A note from Mommy Frog: We have hoppin’ news! The ski resorts are reopening for the 2020-2021 ski season. In order to prevent the spread of COVID-19, some services and amenities may be temporarily suspended (such as childcare, free champagne and s’mores). Hop over to our posts on the Epic Pass and what to expect during the Vail Resorts reopening for the latest news and information, including the new online ski reservation system to limit capacity on the mountain.
Northstar California Ski Resort is a skiing parent’s paradise. From the minute you pull up and are greeted with wagons to pull your gear (and tadpoles) around, you feel well taken care of. Northstar California skiing is perfect for families with experienced, intermediate and beginning skills on the slopes. You are sure to find amenities to please every member of your family. More than a few times, I asked myself — Why it can’t always be this easy? If you have never visited this North Lake Tahoe resort, our family insider’s Northstar California guide will teach you the tricks to master this mountain and get the most out of your time, including all the fun (and free or at least money-saving) things you can do off skis and snowboards. If you are looking for a sanity-saving tips for a family ski trip, Northstar California is highly rated by parents.
Here is the Frog Family's Northstar California Guide!
Northstar California Lift Tickets
For the best savings on lift tickets, purchase lift tickets more than seven days in advance. If you will be skiing multiple days, buying multi-day tickets will provide you the best savings. Want flexibility? You can use Northstar multi-day lift tickets (purchased for three or more days) at Northstar, Heavenly or Kirkwood. (Learn more about the other ski resorts with our handy ski resort decision matrix.) Hold on to your EpicDay card/lift ticket, because you can add days for future trips to it. You can also bundle lift tickets when you book lodging through Undercover Tourist!
Northstar California Ski Rentals
You can save 20 percent by booking equipment rentals online. Benefits also include convenient slope-side pickup (there are four slope-side locations) or free delivery to your hotel or condo. Did it snow overnight? If you want to swap your equipment out for skis that are better for powder (or any changing condition), you swap rentals at any location for free.
Northstar California Ski Lesson Options
There are a variety of lessons you can reserve. Beginner lessons usually include lift tickets and equipment, but most lessons do not. If you want to take lessons together as a family, that’s an option, too. Depending on your Northstar California lesson, there are many choices as to where you will meet. If you are staying at the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe, some small group lessons meet there. Other meeting spots are the Mid-Mountain Ski & Snowboard School or the Adventure Guiding and Learning Center in the Village. We offer some suggestions for getting the best deal on ski lessons in our post on The Very Best Ways to Save on a Lake Tahoe Ski Trip
If you have someone in your group with special needs, call 1-800-Go-North to ask about adaptive lessons for people with physical or cognitive disabilities. They provide adaptive instruction for alpine skiing, snowboarding, and cross-country. Achieve Tahoe provides adaptive lessons at Northstar, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, but the prices are higher at Northstar, so keep that in mind.
Northstar California Lodging Options
There are several choices for staying on-site at Northstar. When you stay on-site, you can enjoy complimentary overnight ski and board storage in the Village and may have shuttles or Gondola access to the Village. You can save money when you book Northstar California lodging (from a Village loft to a condo or house) through Undercover Tourist. The Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe is a mid-mountain, ski-in/ski-out location. If you are looking to stay in the general North Lake Tahoe area, you can find lodging at Squaw Valley — about a 20-minute drive — or at the lakeside Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe — 11 miles away — through Undercover Tourist.
Northstar California Arrival and Parking Tips
If you are not staying on-site, chances are you will be parking in a remote lot and taking a shuttle bus to the Northstar California transit center. If you have a lot of equipment or items you’d like to store in a locker, we recommend dumping everyone and everything off at the Auto Drop at the entrance to the Village. From the Auto Drop, you can load all equipment, clothing, kids, etc., into a wagon to take to the lockers or slopes/gondola.
