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About Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, situated on the border between California and Nevada. At 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, getting from one side to the other is no small feat. So your first decision to make is whether you want to visit North Tahoe or South Lake Tahoe.
North Tahoe is known for its many cabins and quiet, small mountain-town feel. It is a bit more spread out, and there are eight major ski resorts to choose from.
South Lake Tahoe is much more centralized, and is known for its casinos, hotels, and a full suite of nightlife options for tourists. There are three major resorts on the south shore.
Like most places in the year 2017, you can plug in any ski resort or hotel to Google Maps, and you'll *likely* be fine. However, when there is active weather, online maps are rarely updated in realtime for live road conditions. Especially this winter, road closures and detours are sufficiently likely that it is always worth checking the Caltrans website for road conditions before (and during) your trip.
If you end up taking a lesson with us, all of our lessons for the '16/17 season take place at Homewood, which is located at 5145 W Lake Blvd, Homewood, CA 96141, which is on the west shore of Lake Tahoe, 10 minutes from Tahoe city.
Tips for Driving to Lake Tahoe
There's only two main highways into or out of Tahoe. Interstate 80 is the primary route for those visiting North Tahoe, while Highway 50 is the road to get into South Lake Tahoe. I-80 is two lanes each direction the whole way, which means it can accommodate a bit more traffic flow, but it is also a major trucking route, so you will have to deal with passing trucks slowly making the climb. US-50 is one lane each way once you get past the foothills, with occasional passing lanes.
Plan around traffic - especially during this '16/17 season with the epic snow conditions we're seeing, weekend traffic to Tahoe can be as bad as Los Angeles during rush hour. To minimze your time spent in a car and maximize your time outside, we recommend leaving the Bay Area before 2pm on Fridays or after 7pm (leaving the office 'early' at 330pm doesn't actually help.) Likewise, on the drive back on Sunday, it's best to either hit the road before 3pm, or to just take your time, have an early dinner, and then leave Tahoe after 530pm.
Both major highways are subject to chain control almost anytime that it snows, and do occasionally close down completely due to unsafe visibility or avalanche risk.
For those new to winter driving, chains are like metal crampons that wrap around your tires to help with traction on snow and ice. When chain control is in effect, there will be a check point operated by CalTrans where you will be forced to put on chains (and buy them if you don't have any) in order to proceed, unless you have a vehicle with 4-wheel drive and snow tires.
While the drive from the Bay Area to Tahoe is typically around 3.5 hours, be aware that traffic and weather can sometimes combine to double or even triple your driving time. As such, always be sure to start with a full tank of gas, and have some extra snacks or water in the car, especially when traveling with children.
Popular pit stops - 3+ hours is a long-time to be in a car, whether you're 4 years old or 40, so here are a few good places to stop and refuel.
Ikeda's Burgers & Pies - in Auburn (exit 122 on I-80) - this would be a great stop even if they only sold burgers. But their pies... so good you'll want to order at least one extra for the road. Plus the market next store is like a mini-Trade Joe's with great produce & basic essentials for the weekend.
Chic-fil-A - while we will probably never find one within the city limits of San Francisco, I-80 is dotted with five Chic-Fil-A locations along the way, from Vallejo (exit 33) to Roseville (exit 106).
Z-Pie - in Placerville (exit 46 on US-50) also has great pies, of a different variety. Their gourmet pot pies are made fresh daily, and make for a hearty snack or quick dinner after a fun day on the mountain.
Coconut on T - in downtown Sacramento just off of I-80 Business before it turns into US-50, terrific curry's and pad thai. Their old location was constantly overcrowded, so with the bigger new location, you likely won't even have to wait more than a few minutes to be seated.
Don't want to drive yourself? There's two carpool-friendly for those without cars:
The Bay Area Ski Bus is exactly what it sounds like. With 10+ pickup locations in San Francisco, the south bay, and the east bay, they'll take you to and from Tahoe on a day trip to various resorts for just $165, which includes your lift ticket and a continental breakfast. Bay Area Ski Bus has been around since 1996 and is the biggest operator we know of, but there's also a few others now offering similar routes, such as Tahoe Snow and Sun Tours and the soon-to-launch Tahoe Tech Bus from downtown SF, as well as MegaBus.com if you are coming from Sacramento.
SnowPals.org is one of the oldest online communities of Tahoe skiers & snowboarders living in the Bay Area, and they offer a free rideshare mailing list to coordinate carpools with over 7,800 members. People can post ride offers or request, and passengers are typically expected to chip in for the cost of gas and tolls.
Tips for Flying to Lake Tahoe
A brand new service launched in 2017 called BlackBird, which offers direct flights from Palo Alto to Truckee for just $125! Offering a "private flight experience at a budget airline price", they'll get you to Tahoe in 45minutes vs. a 3-5 hour drive.
