Nuts and Bolts: The snow at Sierra-at-Tahoe (tel. 530/659-7453; www.sierraattahoe.com) is all natural (snowmaking is forbidden here), and there is plenty of it. A record November and December led to a mind-boggling mid-January tally of 334 inches on the slopes here. (More than 600 inches for the season is not entirely out of the question.) With an excellent beginner hill, themed kids' areas, lauded terrain parks, steep groomers, and over 300 acres of backcountry terrain, Sierra-at-Tahoe appeals to novices and experts alike. This Tahoe resort, just 12 miles from South Lake Tahoe, is not only the closest resort to Sacramento and San Francisco, but it also offers some of the best values in the area.
What's New: With Vail Resorts taking over operations at former sister resort Northstar at Tahoe, Sierra-at-Tahoe is on its own this season. The resort is focusing on its strengths. The beginner's area features a pair of new conveyor lifts that access 11 acres of new terrain dubbed Easy Street, specially groomed for first-timers. Also new: Guests can sign up for special buy-one-get-one-free deals by texting "DealAlert" or "HotDeals" to 29222.
Best Ski Deals and Ski Packages: The Learn to Ski or Ride package offers first-timers a 2½-hour lesson, a gear rental, and a lift ticket to beginner terrain for a staggeringly low price of $35. A 3-Pak (three adult lift tickets) is $153 with no blackout dates. And the resort's $20 Fast Pass is well worth it on busy days, cutting lift lines from minutes to seconds.
Ski-and-stay packages at South Lake Tahoe hotels and casinos start as low as $79 per person per night. Those looking for a place closer to the resort should check out High Sierra Luxury Cabin Homes, a pair of fully equipped three-bedroom houses at the turnoff to the resort that run $250 per night during ski season.
Quotable: "It's the classic California ski experience: sun and snow, and nobody takes themselves too seriously." -- Sierra-at-Tahoe spokesperson Kirstin Cattell
Heavenly Mountain Resort
Nuts and Bolts: The South Shore's flagship resort, Heavenly (tel. 775/586-7000; www.skiheavenly.com) has the most vertical rise (3,500 feet), the most skiable acreage (4,800 acres), the highest summit (10,400 feet above sea level), and the longest run (5½ miles) in the Lake Tahoe area. Connected to the city of South Lake Tahoe via gondola, the resort is also remarkably user-friendly with slopes crisscrossing the California-Nevada border and distinct base areas on each side. The terrain tends toward the steep, with mellower, more open terrain up top, but with 34 lifts accessing nearly 100 named runs, there is something for everybody on this superlative mountain.
What's New: Located mid-mountain on the California side, the resort's new Tamarack Lodge opened ahead of schedule in Dec. 10, offering indoor, outdoor, and bar seating steps from the gondola and the Tamarack lift. For $32, non-skiers can buy a ticket to take the gondola up to meet snow fiends at the lodge for lunch. Also new is a terrain park dubbed Ante Up, the resort's fourth. Plus, the park's features are made of 100 percent recycled materials.
Best Ski Deals and Ski Packages: Until Feb. 17, Heavenly is offering midweek ski-and-stay packages starting at $85 per person per night with a three-night minimum. You'll find other deals from the resort here. Another tip for saving on a room is to consider South Lake Tahoe's casino-hotels: Harrah's Lake Tahoe, MontBleu, Harveys Lake Tahoe, and Horizon.
Quotable: "As you head down the California Trail, it's almost impossible to not fixate on the lake views. You can't take your eyes off of it." -- Daniel Pistoresi, spokesperson for Ski Lake Tahoe (www.skilaketahoe.com)
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