Tahoe Ski and Snowboard Guide

With ski season in full tilt, we have created a ski guide with commentary from Paly students about the most popular ski mountains, equipment, and general tips for beginner skiers, while also taking a deep dive into a couple talented skiers and snowboarders at paly.


Photos Courtesy of Creative Commons

As the winter season comes to its peak and snow continues to fall on the stunning Sierra Nevada mountain range, Tahoe skiing and snowboarding is becoming more and more intriguing for many Paly students. 

If this winter season brings you to the mountains and you are worried about where to go, what to bring, and the best ways to get around the mountain, don’t stress; we’ve put together the best Tahoe ski and snowboard guide so you can enjoy your time in the mountains.

One of the most important things when planning a trip to Tahoe is what mountain to choose. With so many wonderful options ranging in difficulty, size, and variety, you may be unsure about what the best hill is for you. If you like to roam free on lots of varying terrain, Palisades Tahoe is the place to go. 

With 100 km of slopes, each with its own unique qualities and challenge, you are sure to never run out of options. But Palisades Tahoe also possesses other positive attributes such as the Village attached to the resort with lots of lively restaurants and a warm community. 

As the most well known resort in Tahoe, mainly due to them hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics, Palisades has become the holy grail for Tahoe ski trips. 

Although it may be expensive, Palisades might just be the most enjoyed mountain in Tahoe, but there is so much more to explore when it comes to picking the best resort. 

In conjunction with Palisades, Alpine Meadows is also a wonderful choice for skiing this winter. Think of alpine as a less well-known and smaller Palisades with shorter lines and more expert runs. 13 lifts span across the meadow, and lines are sure to be shorter than those at its neighboring resort Palisades. Alpine also has a tightly knit ski program with a low racer to coach ratio, which allows for more individual attention from coaches and trainers.

Popular for its long terrain parks with hundreds of different boxes, rails and jumps, Northstar tops the list for Tahoe’s best resort for freestyle skiers and snowboarders. From easy boxes to some of the most intricate rails and jumps, Northstar has every level of terrain parks — perfect for any rider.

When it comes to villages, Northstar tops the list for Tahoe with its large and welcoming village consisting of live music, a theater, and an ice skating rink. Although infamous for being the “Flattest Mountain in Tahoe,” Northstar is still a great option for people who live for terrain parks, as well as families who enjoy a place after skiing to relax by a warm fireplace.

Heavenly, located at south Lake Tahoe, is famously known for its heavenly views that attract tourists from everywhere. With access to the mountain from three separate locations, this resort is one of the biggest in Lake Tahoe. It is accessible with two entrances from California and one from Nevada. 

Heavenly has a large gondola at the middle base station that takes non-skiers up to huts at the top of the mountain for people to enjoy the views. Other than the views, Heavenly comes with a range of different slopes. It has easy groomed trails for beginners as well as slopes for daredevils who want to hike up a hill to make their own tracks. This resort has a little bit for everyone who wants a Tahoe experience.

Sugar Bowl is a well known ski team and academy. When skiing at Sugar Bowl, it is hard to ride around without seeing a group of kids absolutely ripping it down the mountain. The academy at Sugar Bowl allows for students who are looking to go onto the next level of freestyle or race skiing to practice and learn at the resort. These students will spend hour after hour on the racecourse perfecting their technique. 

Despite the large population of ski team members at Sugar Bowl, the mountain will never be too crowded, and is still a great option for a trip to Tahoe. An add on to the Tahoe experience that can be found near Sugar Bowl is the Royal Gorge. The Royal Gorge area is used for cross country or nordic skiing.

Boreal may be small with only 380 acres of slopes and only six chairlifts, but it is home to Woodward Tahoe, as well as its extensive parks. Although Boreal is often overlooked when choosing a mountain to ski at, it provides an inexpensive experience for beginner skiers. 

With the addition of Woodward, Boreal gives Tahoe park rats space to practice in their large warehouse consisting of a ramp into a foam pit, many trampolines, and an indoor skate park if you want a break from the slopes. On the slopes, Woodward has set up some of the best parks in Tahoe, and is heaven for current and aspiring freestyle skiers and snowboarders. 

Another feature that is unique to Boreal is night skiing, where you can ski under the lights, a truly exhilarating and one of a kind experience.

As Tahoes only community owned resort, Diamond Peak prioritizes the interest of the community over anything. Rather than a big company whose interest is a large profit margin, Diamond Peak serves to provide its members with the finest experiences at a great price.

“Diamond Peak has a really great view over the lake and has an awesome park and an expert only glade area,” Max Schrage (‘23) said. 

Diamond Peak is a great spot for beginner skiers, and has a gorgeous view to pose for photos in front of lake Tahoe.

