Tahoe Alpine Skiing

Kirkwood
By Peter Oliver
  |  Gorp.com

Am I allowed to have a favorite Tahoe-area resort? If permission is granted, then I'll pick Kirkwood. For starters, it's a beautiful place, with a high ridge crowned by enormous fists of red, volcanic rock and offering expansive views of the wild and unspoiled High Sierra. The skiing is forever fascinating—the steep, complex chutes are comparable to stuff at Squaw and Alpine. The snowfall is legendary, the most abundant in the neighborhood. And I happen to like the sense of retreat at Kirkwood, a modest-size (though growing) enclave out in the mountainous middle of nowhere.

Kirkwood isn't for everyone, however. Heavy snowfall can make Kirkwood difficult (if not impossible) to get to for day-trippers from Lake Tahoe. Forget about rowdy nightlife, unless full-moon, cross-country skiing is your idea of a wild party. But if you like your skiing steep and deep and relatively crowdless, Kirkwood is your kind of place, as it is mine.

On the Mountain
Steeps might be Kirkwood's forte, but there is also a fair amount of beginner terrain from the Snowkirk and Bunny lifts. The Bunny lift is a particularly good spot for first-timers; it's out of the main flow of skier traffic, so you won't be intimidated by crowds of faster skiers whizzing through.

The best intermediate terrain, especially in the morning, is from the east-facing Sunrise lift, although if Kirkwood skiing has a drawback, it's the shortage of long, cruising runs. As for expert runs, a world unfolds. Take the Wall or Cornice chair to the summit ridge, and then traverse or hike until you find a line that suits your fancy. If hucking is your thing, Kirkwood is loaded with big outcroppings for big air.

Breaks
On fair-weather days, pick up a quick bite at the Sunrise Grill, a small outpost at the base of the Sunrise chair. On snowy days, fill up on Mexican at the Cornice Cafi, near the base of the Cornice lift. The cafi should also be your first stop for aprhs-ski action.

Ski School
In addition to traditional ski-school classes, Kirkwood offers 3- and 4-day ski “training” courses through the North American Ski Training Center. Courses combine advanced ski instruction with an emphasis on backcountry skills.

For Families
The concept of a self-contained resort is ideal for families on a week's vacation. Set up base camp in your condo or lodge room, enroll the kids in ski school, and the hassles of having to drive to the slopes each morning evaporate. Kirkwood is almost never crowded—another plus—but the emphasis on advanced terrain isn't particularly family-friendly.


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