Snowboarding has been my favorite hobby since the first time I strapped on a board in the winter of 2000-2001. I have been to every major resort in Tahoe over the years and therefore I have developed my opinions about the different mountains. I grew up riding Sierra at Tahoe, but I’m going to focus on the major resorts in North Lake Tahoe for this post. The criteria I evaluate a mountain on includes the terrain, park, the village and the overall feel.
1. Squaw Valley:
This mountain is huge: There are 3,600 acres of terrain across 6 peaks. With probably the gnarliest terrain in Tahoe, it’s no surprise some of the best riders in the world such as Shane McConkey have come out of Squaw Valley. For an example of the terrain, check out this video of the Chimney Sweep on the Palisades. Allow me to claim: I have attempted this line twice, but I can never keep it together on the landing. (There is also plenty of beginner terrain.) There is even a game you can play on the terrain at Squaw, and I would advise getting a copy of Squallywood to learn more. If a little kid tells you he’s the best skier on the mountain, he’s probably playing the game, and he just scored around 100 GNAR points. (This has actually happened to me.) Or you can watch the movie Gnar to gain a better understanding of the game. After playing, you will be able to name every chute, cliff and line on the mountain. To the left is a picture I took on top of Mainline pocket last April of 2013.
Squaw hired SPT to build their park, and it’s gotten pretty good in the last couple of years, but nothing extraordinary. There are a ton of restaurants and bars in the village, which will keep you occupied at the end of the day. This is also makes it a great place to bring a family. In the spring, they are the only mountain with a hot tub and pool, and they also have an ice skating rink at the High Camp lodge during the snowier months. I love this mountain and it’s definitely my favorite resort in Tahoe. To the left is one of my favorite spots to air off of Granite Chief Peak. You can see the landing marks of my friends and I.
The downsides are that it gets very crowded on powder days: You have to get there an hour before the lifts open just to get a good spot in line. You have to hussle to the areas you want to hit because they will get tracked out fast. On storm days, upper mountain is closed due to avalanche danger, which contributes to longer lift lines on lower mountain. In low snow years, it’s not a good place to be because they don’t have the snow making capabilities other resorts have, and there is too much rugged terrain to cover. The mountain used to stay open until the end of May, making it the ultimate spring destination for Tahoe. Now a venture capitalist firm, KSL, is operating Squaw and they close around mid April, even during good snow years.
2. Alpine Meadows:
Alpine is very similar to Squaw, except it’s a little smaller. The mountains are back to back, so a lot of the terrain is very similar. It’s also owned and operated by KSL, which means their park has improved due to SPT’s expertise. There is very little snow making, which means it’s not the place to be in a very bad snow year. People choose Alpine over Squaw because it’s more laid back. On a powder day, you can hike the ridge from the summit chair and find fresh lines almost all day long. The village is a fraction of the size of Squaw’s, meaning it may be a better place if you want a smaller resort feel, but worse if you’re trying to entertain kids on a vacation. Although this mountain is also owned by KSL, and your season pass is valid at both Alpine and Squaw, Alpine always seems to stay open one week longer than Squaw each year. To the left is a friend’s picture of a section you can hike to from the Summit Chair.
After being bought by Vail resorts, Northstar has changed dramatically. It’s now a destination resort with a huge village, ice skating rink and a lot going on. Their park is definitely one of the best in Tahoe because it’s on a huge run and you can hit a ton of features. They have some of the best snow making in Tahoe, meaning it will be pretty well covered even in low snow years. I hate how long it takes to get on the hill: You now have to park in a lot that is usually very far away, then you take a bus to the village, then you walk through the village, then you ride the gondola to mid-mountain, then you take a chair up to a peak before you can start riding. Also, the mountain is pretty flat which makes it relatively boring on a powder day. The only place you can get moving fast is on LookOut Mountain, but you better be there first because it will be completely tracked by the 3rd run. Here is a run through the park with one of the best riders in the game, Torstein Horgmo.
Boreal is tiny. I wonder if there are bigger resorts in the midwest? Although the mountain is small, Boreal has been brilliant in finding its niche, which is building a good park. Many of the best riders are flocking over there to take advantage of the skate park style terrain park, including myself. With a massive indoor Woodward training facility complete with trampolines, ramps into foam pits, etc, they’re catering to the younger crowd who is interested in progressing their tricks. They make a ton of snow and they are usually the first resort to open. Not to mention their passes are much cheaper than other resorts, at $239 for an unlimited pass. Check out their latest edit, and be sure to watch my boy Chirs Geisen who appears at 5:20. That cab 7 indy to stalefish is sick! My favorite part about Boreal is that they are open for night riding 7 days a week until 9pm. In the early winter months I usually head over there about once a week after work to get my snowboarding fix.
5. Sugarbowl: (Photo Credit)
Some people would call Sugarbowl one of the few secrets left in Tahoe. Did I just blow it? It’s probably the least crowded of all the big resorts. The park isn’t anything special and I don’t think they have any snow making. On a powder day, there is plenty of fun terrain to ride, although there are not as many chutes, cliffs, etc as Squaw or Alpine. The section you can see in the background of the photo is the Palisades but to my knowledge not many people hit lines through there. It’s a much better mountain overall than Northstar or Boreal. There is no village, meaning it has a small ski resort feel. I personally like that because I’m interested in riding, but if you’re planning a family vacation you may prefer one of the destination resorts.
6. Mt Rose: (Photo Credit)
This is the closest resort to Reno, and it’s only about 20 minutes from my office. Out of all the resorts in Tahoe, I have ridden there the least and it has been years since I have been there. The base is at about 8000ft, which is the summit of many other resorts. Therefore during a warm storm where it’s raining at the base of other mountains, Rose will be getting snow. I remember the terrain park as one of the worst in Tahoe and the terrain being pretty mediocre. I will admit, I have never ridden in the chutes and that may change my opinion about the terrain, as I’ve heard it can be awesome on a good day. There is no village at the base, but it’s so close to Reno that it’s not really necessary because you can easily stay in Reno and enjoy everything it has to offer.
What is your favorite mountain to ride and why? Leave me a comment and let me know.