So you don’t ski or snowboard—big deal. There are plenty of other exhilarating winter activities in the Tahoe region that don’t require you to buy absurdly expensive lift tickets and humiliate yourself on the bunny slopes. I’ve been heading up to Tahoe every winter since I was a toddler and I know all the best places to play in the snow, whether it’s bombing down the hill on a saucer at Granlibakken or dog sledding through a snowy alpine meadow. No previous experience is required for any of these activities, so start planning your Tahoe getaway today.
At the junction of Highways 88/89, a few minutes east of Kirkwood Ski Resort, is a yurt plunked in the middle of Hope Valley that’s the headquarters for Hope Valley Outdoors. Inside the yurt is a wide selection of snowshoes for rent (as well as cross-country skis), perfect for heading out on the 60-mile network of trails that criss-cross this spectacular stretch of alpine scenery (it’s gorgeous out here). Best of all there are no trail fees, dogs are welcome, and they even offer guided tours for a very reasonable fee. Tip: Ask about their romantic moonlight snowshoe tours.
When my dad was fed-up with trying to teach his ungrateful kids to ski, he’d give in to our demands and take us to Granlibakken so we could go sledding. Granlibakken is a well-hidden resort located just southeast of Tahoe City, and kids-in-the-know drag their parents here because it has the best sledding hill in Lake Tahoe: wide, machine-groomed, and with just enough of a slope to create some spectacular wipeouts. The cost is $12 per person, which includes saucer rental and use of the snowplay area for the entire day while the parents chill out in the lodge by the fireplace. Granlibakken is also a great place to learn how to ski, since lifts tickets are only $24 for adults ($14 for kids) and the runs range from bunny to easy.
There are numerous snowmobile rental and tours operators around the lake, but the two that offer the most bang for your buck are Lake Tahoe Snowmobile Tours on the North Shore, and the Zephyr Cove Snowmobile Center on the South Shore. Where other snowmobile tour operators have you putt-putting around in circles, these guys have access to dozens of miles of trails that wind through a pristine forest setting with spectacular views. It’s an exhilarating experience, flying through the snow on twisty trails while your cheeks go numb and your heart races.
CROSS COUNTRY SKIING
There are at least a dozen cross country ski outfits in Tahoe, but the best of the bunch is the Kirkwood Cross Country & Snowshoe Center in Alpine Valley. I used to work at Kirkwood during my ski-bum years, so I can personally vouch that that no other cross country ski resort offers a better combo of machine-groomed trails, spectacular scenery, and trailside warming huts. Even dogs are welcome. During breaks from skiing, you can sip hot drinks by a wood burning stove at their cozy day lodge. Best of all, a full-day ski pass is only $22! Lessons, tours, and rental equipment are available as well.
DOG SLED TOURS
If you love dogs, snowy mountain scenery, and luxury lodgings, have I got a getaway idea for you—taking a thrilling dog sled tour at the Resort at Squaw Creek. An outfit called Wilderness Adventures offers dog sledding tours through the beautiful Squaw Valley Meadow. The tour is a hoot! An incredibly powerful team of Alaskan Huskies pulls a deluxe four-person sled at speeds up to 14mph along a 2.5-mile path that winds through a glistening white meadow with incredible views of the surrounding mountains.
If you’re heading up to South Lake Tahoe with the wee ones and looking for something fun to do, check out Heavenly’s Adventure Peak family recreation area at the top of the Heavenly Gondola. They’ve added a new four-lane tubing hill that’s accessed by a state-of-the-art covered and elevated “magic carpet” lift (so no trudging up the hill anymore). Kids LOVE this place, and even the grownups are laughing all the way down the hill.
If you have your own tips and recommendations about places to play in the snow that you’d like to share, feel free to add your own comments to our blog below. We’d love to hear from you.