Heavenly’s litany of ski stats make most skiers and snowboarders swoon with anticipation. At 10,040 feet, it sports the tallest mountain in Lake Tahoe, the most skiable terrain of any ski resort in California, the longest vertical drop (3,500 feet) in the state and some of the longest runs in the region, including one that measures a full five miles.
A stone’s throw from the lake and walking distance from a wide range of lodging, the mountain’s height is such that even if it’s overcast at the base, the sun is likely shining over the inversion layer. Riding the gondola from a cloudy village to the sun-drenched summit is akin to ascending to a skier’s version of Valhalla.
Locals jokingly insist that the resort is even too big to fit in California–and there’s some truth to this claim, at least according to the trail map. Roughly half of Heavenly sits in Nevada, with border-crossing signs prominently displayed. The mountain offers panoramic views of the lake and surrounding area, and riders on the eastern runs can see where the mountains drop off into high desert terrain.
Including the Heavenly Gondola located in the middle of Heavenly Village in downtown South Tahoe, there are 28 lifts. This might seem excessive, until you consider the 4,800 acres of skiable terrain that they are designed to reach, 80 percent of which is split into intermediate and advanced/expert runs.
Ninety-seven trails traverse the resort’s acreage, ranging from wide-open cruising lines to chutes that plunge up to 1,600 feet. Experts will enjoy the chutes in Mott and Killbrew canyons, and bump-lovers will enjoy Gunbarrel, even if their knees may not take ‘em too kindly. For mellower terrain, skiers and boarders should target the cruiser runs accessed from the Comet and Dipper lifts.
There’s an overwhelming variety of terrain parks for all ranges of skills. On the California side, the Groove Park is the smallest, with some bumps, rails, boxes and kickers. Located on the Nevada side under the Tamarack lift, the Ante Up park sports bigger kickers and features, as well a view of Lake Tahoe. Riders and skiers who want to take it up a notch should hit up the High Roller Park between the Sky Express and Canyon Express lifts on the California side, which features a double-jump line and large boxes, rails and wall rides. And their GoPro Ski and Ride School–which includes tutorials on how to shoot the best action videos while ripping–should help budding daredevils better-document their exploits.
The 15,000-foot Tamarack Lodge sits at 9,000 feet above sea level and offers a food court, grill and a full-service bar. Starting at 3:30, the Tamarack Lodge hosts the Unbuckle at Tamarack après party, with half-price drinks, contests and dancing. Thursday through Saturday, they up the ante with live DJs and Heavenly’s Angels dancing with the mountains as a backdrop, a less-than-subtle reminder that part of Heavenly sits in the state that excels at sinful tourism. But unlike the casinos that inhabit the Nevada side of South Tahoe, this supercharged happy hour typically ends at 5:30, which often leads to an intoxicating ride back down to the village, the lights of South Tahoe glimmering like a city in miniature.
This year the resort will also offer samples of craft beer under the Tamarack Chair every day from three to four, as well as samples of wines and local brews at sunset at the base of the tram. The new rooftop bar–complete with fire pits and live bands–should help crank the après craziness to 11.
As great as all this proves to be, due to its sheer size, snowboarders might find some of the flatter terrain tedious. Enough wrong turns can lead to a good amount of hiking to the next lift.
Beyond skiing and riding, the massive resort accommodates all other elements of wintertime fun, from tubing to skating to skiing the mountain with a ranger. And if there are a few in your party more pulled to casinos than the chutes, they can still explore the mountain via a scenic ride on the gondola–nothing puts Lake Tahoe into perspective than seeing that seeing that eponymous 122,616-acre lake from elevation.
STAY: A five-minute walk from the lake and four minutes to Heavenly’s Gondola make the Basecamp Hotel an ideal home. This motel was once a decrepit spot, but smart renovations bring a touch of hip, understated class, from themed rooms that can host the whole family–or just the kids–as well as group dining in the cozy lobby. Amenities include a roof-top hot tub with mountain views, fire pits, complimentary breakfast, ski/board lockers and a wrenching area so you can wax and tweak your gear before you hit the slopes.
DINE: Located right on the edge of the lake’s south shore, the Edgewood Restaurant’s two-tiered alpine chateau-style building offers diners unimpeded views of Lake Tahoe, as well as locally-sourced dishes like Cypress Island salmon with sweet Dungeness crab and fresh ahi tuna with wasabi crème.