Story and photos by Marlene Greer
Heavenly is huge.
The ski area, sitting at the southern edge of Lake Tahoe, straddles two states, spreads over an impressive 4,800 acres, and rises 3,500 feet from its multiple base areas to the top of its highest peak.
It’s so large that it is divided into two parts – the Nevada side and the California side – and is scattered with so many runs going in so many directions with traverses in between, that it can appear a bit overwhelming to first time visitors.
That’s the way my daughter and I felt when we stepped off the gondola and landed at Adventure Peak, the heart of Heavenly at 9,136 feet.
Adventure Peak has a bar, restaurant, sledding and tubing hill and provides access to both sides of the resort. And because it’s at the center of the ski area, it’s packed with people.
Once you exit the gondola, a large billboard displays what lifts are open and points left for the Nevada side and right for the California side. We couldn’t see a lift off to the right, just a trail that you can either pole through on skis or walk carrying your skis, so we headed to the Tamarack lift and the resort’s Nevada side – and never left. We spent the entire day skiing half of the resort. That’s how big this place is.
And that’s how much variety it offers.
My daughter and I are intermediate skiers who generally hit the slopes only once a year on our annual mother-daughter ski weekend. We don’t come to a mountain to blast off rock edges into deep bowls or snake our way through a mile of dense trees.
Heavenly has that type of expert skiing, and lots of it, but we prefer mostly groomed runs with a side trail among the trees or maybe a dip into a few moguls.
That’s what we loved about Heavenly. It has so many intermediate groomers.
On nearly every run, you can choose to veer off on a comfortably wide tree trail, into a couple dips and jumps, or just cruise through some off-piste terrain.
We were told by one avid local skier that Heavenly has the most intense tree skiing around Lake Tahoe. But we found that Heavenly also makes tree skiing accessible to intermediate skiers.
Another thing we loved about Heavenly (and so it seems did everyone else) was the views. With deep blue Lake Tahoe on one side and the Carson Valley in Nevada on the other, skiers and boarders couldn’t help but stop and snap pictures at every opportunity.
If you’re standing there admiring the lake, don’t be surprised if you’re handed a camera from a foreign visitor and asked to take a photo or two for the family album.
Heavenly is definitely a tourists’ mountain. On the slopes and on the chairlifts, you’ll meet people from all over the world.
My daughter and I met two women from Poland, a father and daughter from England, and the patriarch of an extended family from Japan, who spoke enough English to inform us this was the clan’s second trip to Heavenly.
It’s also a destination for ski clubs from across the nation. We met people from clubs in Nashville, Grand Rapids and Dallas.
They were staying at one of the three casino hotels in South Lake Tahoe and skiing Heavenly along with Kirkwood, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Squaw Valley, three of the lake area’s other popular resorts.
With all these tourists, you might think Californians would bypass Heavenly and hit the slopes of Tahoe’s lesser known ski resorts.
But not so for friends Garth and Mike from Walnut Creek who ski Heavenly every weekend during the season. Their reasons for returning to Heavenly: Snow quality, superior tree skiing, vastness and the cheap price of a season pass.
Vacaville residents Monica and 8-year-old daughter Hailey come up with the family once a month to ski.
“It’s close to home, and the kids love it,” Monica said.
Heavenly’s proximity to Sacramento and San Francisco makes it a popular choice for Californians. But popular also means crowded, especially on weekends, with the biggest crush between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
All this popularity can be felt on the slopes, where you find yourself weaving between downed skiers and worrying about the person coming up behind you. There are long lift lines, but Heavenly’s many high-speed lifts move people quickly. It’s best if you can ski Heavenly during the week.
It’s also best if you are a good skier. Only a small portion on one edge of this vast resort is suitable for the beginner, which is not enough to experience Heavenly. There are better choices around Tahoe for beginning skiers.
Heavenly offers easy access for day trippers and for those staying at one of the numerous hotels or casinos in South Lake Tahoe.
Parking and lifts are available on the Nevada side at Stagecoach and Boulder lodges and on the California side at California Lodge.
For those staying in South Lake Tahoe, the easiest access to Heavenly is to take the gondola from Heavenly Village.
The gondola is walking distance, even carrying skis, from most hotels and is free with the purchase of a lift ticket. Or you can hop on the free Heavenly ski shuttle which drops skiers at Heavenly’s base areas.
Marlene Greer is a La Verne freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org