LAKE TAHOE, CA
Nestled in the Eastern Sierras of Lake Tahoe, Northstar is one of the best ski resorts for all around experience and vibe. It’s easy to get to and has any amenity you may desire to keep the entire crew entertained. Now, it may not have the steepest terrain or an ideal parking situation – but it has an excellent village for the family and one of the best terrain parks in the country for park rats. I am all about those mountain vibes and I find that Northstar is one of the best all-around ski resort that has a beautiful balance between all markets, which allows it to cater to multiple needs, without segregating any particular niche. The village has a plethora of food, shopping, and activity options to fit the needs of most visitors. It’s one of the more expensive mountains in Lake Tahoe but you get what you pay for. With a free champagne toast at the summit everyday, and smores served to guests sitting around the fires in the village, it’s no wonder why Northstar remains a popular destination among those who enjoy a true vacation or just a day to feel pampered.
Northstar is accessible off Highway 267 from two directions – you can either head north from Kings Beach or south from I-80. There's only one road in and out so be prepared for 267 to get backed up in both directions. Parking sucks. Period. Unless you happen to be a super early riser and get a spot in preferred parking ($40) right at the base, you will be parking in one of two satellite lots and will have to take the shuttle to the village. Make sure to look at the end of the row you park in, there should be a number and color that will dictate what shuttle to get back on at the end of the day. All the shuttles head to the village so you can’t get on the wrong one when you head to the slopes. If you don’t know what parking row you are in, ask the shuttle driver – they are super helpful. Once you are in the village you will have to walk to the gondola. Not ideal for skiers but there are plenty of wagons and friendly information posts to help you on your way.
Lift tickets are expensive – there’s no sugar coating it. Depending on the day of the week and when in season you visit, you are looking at $119-$150 a day. We highly suggest buying your lift tickets in advance (at least 7 days prior to your trip) and directly from the website. If you are a first-timer, Northstar has a great 'intro' packages - includes a half day group lesson, lift ticket, and equipment rentals. Check out the lessons HERE (pro tip: if you book a private lesson, ask for Trevor Nelson as your instructor - he's an extremely good coach and knows his stuff). Another benefit to purchasing lift tickets in advance is getting to skip the lines at the ticket windows!
If you think you will ski/snowboard more than 6 days... the EPIC pass will come in handy. If you have the Vail season pass then you are good to go. If you know someone with a season pass, ask them (extremely nicely) if you can have one of their SWAF (skiing with a friend) tickets. It’s a discounted ticket that will vary in price depending on when you visit. Season pass holders only get 6 per season so only ask them on a day you will fully use it. SWAF tickets can only be redeemed in person at a ticket counter, day-of.
Northstar has a little bit of everything for all experience levels, but it’s redeeming qualities are definitely the terrain park and consistent access to insane tree lines. There are three parts to the mountain - The Backside, Mt. Pluto, and Lookout Mountain. The gondola from the village will take you to mid-station. From there, the world is your oyster, my friend. If you nervous about unfamiliar terrain, here's a breakdown of the mountain and the best runs based on ability level.
Route 1 - Novice
Lift: Arrow Express
Run: Lumberjack --> Easy Street
Route 2 - Progression
Lift: Vista Express
Run: Skid Trail --> Lumberjack --> Easy Street
Route 3 - Take It Up a Notch
Lift: Arrow Express --> Comstock Express
Run: West Ridge --> Luggi's --> Lumberjack --> Easy Street
Route 1 - Get Your Mountain Legs Back
Lift: Vista Express
Route 2 - Feelin' Good
Lift: Tahoe Zephyr Express
Run: Upper Pioneer --> Deerskin
Route 3 - Outta My Way
Lift: Tahoe Zephyr Express --> Lookout Link (T-Bar)
Run: Upper Martis --> Washoe
Route 1 - Get It
Lift: Arrow Express --> Comstock Express
Run: Sierre Grande --> Challenger --> Lower Burnout
Route 2 - For The Love of Diamonds
Lift: Backside Express
Run: Any backside run (Moguls: The Rapids)
Route 3 - Need For Speed
Lift: Martis Camp Express
Run: Any and all - get stoked!
For the best all around lift, the winner is Vista Express. It gives you access to every type of terrain: green, blue, black, and terrain park. Runs like Logger's Loop and Drop Off tend to be less crowded than other parts the mountain. The best insider tip for your last run? We thought you'd never ask! Take Vista Express up and drop down Logger's Loop to The Woods. We call it Narnia because you feel like you are in another world - especially on a powder day!
Pro Tip: Download the Epic Mix app on your phone before you go. Sign in with the e-mail your tickets/pass is registered with and it will track any day you are on the mountain. It's helpful for those that like to get the most out of the day by giving you lift status' and wait times for each chairlift - you can have a plan of attack for conquering the mountain! It will also track your vertical feet and # of runs you did for the day. Another useful attribute - seeing your location on a run. Did your friends just call saying they are meeting at Zephyr for lunch? Open the app to see what run you need to cut across to make it to the chairlift that will take you there in time to 'clink' the first round of drinks!
FOOD & APRES
Northstar has a couple of decent options when it comes to grub. If you are looking to re fuel on the mountain, Summit Smokehouse is a favorite go-to. Their BBQ is the perfect mid-day meal, especially if you are burning a ton of calories on a powder day. They have a decent craft brew selection and their back patio is where it's at on a sunny day. Grab a brewsky and be social! My favorite pit stop, however, is actually at Zephyr Lodge for one of their legendary Bloody Mary’s. Comes with heaps of flavor and the toppings they add are the perfect light snack to pair with that protein bar you brought. The views aren't so bad either.
Rubicon is a good place to grab pizza and decompress after a day on the mountain or put in a to-go and head back to your cabin. You can now order online to have it picked up when you are ready, or call it in before you head down The Woods to beat the mass influx of people. They are Gluten Free friendly.
TC’s is a great place to grab a drink and catch the game. Set TC's as the meeting spot for your group and order a shareable appetizer (we recommend the wings) while you wait. Is the gang all there? TC's is just a stones throw away from the shuttle stop for parking - isn't that convenient?!
Here’s the thing about Northstar’s Apres – it’s actually at 2pm. Perhaps one of the best kept secrets of this beautiful resort is the free 2pm champagne toast that they do at the top of the mountain every day. Yes, you read that right FREE. It’s a bit of a challenge to get to but well worth the effort for the good vibes and a free drink at Tōst.
Take Arrow Express --> Comstock to get to the top of the mountain. From there, take a left off the chair lift down East Ridge. Warning to snowboarders, it gets super flat so keep your speed. You will see a little arch with the Tōst sign on it. The line can get long (it’s free champagne after all) so get there by 1:45pm and enjoy one of the many fire pits or beanbag chairs they have for you to relax on. CHEERS!
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