[Destination] An insiders’ guide to Palisades Tahoe

[Destination] An insiders’ guide to Palisades Tahoe

Featured Image: Emily Tidwell | Skier: Tyler Curle

In the winter of 2021, I moved to Truckee, CA, to make Palisades Tahoe my home mountain. I didn’t have a wealth of experience of the place before picking up from my roots in Colorado and Utah, rather I was mystified by the aura and history of one of the greatest hubs of modern freeskiing. I’d grown up watching the likes of Scot Schmidt to Shane McConkey making it look like the most fun place to ski on the planet. In high school, I gawked at clips of Mike Wilson double backflipping off the Palisades in Matchstick Productions movies and played (and replayed) GNAR more times than I can count, each time feeling like I was pouring a can of gasoline on my fiery passion for the sport of skiing. 

When I packed up my truck to head west in 2021, I felt like a modern-day Harkin Banks—hitting the road to the promised land of California à la Hot Dog… The Movie. It felt like a pilgrimage. 

I’m a very spoiled man. My ski career has granted me the opportunity to travel all over—everywhere from New Zealand to Kyrgyzstan and across North America. As a result, I have some level of connection to most well-known ski resorts and ski towns in the Western U.S. But Tahoe had remained a place, to me, yet unexplored. I’d only ever skied at Palisades Tahoe one day as an adult and once in a junior freeride competition… way back in the day. What I remembered most about the terrain was the venue we competed on as juniors—Enchanted Forest. But, upon my move, I had exactly zero interest in hitting the same fat-to-flat cliff I did when I was 17 years old. So, it was time to explore…

Moving somewhere so new and unknown gave me an opportunity. I was a greenhorn and my surroundings felt new and shiny. I moved in with lifelong Palisades local Amie Engerbretson and her boyfriend Todd Ligare. On one of my first days at Palisades they took me under their wings, along with her dad, Jeff Engerbretson, who was arguably the closest thing to a real-life Harkin Banks when he moved here from North Idaho decades ago to become a pioneer in ski photography. After riding up the legendary KT-22 lift, they took me straight to Chute 75 for the first run. They all know what kind of skiing I like: steep with a sustained, unrelenting pitch. Ever since, it holds up as my favorite run at my new home mountain. Throughout the season, Chute 75 and anything across the West Face to skier’s right were my go-to lines. On powder days, they are truly all-time. Throughout the high-pressure stints and hot California temperatures that snuck into the middle of last season, they held cold, fun, edge-able hardpack. Come spring, all of their different entrances offer fantastic slush bumps. Hot-lapping this side of KT-22 offers 1,800 feet of vert practically straight off the top of the chair.

Winter 2022, along with the name change, was the first official season that Palisades Tahoe encompassed what was formerly two ski areas: the original base area in Olympic Valley and the formerly separate and unique Alpine Meadows, which is just a stone’s throw over the ridgeline in the next valley to the south. In the winter of 2023, a new gondola connects the two—simplifying the ability to ski both base areas and the terrain they encompass—forever linking the valley. 

As I came to learn, the Alpine Meadows side has its own identity, equally intriguing. The atmosphere is a little more laid back—but the skiing doesn’t have to be. I spent a solid chunk of the middle of the season skiing primarily on the Alpine side and the terrain is truly limitless. On spring pow days, I started to explore the Scott Chair, Alpine Bowl and Sherwood. I chased Xander Guldman, a sophomore on the Freeride World Tour this year, through the expansive nooks and crannies if you traverse north from the Summit Express past Wolverine Bowl to Beaver, Estelle and Bernie’s Bowls. 

It was on these days at Alpine that I felt like I got to develop my sense of community in my new home. As the winter moved on, I ran into other familiar faces in the lift line and frequently linked up with Mike Rogge, an evangelist of skiing the Alpine half of Palisades, and his three-year-old son Elliot. Elliot has a helmet with bug eyes on it, so if you see him, just know that it won’t be long until those bug eyes are ripping harder than you. Elliot’s favorite spot for lunch soon became my favorite, too. MOGROG Cafe is a brick-and-mortar version of a local favorite food truck serving Central European Cuisine. Everything on the menu is phenomenal, but the Kasha Breakfast Bowl might just be my personal favorite; it’s situated within the Achieve Tahoe Center, one of the foremost adaptive snowsports programs in the country, at the bottom of the Subway chair. Given the committed nature of the powder-hungry locals, its location at the base of the Subway beginner area, the bunny slope of Alpine Meadows, means it’s also a good place to beat the crowds on a crowded day. 

