Tahoe Alpine Skiing

Tahoe Ski Towns
By Peter Oliver
  |  Gorp.com
Downtown Truckee, getting another coating of "Sierra Cement."
Beautiful day in the neighborhood . . .

The world of Lake Tahoe is basically divided into two parts—the north shore and the south shore, and the two are entirely different. The north shore is where the real ski jocks hang out, in small communities like Truckee and Tahoe City. Many live day to day, like surfers on the north shore of Oahu waiting for a big swell to roll in, biding their time until big storms lather up nearby Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.

On the south shore, skiing is a secondary diversion; all the other hoopla, gambling in the main, takes priority. If you want to gamble and party while mixing in a little skiing on the side, the south shore is the place to be. Between north and south is a lakeshore that can often surprise in its idyllic natural beauty. The last time I drove around Emerald Bay on the west shore of the lake, a bald eagle was soaring over the solitary island in the bay. Neat.

North Shore: The funkiest place to hang on the north shore is certainly Truckee, the old railroad town that has been reconstituted in the name of tourism. The central cluster of restaurants and shops very nearly goes over the edge into touristy overload, but it still manages to retain some sense of authenticity and soulfulness. Grab breakfast or lunch at the Paradise Deli and Grocery, where locals and visitors alike hang for the incredible aromas if nothing else.

Tahoe City is a more functional place. If you're gear-shopping, Tahoe City has a number of good ski shops. And if you're into Mexican food (as I am), dinner at Mi Casa Too comes with a view of the lake, albeit through traffic passing by on busy Route 28.

For high-end lodging, the Inn at Squaw Creek is hard to beat. The glass-encased high-rise seems out of place in the natural environment of Squaw Valley, but there's no denying that the accommodations and services are first-rate. For more moderate lodging, check out Incline Village right at the edge of the lake. It's a drive from Incline to any of the major ski resorts, but when it comes to a low-key, laid-back atmosphere, being off the beaten track has its advantages.

South Shore: In many ways, South Lake Tahoe cracks me up as a time capsule of Vacationland USA circa 1950. Motels with neon-bright signs are packed side by side along the lakeshore, interspersed by things like miniature golf courses and instant-wedding chapels. If you happen to meet the mate of your dreams on the slopes of Heavenly Valley, South Lake Tahoe is a great place to be if you want to tie the knot in a hurry.

Frankly, it's all a little too congested for my tastes, although the south shore has its undeniable enticements. You can often catch a decent show at one of the big casinos—Harvey's, Harrah's, or Caesar's Palace. The area is loaded with restaurants, from fast-food joints to pop-culture places like the Hard Rock Cafi to high-end, elegant establishments. If I had a pocketful of gambling winnings to spend on dinner, I'd probably head for Nepheles, not far from the Heavenly base. It's a very California experience—soaking in a hot tub before dinner, sipping on some high-end California wine, and dining on fresh fish and game prepared California-style.


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »