Top Lift: 10,067ft
Ski area: 4,800 acres of terrain
Adult lift pass: $366-528 for six days
In a Nutshell
Spectacular views from the top – and four stonking great casinos at the bottom: that’s the deal at Heavenly, which straddles the California-Nevada border and is unlike any other resort you’ll ever ski. The terrain suits nearly everyone – but you’d be mad to holiday here and not explore other ski resorts nearby.
Essential Advice for the Perfect Trip
The skiing and gambling town of South Lake Tahoe used to be famous for slow lifts and fast dealers, but all that has changed since Vail Resorts bought the adjoining 50-year-old ski resort of Heavenly in 2002. ‘Vail West’ has been the beneficiary of several big cash injections since then – and is now part of a network of three Lake Tahoe resorts which can be skied on one lift pass.
The development of a village around the base of the gondola is creating an identity Heavenly previously lacked. Budget motels and T-shirt shops along the Californian end of the strip have been torn down to give way to a burgeoning Marriott hotel and apartment complex as well as 40 shops and restaurants.
But it’s not wall-to-wall gentrification just yet. Gambling is still big business here and four big casinos hug the Nevada side of the stateline with California. They may be small fry next to the monsters of Las Vegas, but they still give this town a pungent atmosphere. Wander into any one of them and you’ll see a very different America from the one tearing around energetically on the ski slopes above town.
Of course, some people will recoil from it – and if you feel strongly about gambling, don’t come here. But for many, the weird mix of striking scenery, the can-do Californian attitude, and chance to play craps once the lifts have closed is an intoxicating one. Certainly, this has to be the world’s best stag-party skiing destination.
Day-tripping to other ski resorts is obligatory
The other attraction of Heavenly is the fact it makes a great, inexpensive base for exploring the other resorts in the area. Seven – Squaw Valley, Sierra-at-Tahoe, Kirkwood, Northstar, Mount Rose and Alpine Meadows – provide possible day trips. Two of the resorts – Kirkwood and Northstar – are also owned by Vail Resorts.
Free shuttles operate from South Lake Tahoe to Sierra and Kirkwood, and the Tahoe Queen paddle-steamer provides a scenic way of reaching Squaw Valley on the North Shore. However, if you want to fully explore the region, it makes sense to hire a car.