Ski vacations, especially with kids in tow, can involve a lot of inconveniences and logistics. In our travels, my family has found so much value in staying luxury hotels in ski destinations where the amenities and location can really make a difference in improving our travel experience. One of our favorite spots for a winter travel splurge has been the The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, located on the ski slopes of Northstar California Resort.
We’ve now stayed at The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe on three different trips and dined in the hotel on several other occasions. Our first stay was when the hotel was relatively brand new and our now 12 year old daughter was just a toddler. The next trip in 2014 was with two kids in tow when our now 8 year old son was a baby. We just returned again in February 2022 for a Northstar weekend at the Ritz with two skiing kids (this time as guests of the hotel).
So I can honestly say we’ve seen the property evolve over the course of a full decade. And although it doesn’t happen often, the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe is one hotel that has actually improved quite a bit with age.
Of course, a luxury hotel in a prime slopeside location doesn’t come cheap. The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe is one of the priciest places we stay as a family. But for the price, the hotel also delivers a significant amount of value on the right trip for many guests like us. Here’s what you can expect on a stay in winter months to help decide if this hotel is right for your family ski vacation too.
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Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe Location & Common Areas
The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe is located mid-mountain at Northstar California Resort. It’s an easy drive up Highlands View Road after turning into Northstar off of Highway 267. The hotel is connected to Northstar’s Village via the Highlands Gondola, a non-skiing gondola that is free for visitors to use.
The hotel was inspired by the styles of historic national park lodges and other western state mountain resorts. The rustic style helps it feel inviting and warm while still being luxurious. The Ritz has a multi-level open lobby with a large central stone fireplace, with several wings of rooms overlooking the slopes.
One of the best parts of the hotel on winter stays is its ski-in, ski-out location. It’s located at the top of the Big Easy lift, just a few hundred years above the Lodge at Big Springs where several other lifts originate. Skiing down to the lodge and other lift lines is easy on a green slope where many of the beginner ski school classes start out.
Hotel Rooms at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe
Rooms at the hotel are quite spacious and comfortable, which is ideal for a family of three or four sharing a room. Standard rooms have either two queen beds or a single king and include a sitting area with two armchairs, a fireplace, a desk. When we had little ones who required cribs, there was ample room for a hotel-sized crib next to the window.
We all have slept well every night we have stayed there, but it’s hard to say whether that’s due to the comfortable beds and quality linens or just sheer ski exhaustion (I’d venture a guess that it’s some combination of the two).
The bathroom is well laid out, featuring double sinks, a soaker tub so large your child can go swimming in it, a standalone shower, and a separate toilet area with door.
My husband and I both immediately noticed how well the rooms have weathered a decade of use. They looked as fresh in 2022 as they did when we first stayed there a decade ago, with no nicks or dings anywhere to be seen. The style has stood the test of time as well.
The rooms also have large closets with a lot of hanging space and cubbies to store snow boots and shoes. Drawer space is adequate, but maybe not if you intend to put lots of puffy snow jackets in them (we hung ours instead). Robes and slippers are included in each closet.
Get more looks at a room from every angle in this full video room tour:
Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe Food & Restaurants
There are several places to eat within the hotel itself, all of which we’ve now experienced several times each.
Manzanita is the hotel’s high-end signature restaurant. I had eaten here before, but our most recent stay was the first time I had experienced the restaurant with kids. Manzanita was excellent on my previous visit, but it was a truly memorable standout this trip. The food rivaled that of the very best restaurants I’ve dined in in San Francisco over the years. Cuisine is American featuring local ingredients and incorporating just the right touch of Tahoe inspiration, with a number of hearty meat dishes to fill and warm you up after a day on the slopes.
I was especially pleased to see how well the restaurant struck the right balance for families. Given the price point, we were concerned how kids would fare, but we noticed many other guests with kids. Our children were able to select from a buffet that featured a wide variety of kid-friendly staples sure to please picky eaters but that also had some more adventurous choices for kids who are budding foodies. Both of my kids ate well and raved about the selection.
Another place to eat at the hotel is the Ritz-Carlton lobby itself (“The Living Room“). Guests can sit down on one of the couches or at the smallish round tables that sprinkle the lobby, and a waiter will come take your order. Fare in the lobby is high-end pub food: burgers, salads, sandwiches, etc. We have always found the food to be quite good, but wish the menu had just a few more choices for guests who plan to dine here multiple times on a trip.
Additionally, there is a BBQ joint located outside on the back patio where skiers often grab lunch – The Backyard. On our most recent stay, the hotel offered live music here that made for an especially entertaining lunch break. The prices are comparable to what you would pay for lunch at one of Northstar’s on-mountain lodges so it’s an excellent lunch alternative for Northstar skiers and riders (especially on clear weather days) even if you aren’t staying here overnight at the hotel.
Last but certainly not least is Cafe Blue, a small cafe off of the lobby. It’s an ideal spot for a grab-and-go breakfast with coffee, bagels, breakfast sandwiches, and the like.
Ski Amenities at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe
The best part about staying at the Ritz in Lake Tahoe is that you never touch your skis. The staff takes them off of your car as you pull into the hotel to check-in and passes them off to the hotel’s Mountain Concierge. When you are ready to hit the slopes, you pick up your boots just steps away from the slopes at a convenient desk right next to the hotel’s ski shop. You then walk a few steps outside, where the ski valet will have your skis (or snowboard) waiting and will put them on the snow for you. A few clicks and you are immediately on the slopes.
