Warm-weather brings Lake Tahoe into its off-season bloom, and the mountain resorts that ring the largest lake in the Sierra put on their summertime best for visitors near and far.
Gondolas and chairlifts run all summer to open up vistas from ridgelines surrounding the lake. The usual fare of ziplines, hiking and biking, coasters and alpine slides, and adventure park challenges await. Here's a look at some of the highlights:
There's a new via ferrata on the Tram Face of Palisades Tahoe. Guides take climbers up two routes of permanent iron anchors and cables. Group or individual tours go 2, 3 or 4 hours daily. A tram ride ends at the popular High Camp at 8,200-foot elevation, where you can roller-skate, hike, disc golf and geo-cache.
Anchoring the south end of the lake, Heavenly's main gondola takes folks up to mid-mountain for the resort's summertime fare. There, thrill-seekers will find the Ridge Rider Coaster with 90-second slide down 3,400 feet of loops, twists and turns; lift-served Hot Shot zipline; tubing; and, adventure park. Or jump on the Tamarack Express chair to get higher.
Few downhill MTB systems can match Northstar's network of black-expert trails. A gondola ride to mid-mountain gets biker to two high-speed chairs equipped to bring rider and bike to dozens of single-track, cross-country and downhill runs.
Down south, Kirkwood boasts one of the most challenging disc golf courses around -- and one that is in its 23rd year. The course climbs out of the Timber Creek base area and winds through forests up and down the front. And it's all free.
On the west side of the lake, Homewood takes advantage of its lakefront location to promote its marina and water activities. Home to the High Sierra Water Ski School, visitors can purchase lessons in waterskiing, wakeboarding, waterskating and wakesurfing. Rentals of all sorts of water craft available.
Just off Donner Pass, Boreal is home to California's only Woodward youth active sports campus. Woodward Tahoe has two skate parks, BMX park and MTB trails on the lower mountain, plus base-area Wrecktangle and Woodward headquarters.
Having paused lift construction in the 2020-2021 season, Vail Resorts unleashed its financial wherewithal to make it easier to move around a half-dozen of the 19 of its ski and snowboard mountains in the Rockies and the Sierra.
After a landmark season last year, California's ski and snowboard resorts are pumped to do it again, with a half-dozen more opening around Thanksgiving and plenty of snow on the way.
Both the Epic Pass and Ikon Pass streamline skiing and riding costs during the winter. Now that summer's here, they switch gears to make warm-weather times in the mountains more affordable, too.
Every time we checked the snow conditions at Tahoe resorts in February, more had fallen from the skies – and at record levels.
The latest round of storms off the Pacific Ocean have rivaled any in recent years, so much so that a number of resorts closed temporarily and others had to cut back on skiable terrain.
Renovations all around at early-opening California ski and snowboard resorts – in restaurants, base lodges, bars and on the hill.
Here’s a sample road trip for those who have purchased an Epic Pass, have a week or two on the loose, and are ready to ski and ride across the West without having to shell out for a day ticket.
Nearly every turn at Heavenly has lake vista. (Heavenly/Facebook)
Heavenly Valley rightfully boasts its best elements: Most skiable terrain (4,800 acres) in Lake Tahoe area. Most vertical feet (3,500) on West Coast. Among highest summit elevations (10,067 feet) in the region.
It's party time on the shores of Lake Tahoe at Heavenly Valley on New Year's Eve. (TahoeSouth/Facebook)
The annual celebration of the new year at a ski and snowboard resort signals that the season is in full swing – and looking forward to tons of snow in the coming months.
Mountain resorts traditionally feature torchlight parades, fireworks, festive food and hearty drink on the evening of Dec. 31. Many add twists to the holiday activities – for kids, VIPs and just regular folk.
Here’s a preview of some of what will be happening in the across the country as 2016 turns into 2017 up in the hills:
South Lake Tahoe shuts down Main Street for Heavenly Valley visitors to party with music, food and drink before famed Gondola Ball Drop (ala Times Square) to signal in new year.
Crystal Mountain lays out buffet and prix fixe dinners, separate parties for teens and adults, and torchlight ski and ride down the Cheers trail for 16 years or older.
Grand Targhee gets going early with glowstick parade for 5-14 year olds with basic turning and stopping skills. Adults parade at 5:45 p.m. with roadside flares (wear an old parka), and then fireworks.
Breckenridge starts out with a glowworm parade on the slopes for the kids, then an adult version later. Many hike up Boreas Pass for best view of nighttime fireworks.
Sunday River features evening ride up Chondola for fancy meal at mid-mountain Peak Lodge. Back at base, the music is nonstop until midnight.
Stowe goes all day on Dec. 31 with face-painting, handbell concert, champagne tasting and free s’more before torchlight parade and fireworks cap off the year.
Sugarbush honors a human’s best friend with annual Dog Parade in the afternoon at base of Lincoln Peak, followed by the usual evening festivities.
Upstate New York specializes in fall colors, and best place to see them is atop Whiteface (Whiteface/Facebook)
For skiers and snowboarders, the first sign of winter comes when the leaves start to color up as the days get shorter and the temps begin to drop.
We all know that “summer” and “California” are inexorably linked, but it’s not just beaches and surf at ski and snowboard resorts up in the mountains.
It’s just been too good at Lake Tahoe resorts this season – and so much better than recent years -- not to stay open longer than planned.
Heavenly Valley Resort kicked off their 60th year in operation with plenty of Sierra-style partying and talk of years gone by. But the greatest gift for the iconic Lake Tahoe resort has been snow, snow, and more snow.
The best time for sightseeing in the high mountains of the West may well be in the summer -- and from the comfort of a gondola or tramway.
The commitment to making Heavenly Mountain a year-round activity center is solidifying this summer with the initial phase of the Epic Discovery program.
Over the next couple of summers, visitors to Heavenly Valley will find more and more warm-weather things to do as the resort, owned by Vail Resorts, develops its Epic Discovery program.
The southern Rockies got the bulk of this latest snow blast, and snow is expected to continue – in varying degrees of intensity – into next week in Colorado and Utah. Skiers and snowboarders at other areas of the West are still looking longingly to the skies.
The skies have brought the pre-Christmas gift of snow to the ski and snowboard resorts around Lake Tahoe this year, and the resorts are ready to celebrate. From Santa on the slopes to snowman-building to the tried-and-true fireworks and torchlight parades, northern California resorts offer up plenty for those who come to the Sierra Nevada.