Skiing in South Lake Tahoe means getting to choose between a ski resort that takes you across state borders while you drink in beautiful views of the lake from ski runs (and later drinking beverages and enjoying the nightlife in the village après ski) or a resort that has you floating through deep powder and old-school charm in a quiet mountain getaway. There are two main family ski resorts in the South Lake Tahoe area — Heavenly and Kirkwood. Hop along to learn more about how to choose the right one for your family in our Frog Family Guide to the South Lake Tahoe Ski Resorts.
It can be hard to decide which South Lake Tahoe ski resort to visit, but after considering your skill level, your interests off of the ski hill, whether you ski or snowboard and your budget, one ski resort might rise to the top for you. Or not. You can always visit both, or even some of the North Lake Tahoe ski resorts, too! We’ve definitely done our share of resort hopping when visiting Lake Tahoe. Keep in mind that we are now booking discount hotel rooms and lift tickets to ski destinations, including the entire Lake Tahoe area.
Overview of the South Lake Tahoe Ski Resorts for Families
The two main South Lake Tahoe ski resorts, Heavenly and Kirkwood, are quite different from each other due to their terrain, vibe and their surroundings. Both are owned by Vail Resorts, along with Northstar in North Lake Tahoe. All three of these resorts are on the Epic Pass, but Kirkwood is the least expensive of the three when it comes to buying individual lift tickets, lodging, lessons and food. Heavenly is in the middle price-wise. If you are staying in the town of South Lake Tahoe somewhat near Heavenly, Kirkwood (to the south) and Northstar (to the North) are about an equal drive from Heavenly, but in opposite directions.
Get Lake Views with City Nightlife at Heavenly
Heavenly ski resort sits on the border between California and Nevada and is your go-to spot if you want to ski and do other things on your vacation as well. The Heavenly Village is located right on the streets of South Lake Tahoe and is close to the lake, casinos, restaurants and family activities. You can take the Village gondola up the mountain to access family-friendly skiing, a tubing hill and more. The village offers an ice skating rink, bungee trampoline, a nearby sled hill and a variety of fun stores, restaurants and snack shops. There are also other quiet ski lodge bases without the party scene of the village. You can find a variety of lesson types at Heavenly, including “on-demand” lessons in the middle of the mountain or at certain bases if you feel like working on some skills.
Many ski runs offer breathtaking views of the gorgeous blue Lake Tahoe and snowcapped mountains beyond it. The beginner areas are a bit separated from each other though. This is a great mountain for skiers who are comfortable with intermediate (blue square) runs. Advanced to expert skiers have plenty to occupy them, as well, especially in Mott and Killebrew Canyons.
Heavenly’s peak elevation is 10,067 feet (base at California Lodge is 6,565) and has over 4,630 skiable acres. It is an easier mountain to ski than snowboard because there are a lot of flat traverses when moving about the mountain, and the flats are more frustrating for snowboarders. Once you are more familiar with the mountain, you can learn how to avoid the traverses. The two main bases, the village and the California Lodge, are a little challenging to get back to at the end of the day, and may require taking trams or gondolas to get down, especially to access the village and for beginners at California Lodge. Intermediate and advanced skiers can ski back to the California Lodge, but it’s a long road home.
After your ski day is done, you can chill out in the village, take the tadpoles ice skating or for a hop on the bungee trampoline. There are kid-friendly shops such as toy stores, crazy sock stores and fun snacks including hot doughnuts, fresh cookies and ice cream. The village has a movie theatre and a family-friendly magic show in The Loft. Buy an inexpensive sled at the grocery store, drug store or sporting good store and play in the snow play area behind the village.
One of the great things about Heavenly is that you don’t really need to get in a car, especially if you are staying within walking distance of the village. You can stay in luxury condos at Zalanta (as low as $353 per night), which are conveniently across the street from the gondola, or get a room at the Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel (as low as $106 per night), which offers free breakfast and is steps from the gondola. Some ski lodging choices a little further from the ski hill such as Lakeland Village (as low as $149 per night) offer spacious accommodations and a free shuttle service to the ski resort and other spots in town. There are many grocery stores in town, so you can easily pick up any items you need near any of these lodging locations. If you love casino nightlife, there are casino hotels a few blocks from village to give you the best of both worlds such as Harrah's Lake Tahoe (as low as $90 a night).
For outdoor winter activities, you can go tubing at Adventure Peak at the top of the gondola. Tubing is available from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and you need a lift ticket to access the Gondola. Your ski lift tickets work to get you there, but if you do not have a lift ticket, you’ll have to purchase a scenic gondola ticket, which is not inexpensive, so if you can tie tubing into your ski day somehow, you can save money on transportation. Tubing can sell out Friday through Sunday, so purchase an all-day tubing ticket early in the morning at the ticket office near the base of the gondola. The gondola has a stop halfway up on the way to the top if you want to hop out and take photos of the lake. There are lockers for rent at the base and top of the gondola if you want to stash some snow boots or shoes for later. If you are looking for more winter fun, there are places to go cross-country skiing, show shoeing and snowmobiling in South Lake Tahoe. You can even take a heated boat ride out on the lake or go fishing!
If you have little tadpoles with you, Heavenly offers childcare at the California Lodge for children 6 months to 6 years of age. You can add a skiing option if your tadpoles are 3 to 5 years old.
Get Away from It All at Kirkwood
If Heavenly has the bustling town vibe, then Kirkwood is the peaceful opposite. You’ll drive through gorgeous mountains to get to Kirkwood ski resort (about an hour from Heavenly). It is a quiet family ski resort where skiing and snowboarding are the main attractions. You’ll have more of a relaxing pace with fewer people around. If you want a quiet mountain getaway where you can ski and play in some snow, then play board games with the tadpoles at night, then Kirkwood may be more to your liking. You do not see the water of Lake Tahoe, but the views are still spectacular.
Beginners will base out of the Timber Creek Base Area, which is where you’ll find the Children’s Center, the Ski & Ride School and beginner terrain. There are a few beginner runs off Chair 1 by the Mountain Village. There are plenty of intermediate blue square runs for skiers and snowboarders throughout the resort. The Mountain Village has restaurants, bars and fire pits, but it is low-key and on a small scale.
Kirkwood has lessons that cater to everyone from beginners, to people wanting to improve their skills, to specialized instruction for advanced and expert skiers who want to tackle some of Kirkwood’s unique terrain. What parents love is that they can save a lot of money on lessons at Kirkwood compared to some of the other Lake Tahoe ski resorts. With lessons geared for the steeps, the backcountry and even avalanche safety, advanced skiers can really work on gaining confidence in challenging terrain. It’s a good mountain if you have a range of ski skills in your family, with the advanced skiers feeling challenged while the learning skiers have some gentle runs and a learning area that is just their speed.
Kirkwood is known for its huge snowfalls and deep powder. You’ll want to be on property when a big storm comes through, because you have to take mountain roads to drive there and the parking lots fill up on fresh powder days. If you are staying on-site, you can beat the crowds, avoid driving in treacherous conditions and not stress about parking. You can book discount lodging at Kirkwood Mountain Resort for as low as $110 a night through Undercover Tourist. When you book, you can bundle discount lift tickets with your purchase to save you even more green! If you are planning far enough ahead, you can purchase Epic Passes that can be used at Kirkwood, Heavenly and Northstar before the season gets underway. The Epic Passes can also be used at many great ski resorts including several Colorado ski resorts and Park City, Utah, so if you plan to do a lot of skiing next season, they are an especially good buy because they have no block out dates and are not subject to peak and holiday pricing.
Kirkwood has some high-speed chairlifts, but it also has a few old and slower lifts, so that’s something to consider. Powder days may be more crowded, but in general you can expect lighter crowds at this ski resort, which is really nice.
If you are looking for off-the-mountain entertainment, there are a few restaurants and bars at Kirkwood, as well as cross-country skiing and snowshoe trails. There are a couple of Sno-Park areas for snow play a few miles away (although you may need an inexpensive parking pass). It’s best to bring all your groceries and supplies with you, although there is a general store on-site for essentials and fresh deli sandwiches. In the middle of your ski day, you can enjoy a table-service lunch either outside on the patio or inside near a fireplace at The Wall Bar & Grill (slope side in the Mountain Village) for the same money or even less than a cafeteria lunch at some of the other Lake Tahoe ski resorts.
Dining in South Lake Tahoe
You’ll find many places to eat in South Lake Tahoe. The Heavenly Village has many bars and restaurants for après skiing. You can get pizza at Base Camp Pizza Co. and play a game of corn hole out front with the tadpoles while you wait. Fire + Ice has a cool concept. You choose all your meats, veggies, pastas and more (on ice) and then take them to the grill bar (that would be the fire) where the chefs will sizzle them up for you with custom seasoning to your tastes. Hop in before 4 p.m. for lunch prices to save money. Happy hour is from 3 to 6 p.m. and there are huge fire pits for warming cold fingers and toes. The Village Bar & Grill is the perfect spot to relax with some drinks and tasty food after a sunny day of spring skiing, with its outdoor deck overlooking the ice rink. We enjoyed sitting around a fire with some bison nachos and grilled cheese dippers with tomato bisque after a full day of skiing. The kids loved coloring pages with crayons.
If you want some delicious food and are willing to travel about 10 minutes from the main part of town to get it, definitely make a reservation for The Lake House Restaurant. It is sophisticated, yet comfortable (aka casual attire) and kid-friendly with all the typical kid favorites on their verbal kid menu. We enjoyed the risotto, lobster chowder, ribeye with garlic parsley butter and filet mignon. Both steaks came with broccolini and Yukon gold mashed potatoes. The service was excellent, and the meal was well worth the extra minutes in the car.
When you are on your way home from the Lake House, stop at the igloos at the Hangar Taproom & Bottle Shop for a drink — you can’t miss it. If you are a beer lover and are looking for a cool spot outside of the Heavenly Village, you can sip your beer around a fire inside a man-made igloo at The Hangar.
Other Lake Tahoe Ski Resorts for Families
While Heavenly and Kirkwood are the more well-known South Lake Tahoe ski resorts, there are a few others in the area:
- Sierra-at-Tahoe — Located 91 miles from Sacramento and 18 miles from Heavenly, this ski resort is on the way to South Lake Tahoe.
- Homewood — This old school ski resort sits on the western shores of Lake Tahoe (about 26 miles from Heavenly) and offers phenomenal views of the lake.
- Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows — About 40 miles from Heavenly, this great ski resort in North Lake Tahoe has family activities and a hoppin’ village. The Resort at Squaw Creek (as low as $198 a night through Undercover Tourist) is a nice ski-in/ski-out family ski hotel with an outdoor pool and many amenities.
- Northstar — This is one of the best family ski resorts for young families with plenty of beginner and intermediate runs, a posh village, high-speed lifts and family-friendly activities. Lodging at Northstar California is as low as $150 a night. It is located about 40 miles north of Heavenly.
Hopfully our Frog Family Guide to the South Lake Tahoe Ski Resorts has helped you narrow down which ski resort is best for your family, and where the resorts are in relation to the city of South Lake Tahoe. Be sure to hop over to the frog blog for more “hopful” tips on planning a family ski vacation, such as how to prevent altitude sickness or how to decide between private vs. group lessons for skiing or snowboarding. We are always trying to save money on family vacations, including family ski trips. Check out our hoppin’ deals on ski hotels, equipment rentals and car rentals for your trip to the South Lake Tahoe ski resorts so you can save, too! Get a jump on saving for next ski season by hopping back for an Epic Pass, which can be used at Heavenly, Kirkwood, Northstar and many other family ski resorts in Colorado, Utah and other locations.