Thanks to its gently-sloping runs and copious tubing areas, Northstar California is known as one of the most family-friendly resorts in Lake Tahoe. The 3,170 acres of terrain are serviced by 20 lifts, including two gondolas and seven express quad chairs, and while 47% of the mountain’s skiable acres are listed as intermediate, the level runs feel more suited to novice riders. Some locals deride the mountain for its flat terrain, but that’s like taking issue with the fact that zebras have stripes. In truth, Northstar California isn’t trying to compete with hard-charging Tahoe resorts like Squaw. It seems focused on offering high-end luxury paired with kid- and family-friendly features, and it succeeds. But while the resort doesn’t have any double-blacks, it does offers easy access to a swath of backcountry terrain, which should keep experienced skiers waist-deep in the pow.
And then there’s the nine terrain parks. Start off at the Pinball, which boasts a variety of rails, fun boxes and jumps, or the family-friendly Moonshine park, with small tabletops and ride-on jibbing features. Then go big by staring down the wide chasms of the resort’s 18- and 22-foot Superpipes, or head into The Stash, one of six all-natural terrain parks developed by Jake Burton, featuring tree runs, road gaps, slides and jibs, all make with locally-sourced natural materials.
Northstar California, which sits a distance away from Lake Tahoe on a mountainside near a scenic alpine meadow, also boasts one thing that the other area resorts don’t: protection from the elements. The mountain shields the resort from the worst of the high winds and blinding snow that can force other resorts to close their lifts. In fact, when the weather turns foul in the region, locals can count on decent conditions at Northstar California. And should the weather swing too far in the opposite extreme, snowmaking allows them to cover half of the mountain with the man-made stuff. And two programs offer exclusive access to the mountain: the Platinum Piste gets you through a few private gates on the mountain to hit a dedicated run each Saturday, while the First Tracks program starts at sunrise, where mountain guides take you on a tour of the mountain before the lifts officially open.
As you’d expect from a resort that attracts discerning hordes of family travelers, Northstar California offers a variety of lessons ranging from private one-on-one lessons to group lessons, available to all ages and ability levels. They also boast a handful of signature programs, including the Burton Academy, focused on learning to snowboard, to women-specific courses in skiing and riding. And as part of the Vail Resorts family, Northstar California also plays nice with the EpicMix app, which does pretty much everything imaginable for recording your day on the mountain, from photos and stats of your day scavenger hunts and virtual rewards.
There are a plethora of non-ski/snowboarding activities as well. Cross-country skiing and showshoeing trails abound, ice skating is available in the village and lift-access tube runs will keep everyone smiling on or off the slopes. Or take advantage of the on-site childcare facilities and snag a few lines while junior finds a few new best friends.
The on-mountain village also cranks up the hospitality with full spa services, heated pools, fitness centers and dining options that cover the gamut of desires, from sushi to building your own s’mores at an outdoor fire pit.
STAY: If you yearn for true luxury skiing, then the mountainside Ritz-Carlton at Northstar California should serve as your home. The five-star property has a 5,183-square-foot spa, ski-in/out access, full concierge services, a fitness center, an expansive outdoor pool and patio area and Manzanita, one of the best restaurants in the region.
DINE: The newest addition to the suite of resort restaurants, Yamakai Fish and Sushi Co. continues the easy-going, luxe narrative that Northstar California personifies, with both sushi as well as more traditional mountain fare like steaks and burgers. Expect stellar service, and a very long list of cocktails, beers, and wines.