Base elevation: 6,330 ft
Summit elevation: 8,610 ft
Vertical rise: 2,280 ft
Number of trails: 100
Number of lifts: 20
Skiable acreage: 3,170
Northstar is the closest of the resorts to Pugski.com's headquarters and quite frankly the resort we have the most history skiing, Tricia and I have literally hundreds of days there between us. Northstar is one of the most family friendly of this bunch with the most gentle terrain. While it doesn’t have the steeps and double black terrain of some of the other Tahoe resorts, it does have arguably the best tree skiing in all of Tahoe. Sawtooth Ridge and Martis Camp glades have some great tree skiing that will give you fresh tracks long after the powder has been skied out on the rest of the mountain.
The Backside and and specifically Lookout have the most advanced terrain at Northstar and, again, great tree skiing. Northstar is still the place to be in Tahoe during a storm -- windy days, specifically. Amenities on the mountain include some very nice lodges and a lift network that is easy to navigate.
- Who is it for? Families, tree skiers.
- Who is it not for? Thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies, there is Kirkwood for you.
- Insider tip: For food, there is a Ritz-Carlton on the mountain and for not much more money than your typical lodge food, you can have a nice sit-down meal. If you are looking for a quick meal, the redesigned Summit Lodge has a pretty good BBQ-based menu.
South Lake Tahoe, CA
Base elevation: 6,567 ft
Summit elevation: 10,067 ft
Vertical rise: 3,500 ft
Number of trails: 97
Number of lifts: 28
Skiable acreage: 4,800
Heavenly is the tail of two mountains, the California side and the Nevah-da (not Nevaa-da) side. The California side is for people who ski, people who want to be seen skiing, people who are there for recreation. It is the side that feels like it was put together with mirrors. You will be at the top of a run thinking, "This looks okay, but over there on the other ridge, that looks realllly good." Then you work your way over there, take three lifts, one of them you have to take twice and when you get there, it isn’t quite what you expected and as you look over to another area and think, "That looks pretty good," well, that's where you just were. Actually, I kinda kid with that because the California side has some of the best groomers in all of Tahoe. You can even have trouble concentrating on skiing because you are mesmerized with the magnificent views of Lake Tahoe.
The Nevada side has the terrain for skiers. Mott and Killebrew canyons have the trees and steeps that pick up where Northstar left off, steep and gnarly. Where the California side has views of Lake Tahoe, the Nevada side provides great views looking down into the Carson Valley. The Nevada side has more of a ski area feel where the California side is more resort like.
- Who is it for? One-stop shopping as a Lake Tahoe destination ski resort, Heavenly has almost everything for you.
- Who is it not for? Wallflowers and introverts; they like to party at Heavenly.
- Insider tip: If driving, park up at the Stagecoach Lodge -- but arrive early.
Base elevation: 7,800 ft
Summit elevation: 9,800 ft
Vertical rise: 2,000 ft
Number of trails: 86
Number of lifts: 15
Skiable acreage: 2,300
Of the Vail-owned Tahoe resorts, Kirkwood has the most aggressive terrain, gets the most snow, and is the most remote (thus unfortunately the most difficult to get to) -- for those reasons, if you are visiting Tahoe on an Epic Pass, make sure to ski there.
This year we were only able to make one trip down to Kirkwood, and shame on us because it was such an epic (there’s that word again) season for snow. Kirkwood is known for its steeps, chutes, and cliffs but it also has some great cruisers. Its terrain does have something for everyone, so don’t let the extreme reputation scare you off, Kirkwood can be a gentle giant of a mountain, it is just a matter of knowing where to ski and how to ski it.
- Who is it for? Those willing to earn their turns, not necessarily by hiking but driving. Kirkwood is not really close to anything.
- Who is it not for? Those expecting perfection. Kirkwood is a bit rough around the edges, which is part of its charm.
- Insider tip: Kirkwood does not have a lot of high-speed lifts, but don’t hesitate taking the fixed grips, they will take you to some of the best terrain that is skied the least.
Base elevation: 8,100 ft
Summit elevation: 11,440 ft
Vertical rise: 3,340 ft
Number of trails: 150
Number of lifts: 23
Skiable acreage: 1,832 acres
Beaver Creek is just what you would expect, pampering and warm cookies. Yes, they treat you well, but remember any resort that has the terrain to host a World Cup downhill has some serious skiing, too. Beaver Creek is best skied for the first time with someone who knows the mountain because getting from around can be confusing; Beaver Creek is bigger than it lets on, and things always feel farther away than they look on the trail map.
