by Andrew Kessel, Eric Leiberman & Dave E. Leiberman
We are three buddies who met at summer camp as kids and have continued our friendship through the years. Two of us ski and one of us boards and we all love the mountain. Living in different cities, moving to different corners of the U.S. through our careers, we’ve found ski mountains to be ideal reunion spots. This year, we set out for Heavenly Mountain, on the south shore of Lake Tahoe.
There are many superlatives that could describe Heavenly. At 10,067′ elevation, Heavenly is the highest resort in the Lake Tahoe area. The five-mile trail from the summit is the longest on the West Coast and the 3,500′-vertical is also unmatched. In a normal ski season, the 30 lifts, 97 runs and 4,800 acres spanning two states offer an incredible amount of choice and variety for skiers of all levels, with 20% of the trails suited to beginners, 45% for intermediates (Heavenly is literally blue-trail heaven), and 35% for expert/advanced skiers. There is also tree skiing where some of the undiscovered powder lies.
Heavenly is set amidst the El Dorado National Forest and the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest—600,000 acres of open space. Being able to take trails that cross between two mountains and two states was a unique experience for us. In all, there are 29 lifts (15 in California and 14 in Nevada). We could easily appreciate why Heavenly is one of the most popular West Coast ski resorts and was named “Best Ski Destination” for 2014 by USA Today Readers.
We spent much of our first ski day at Heavenly Mountain on the California side, racing down High Five off of Canyon Express and descending into South Lake Tahoe. We also took a few relaxing runs down the green circle trail Maggie’s and challenged ourselves to the black diamond, mogul-filled Waterfall. This was Picabo Street Day.
Day Two was Tough Conditions Day. We ventured over to the Nevada side after hearing that there was more variety and challenge to the trails. The Nevada side was usually windier and on this day the wind was blowing so hard you could feel yourself being pushed uncontrollably as hard snowy pellets hit the face. Many of the harder trails were made more challenging because of an unusual lack of snow. (Heavenly averages 360 inches of snowfall at the summit, 125 inches at lake level, and has snowmaking covering 73% of the mountain trails; it also typically gets 300 days of sunshine.)
As the day went on, trails and lifts were shut down one by one as conditions became more adverse. We heard good things about the runs off of Dipper and Comet but unfortunately arrived too late to try them. We enjoyed a more protected, easier run on Boulder Bowl before deciding to finish the day back on the California side. This is the reality of any ski vacation and luckily at Heavenly the diversity of choices can help mitigate difficult conditions.
Sunday brought the blessing of Blue Bird Powder Day. After a few inches of fresh snow overnight, we experienced Heavenly’s famous brilliant sunshine; skiers and boarders ditched their jackets for spring-like tee-shirt riding.
We encountered the wooden carved statues in the woods off the Powderbowl run on Heavenly Mountain’s California side. First, a beautiful snowy eagle appeared. Next, a snow covered bear peaked out from behind his cover. The finely carved statues continued greeting us as we made our way through the un-skied powder in these majestic woods. Towards the end of the woods below we saw blue water in a multitude of shades. This, of course, was the expansive and gorgeous Lake Tahoe thousands of feet below us.
At around 1 pm, halfway up the mountain, we discovered Steins. Steins is like a Nashville hangout at 8,070 ft. above sea level: picnic tables, cold beer, various types of sausage, cornhole, and sunshine. There are chairs for snoozing.
One of our favorite parts of Heavenly was the dedicated lift for the terrain park at Groove Park. The park includes many features accessible for a wide range of skill levels. The lines were also surprisingly small considering it was a Holiday weekend. The environment is serene, tranquil, and bucolic. There are designated rest stop areas for beginners, and skiers of all levels are consistently treated to amazing views of Lake Tahoe near the base of the mountain. There is an extra fee to ski the slalom track ($6) at the Epic Mix Race Center on the California side.
Filling your stomach before, during or after skiing is easy at Heavenly. Besides on-mountain spots like the Sky Deck Burger Bar or Steins, which offer a plethora of options including brats, chili bowls, beer, and chicken corn chowder, there are plenty of restaurant options. Each of the base lodges offers a unique variety of cuisine. Stagecoach has meatball subs, Boulder offers diner fare, East Peak has Pizza and BBQ, Tamarack is known for their pulled pork and turkey, and Booyah’s supplies great microbrews with great views for the après-ski.
And if you want to break away from skiing or riding the mountain, you can do tubing, sledding and ski biking from the on-mountain Adventure Peak.
One-of-a-Kind DJ Cat
The dual personalities of Heavenly—a snowy wonderland on the mountain and a pulsing hotspot in the town—come together in a new program introduced this season: DJ Cat.
