We finally saw a break in the endless storms hammering CA last week, so I decided it was a good time to take the family on a trip to ski resorts south of South Lake Tahoe.
(view from Sierra at Tahoe)
There are some great ski resorts that are south of the Tahoe basin. Living on the north side of the lake we don't get to the south side of the lake as often, especially south of the lake. In the Winter it can take a little longer to access the ski resorts from the NV side of the lake with the Sierra passes closed. Here is a look at the route we took.
Day 1 - Sierra at Tahoe:
The storms from the beginning of March were just finishing up. The sun was out early Monday morning the 11th as we made our way to Sierra at Tahoe, but the air was cold. We knew that would mean the snow would stay dry and soft and we would likely find some stashes of powder.
Pulling into Sierra the record-breaking snowfall from the previous 6 weeks was obvious. The snow banks were towering over the cars!
(pulling into Sierra at Tahoe)
It was a great mountain to start off our week of skiing and riding. Sierra is a mountain that we try to ski at least a few times a year and it's one of our favorites. Great tree skiing, nice groomers, beautiful views, and a small mountain vibe. Perfect for the family.
(following Lux around the mountain)
After a few laps down the mountain, my youngest decided she wanted to do a few laps on the carpet. I thought I'd hop on and take a shot to show you how deep the base is.
(Lux on the magic carpet at Sierra)
By lunchtime, my wife and I are usually taking turns up on the mountain while the other hangs out in the lodge with the kids.
(the kids eating lunch at Sierra)
I'm always happy to take my turn first and then head out for a few runs at my pace. It was the perfect winter afternoon with soft snow and cold air. I love the cold. And the snow was soft and perfect. There was no shortage of leftovers and views to indulge in.
(view from the top of Sierra at Tahoe)
We definitely got our fill and were very grateful for the day and the conditions that greeted us at Sierra.
(I think Jayce had the most fun)
Being just south of South Lake and needing to backtrack to get to our next stop, South Lake was the perfect stop for us the first night. I don't have to explain all of the dining options if you are in South Lake. We found the perfect place to stay right behind Heavenly Village under the gondola, with walking access to everything.
(South Lake Tahoe)
My wife is a big sushi fan so we had dinner at Naked Fish and then spent some time in the village with the kids. Then back to the hotel for a soak in the hot tub, a glass of wine, and a good nights sleep before we continued our journey south.
Day 2 - Kirkwood Mountain:
Being a forecaster I knew that Tuesday would feature beautiful sunny and cold weather in the morning with light winds, and then an incoming storm would be bringing increasing clouds and wind by afternoon. So we did our best to get to Kirkwood in time for opening. If you've never done the drive, it's a beautiful mountain drive about 45 minutes to the south of Lake Tahoe.
Kirkwood is the biggest ski resort south of the lake until you reach Mammoth. Plenty big enough to spread out skiers, especially on a Tuesday. The morning session was as beautiful as anticipated with sun, cold temperatures, light winds, soft snow, and beautiful views.
(view from the top of chair 6 at Kirkwood)
One of my favorite things about Kirkwood is that IMO the way the lifts are set up you can get around the mountain very quickly with little traversing. Chairs 8, 1, 11, 10, 5, & 6 all converge at the bottom of the mountain in front of the village. I started at chair 7 and made my way around the mountain and over to the back side through the morning. Not too many fresh tracks left outside of the closed section of The Cirque, but dry soft snow perfect for carving.
(The Cirque from chair 2 at Kirkwood)
By lunchtime, you could see the clouds from the next storm approaching from the north, and the ridge winds began to pick up sending long wisps of white off the peaks into the air.
(view from the top of chair 1 at Kirkwood)
Those clouds moved in quickly during the early afternoon and winds continued to increase, so we made it a day and headed down 88 towards Jackson towards our next hotel.
The drive down the mountain started with towering snow banks at least 8 feet tall above 7,000 feet through the Carson Spur. Heading down the hill there was about 3-4 feet of snow at 6,000 feet, 1-2 feet at 5,000 feet, and then the snow became patchy approaching 4,000 feet before disappearing below that. It was our first time in the lowlands and nice warm air since the winter started!
We decided to stay for 2 nights in Angel's Camp, CA right on 49. Where we thought was the perfect spot to launch out the next 2 days up to Bear Valley and Dodge ridge up 4 & 108.