Although the farthest resort from the bay area, Mt. Rose is a solid option when choosing a mountain to take on this winter. With 60 km of total terrain, half of it being for experts only, only the biggest and bravest athletes chose to take on such a high level mountain. 

The competition and adrenaline were completely unmatched to any other sport I’ve done.

— Max Schrage '23

Located near Reno, Nevada, Mt. Rose is exceptional for those looking for a challenge and are looking to conquer the next step to improve their skiing ability.

Another hill great for expert skiers who are looking for a challenge is Kirkwood. In contrast to Mt. Rose, Kirkwood is the closest mountain to the Bay, just off Highway 88 in South Lake Tahoe, and provides 65 km of slopes, 15 km of them being for experts only. 

“My favorite mountain is Kirkwood by far, the pros being less crowds, better snow and better terrain,” Kalev Vaska (‘23) said. 

Kirkwood has many steep runs, with an elevation change of 610 m. 

“Out of those my favorite is definitely Kirkwood because of its terrain and elevation,” Isaac Kirby (‘23) said.

On a day out in Tahoe it is always important to check the weather before deciding what to wear. Tahoe weather can be as warm as 50 degrees in the winter and as cold as seven degrees. It is always important to pack extra layers if possible and to wear loads of sunscreen because you don’t want a goggle tan! Be sure to wear ski/snowboard specific socks. Depending on the fit of your ski boots, you can find socks either thick or thin that make the fit of your boot as comfortable as possible. 

When it comes to gear for skiing the options are endless. Brands such as Patagonia, Arc’teryx, The North Face, Columbia, Stio, and Gore-tex all offer a great selection of winter gear. 

“My favorite clothing brands for skiing would be Patagonia and Arc’teryx,” Senior Sydney Sung said. 

With ski equipment such as helmets, brands such as Smith, POC, Giro, Oakley are often worn. 

“My favorite brand of ski gear is Smith. They make really good helmets and goggles” Junior Max Chang said. 

An important thing to think about before heading to the slopes in Tahoe is to wear the right type of goggle lenses. With a sunny day you will want to wear dark or mirrored lenses such as platinum, gray, black, green, red are suitable for days when the sun is strong. Light colored lenses all offer increased VLT (visual light transmission) and are good choices to wear on cloudy days. It is important to pay attention to what lenses you are wearing to ensure your visibility is clear. 

When backcountry skiing, it is important to have avalanche training and the right equipment. A beacon is a very useful tool when skiing. It is an electronic device worn on the body to help quickly find buried avalanche victims. 

“If I’m skiing by myself I will bring a backpack with an avalanche beacon in it to avoid potentially dangerous areas,” Schrage said.

It’s always good to pack a few snacks before heading to the hill, as they become necessary when riding around. 

“Best snacks to bring when skiing would have to be Cliff bars, Nature Valley bars, or goldfish,” Junior Isabelle Jacobi said. “Everything else doesn’t really fit in your pockets. Also, always gotta bring chapstick!”

“Instant ramen is essential,” senior Lauren Sung said, “It keeps you warm and is easy to make when you’re on the mountain.”

The two main passes for ski resorts in Tahoe are the Epic pass and the Ikon pass. The Epic provides more access to mountains in Tahoe while the Ikon pass gives more access to mountains outside of California and Internationally. 

As a beginner it is important to test out what boots and skis feel the most comfortable when skiing. Tahoe offers a great selection of rental places. Multiple ski mountains have rental stores as a part of their village making it extremely easy to rent before heading up to the hill. Tahoe also offers boot fitters where they mold your foot to the boot liners so the ski boot is customized to your feet, providing the most comfortable fit to your foot. 

“Tahoe Daves is my favorite place to rent skis because the workers are all so nice and they make sure to find the right boots and skis for you,” senior Rachel Ellisen said. 

But what makes Tahoe skiing and snowboarding so attractive and exciting? Whether it’s the gratification of finishing your first run ever, or the thrilling feeling when you’re shredding through powder, Tahoe provides such a unique experience for every skill level. Tahoe is really built to fulfill anyone’s day from their first time riding to their hundredth day riding, it allows for everyone to enjoy the sport. 

“I really enjoy just being out in the mountains and nature with all the views, and the exhilarating feel of going fast on skis is incredible,” Kirby said.

The natural beauty of Tahoe along with the countless activities is what really makes Tahoe so special.

“My favorite part about the mountains is being in nature, exploring all of the terrain, challenging myself while also enjoying the peacefulness,” Vaska said. “Being able to experience it with friends makes it even better.”

Tahoe also allows for friends and family to spend quality time together embraced in the picturesque topography that Tahoe has to offer.

Skiing brings an adrenaline rush that is exhilarating and gives you a sense of freedom you can’t find anywhere else but in the mountains.

