California Skiing: 8 tips for families

Many of you know that I was born in Northern California, and spent my first 25 years in the Golden State. It’s a wonderful place and we visit each year. It’s about a 9-hour flight from the UK, and there’s so much to do – from trendy Silicon Valley/San Francisco, to long sandy beaches to the Sierra Nevada mountains. If you visit in the winter/spring, there’s skiing in easy reach. After years of taking the girls, here are my top tips.

 

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We love skiing as a family, and one of our favourite destinations for snow sports is California’s North Lake Tahoe!

 

1. Try North Lake Tahoe

One of the best things about visiting Northern California is having North Lake Tahoe a short reach away. Just a 4-hour drive from San Francisco, this snow sport mecca has the highest concentration of ski areas in the world (12 downhill and 5 cross-country).  Coupled with the most beautiful alpine lake in North America, it’s a popular holiday destination.

I’ve been going to North Lake Tahoe since I was a kid (I can proudly tick off 10 of the ski resorts).  The larger resorts, Squaw/Alpine/Northstar, rival any in Europe or the Rocky Mountains. There are some good smaller resorts too, which are usually less crowded and less expensive. Boreal is the closest one to the Bay Area, it’s cute and I have fond memories of night skiing there as a child on Christmas Eve. Sugar Bowl is close too, and has a good range of runs. Northstar is typically the family ski area.

For us Squaw Valley was a good choice, as California has a major draught this year (and less snow) and many of their beginner/intermediate runs are at the top of the mountain at 8,200 feet. The resort recently merged with Alpine Meadows, giving access to 6,000 acres, 43 lifts and 270 trails – all on the same ski pass.

 

No one wants to spend a lot of time in a lift queue. But visit a resort midweek in the Spring, and you practically have the place to yourself! And if you're lucky, you'll have sunshine too.

No one wants to spend a lot of time in a lift queue. But visit a Lake Tahoe resort midweek in the Spring, and you practically have the place to yourself! And if you’re lucky, you’ll have sunshine too.

 

2. Ski midweek and go offseason!

Beat the crowds – ski midweek and go off-season! In early Spring, when the weather warms and the Bay Area starts thinking about doing up their gardens, camping and going to the beach – the slopes are virtually empty except for the diehards. It’s the perfect time to go. There are no queues, lots of sunshine and you can often get bargains for accommodation and ski passes. The amount of snow varies season to season, so to be sure of white stuff look for resorts with higher elevations.

 

You can rent everything you need right on site. And if you put the kids in ski school - they take care of all the rentals for you!

You can rent everything you need right on site. And if you put the kids in ski school – they take care of all the rentals for you!

 

3. Rent all your gear on site!

You could take all your gear, but why do that when you can rent it all within a few meters of the lifts! I find ski rental staff reliably friendly and love their jobs and will give you lots of tips on best runs, etc. As an aside, I noticed that helmets are regular gear, and was very happy to see 75% of people on the slopes wearing them! (I’ve found this to be different in France).

 

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You can rent all your gear on site, which is extremely convienent, to say the least.

 

4. Put the kids in ski school

The best part of ski school (we were at Squaw Kids) is that rentals are included in the package – and the kind staff kit the kids out for you. It’s worth it just for this (have you ever tried to fasten three pairs of boots while putting on your own). Kidding aside, we usually put the girls in ski school for the first day, and then ski as a family.

 

In the Spring, you can ski all morning and then come back and laze by the lake.

In the Spring, you can ski all morning and then come back and laze by the lake.

 

5. Stay on the lake!

You could stay at right at the resorts OR opt to stay on the lake, which is just a short drive (10 to 15 minutes) to the major resorts and can offer fabulous lake views. We opted to stay at Mourelatos Lakeshore Resort in Tahoe Vista, which is now my new favourite place to stay in North Lake Tahoe! It’s a family-friendly, meticulously clean resort that has it’s own private beach. Most rooms have stunning lake views, and some have kitchens. The resort is hugely popular in the summer, but you can find deals in early spring, especially if you go mid week.

 

6. Dine at High Camp & visit the Olympic Museum

If you are not a boarder/skier, you can still enjoy Panoramic views of Lake Tahoe. At Squaw Village, board the scenic aerial tram and travel 2,000 vertical feet (not for the faint hearted) up to High Camp. You can have lunch or dinner at the Terrace Restaurant & Bar, they have grilled burgers, chilli con carne and to-die-for fish tacos. While you are there, pop around the corner and visit the recently rennovated Olympic Museum that highlights Squaw Valley as the host of the 1960 Olympics. These games put Tahoe on the map as a world-class skiing destination.

 

Who doesn't want a Starbucks at 8,000 feet?

Who doesn’t want a Starbucks at 8,000 feet?

 

7. Grab a ski-in-ski-out Starbucks!

For no other reason than it just has to be done! Squaw Valleys boasts the world’s first (and only) ski in ski out Starbucks. Get your handmade barista coffee and ski away. That’s a latte fun (sorry).

 

Not into skiing? Take the tram at Squaw Valley up to high camp and try out the hot tubs!

Not into skiing? Take the tram at Squaw Valley up to high camp and try out the hot tubs!

 

8. Hot tub at 8,000 feet!

Ok, this one is really for mum and dad. You can still enjoy the atmosphere and views even if you don’t ski/board. Take the tram from Squaw Valley Village up to High Camp and try out the outdoor hot tubs. There are changing rooms and lockers, plus an outdoor eating area. The crowd is more for the over 21s and the whole experience is very, very cool (hot?).

 

Thinking of going?

Make sure you check out the North Lake Tahoe Visitor Bureau gotahoenorth.com It’s great source of information on all thing North Lake Tahoe, including deals, lodging and current events. Also try www.liftopia.com for cheap, last-minute lift tickets.

Note: Our activities were provided by Visit California for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own and my family’s.

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About Susanna Scott

Susanna Scott founded the BritMums social network in 2008 after a career in marketing. She wanted to create a space for parent bloggers to network, and share ideas and opportunities. She is often quoted as a pioneer in the UK Mum Blogging space, and has been named a top female entrepreneur. She has been featured in The Times, The FT, The Independent, The Guardian, The Sun, Technorati, She, Primo Baby and Red magazine, amongst others. She speaks frequently about blogging, social networking and the BritMums community at industry events. Her blog A Modern Mother ranks in the UK’s top 10 Family Tarvel Blogs. Follow her on @amodernmother.

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3 Comments

  1. 29 May 2014 / 21:30

    Santa Monica IS amazing. If you think about skiing in CA let me know and I’ll send over a few more tips. x

  2. 05 June 2014 / 14:02

    Have never been to California, but woudl hav enever thought of going skiing there. I love skiing, and this place looks fab. If you want some nice skiing European destination, I can recomend the Czech Republic, much cheaper 😉