Destinations / GO
THEY SAY JUST do what you love and the rest will come. Well, it came for me when HarperCollins Publishers called me out of the blue one summer day and asked if I wanted to write a guidebook on America’s
western ski resorts. For an out-of-work ski bum living in a
trailer park in South Lake Tahoe (mommas don’t let your
babies grow up to be English majors), it was the golden
ticket to yet another year of putting off law school.
Although that guidebook is long out of print, my
“Huh. Who knew?” list of ski resort surprises is still
very much valid, and it’s probably three places you’ve
never visited, with Tahoe thrown in for good measure.
If you’ve been to at least one on this list, kudos to you.
If you’ve been to two or more, call me — we’ve got some
road-tripping to do this winter.
I used to live/work at Kirk wood, and Snowbasin is
Kirkwood with softer snow (the runs start at 6,316 feet
above sea level). A mere 90-minute flight from SFO,
40-minute drive from SLC International, and whoop
there it is: 3,000 acres of Mount Ogden awesome — natural bowls, tasty tree runs, and easy hikes that access
And get this: the resort even hired Cordon Bleu–
trained chefs, so the on-mountain restaurants offer
high-quality food at surprisingly reasonable prices.
Add to this small crowds, short lift lines, and a super-friendly staff and Bob’s your uncle. Here’s a tip: fly
Alaska Airlines from SFO and they’ll comp your lift
Beaver Creek, Colorado
The first time I skied Beaver Creek I asked a local on
the lift “Where is everyone? This place is friggin’ awesome.” He said with five mountains to choose from, this
is as crowded as it ever gets, and 20 years later it’s still
as blissfully lift-line free. And with the resort’s many
improvements — including 10 high-speed lifts, two gondolas, and a Chondola (a chairlift/gondola combination)
providing access to 1,832 acres of skiable terrain — it’s
now one of my all-time favorite resorts in America.
Visualize yourself carving down huge, wide, long,
perfectly corduroyed runs, teeth hurting from the
wind because you’re smiling so much. Bump runs with
zippers so long they’d make YKK jealous. Free warm
chocolate chip cookies served daily at 3 p.m. at the base
of Chair 6. The only flaw was no direct flights from
SFO, but that’s been solved this year with new nonstop
weekend service from SFO to Eagle County Airport on
United Airlines. beavercreek.com
I stopped in Whitefish one warm summer day while on
a cross-country motorcycle trip (“I’ll have the elk meat-loaf please”) and loved it so much I came back again that
winter to ski it. If mega ski resorts aren’t your thing,
Whitefish is your thing. This is a skier’s resort, with 88
percent of the trails rated more difficult, most difficult,
and oh dear.
More than 100 marked trails are scattered among
3,000 acres, but it’s the oodles of bowl and tree skiing
that make Whitefish worth the direct flight from SFO.
And the fun doesn’t stop when the lifts do. Drop into
the Bierstube (“The Stube” to locals, and on my short
list of the best dive bars in America) for an après-ski
beer and Bierstube Burger, then ask the bartender for
a ceremonial ring and you’ll see why I adore this town.
Lake Tahoe, California
After record snowfall last season, most of the Tahoe ski
areas have invested heavily in new snow grooming and
removal tech, along with gearing up for longer seasons.
Mount Rose is shooting for a six-month season this year
and invested more than $6 million in new grooming
snowcats, snowmaking equipment, and MAGIC, a fully
enclosed conveyor surface lift for beginners and children that’s the first of its kind in North America.
Homewood has upped its grooming game with the
recent purchase of a PistenBully 400 snow groomer, and
made finding nearby lodging easier with a new Airbnb-
powered booking widget on its website.
Still beaming from being voted Best Ski Resort in
North America by USA Today, Squaw Valley has pumped
millions into snowmaking, grooming, snow removal
and a complete overhaul of High Camp, including a new
Marketplace that offers healthy (yes, healthy) grab-and-go meals and snacks and coffee drinks.
For Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood, the exciting
news this season is the new Tahoe Local “Epic” Pass,
which offers unrestricted access to all three resorts,
seven days a week (excluding holidays), as well as limited
access to all of Vail Resorts’ mountains in Colorado and
Utah. At $589, it’s a bargain. m
It’s not your imagina-
tion: the traffic to and
from Tahoe and the
Bay Area is getting
worse. Way worse.
But some clever
come up with a solu-
tion: charter a plane,
sell the extra seats,
and fly to Tahoe.
Better yet, let’s build
an iPhone app so you
can crowdsource the
flight on your phone
(genius!). An outfit
called Blackbird Air
com) is currently
offering flights from
Sausalito to Tahoe
for around $125. Also
worth looking into is
SurfAir ( surfair.com),
which offers unlim-
ited flights from the
Bay Area to Truckee
Tahoe Airport with
one monthly fee.