Today doesn’t feel like the second day of spring, but imagine how they feel up in North Lake Tahoe.
Another March Miracle dropped 7 feet of new snow on area ski resorts March 1-3, another 4.5 feet as of last Friday and several more feet at the higher elevations from the storm we Southlanders are currently experiencing. And even more snow is expected Friday through Sunday.
It stands to reason then that if you desire quick access to thick powder, North Lake Tahoe is the place to be this spring. Sure, you could drive to the local mountains or Mammoth, but it’s much easier to fly direct into Reno-Tahoe International Airport from John Wayne or Long Beach (or LAX and San Diego, too).
While SNA is closer distance-wise to my house, my backyard is under the flight path of JetBlue at LGB, so I decided to see how the view was looking down for a change as I flew up to Reno recently to ski at Northstar in Truckee.
It only took 15 minutes to get to Long Beach Airport via the 405, so I was actually early for my early morning JetBlue flight, which, after a short 1.5-hour hop and quick jaunt to the resort via Tahoe Elite Private Car Service, allowed me to be on the slopes by noon. (If you have your own gear and a pass, you can get on a gondola and up to the runs even sooner. I had to pick up rentals first at Northstar Gold Club and Adventure Center, which, along with everywhere else visited this weekend, is in the one-stop-shopping Northstar Village.)
This was my second or third time skiing Northstar, which is a big mountain known for its long intermediate runs, The Backside black diamond slopes and beautiful lodges at the base, midway up and at the summit.
The most scenic run is East Ridge, which begins at the top of the mountain in the direction of Mt. Pluto, where you are greeted by a stunning view of Lake Tahoe below. As you can see from my photo that opened this post, a cloud blocked any look at the deep-blue water. Fortunately, my private mountain guide Ali MacGrain, who you very much should hire through the Northstar Gold Club and Adventure Center if you want a history lesson and invaluable ski tips, loaned me one he shot previously:
Conditions during my late-winter trip were great, although there were patches where the snow had melted. The March Miracle surely solved that issue. All you need to know about tickets, lodging and area amenities (like I said, you never have to leave the Village) is available at NorthstarCalifornia.com.
Of course, given these wintry spring conditions up there, we flatlanders may still find difficulty dealing with the mountain chill. I can recommend one place to warm up that is not too far from that Mt. Pluto view of the lake. Around 1:15-1:30 p.m. daily, the line forms for Tōst, where the first 150 or so people ages 21+ get a complimentary glass of Champagne for a 2 p.m. toast up atop the hill. Fire rings and inflatable seats make things cozy. Additional half-bottles and full bottles of bubbly and some lunch items are available for purchase.
If you are staying overnight in the Village or otherwise not driving, I would recommend keeping the après-ski party going at TC’s Pub, where warming up happens immediately (and times four) if you order the Shot-Ski. Four full shotglasses are set up lengthwise across a wooden ski so a foursome can down them together. (Our models selected Fireballs.)
By they way, there are several dining choices at various price points in the Village, ranging from food stands to Manzanita at the Ritz-Carlton, and on the hill, ranging from a food truck near where the Big Springs gondola also drops off for the ski lifts to the spacious Zephyr Lodge around the mid-point to Summit Smokehouse at 8,610 feet.
You can find out about specific activities happening during the days you are up at Northstar Village through NorthstarCalifornia.com. I also found this for non-skiing events in the North Tahoe area: www.GoTahoeNorth.com.
One of the biggest upcoming events is the fourth annual WinterWonderGrass festival, which brings craft brewers and more than 20 bluegrass bands to the Sierras, April 6-8.
Besides Northstar, North Lake Tahoe is the setting for the Mt. Rose, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Diamond Peak ski resorts.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.