If you’ve gone skiing with small children before, you likely know just how hard it is to lug all their gear plus your own through parking lots, ski resort villages, and onto gondolas and lifts. We have never done one bit of that at the Ritz, and that is (almost) priceless.
For visitors who need to rent ski equipment and buy lift tickets, the Ritz also couldn’t be more convenient. There is a separate ski shop called True North (run by Northstar) right in the hotel. The shop can handle all the same transactions as the ski shop at the base of Northstar’s gondola. Before our kids had their own equipment, we rented skis for our daughter there on our arrival afternoon. The shop is much less hectic than the main shop at the bottom of the Northstar gondola in the village.
In pre-2020 times, there was also a ski school dropoff and pickup right at the Ritz backyard. That has been suspended for the current ski season, but look for that to hopefully make a comeback next year. Not having to head down to the Village to drop kids off in ski school is a major value.
Our family is a family of skiers, so we don’t spend much time on other amenities when we are at a ski resort. We have of course enjoyed dips in the hot tub at the Ritz after a long day on the slopes. The hotel has a sizable pool area on the back patio of that includes a large heated pool, small kids pool, and two hot tubs (one is adults only).
There is a bar area near the pool that is part of the Backyard BBQ restaurant, should you wish for an après ski beer or cocktail.
The hotel also has a very large fitness center (my calves are always burning too much from the skiing to work out though), and an award winning spa at the hotel. I have still not found time to experience the spa but I’m assured by several well-traveled friends who have that it is well worth it for a non-ski day. Next trip!
For families, the hotel is well-equipped to keep the kids entertained. My kids couldn’t get enough of the large arcade near the check-in desk. The hotel also has a Ritz Kids program, although the regular offerings are still paused for the moment. The property has activity and coloring books for kids at check-in as well as a Tahoe scavenger hunt via the concierge.
The bottom line is that if skiing isn’t your cup of tea, don’t overlook the Ritz at Lake Tahoe. There are still plenty of things to keep you and the kids busy. Plus, Northstar’s Village is just a short gondola ride away with more shops and restaurants to explore, along with a movie theater and ice skating rink.
In our several stays at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, the service has been close to impeccable. Sometimes, it’s easy to feel uncomfortable and out of place at high-end hotels where staff can come off as snooty. But the Ritz staff successfully walks the fine line between being formal and respectful while still being genuinely warm and accessible. I have had some memorable conversations with staff members over the years, many of whom are long-timers at the property.
Many hotels and hospitality businesses are struggling in 2022 with staffing, so I was fully prepared to grade the service at our most recent stay on a bit of a curve given that challenge. But what blew me away was that the service we experienced in 2022 was actually for the most part even even better than on our two previous stays (which were quite excellent). This is not a hotel that is still trying to get away with skimping on the essentials. Full daily housekeeping is back, along with turndown service (with chocolate, naturally). Bell service was beyond speedy in helping us move bags in to and out of our room. The ski concierge had our equipment on and off the slopes in seconds.
We had only one service hiccup during our stay that was the result of a miscommunication and a bit of a comedy of errors as we were leaving. We understood from the mountain concierge that our skis and boots would be delivered directly to our car. What wasn’t explained to us was that the equipment wasn’t going to the car but would rather be held behind the valet desk to load once the valet pulled our car around. Did we drive off without skis on the top of our car as a result? Yes. Am I ridiculous for not spotting that our skis were missing? Also yes. But had the process been explained to us more clearly and had the valet noticed our car’s empty ski rack, we would not have had to turn around and come back for our skis a few dozen miles down the road! Lesson learned that it’s easy to forget even the most obvious after a tiring long day on the slopes.
Cost & Value
Last but certainly not least is the matter of the price. The property simply has no hotel rival anywhere in the Lake Tahoe region. It probably goes without saying that all of these amenities and conveniences come at a high cost.
Standard rooms at the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe on non-holiday weekends during ski season months start at about $1200 a night, plus valet parking and a resort fee. The hotel can be substantially less other times of year and on weekdays, but ski season demand from Bay Area weekend travelers is significant.
At that price tag, this hotel simply will be out of reach for many travelers. But if it is within the realm of possibility as a travel splurge, the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe delivers real value for its cost. It’s at the very top of our family’s hotel budget, but we return for a couple of key reasons. The location and ski amenities turn what could be a stressful and exhausting family ski weekend into a seamlessly executed one. I’d much rather pay this rate for a hotel in a ski destination to shortcut challenging ski logistics instead of in a tropical destination where the logistics and luggage burdens are minimal.
Note that it’s possible to find some additional savings and value using Marriott points for a stay. We have cashed out points at the property ourselves. The hotel now commands 85,000-100,000 points per night during winter months, although upcoming changes to the Marriott Bonvoy award charts this spring may result in additional changes.
The danger of staying at a property like the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe is that it’s hard to settle for anything less once you’ve experienced it. The service, location, and creature comforts are impressive. We’ll definitely be back. But at the current price tag, we’ll plan our visits judiciously. Trips like the one we just took where everyone used the amenities and could take advantage of the service to its fullest extent is where the hotel continues to deliver for family travelers.
Read More about Skiing in Northstar and the Lake Tahoe area: