Guide to Heavenly Ski Resort in California/Nevada

Heavenly Mountain, South Lake Tahoe Region, California/Nevada

Heavenly has a perfect setting right along Lake Tahoe. The views from the top of the resort are some of the most spectacular in the world. The skiing is extensive and the nightlife unbeatable. Heavenly is big. It’s a top-ranked resort. Heavenly has some great expert terrain—Mott Canyon and Killebrew Canyon on the Nevada side; its famous face run, Gunbarrel, on the California side; and loads of tree skiing. The resort also has excellent intermediate and advanced skiing.

The resort spreads behind Stateline, Nevada, with a collection of highrise casinos. The California side of the town is mostly a throwback to the 60s and 70s with a few newer hotels such as the Embassy Suites and the new Marriott at the base of the gondola.

Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe view from Heavenly Mountain Resort

The new gondola has changed this resort dramatically. Now skiers and riders can be seen walking from the casinos and other hotels to the lifts that rise right from the center of the action.

Heavenly is also the only two-state mountain resort—you can start out from either California or Nevada. The gondola provides direct access from the center of the South Lake Tahoe/Stateline district to the resort, and the 12-minute ride gives skiers and riders a killer view of the lake. There’s a public parking garage at the Heavenly Village, near the base of the gondola, available to skiers and riders. More parking is available at the California base just up Ski Run Blvd. On busy weekends, skiers and snowboarders who are looking to avoid crowds can start from the Nevada side; take Hwy. 207 (Kingsbury Grade) to either the Stagecoach or Boulder bases.

Heavenly Ski Resort gondola lift
Heavenly Ski Resort gondola lift; Photo by wikimedia User:ChrisRuvolo

But mostly, Heavenly is the view. The most spectacular view of the Lake Tahoe area and the lake itself—perhaps the most awesome view from a ski area summit anywhere—is at the top of the Sky Express (the view from the gondola isn’t too shabby either). From here on a sunny day just after a storm, the lake looks like a brilliant blue sapphire, nesting in soft folds of white velvet. Pack a camera or stop at one of the photographers lining Ridge Run.

New for 2005/06, Heavenly built South Lake Tahoe’s only terrain park that’s open for night riding and made improvements to existing parks. Other improvements include increased off-piste access, expanded snowmaking, and twice-daily grooming, more seating for on-mountain dining, and two clean-burning shuttles.

Heavenly Ski Resort Facts

California Side

  • Summit: 10,067 feet
  • Vertical drop: 3,500 feet
  • Base: 6,540 feet

Nevada Side

  • Summit: 10,067 feet
  • Vertical drop: 2,840 feet
  • Base: 7,200 feet
  • Expert: ++++
  • Advanced: ++++
  • Intermediate: ++++
  • Beginner: +++
  • First-timer: +++
  • Address: Box 2180,  Stateline, NV 89449
  • Ski area phone: 775-586-7000
  • Snow report: 586-7000, press 1
  • Toll-free reservations: (800) 432-8365
  • Internet: www.skiheavenly.com
  • Number of lifts: 30—1 aerial tram, 1 gondola, 2 high-speed six-packs, 7 high-speed quads, 5 triples, 4 doubles, 6 surface lifts, 4 moving carpets
  • Snowmaking: 70 percent of trails
  • Skiable acreage: 4,800 patrolled acres
  • Uphill capacity: 52,000 per hour
  • Parks & pipes: 4 parks, 1 pipe
  • Bed Base: 22,000 in S. Lake Tahoe
  • Nearest lodging: At the base of the gondola
  • Resort child care: Yes, 6 weeks and older

Heavenly Mountain Skiing

You can’t ski down to Heavenly Village and the gondola stops downloading people at 4 p.m., so be sure you wind your way back to the top of the gondola before then (via 49’er, Sam’s Dream, Cascade, or the California Trail). Signage is good at Heavenly, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding it.

