By: Patrick Crawford
First the pros left Tahoe for Mammoth, then they bailed for Utah, and now California seems to have dropped off skiing’s radar completely. Don’t be fooled — the West is still the best, and maybe Cali’s low-profile status leaves even more lines for you to track up. With a week to see the best of the Golden State, you have a big task ahead.
Friday Night: Travel
Arrive late-night at Reno/Tahoe International Airport, and enjoy a lovely evening with all the seediness of the casino scene and none of the glam of Vegas. It’s the worst of both worlds! Right next door to Reno is a small town called Sparks, and Tahoe locals (who come to Reno only to stock up on household supplies) say Reno’s so close to hell you can see Sparks.
Drive three hours south of Reno on Highway 395 to Mammoth Lakes. With an early start, you can easily catch an afternoon half-day on one of North America’s finest mountains. If the weather is clear and calm, head to the 11,000-foot summit, with a sick view that can span to Half Dome in Yosemite, and work your way either direction along the ridge for the line that suits you best. You’ll find everything from open bowls with epic pow turns in good conditions and kneecrushing moguls in a dry spell, to super committed lines and mandatory airs.
Mammoth averages around 400 inches of snow a year, and in big winters can log well over 600 inches of Cali fresh that stays light thanks to Mammoth’s high elevation. If you’re lucky enough to get a storm day, head straight for Lincoln Peak, and explore this maze of steep tree lines, small chutes, rock drops and totally sheltered, bad-weather nirvana. Lincoln would be an epic resort all by itself, and on a stormy day, it can’t be beat.
With two full days, schedule at least some time to hit Mammoth’s mammoth tables in the Unbound Terrain Park. The park crew is meticulous about keeping things pristine and features as big as 80-feet are open to the public. Sunday afternoon, grab a drink at Whiskey Creek, but keep it at one, because you need to head back up 395 toward Kirkwood, located just off the south end of Lake Tahoe.
Monday-Tuesday: South Lake & Kirkwood
Kirkwood is a unique place. It averages a whopping 500 inches of snow a year, and can get hammered into the 700-inch zone in a record-setting year. The resort is basically one-chair high from lodge to peak and offers little with sustained vertical, but everything is fun and deep. Standard protocol for a run: a few steep turns, a small drop, a soft landing, and run it out through great trees to the chair. Repeat, again and again. The place is a low-consequences playground. There’s not much in the way of nightlife at Kirkwood, so you may decide to ski one day here and head to South Lake Tahoe for the Nevada-style nightlife. In that case, consider a day at either Heavenly or Sierra-at-Tahoe.
Tuesday night, circumnavigate the lake to Tahoe City.
Wednesday-Friday: North Lake Tahoe
Like Jackson, Little Cottonwood or Whistler, the north shore of Lake Tahoe is a destination all able-bodied skiers must hit before they die. It blends incredible terrain and snowfall with generations of local skiing history that spans from the 1960 Olympics through McConkey and Kreitler to today’s stars like CR Johnson, Michelle Parker and Ingrid Backstrom. Squaw is a scene, so you’re going to start on the chill side, Alpine Meadows. Spend a day exploring the stashes under the Scott Chair and working your way across the valley in search of classics like Pete’s Perrill and Hidden Knolls.
Squaw takes years to master, but you’ll have to fit it into two days. If a storm hits while you’re in town, get to the base of KT- 22 early and queue up with the superstars. You’ll likely find yourself rubbing shoulders with the legends and fighting (literally) for a good spot with countless locals trying to follow the well-worn path to sponsorship that runs through Squaw. If you fancy yourself a pro-to-be, throw it down on a cliff band directly below KT called The Fingers, but remember that locals are accustomed to watching super-pros stomp these cliffs and your efforts may get more jeers than cheers. Lap KT a few times, then head round Squaw toward Granite Chief or Silverado as the crowd moves on.
Once Squaw has thoroughly crushed you, grab an après pitcher at Le Chamois or head to Mama Sake for $5 Buds and sushi hand rolls. Then roll back down to Tahoe City and catch some music at Sol y Lago.
Saturday: Your Choice
One day left before heading down the hill to Reno. If you’re the backcountry type, drive east up I-80 to Sugar Bowl for good access to all of Donner Summit. No, you’re not experiencing déjà vu — every cliff and line looks familiar because pro skiers and snowboarders have worked this zone for years. And it’s still great. If park is your game, skip Donner for Northstar-at-Tahoe. Either way, milk the last day in Cali paradise, because wherever you’re heading home to, it won’t be as good as the Sierras.