Winter is in full swing and the slopes are open! If you are preparing to take your kids on a Lake Tahoe ski vacation, there are a lot of resorts to choose from. Here is a guide to the major Tahoe ski resorts with kids, with information to help you make a family-friendly and budget-friendly choice.
Important Features for a Kid-Friendly Tahoe Ski Vacation
Generally speaking, what should you look for in a Tahoe ski resort when you are bringing the kids? Obviously, a great ski school program for the little ones is essential. Having other activities (when everyone is tired of skiing) is nice as well. Many resorts, for example, now have winter activities like ice skating and tubing. Kid-friendly restaurants are also essential.
Finally, the most important factor to consider on a family ski vacation is cost. Skiing is super-expensive these days already. When you are buying three, four, or more lift tickets, the vacation costs can really add up. If you have little ones who can’t ski much yet, consider a cheaper or smaller resort and save your money for a more luxurious destination once they really get the hang of the sport.
Fact Facts about Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is quite a large area, so it is important to distinguish between the regions before you plan a trip. “North Lake” near the town of Truckee has more of the fancy ski resorts but is also more spread out. If you are driving to Tahoe from Sacramento or San Francisco, North Lake Resorts are accessible from Interstate-80.
“South Lake” has more of a budget vibe and is known for all the casinos just over the California border in Stateline, Nevada. To get there from San Francisco or Sacramento, you need to take Highway 50 which can sometimes be a little more precarious in bad winter storms.
If you are flying in to Tahoe, the closest major airport is Reno, Nevada. Truckee also has a small airfield but no commercial flights.
Considering Lake Tahoe with kids? Here is my take on many of the Tahoe ski resorts:
North Lake Tahoe Resorts:
- Alpine Meadows: A medium size resort that is now being revamped after being purchased by Squaw Valley. Squaw prices, but a more laid back and less competitive vibe.
- Diamond Peak: Diamond Peak is a smallish ski resort where many young kids from the Bay Area have learned to ski at a reasonable price. Diamond Peak has quite a bit more terrain than the other small ski hills in North Lake, so parents who want to get a few runs in during ski school will still enjoy themselves.
Northstar California: The Tahoe gold standard when it comes to family-friendly ski resorts, but it is priced accordingly and may not be in many family’s budgets. For families who can make it work, however, Northstar’s ski school is one of the best for young kids and an excellent place to learn. In addition, the recently expanded village has plenty to do for non-skiers and for evening dining and entertainment. (Want more Northstar California information? Check out my Northstar trip report and review of the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe in Northstar.)
- Squaw Valley: Tahoe’s largest ski resort with the most challenging terrain, which means there is something for everyone. Like Northstar, Squaw is pricey. Squaw is probably the best fit for families with older kids and teens. Squaw is also the most known resort internationally, so fellow visitors will likely be fewer locals (for better or for worse!).
- Sugar Bowl: A medium-sized resort that has the benefit of being a lot closer for locals driving from Sacramento or San Francisco. Great if you want to minimize your road trip time to Tahoe with kids.
- Tahoe Donner: One of Tahoe’s smallest ski hills, Tahoe Donner offers a great value to families with kids just learning to ski. Cheap lift tickets and mostly bunny slopes means you won’t break the bank. Unfortunately, there is no snow-making, so in recent droughts, there hasn’t been much terrain to ski. Also, there is no advanced terrain for parents to ski while the little ones are in ski school.
- Others: Homewood, Boreal, Mt. Rose, Donner Ski Ranch, Granlibakken, and Soda Springs
South Lake Tahoe Resorts:
Heavenly: Heavenly is the only Tahoe resort that is both in California and Nevada, spanning the state line in South Lake. Since its acquisition by Vail, it has undergone serious development and expansion. It’s vibe is still a bit less family-centric than the other Vail-owned resorts in Tahoe, but it is evolving. My only gripe with it for families is that the beginner ski school is located at a considerably lower elevation than many of the trails (on the California side) and the snow gets quite slushy down there.
- Kirkwood: Kirkwood is (was?) a bit of a locals’ secret – great snow and a low-key atmosphere. It too was recently acquired by Vail and the secret is getting out. You’ll still find more 20-somethings here than families with young kids, so only go if your kids are really into skiing and not much else.
- Others: Sierra at Tahoe
Do you ski Tahoe with your kids? Share your experiences and impressions of each of these resorts in the comments.
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