Partnering with Aaron Hagar, son of legendary musician Sammy Hagar and owner of Rat Runners Garage, Heavenly has retrofit a retired grooming machine and overhauled it into a state-of-the-art mobile DJ station.
“There is a reason we’ve been dubbed as the wild child of Vail Resorts. At Heavenly, we like to push the limits and do things a little different,” said Pete Sonntag, vice president and chief operating officer of Heavenly. “Teaming up with someone as creative as Aaron was a special treat, and we are absolutely blown away by what we were able to accomplish together between our teams. The end result will definitely surprise and delight people.”
Complete with a high-tech DJ platform and a Kicker Audio speaker system that rivals anything seen at a nightclub, Heavenly’s DJ cat is the first of its kind and like nothing else in the industry. Custom-built components provide premium sound through about 52 speakers and 12,000 watts of QSC brand amps. Three remote-controlled actuators open the doors and roof of the lightweight aluminum unit and a 55 inch flatscreen television enhances the visual experience.
Throughout the season, guest DJs will spin tunes on the DJ cat.
The party shifts indoors at 3:30 p.m. as the Heavenly Angels host Unbuckle at Tamarack, North America’s No. 1 après ski party. With half-price drinks, food specials, swag, a live DJ and lots of dancing, Unbuckle is a great transition to a night out in South Lake Tahoe.
Heavenly’s events exude high energy. On April 5, 2014, the second annual High Roller Hold ‘Em event will take place on the World Cup run. Infusing an X Games-worthy big air competition with a little South Lake Tahoe casino gambling twist, High Roller Hold ’Em features a monster big-air jump, a $50,000 jackpot and, new this year, a 2015 X Games Big Air event exemption for the overall winner.
It is one of the few ski areas where you may well time your visit so you can ski and golf on the same day.
After the ski lifts close (on April 20 this year), Heavenly Mountain Resort offers a different sort of outdoor wonderland in summer. The mountain is open Friday-Sunday for sightseeing, dining and hiking from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
The Heavenly Gondola: You can ride on the Heavenly Gondola and take a day in Tahoe in any season. You board the gondola from the Heavenly Village and soar 2.4 miles up the mountain to 9,123 feet, nearly 3,000 feet above the lake. The ride itself offers unparalleled views of the Desolation Wilderness, Carson Valley and, of course, the sparkling waters of Lake Tahoe.
The Observation Deck: Two-thirds of the way up the mountainside, the Observation Deck offers the best sightseeing venue on the South Shore. Skirting massive granite boulders, the 14,000 square-foot deck provides high-powered viewing telescopes that give you a close-up look at some of the destination’s best-known landmarks including Emerald Bay, Mount Tallac and Cascade Falls.
Café Blue: The resort’s only year-round mountaintop bistro is located on The Deck. Café Blue is a casual al fresco eatery with an alpine flair, offering gourmet snacks such as antipasto platters, shrimp cocktails, specialty sandwiches and an impressive selection of fine regional wines.
Tamarack Lodge and Bar: Heavenly’s new restaurant has rustic chandeliers, floor to ceiling windows and seating for 500 inside and 250 outside on the patio. Signature menu items include tri-tip from the smoker, artisanal pizzas and a salad bar.
Adventure Peak: Located at the top of the Gondola, Adventure Peak offers two distinct high-altitude outdoor experiences in the winter and summer months. During the summer months, Adventure Peak offers hiking on three routes ranging from 16 miles to four miles roundtrip; summer tubing; a 25-foot climbing wall; a Spyder Climber; and, new for summer 2014, ropes courses, Aerial Tour, and zip lines.
There are also boat rides on Lake Tahoe, and golf.
Easy Access to Tahoe South
Recently named one of the “Best Airports for Skiers” by SKI Magazine, Reno Tahoe International Airport has also added a number of new flights including Houston, Portland and other key gateway air cities. RTIA provides easy and convenient access to Tahoe South with the six-lane, 65-mile-per-hour I-580 freeway bypassing Pleasant Valley and Washoe Valley. The 8.5-mile divided freeway features new anti-icing technology. Daily shuttle service is available via South Tahoe Express.
With direct daily shuttle service to Reno and even Sacramento (Amtrak also runs from San Francisco and there are several other bus options) you may be able to skip the car rental and still have great easy-access skiing and après-ski fun with little to no inconvenience. Within a certain proximity to Heavenly Village you may even be able to jump right on the Gondola to Tamarack Lodge on the mountain.
From New York City, Atlanta, and San Francisco, South Tahoe proved a meeting spot that not only worked, but exceeded our expectations. It was an ideal reunion site for two brothers and a childhood friend.
Ski Heavenly, 800-HEAVENLY, www.skiheavenly.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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