are perfect for families. With room to spread out, kitchens in which to cook meals or at least stock snacks, and fireplaces around which to gather, it’s easy for families to stay for a weekend or longer.
Free shuttles provide transportation to the Village, so once you arrive, you never have to move your car. I love that.
Within the Village you’ll find most everything you need for food and fun. A busy ice rink anchors the center of the action, with fire pits and comfortable seating spread throughout the Village.
At 3:30 p.m. each day, complimentary s’mores are passed around, or you can roast your own marshmallows over the flames.
Live music and abundant options for après cocktails are also available by the rink. It’s a popular place to meet up with friends and share stories of the day.
A Perfect Place to Learn
As for skiing, Northstar is a big resort with 100 trails and 3,170 skiable acres spread across two mountains.
Thirteen-percent of the mountain is rated for beginners and the Ski + Snowboard School specializes in lessons for adults and children who are just starting out or need a skills tune-up.
Beginner terrain for kids and adults is found mid-mountain at the Big Easy beginner area, where the terrain is modified to make learning more intuitive and more fun.
The Northstar Teaching System ensures progression from one level to the next, and the terrain accommodates this progression seamlessly.
Snowboarders have their own learning terrain, including a riglet park for the littlest riders. Snowboard lessons are in partnership with Burton Snowboards and the Burton Snowboard Academy.
4Her: For Women
Offered daily during peak holiday times and the month of March, 4Her is a set of four lessons for levels 1-4, in a group of four students max. Groups are based on ability level and instructors are female.
“Our women’s program is so successful that most of our clients outgrow the program within four days,” shares Jake Jakowski, a longtime Northstar instructor (who is female despite being called Jake).
“It’s great to see them progress so rapidly and grow in confidence.”
Ultimate Private Lessons
For those who want both a lesson, and a guide to help them pick the best terrain for their level, Northstar offers Primo Private Lessons.
Available for levels 1-9, participants receive instruction, but the emphasis is on exploring the mountain and trying new challenges.
Each guide takes up to three friends or family members. Sessions are full-day and include rental equipment, as well as reserved tables at the Zephyr Lodge during lunch.
You also get access to the ski school lane, meaning you’ll rarely stand in line.
So Much More
Your time at Northstar can be as relaxed or busy as you choose.
While skiing and snowboarding will fill your days, we recommend making time to soak in the hot pools at the rec center and trying some of the other on-snow fun, including tubing on the 200-foot mid-mountain hill and exploring part of the resort’s 35km of cross-country ski, snowshoe and fat bike trail.
Especially nice for families (and dogs on leashes) are the Twilight and Stargazing Snowshoe Tours. Snowshoeing is easy to pick up, and the tours are open to anyone who can walk 2-3 km over 2 hours. These tours begin on select days at 5:00 p.m. and end up ‘round the fire in the Village by 7:30 p.m.
A Toast to the Mountains
Northstar is a place ripe for creating traditions, so not surprisingly, the mountain has some of it’s own. One of the most unique is Töst, a complimentary champagne toast near the top of Mount Pluto.
Each day at 2:00 p.m. on skiers and snowboarders gather on East Ridge. Flutes of champagne or cider are passed around and together everyone offers up these words as they gaze over beautiful Lake Tahoe.
“Here we celebrate at the top of our mountain, let’s toast to family and old friends and new. Champagne in our glass and snow under foot, our love of the day’s as deep as Tahoe’s blue.”
Some of these people, like us, are at Northstar for the first time.
But many, like Don, keep coming back every year to celebrate winter, skiing, family and friends.
When You Go…
Northstar Village has plenty of options for dining and shopping, but limited groceries. Plan ahead and bring groceries from Truckee if you plan to cook. We went looking for cream and found it at Earthly Delights, a bakery and small restaurant (with delicious, inexpensive breakfast sandwiches).
Dining options within the Village run from pizza to gourmet. We had a delicious dinner at Tavern 6330’, where the menu tends toward hearty healthful with organic meats, plenty of seafood and creative use of vegetables.
For those seeking the utmost in luxury, the on-mountain Ritz Carlton not only delivers sumptuous accommodation, but has private learning terrain for children and adults. Northstar instructors provide the lessons, but the exclusive terrain limits the crowds.
Finally, Northstar is a Vail Resort, which means it’s on the Epic Pass, along with Heavenly and Kirkwood, both on the south side of Lake Tahoe. Ski all three on the same season pass and experience three totally different mountains.
If Northstar is “Relaxed California Luxury,” Kirkwood is more hardcore with cliffs and dramatic exposure. Heavenly is something unto itself, a family-friendly mountain with extensive terrain that straddles a state line and parties well into the night.
More California Skiing:
- Spring Break at Sierra-at-Tahoe, California, March 10, 2014.
- Mammoth, California: Worth the Drive and More, December 16, 2013.
- You Gotta Go Ski Squaw Valley, USA, November 11, 2013.
- SoCal’s Mountain High Ski Resort Goes Family Friendly, November 1, 2013.
- Why My Family Loves to Ski Snow Valley, California, December 31, 2012.
- California Dreamin’, Part Two: Ski Heavenly, October 8, 2012.
- Why My Family Loves Skiing at Big Bear Mountain Resorts, September 27, 2011.
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