If the resorts of South Lake Tahoe have earned a mini-Vegas reputation due to the proximity to the Nevada border and such events as Heavenly Mountain’s Unbuckle Apres party (complete with go-go dancers dressed in strategically-placed fur), then Kirkwood seems to exist, in part, simply to reinforce that South Tahoe isn’t just a snow-covered landscape for glitz, gambling, and good skiing and snowboarding.
Tucked 45 minutes from the bustling town of South Tahoe resort, Kirkwood trades the iconic views of the lake for a more defined alpine panorama.
The mountains rise up as you drive south into the valley, quickly announcing their presence: 2,300 skiable acres spread across a wide ridgeline dominated by four high-elevation peaks, proffering 2,000 vertical feet, 86 runs and so much white stuff–more than five feet annually–that the resort seldom endures a low-snow season. In fact, those longing for truly deep powder should consider packing a snorkel. Two terrain parks–a small intro-level one, as well as the intermediate Outlaw Park–should satisfy most freeskiers and boarders.
Kirkwood’s steep, cliff-choked mountains speak to its most alluring characteristic: This is the place where extreme skiers can test their mettle and stamina. Lifts like The Wall and Cornice Express slice up the mountain and access expert-only terrain (skull-and-cross-bone signs at the chairs and on the top of the mountain ominously warm potential lift-riders what they’re about to encounter). Once you reach the summit, you can traverse or boot-hike on the ridge until you find your line into the bowls and cornices. Advanced skiers and also make the somewhat time-consuming series of chair rides, heading skier’s right to 9,876-foot Thimble Peak to conquer steep-pitch runs like Hully Gully or Cold Shoulder. And on big snow days, Palisades Bowl draws the powder-addicted like moths to a white-hot flame.
If you want to really get to know the resort on an adventurous and intimate level, sign up with Expedition:Kirkwood and enroll in expert-level courses on avalanche safety, special woman-ski clinics, snowcat tours and private tours of the mountain’s more intimidating elements. You can also enroll in guided, private excursions, or sign up for one of their signature programs, which range from two-day women’s clinics to freeride workshops.
Intermediates are also favored at Kirkwood, with more than half of its 86 runs rated to blue or double-blue. You may not get the marathon-length cruisers found at other Tahoe resorts, but you do get the steeps and a vast variety of terrain off the Reut and Solitude chairs, as well as the eastern bowls and wider-open chutes of Fawn Ridge, accessible by slinking your way to the summit of Thimble Peak.
The resort also does a great job of helping novices get their snow legs. Though only 12 percent of the slope is rated for beginners, the green runs and most beginner classes are held at the Timber Creek Base Area a short distance from the main village. Here lifts like the Bunny deliver first-timers to mellow runs that don’t intersect with the more advances skiers plying the rest of the resort. Kirkwood offers a variety of group and private lessons for both children and adults, and you get free access to Epic Mix Academy, which lets you digitally track your progress, earn on-mountain certificates and share your accomplishments with friends and family.
Best of all, Kirkwood is an entirely self-contained resort, which is essential given its relative isolation from the rest of South Tahoe. The quaint pedestrian village hosts an array of nice restaurants and various levels of accommodation, along with season-long special events, cross-country skiing and the distinct sense that you’ve found a part of Tahoe that the rest of the world has yet to discover. And the new Red Cliffs Family Lodge hosts family activities every weekend as well as theme nights, board games, corn hole, foosball, air hockey and giant jenga and checkers.
DINE: You won’t find much award-winning haute cuisine at the Kirkwood Village restaurants, but the gob-smacking views of the towering peaks make everything taste better. To get a feel for the historical nature of the land on which Kirkwood sits, visit the Saloon at Kirkwood Inn. Sitting just east of the resort on Highway 88, the place was built in 1864 by the man for whom the resort was named, serving western-style cuisine for lunch and dinner daily.
STAY: The central advantage of Kirkwood’s self-contained architecture means you arrive and you’re there until you’re ready to leave. For that reason, choosing from among Kirkwood Property’s townhomes and condos make the most logical choice. You get easy access to the resort and the pedestrian village, and can find a place to suit your needs, from a one-bedroom condo to a luxury town home with a handful or rooms and full kitchens.