Valet parking is a paid option. You can also find preferred parking at the Village for a cost (or free after 3 p.m.), but you can park for free in other lots and take a shuttle bus. Take a tip from us frogs, and remember your lot and row number so you can find your car at the end of the day! Snap a picture of the row sign or mark your spot on Google Maps.
If you are staying off-site and do not have a car, the Tahoe Truckee Area Regional Transit (TART) has hourly busses that run from Truckee and Kings Beach starting at 6 a.m. There are also airport shuttles that take you to the North Lake Tahoe ski resorts.
Northstar California Child Care
Northstar offers childcare for non-skiers ages 2 to 6 near the golf course. There is a free shuttle from the Village to the Childcare Center lot. If you are day tripping, you can park, drop off your tadpole, and take the free shuttle straight to the ski resort. Reserve at least two days in advance and bring immunization records
Filling up on Northstar California Dining
All that skiing and playing is bound to work up an appetite. The Village at Northstar is set up a little differently from the Village at Squaw Valley. From the Village at Northstar California you’ll take a gondola up to the mid-mountain and base of the ski resort. So think Village for pre-ski/après ski snacks and dinner, but other spots on the mountain for lunch. You can always ski down to the Village or take the Gondola for lunch, but if you want to maximize your slope time, save the trip back down for the end of the day.
The Lodge at Big Springs is located at the top of the Big Springs Gondola. Many runs lead there. It’s at the base of the ski and snowboard school as well as just below the tubing center and half pipe. You can get Mexican food at Chilly Peppers; or burgers, pizzas, salads, breakfast burritos, chili, etc., in The Lodge. You can lounge around the fire pits and soak up the sun and action. Mountain tubing and the Cross-Country, Telemark & Snowshoe Center are also nearby.
The Summit Smokehouse is located at the very top of the mountain. Drink in mountaintop views while enjoying house-smoked BBQ dishes and a wide selection of craft beers. You can make your way back down via some blue cruiser runs or more challenging black runs to burn off those calories. The Ritz-Carlton also offers some casual, family friendly ski-in/ski out dining options.
Zoom to the Zephyr Lodge if you are looking for a beautifully prepared meal with views to match. If you are a wine lover, reserve a seat during the Mountain Table Dinner Series at Zephyr. Seating is family style and menus will be prepared and paired with wines from a featured winery.
The Village is the afternoon hotspot for après ski. There are bars, restaurants and kiosks surrounding the ice rink, which has plenty of comfy seating and fire pits around it for resting tired bodies and soaking in the sun. Snack on gourmet fries from Frites around a fire pit. Your dining choices include The Grille at Sawtooth Ridge, Rubicon Pizza Company, and quick Mexican food from Los Arcos.
TC’s Tap House on the lower level of the Village offers a family friendly place to watch a game and unwind after a day on the mountain. Petra serves “approachable California food” (locally sourced, of course) and a wine bar.
For warm drinks and great places to start your day, try our frog family coffee — Starbucks. Dig into delectable desserts and waffles at Euro Snacks. Try the Frog Dog — they harm no frogs in making it! It's a premium all-beef hotdog in a baguette.
Exploring Northstar California Ski Territory
We have finally gotten to the most important part of Northstar California — the skiing and snowboarding! This mountain was made for families. There are so many blue and green runs right in the heart of the mountain, that you don’t have to worry about your beginners accidentally veering off into uncharted territory. The black diamond runs are off to the sides, and there are plenty of them to keep more advanced members happily challenged and away from slower skiers.
The mountain is divided into territories. Advanced skiers will enjoy Lookout Mountain and The Backside, whereas Mt. Pluto has something for everyone, allowing families with different interests on the mountain to ride up together and choose the right trails for their individual abilities and then meet back at the lift to share stories on the way back up. Look for designated family learning zones. That's where new skiers can try out their moves without fear of faster skiers zooming by. The Northwest Territory receives optimum sun exposure, creating soft snow that will please all beginner and intermediate skiers. Be sure to keep an eye out for those gorgeous Lake Tahoe views!