— William Backstrand '25

“Skiing and snowboarding with friends is the best because you get to be challenged in new ways and have new adventures that can only be acquired on the mountain,” Evie Kramer (‘23) said. “I think skiing and snowboarding is a great way to bond with family and friends and have so much fun which is the main reason I keep doing it.”

There are no ways to go wrong when planning a trip up to the mountains, especially when there is a vast amount of options and opportunities around the area of Tahoe that don’t just span across skiing or snowboarding. 

Now that you know what to look for when embarking on a Tahoe trip, go out there and do what you think is best for your abilities. This ski guide can only help you to a certain extent, and now it’s your job to explore the mountains and see what Tahoe is all about. Skiing and snowboarding may not be the most accessible of sports, but with options for every skill range and every price range, Tahoe is one of the best places to find your new passion.

Ski and Snowboard Spotlight

While Paly offers a wide variety of sports for all kinds of athletes, many students find their passion off campus in winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding. But no two athletes have quite the same experience or approach on the slopes; some find the thrill of competition alluring while others seek to express themselves and push boundaries in terrain parks. 

Senior Lauren Sung has been skiing with her twin sister Sydney since they were five years old. Since her father is a natural athlete and has always been into skiing, he didn’t wait long to bring them to the slopes to teach them. She started on the magic carpet, which is an escalator ski lift, and was taught the basics, like how to speed up and slow down.

 “Once we got the basics down my parents took us up a lift,” Sung said. “Shortly after getting off the lift I ran right into a fence, but I haven’t run into any since then.”

Sung joined the Alpine ski team the year after she started learning which led to trips to Tahoe every weekend for races. Her family would stay at her parents’ cabin to maximize their time in the mountains. 

The competition and adrenaline were completely unmatched to any other sport I’ve done.

— Lauren Sung '22

While races happen every weekend during the winter season, much of the hard work came when the spring season began. Her ski team would train in the morning for hours, completing lap after exhausting lap in an effort to improve their times. When Sung was on the ski team, she was a lot younger so it wasn’t particularly serious. Much of her time on the slopes was spent messing around with friends until her coaches would stop on some trails for them to do drills. 

Sung’s experience on the ski team was overwhelmingly positive mostly as a result of the people she met who loved skiing as much as she did. She was able to make friends who came from a variety of backgrounds all across the state of California. For Sung, the thrill of training was also unlike anything else. When her friends wanted to take free runs, she would do another lap on the course before joining them. The wind blowing across her face and the adrenaline rush is what made racing exciting for Sung. 

“The competition and adrenaline were completely unmatched to any other sport I’ve done,” Sung said.

As an advanced skier, Sung can do any run down the slopes, but she especially enjoys straight-lining groomers as fast as she can with her sister. 

One season, one of her close friends was seriously injured and had to take the rest of the season off. The danger of the sport became brutally apparent and Sung decided to quit the ski team in 7th grade to pursue her future in golf. 

While some, like Sung, developed a passion for the slopes at a young age, Junior Philip Santiago found a knack for snowboarding only three years ago. Santiago had skied for seven years prior to switching over, but he quickly learned he had a natural talent for snowboarding and grew to love the mountains even more than he previously did. 

Santiago was introduced to skiing by his father who was very athletic and took him to the mountains frequently. He thought it looked interesting because his cousins all snowboarded and made it sound exciting. 

Since Santiago had been skiing for so long he and his dad decided to start learning snowboarding. 

Snowboarding is distinctly different from skiing so Santiago’s recent transition was an interesting experience.

“At the start it was tough because I spent most of the time falling down and getting up, but eventually I got the hang of it,” Santiago said. 

His transition from skiing to snowboarding was much quicker than he expected, and after only a few trips to Tahoe, he was able to cruise down the slopes.

It feels like you’re floating in the air and the world slows down.

— Philip Santiago '23

For Santiago, the experience and memories are what matter most on the mountains. He likes to bring a GoPro camera and speakers so that he can take videos of himself and his friends. Santiago goes to Heavenly at Tahoe ski resort and he loves the diversity of runs they offer. 

Santiago has learned a variety of tricks on the snowboard in the few years he has been boarding — from front and backflips to twists

“It feels like you’re floating in the air and the world slows down,” Santiago said.

Santiago learned to do flips on land long before he started learning how to do tricks in the terrain park. His experience on land made him very comfortable in the air and to understand the rotation of the flips. Tips from his cousins and friends also helped him get over mental blocks. However, Santiago generally avoids rails because of previous bad experiences. Rails are made of metal and on his previous attempts he hurt his back. 

While many Paly students have been skiing and snowboarding for most of their lives like Sung and Santiago, some don’t have any experience at all. Whether you’re looking to try winter sports for the first time or just want to fine-tune your skills, take a look at our ultimate guide for Paly students.

Design by Josh Donaker