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Our favorite Lake Tahoe ski resorts, ranked

Lake Tahoe ski resorts, ranked, and what we do (and don't) like

Sunrise over Lake Tahoe
Gordon Mak via Unsplash

Lake Tahoe is one of the finest natural wonders of the world. From its vast blue expanses to its surrounding peaks, the lake is a magical, scenic destination. And with world-class mountain terrain on offer, skiers and snowboarders are in for a seminal experience. Not only that, but since Tahoe’s a reasonable distance from the Bay Area and Reno-Tahoe International Airport, getting there’s as easy as jumping in the car or hopping on a flight. 

But once you arrive, what resorts offer the best skiing and riding? We have our favorites. Here’s our list of the best Lake Tahoe ski resorts for skiers and riders in search of epic times.

KT-22 Chairlift Palisades Lake Tahoe
Palisades Tahoe

1. Palisades Tahoe — Olympic Valley

When it comes to big mountain terrain, few resorts can match this classic Tahoe destination. With wide open peaks and towering chutes, the Olympic Valley portion of Palisades Tahoe challenges even the most skilled skiers and riders. For the devoted snow enthusiast, it’s the ideal mountain playground.

The KT-22 chairlift “The Mothership” — also referred to as the best lift in North America — serves up steep, technical terrain, including cliffs, spines, and chutes, providing an exhilarating ride like nothing else. If you’re looking to improve your skills, it’s the place to be. 

Beyond that, the Siberia Express lift drops riders off in the treeless, open Siberia Bowl for panoramic powder runs, and amazing views. Or, the cliffs and chutes at the top of Palisades (8,885 ft) are home to drops and lines filmed countless times in notable ski and ride movies. 

While there’s still plenty of beginner terrain — centered around the Gold Coast area — Palisades Tahoe’s Olympic Valley side caters to the expert snow sports enthusiast. And with ample Lake Tahoe views on offer, it’s as beautiful as it is challenging. Palisades Tahoe — Olympic Valley has a 2,850 vertical rise and averages 400 inches of snow per year. 

Mountain Views over Lake Tahoe
12019 via Pixabay

2. Palisades Tahoe — Alpine Meadows

The Alpine Meadows portion of Palisades Tahoe brings much of the same, like a big mountain environment, hair-raising steeps, and abundant snowfall. But from there, the storied resort diverges, offering a more local feel and less crowded runs. Key to the Alpine Meadows experience is its varied terrain, including open bowls, cliff bands, and tree runs. And with groomed and ungroomed runs on offer, you enjoy easy cruisers after a morning of black diamonds. That provides abundant options during your time on the hill. But like its Olympic Valley sibling, Alpine Meadows caters to advanced and expert riders. The Keyhole area contains striking natural features, with giant cliffs, narrow chutes, and hazardous rocks. But that just adds to the excitement. Notable chairlifts include the Alpine, Scott, and Summit chairs, which take you right to the goods. In some instances, hiking may be required. 

Not only that, but Alpine Meadows tends to be less crowded, offering a more relaxing experience on the mountain. Because of that — and its chairlifts accessing immense acreage — powder hangs around for days after a storm. If you’re on the fence between our #1 and #2 resorts, don’t worry because they’re connected via gondola. So you can switch back and forth to your heart’s content. Palisades Tahoe — Alpine Meadows has a 1,802 vertical drop, features 1,580 skiable acres, and averages 400 inches of snowfall. 

The Wave on Kirkwood's backside
JLH Photo via Creative Commons

3. Kirkwood 

If you’re a snowboarder who just wants to eat, sleep, and ride, Kirkwood’s the mountain for you. Featuring extreme pitches and a rustic setting, the South Lake Tahoe resort offers a pure mountain experience. And at an hour south of the lake, it’s a little off the beaten path. Central to Kirkwood is its natural beauty. With giant headwalls in every direction, the mountain is as scenic as it is challenging. And because it’s typically uncrowded, you can enjoy the epic terrain in solitude. Above-treeline skiing offers a true big mountain feel, with many runs requiring drop-ins on your way to couloirs and cliffs. The noted double-black diamond “The Wall” tests you with a sustained pitch, requiring turn after turn of leg-burning effort. But that just adds to the fun. Kirkwood also features some of the best backcountry terrain around, accessible via its mountain-topping lifts. New to the backcountry? No worries. Just take a guided tour with resort staff for an unforgettable journey into the wilderness. Kirkwood rises 2,000 feet, has 2,170 skiable acres, and receives an average of 354 inches of snow. 

Heavenly Ski Resort Lake Tahoe CA
Photographing Travis via Creative Commons

4. Heavenly

For a picturesque day on the hill, Heavenly offers lake views like no other resort. Set at the southern tip of Lake Tahoe, the expansive ski area exists in both California and Nevada, adding to its unique traits. And with the town of South Lake Tahoe nearby, you’ll have plenty of time for aprés action. Almost anywhere on Heavenly’s slopes, you’ll get magnificent vistas of the magical blue lake. And on a bluebird powder day, that’s a view you’ll never forget. When it comes to a sensory experience, Heavenly has the category locked down. 

When it comes to terrain, Heavenly doesn’t match its extreme-oriented competition; instead, it offers a balance of intermediate and expert runs. For groups and families with diverse skill sets, that’s a positive. Especially notable are wide, unfolding groomers ideal for morning cruising and cool-down laps. Beyond that, Heavenly offers memorable glades with ample tree spacing and more natural sights to behold. But it’s good to exercise caution, as various rocks and stumps can get in your way. 

There’s still plenty of steep and deep terrain on offer, with Killebrew Canyon containing lines and drops for the seasoned rider. On the other hand, this area requires long traverses at the end, making repeated laps a time-consuming process. Heavenly has 3,475 feet of vertical drop, 2,710 skiable acres, and a 251-inch average snowfall.

Slope views at Sierra-at-Tahoe
D Coetzee via Creative Commons

5: Sierra-at-Tahoe

Offering up a classic, local feel, Sierra-at-Tahoe offers back-to-the-roots good times. Instead of luxury lodging or pricey amenities, this smaller resort provides balanced terrain and a family atmosphere. For beginner skiers and riders, Sierra-at-Tahoe has abundant green runs to build your skills. The Grand View lift leads to novice trails with excellent views. Or, for more intermediate skill sets, the West Bowl area has gentle blue groomers. Another area where Sierra-at-Tahoe excels is its terrain parks. With parks spread across the mountain — with a range of feature sizes — Sierra’s parks let everyone get in on the fun. That provides ample opportunities to keep progressing. 

Last but not least, Sierra-at-Tahoe has wonderful glades. With their wide spacing, Sierra’s tree runs offer something for everyone, even intermediates just getting into glade skiing. And since wooded areas hold onto powder longer, you can usually find a hidden stash. Sierra-at-Tahoe has a 2,212 ft. vertical drop, 1,550 skiable acres, and 400+ inches of average snowfall. 

With shimmering blue water surrounded by picturesque peaks, Lake Tahoe combines beauty and outdoor adventure. With its steep, harrowing lines and open bowls, Palisades Tahoe leads the way in terrain and exhilaration. But other mountains are close behind, with their lake views and more beginner-friendly options. No matter the ski resort, Lake Tahoe is like nothing else. 

Editors' Recommendations

Mark Reif
Mark’s a lifelong snowboarder with a passion for the sport. He lives in Stowe, Vermont, where he also works as a snowboard…
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