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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.