If you're flying in from afar, the Reno International airport is the closest major airport and is about an hour from North Tahoe and 1hr 15min to South Lake. Reno is often considered the "the Biggest Little City" destination for gambling, so if that's your thing, worth spending your first night in town. Once there, you'll have plenty of options for eithering renting a car or taking one of many ski shuttles that run from Reno to the ski resorts.
Both North Tahoe & South Tahoe each have a full range of accommodations options from budget to luxury, but we'd all rather drive 10 minutes to the slopes than over an hour, and driving from one end of the lake to the other can be brutal, especially in bad weather.
Tahoe has been a world-renowned skiing destination since the early 1900s, and boasts 16 resorts within 35 miles of the lake.
Each mountain has its own unique atmosphere and terrain, with price points varying from the budget-friendly to 5-star luxury. Below you'll find our experiential and unscientific ranking of each resort. Compare all resorts or click a specific resort below to explore additional details for each ski area.
Whether booking with Snow Schoolers or elsewhere, private lessons do not include lift ticket or rentals. Group lesson packages are another story, and are typically the most affordable way to book your first ski or snowboard experience. Check out our Learn to Ski Package Comparison Tool to explore your options for group lesson packages in Tahoe.
Overall, keep in mind that the best way to save money over the long term is to invest your own equipment, and to buy a season pass at your favorite resort. But since having a lift ticket and equipment are required for any ski trip, here are a few ways to save some money (and time).
Liftopia.com - for the last 10 years Liftopia has been the best place to get discount lift tickets online. Almost every resort in Tahoe can be found on Liftopia, and they offer dynamic pricing, so the earlier you book, the more you save.
Sports Basement with 7 locations in the Bay Area, Sports Basement is a great first stop before any Tahoe Trip, offering lift ticket vouchers, rental equipment, and general winter apparel. While you can't buy lift tickets online, you can view their prices here. It is worth calling ahead, because sometimes they run out of vouchers for individual resorts.
Costco also offers lift vouchers, usually in packages of 2 or 4. Some tickets are now eligible for eDelivery, but even if not, we all know it doesn't hurt to have another excuse to stop by Costco!
Lastly, almost every resort today offers online lift tickets purchases on their own websites. This usually must be done at least 24-48 hours in advance, but will still save you ~10% off of the ticket-window price.
If you live in the Bay Area or Sacramento, the cheapest option for rentals is from an urban retailer. We are big fans of the Sports Basement, which offers 1-day rentals for $35 or a long weekend rental (2-4 days) for just $55.They'll also outfit you with apparel for rent, from ski jackets to pants to helmets and goggles. Particularly with little ones who grow out of things so quickly, renting is the way to go!
The next most affordable option is to rent from a retail shops in the Tahoe area. We recommend Tahoe Dave's, which has five locations in North Tahoe with beginner packages starting at just $32/day. Note that they get very busy on Friday evenings and Saturday morning, so also good to call ahead.
Our favorite option for rentals is a company called Ski Butlers. They are a concierge-style delivery service that allows you to book online and have a professional boot-fitter show up to your hotel or cabin the night before to outfit you with the right equipment. As an official Ski Butlers partner, all or our Snow Schoolers customers receive 10% off their rentals. No promo codes are necessary to redeem, click this link and you should see "Snow Schoolers" in the top right of the page, which means your 10% discount has been applied. Ski Butlers rates start at $26/day for kids 12 and under, and $37/day for adults.
Lastly, if you forget to plan ahead, you can always rent equipment from the ski resort's on-mountain rental shop the morning of your lesson. Pricing is typically more expensive ($50-75/day) at the mountain, but you get the convenience of not having to fit skis in your car. Particularly on busy holiday weekends, please give yourself at least an extra 60 minutes before your lesson if you are planning to rent from the mountain.
Personally not a fan of skiing or snowboardng? Not a problem. Tahoe has activities for everyone!
Whether you're staying in North Tahoe or South Lake, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy Tahoe. If the weather is nice, we highly encourage getting outside and finding a bit of elevation to take in the picturesque views that have made Tahoe famous for so many years. When it's blowing snow in all directions, a spa day may be just what the doctor ordered.
Disclosure - while we've explored much of Tahoe's dining options over the last seven years, our expertise is on the mountain, not in the kitchen. Since you likely have your trusty smartphone nearby anyhow, know that Yelp and OpenTable work just as well in Tahoe as anywhere else. Nonetheless, here's a few favorites based on our personal experiences. (Most are North Tahoe, simply because that's where we live.)
Uhh... is there Uber?(the most important question.)
Yes! Since early 2016, Uber and Lyft have both had drivers in both North and South Lake Tahoe. However, expect wait times to typicall be in the 10-15 minutes range, and fares will likely be a bit higher than in San Francisco or Sacramento, to compensate for the longer distances drivers must travel to pick you up.