Day 3 - Bear Valley:
Day 3 was the most exciting day of the trip so far for 2 reasons. First, it had snowed 2 inches overnight. Not a big powder dump, but the only fresh snow expected on the trip and a nice resurfacing of soft snow! Second, for years I've been invited down to Bear Valley but have never been. This was going to be our first time!
Growing up in the Northeast, I spent all of my ski trips staying in the same cold climate that we were skiing in. One of the coolest parts of the trip for me was staying at 1,500 feet in the mild air and green landscapes, and within an hour being right back in the mountains in the cold air and deep snow.
The day lodge at Bear Valley actually sits near mid-mountain around 7,750' and the snow was deeeep pulling into the parking lot.
(Bear Valley base lodge)
We were expecting another sunny and cold day with soft snow, maybe even a couple inches of fresh snow. The trees up top agreed, it was snowy and cold!
(rime ice on the trees at Bear Valley summit)
Bear Valley definitely has the small mountain town ski hill feel I love. The iconic center pole chair lifts bring you up top where you have almost complete 360-degree views of the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains.
(view from the top of Bear Valley)
It's not a huge mountain, but it fits in all the terrain with cornice drops, rock faces, and plenty of tree skiing. There was still fresh snow in the trees skiing more like 4-6 inches deep. Jayce decided he wanted to attempt his first small cornice drop.
(Jayce at Bear Valley)
My wife and I have come to enjoy these hidden gems of the Sierra. Fun terrain and no crowds made for happy faces!
(Mikayla and I at Bear Valley)
One of the unique things I loved about the mountain was the terrain that dropped down from the day lodge. It reminded me of my childhood skiing the upside down mountain of Jack Frost in PA where the day lodge was at the top and you skied to the bottom. Of course, Bear Valley is much bigger, surprisingly big with surprisingly advanced terrain.
Just outside of the ski boundary the mountain is also surrounded by acres of untouched terrain that looked very skiable and very tempting...
(view from Polar Express lift at Bear Valley)
After another great day of skiing we headed back to Angel's camp for a delicious meal, another soak in the hot tub, and to rest before our final day on our south of the lake tour.
Day 4 - Dodge Ridge:
High-pressure was finally building in strong over CA after 6 weeks of relentless storms. The week had started off cold with a final 2 inches of powder, but now the sun was out in full force, the winds were light, and we were expecting our first mild day of skiing in 2 months!
We drove back up the mountain up route 108 through several quaint ski towns on the way to Dodge Ridge. Pulling in we could see the freshly groomed trails and lack of crowds, and we knew this would be a great finale to our tour. We slapped on the sunscreen, left behind the neck warmers, and excitedly headed up the mountain to explore another first!
(base of Dodge Ridge)
Dodge Ridge is another mountain that expands well beyond what you can see from the parking lot. We worked our way across the mountain in search of soft snow. From the top, you can see west towards the green mountains of the Central Valley adding to the contrast of the deep snow of the High Sierra.
(view looking west from top of Dodge Ridge)
Deep is not an understatement as the snow at the top was just as deep as the impressive amounts around Tahoe.
(patrol shack at the top of Dodge Ridge)
Jeff, the Director of Sales & Marketing, heard that I was visiting that day and he offered to send me out with Sean, the official mountain guide and photographer, for a private tour of the mountain. It turns out Sean and I are both grew up near each other on the East Coast and even worked at the same boardwalk store in our high-school years, small world!
He gave me a tour of some great places around the mountain, even a few "secret" spots not on the map the patrollers don't tell you about so they can have all the powder, haha. From there we headed to Granite Bowl, which surprisingly had stayed just cold enough to sneak in a few last powder turns in 4-6 inches of fresh snow.
(rare shot of myself on the hill)
It was the perfect end to the tour. I wish these ski resorts were closer to our house because the kids had a blast and my wife wants to go back soon.
(the kids at the top of Dodge Ridge in front of powder blue lift)
We didn't have any big powder days, but we didn't have any travel issues either. Just mid-week crowds (or lack thereof), sunny skies, and great snow. We had a blast skiing some of the great mountains south of the lake we are familiar with like Sierra & Kirkwood, and a great time exploring new gems further south!
If you normally ski areas around the lake and have never ventured south I would highly recommend a trip south of South Lake to explore these mountains. If you have already made the trip I'm sure you can relate to our experience. How lucky are all of us to able to ski these beautiful Sierra Nevada mountains, especially during an incredible snow year?!
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