Got a daredevil with you? Northstar’s terrain parks are among the top rated in North America. If you have family members who love terrain parks, Northstar has nine terrain parks and two large halfpipes! The park difficulty ranges from extra small to large. There's even a park for kids 6 and under.
Northstar California is not the most challenging mountain we have skied, but it is definitely one of our favorites and is a lot of fun, especially for families with mixed-level skiers. And when you ski down to the Village or ride the Gondola down at the end of the day, there is a wagon waiting for your exhausted body (a welcome wagon indeed) so you don’t have to carry any equipment around with you as you enjoy the village. That wagon made my day.
Intermediate skiers and above (ages 13 and up) who are looking to get more familiar with the terrain can follow a Mountain Safety Guide on weekends in January. Check the Guided Mountain Tour schedule for dates and times.
What Not to Miss at Northstar California
We frogs are always looking to save money on a ski trip (or any trip, really), so we look for the free and inexpensive ways to have fun and get the most from our investment on a family vacation. We found the safety lap bar on a chair lift was full of helpful information — good reading. The lap bar informed us about free s’mores in the Village in the afternoon and complimentary champagne toasts on the slope at Tōst. Tadpoles can toast, too, with sparkling cider of course! Arrive 15-20 minutes early and bring ID if you want the bubbly stuff with alcohol. What a reward for using the safety bar (besides staying safe)! Consult the entertainment calendar to find out about live music, fun themes, Saturday Ripperoo parades, ice rink events, holiday programming and other entertainment at Northstar California Ski Resort.
Step out of your skis and step into more winter fun. You can try tubing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and fat tire biking on 22 miles of a groomed scenic trails. If you have a downhill Northstar lift ticket, it is also good for the cross-country trails. If you do not have a lift ticket, purchase a trail pass in the Village before heading up the Big Springs Gondola to the Cross Country, Telemark & Snowshoe Center. You can drop in and rent equipment at the center. If you have young tadpoles, not to worry. The Center has pull sleds that look like strollers that you can attach to your waist and pull them along behind you. Mush! Just don’t hand them a whip!
There are afternoon, twilight and stargazing snowshoe tours that include hot chocolate and sometimes cider, s’mores, or cookies. Are we mentioning s’mores too much? We always have some room for some more (get it? S’more?).
Having hoppy skiers means doing what makes kids happy. That includes playing in the snow! Tubing can make great family snow fun. The tubing hill at Northstar is located at the top of the Big Springs Express Gondola. It is limited to first-come, first-served tubers and weather conditions. Purchase tickets in the Village. If you are planning to tube after a day of skiing, make sure you bring snow boots with you. There are lockers mid-mountain at The Lodge at Big Springs if you need to store any items. Smaller tadpoles and anyone wanting a gentler hill can now tube in the village ... as long as they are willing to hike back to the top of the hill!
In the Northstar Village, your kids will flip over the ice skating rink. If you need to get inside and out of the weather, you can do arts and crafts in The Villager Candle Shop. Make a candle, paint some pottery (they will even send it to you if you cannot pick it up after it is fired—our piece just arrived!), make a mosaic, or make a stuffed animal. The Village even has a movie theater if you want to catch a movie.
If you are planning to visit Lake Tahoe, check out our family guide to the north Lake Tahoe ski resorts to give you an edge in planning and finding the right ski resort for your family’s needs. Northstar California is a great family ski resort and one that is geared toward keeping the tadpoles hoppy. And if the kids are hoppy, the parents are hoppy. Am I right? But the resort takes good care of parents too, with plenty of great skiing, places to lounge and enjoy adult beverages, and ways to take the load off a parent’s shoulders. Hopefully our guide to skiing at Northstar has made your planning and family ski trip a lot easier, too.
What questions do you have about skiing at Northstar California or any of the Lake Tahoe ski resorts? Drop us a line in comments below! Planning a family ski resort vacation? Get started on our planning page.