Tahoe Alpine Skiing
Don't ask me where the meadows are at Alpine Meadows. When I think of meadows, I imagine fawns prancing through gently rolling fields. But as far as I can tell, there is nothing like that at Alpine. For the most part, Alpine is a mountainous pile of rubble and rock decorated with a few, forlorn trees. Alpine is a Squaw Valley look-alike, which comes as no surprise; spit over the back of Alpine and you hit Squaw.
Like Squaw, Alpine isn't exclusively an expert's area, but the better a skier you are, the more you'll enjoy the place. And if you're torn between the two—Squaw or Alpine—Alpine's got two counts in its favor. One, the snow is often a little better, especially early and late in the season, because Alpine's base is about 600 feet higher than Squaw's. Two, Alpine is a less testosterone-charged place than Squaw. For most skiers who come to Alpine, ripping big turns through big powder on big steeps is mainly about skiing, not about proving one's manhood, as is often the case among the young guns who frequent Squaw.
On the Mountain
Of all the major resorts around Tahoe, Alpine is probably the last place you'd want to come to learn to ski. A handful of short, beginner runs are found at the base of the mountain, but that's about it. To enjoy the rest of the mountain, you'll need solid intermediate skills.
For intermediates, the best terrain is the terrain you can't see from the base. The Sherwood and Lakeview chairs on the back side of the mountain provide access to a cluster of cruisers and open bowls. An exposure that maximizes sunshine can make skiing the back side like a day at the beach, but don't expect a long-running day at the beach. The vertical rise maxes out at about 1,000 feet.
Not all of the skiing from the summit is expert stuff; a confident intermediate can certainly enjoy Alpine Bowl, particularly when snow conditions are favorable. But for the most part, the high terrain of Alpine is what I would consider classic Sierra skiing—steep, narrow chutes through rocks leading to open bowls and slots through the trees. When the snow is deep—as it often is at Alpine—you'll be amazed at the crazy lines that local hotshots consider skiable from Alpine's high ridgeline.
For lunch or an aprhs-ski beer, the cavernous base lodge is perfectly adequate though not particularly soulful. For a quick beer-and-brat break on a sunny day, check out the Ice Bar at the base of the Sherwood lift.
In addition to the usual ski-school offerings, Alpine is home to the Tahoe Adaptive Ski School. For people with mental or physical disabilities, Alpine ranks high on the list among Tahoe-area resorts.
For the same reasons that Alpine is limited for beginners, it's limited for young kids. Furthermore, the sprawl of Alpine demands extra vigilance to ensure the little ankle-biters don't literally disappear on the other side of the mountain. On the plus side, the attitude of the people at Alpine has always struck me as particularly user-friendly. Leaving your kids with the upbeat folks in the Alpine ski school is a no-worries deal.
Take the Trip
Mountain Contact: Alpine Meadows
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication