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Tahoe for Tahoe Buffs

Rachel Levin | December 19, 2012 | Story California Destinations

SAN FRANCISCO'S VERY OWN MOUNTAIN playground is less than four hours away (on a good day), which means that most stalwart weekend warriors have a go-to Tahoe routine. Say, circle for parking at Squaw; join the queue at KT-22; toss back après pitchers of Bud at Le Chamois; munch nachos at River Ranch Lodge; repeat. But this season—with Tahoe’s expanded terrain, new brewpubs, and additional swank slope-side lodging—Bay Area snow seekers might want to alter their North Shore habits. No need to fit all of the following into one trip, though—you have the whole winter. (Now, just pray for snow.)


Dodge the crowds
Big news if you’ve ever wished you could backcountry ski between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows: The gate is officially open. This winter, Squaw is opening access to the Backcountry Connection—an expanse of ungroomed, unmarked, and unpatrolled terrain for expert skiers and ‘boarders. (Just don’t forget your avalanche beacon.) Meanwhile, in addition to Pacific Crest Heli-Guides’ heli-ski operation, Northstar California Resort—long dissed by hardcore skiers—has expanded its boundaries and launched private guided ski tours and cat-skiing on Sawtooth Ridge.

Take advantage of corporate perks
The upside to deep-pocketed companies like Vail Resorts and JMA Ventures gobbling up Lake Tahoe? Upgrades that only tens of millions of dollars can buy, like top-to-bottom snow-making, Shaun White–designed superpipes, mile-long terrain parks, new high-speed six-packs, and even, for better or worse, a ski-through Starbucks. Best of all: multi-mountain passes ($85) that let you loose at Squaw and Alpine—with free shuttle service.


Enjoy après in town
Tired Tahoe City is a little livelier now with Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co.’s new airy-light pub, featuring locally brewed beers and seven flat-screen TVs. For a more civilized happy hour and lake views, hit Christy Hill for house-cured smoked salmon potato pancakes, steamed Manila clams, and $4 glasses of chardonnay. There’s low-key wine tasting, too: The Pour House in downtown Truckee has a homey locals’ scene. Uncorked in the Village at Squaw has the opposite—as well as a new wine bar and shop in Tahoe City.

Move beyond the chili bread bowl
Once-dingy Olympic Plaza Bar used to draw crowds more for its convenient location at the base of Squaw than for its culinary prowess. But this season, it has been totally redone—with sit-down service, flatbread pizza, lodge-y decor, and murals of the 1960 Olympics. At Northstar, the window-walled, 700-seat Zephyr Lodge serves up oozy grilled cheese–brisket sandwiches and Bloody Marys garnished with housemade beef jerky. And now that the food truck trend has made it to the mountains, look for Tacos Jalisco, often parked by the 7-Eleven, or, come springtime, Mamasake’s sushi-mobile. Meanwhile, Truckee may be a decade behind the cupcake trend, but Cake Tahoe has at least figured out the beauty of a crème brûlée cupcake after a day on the slopes.

Dine with the locals
Pianeta in downtown Truckee has a cozy, subterranean scene. And, although in theory you’re here to escape the city-swank scene, Traci Des Jardins’ mid-mountain Manzanita—and the housemade pappardelle with duck confit, chanterelles, and roasted grapes—is hard to pass up.


Splurge on ski in, ski out
Stuffing three families into a cabin may be the economical way to go, but if you prefer staying slope-side—and enjoy having someone else make your bed—try the Constellation Residences (from $699) at Northstar. No longer only for Ritz-Carlton club members, these two-, three-, and four-bedroom condos (with 50 more planned) come with the same luxe amenities as the hotel: a spa, heated pools, and make-your-own s’mores. Ten ski-boot steps from Homewood Mountain Resort (with $44 lift tickets and sweet lake vistas), the intimate West Shore Café and Inn (from $249) has six sought-after waterfront rooms, with views of the pink-streaked sunset from your bed.

Read More:
Follow the Snow: When the Sierras let you down

Originally published in the January 2013 issue of San Francisco.

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