You would think that a resort that caters to the affluent would have all of the trails manicured, but that's not the case at the Beav, which has some of the best top-to-bottom bump runs west of Mary Jane, runs that will wear you out. Even trails like Birds of Prey (when it doesn’t have its race face on for a downhill) get covered in moguls.
- Who is it for? Those who hate crowds, you will not get the masses you do at the affiliated resorts closer Denver.
- Who is it not for? Cliff huckers, you are very limited.
- Insider tip: The remote parking is very well organized and while you do have to take a bus, it is very efficient. If you want to park close to a lodge, use the Arrowhead base.
Park City, UT
Base elevation: 6,800 ft
Summit elevation: 10,026 ft
Vertical rise: 3,226 ft
Number of trails: 330+
Number of lifts: 38
Skiable acreage: 7,300+
Skiing Park City and the Canyons is like trying to eat an elephant, it can only be done one bite at a time. In that manner, don’t try to ski Park City all in one day, it is too big and you will spend all of your time trying to get to another lift as opposed to just enjoying yourself.
We spent more time at PCMR than we usually do because the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame induction ceremony was held in Salt Lake, and Pugski’s remote headquarters were based at the Canyons. Where Heavenly is a tale of two sides, Cali and Nevada, Park City and the Canyons have melded together seamlessly. Park has some huge long cruisers, and Canyons has great trees and bowls up high.
- Who is it for? One-stop shoppers. Land in Salt Lake then take a shuttle up, it you get an early enough flight you can be skiing that day. Park City is a resort where you can spend a week and still not ski it all.
- Who is it not for? Spring skiers; they do close early.
- Insider tip: Don’t hesitate to hit some of the little offshoot trails; there are a lot of hidden gems.
Base elevation: 9,600 ft
Summit elevation: 12,998 ft
Vertical rise: 3,398 ft
Number of trails: 187
Number of lifts: 34
Skiable acreage: 2,908
We hit Breckenridge late in the season simply because we could. In years past Vail would close down Breckenridge earlier, usually around Easter, but since the parting with Arapahoe Basin was announced, Vail decided to keep Breck open for its Epic passholders, and that is good for all of the Front Range skiers.
What Breckenridge lacks in butt-puckering terrain it makes up for in vast above-treeline snow fields and great steep trees off of Peak 9. Speaking of peaks, Breck is big enough that it didn’t bother naming them, it just gave them numbers. While Breckenridge does have a reputation for crowds, if you avoid the main areas, plenty of secondary and even surface lifts will take you to secluded spots that are much less traveled.
- Who is it for? Like Park City, there is enough here for a week of exploration.
- Who is it not for? People with altitude issues; Breck can wreck.
- Insider tip: If you are worthy, you must lick the Devil’s Crotch.
Base elevation: 10,780 ft
Summit elevation: 13,050 ft
Vertical rise: 2,530 ft
Number of trails: 145
Number of lifts: 9
Skiable acreage: 1,428
This is the last year for Arapahoe Basin on the Epic Pass, and while I can say their partnership helped us out, I believe the breakup is mutually beneficial and both entities will be better for it in the long run. But since A-Basin is still technically affiliated with Vail/Epic, it is included in this article.
A-Basin has been our Colorado home away from home. The atmosphere, terrain, grub, and The Beach are like a comfortable pair of jeans, and the 100-plus days we have skied here is more than any other Colorado resort, probably well more than the next two or three combined. Yes, this was our 13th year coming to A-Basin in May; will it be our last? We cannot say yet. But it has been a good run. This trip had always been over Mother's Day, but with Mother's Day being about as late as it can be, we decided to move it up a week for numerous reasons, most having to do with scheduling for many of the attendees. In the past 13 years, A-Basin has disappointed in only one year, and that is a pretty darn good run.
- Who is it for? Those who prefer a ski area over a ski resort.
- Who is it not for? Like Breckenridge, if you have issues with altitude, A-Basin can be tough.
- Insider tip: The brisket at the Black Mountain Lodge is fantastic.