As the season progressed, Tahoe was starting to feel like home and I got to enjoy what everyone had been telling me all winter long: Spring is the best time of the year at Palisades. I went on a streak of several weeks without wearing a “proper” ski jacket, instead donning Hawaiian shirts and, at times, my Colorado Avalanche jersey to rep my homeland and rub our Stanley Cup-bound season in all the Sharks fans’ faces. I learned, there’s nothing quite like skiing here with the sun shining overhead, the snow, corny underfoot, and the breeze through my beard.

Of course, with spring skiing comes primetime après. I knew Palisades was my kind of place when grabbing a world-famous chocolate chip cookie from Wildflour was an integral part of the scene. Eat your cookie outside and then grab a beer from Le Chamois, which turns into exactly what you picture as a perfect, movie-esque après scene—goggle tans, fur scarves, swimsuits, dancing on tables and dogs running free around the patio. 

I’m new in town. So I’m certainly not going to call myself a local. But Palisades Tahoe is the kind of place that makes me want to become a local, learn the ins and outs of the mountain, and develop a real community. Palisades is tugging on my heartstrings. And I bet that you’ll be feeling the same way when you make the trek. See you on Chute 75.

How to Get There

Fly into Reno-Tahoe Airport. It’s a big enough hub that there are frequent flights and good itineraries. If you can spare an extra half hour, drive over the Mt. Rose Highway and around the north edge of Lake Tahoe. Yes, you’ve heard about how beautiful Lake Tahoe is, and seen pictures, but seeing the real thing still impresses me every single time. 

PHOTO: Emily Tidwell

Where to Stay

Stay by the lake: Basecamp Hotel in Tahoe City is a hip, boutique hotel with affordable options that offers a good mix of time in Tahoe City, a quick drive to Palisades, and more time closer to Lake Tahoe.

More than skiing: The Truckee Hotel was originally built in 1873 and offers walkable access to historic downtown Truckee, which is littered with great food, art galleries, shops and all the mountain town vibes.

Ball out slopeside: There are a multitude of options around the Village itself, but the Resort at Squaw Creek is truly ski-in/ski-out après in a setting that will make you feel like royalty. Pinkys up.

Beyond the Resort

Stay an extra day to go ski touring. The access to phenomenal terrain, especially tree skiing, around Lake Tahoe is world-class. Go ski Jake’s Peak along the West Shore for the quintessential views of the lake you’ve seen in every ski magazine. Carpool and park tight on the road. Just be warned that the skintrack is aggravatingly steep and gets a bit touchy if it hasn’t snowed in a while. Hire a guide from Alpenglow Expeditions for safety or join one of their guided day trips closer to Palisades to get the full experience through the eyes of a local.


Elevation: 6,200’
Summit: 9,050’
Vertical Drop: 2,850’
Avg. Annual Snowfall: 4oo”
Longest Run: Siberia Bowl to Mountain Run—the latter being the course of the infamous Pain McShlonkey Classic.

PHOTO: Emily Tidwell | SKIER: Max Krone

Insider Tips From the Pros

Michelle Parker’s morning routine: Grab yourself a pocket cookie at Wildflour—try the peanut butter—but make sure this doesn’t interfere with a desirable line position at KT-22. 

Cody Townsend’s advice for racking up gnar points: Pro Call Outs are 500 points, snowblading through the park in lingerie is 20 times the points…stop being so lazy GNAR players.

Connery Lundin’s favorite hit at palisades: An unassuming cornice right off the top of KT-22. It sends you directly between two rock walls—and the visuals are amazing. More importantly, it’s perfectly visible from the chairlift, like all good hits at Palisades.

Xander Guldman’s favorite way to train for the Freeride World Tour: Afternoon hot laps chasing the kids I grew up in Tahoe with around KT-22.

This story originally appeared in FREESKIER Volume 25, Issue 02.
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