Pros: World class skiing, world class views, world class food
Cons: long bus trip from Reno airport
Until this year, my favorite resort has been Whistler BC and the fantastic views during the drive up from Vancouver of mountains, glaciers and ocean inlets all in the same panorama. I thought the adult Disney land of Whistlers’ village, the summit view of the Black Tusk and the back bowls/glaciers would never be equaled or bested. But, I've had to reconsider that position.
I have seen pictures forever of people throwing massive snow plumes on a steep somewhere overlooking a massive deep blue lake. The pictures don’t even look real, they look Photoshoped. This past February I had an opportunity to spend a week at South Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Resort on the South East corner of the lake.
The snow at Heavenly was almost as good as SLC’s Cottonwood Canyons resorts of Alta/Snowbird/Breighton. And the on-hill vista’s at Heavenly overlooking Lake Tahoe is breathtaking and had me panting with my tongue out like a dog on the gondola ride up.
Lake Tahoe is about 10 miles wide and 20 miles long North to South. It averages about 600’ deep and was formed by a volcano at one end of a valley and an earthquake at the other end of the valley creating a natural lake. It is so deep that it never freezes in the winter time. The solar heat gain of that much water keeps warm water constantly rising throughout the winter. The wave action keeps a space of a few feet thawed out around the shoreline perimeter that they call the ‘running path’.
An odd thing about Heavenly is that you take the gondola up and down. You don’t ski down to the base of the gondola. It takes you up mid mountain where the ski area is. There is plenty of snow on this bottom part and I had hard time wrapping my mind around why they set it up like this. I came to realize that trees are sacred things in that area and it takes a permit from every federal, state and local level of government to cut down any tree. After reflecting on it for a few days I could really appreciate that the part of the mountain visible from the village wasn’t scarred up with runs.
The top of the highest lift is right at the tree line where plants barely cling to life in the harsh bitter wind swept environment. As you ride up on the Sky Express lift the trees get shorter and more contorted, until at the top they are just huge gnarly twisted root balls, like a giant bonsai garden experiment.
When you get to the top you are on the state line between California and Nevada. I loved going to the Nevada side. In fact the Skyline Trail run to the Nevada side is now my favorite all time vista. The spectacular view of Lake Tahoe is on your left for a mile or so and then you get a great desert valley view on your right after the trail goes through a little swale to the other side of the ridge.
You wind up crossing the state line so many times I’m not sure it’s even possible to keep track.