Heavenly Mountain Expert & Advanced Skiers

The California base strikes awe in all but the best skiers because the world seems to drop straight down into Lake Tahoe. Gunbarrel and East Bowl are 1,700-vertical-foot-high straight ladders of bumps, often with dangerous-looking rocky protrusions in early winter or late spring.

But true experts should head to the Nevada side. From the gondola, take the Tamarack Express chair, then cruise down to the Dipper Express. From here, traverse to Milky Way Bowl, which has arguably the best snow at the resort. Then enter Mott Canyon via designated gates 5 or 6. Hully Gully and Pinenuts are double-diamond runs and will allow you to do some reconnaissance on the canyon’s north-facing chutes. But if you’re already uncomfortable, don’t try Bill’s, Snakepit, or The Y—listed in order of difficulty and accessed via gate 1. They are three of the steepest lift-served runs in the west. Killebrew Canyon is even more treacherous. Only venture here if you have a change of underwear.

For advanced skiers, if the bumps on California face look too menacing, head to the Sky Express chair, right off the gondola down Von Schmidt’s Trail. From the top of the Sky Express, the best of the California side opens up. After you have admired the view of Lake Tahoe, drop-down Ellie’s if you are looking for bumps. When Ellie’s is groomed, it’s a screaming cruiser.

Then strike out for Nevada, where 50 percent of the terrain is. You get to the Nevada side from the top of Sky Express; go left along the Skyline Trail. As you near Milky Way Bowl, look to your right for tracks leading into the trees and follow them. After a short traverse, you will end up near the top of the bowl. Those coming off the Dipper chair on the Nevada side can use the same traverse. The daring may want to test their mettle in Mott Canyon. But if the view of the canyon makes you tremble, return instead to the Dipper Express for a run in the Dipper Bowl. Avoid the Galaxy chair; it’s a slow lift that serves relatively flat terrain.

Heavenly Mountain Intermediate Skiers

If you want long smooth cruising, head to the right from the Sky Express when you get off the chair and steam down Liz’s, Canyon, High Roller or Ridge Run.

Just below the Sky Deck, intermediates can drop into Maggie’s Canyon with trees spaced well enough to give strong intermediates a chance to practice.

The Nevada side has even better cruisers. From the top of the Dipper Express are the Big Dipper and Orion’s Wave.

Beneath the East Peak Lodge, Stagecoach and Boulder Chute are long rolling cruisers. For a cruise that seems to take forever, take Olympic Downhill to Stagecoach Base.

The Galaxy Chair is a good spot for low intermediates to gain confidence. With its meandering intermediate runs, it also is a great hideaway for families with small children.

Tamarack Express serves a trio of short cruisers that drop back to the California side as well as providing another link to the Nevada side of the mountain.

Heavenly Mountain Beginner & First-timer Skiers

Heavenly’s green terrain is smack in the middle of the boarding area for four lifts. People dart in every direction, making the most intimidating scene for many beginners.

However, the resort now has an isolated 15-acre learning area at the top of the gondola that has improved the learning experience here. The learning area is served by three lifts—a quad, a mighty might tow, and a moving carpet. A ski school yurt and nearby food service cap if off. Plus, the trip to the lesson area up the gondola is (ahem) heavenly.

Heavenly Mountain Snowboarding

Riders flock to Heavenly for its steeps, powder-filled canyons and powder stashes in the woods. The biggest bummer is the terrain layout isn’t exactly snowboarder-friendly—the traverses are flat, flat, flat and you have to do a lot of strapping and unstrapping to move around the mountain. But, all that work is worth it, especially after a powder dump.

The general consensus among riders is the California side is too bumped up (stay away from Gunbarrel and East Bowl if you hate bumps as most riders do), so the Nevada side is the place to play. Mott Canyon and Killebrew Canyon have the steepest terrain at Heavenly. But beware: by steep, we mean way steep. For strictly trees, head to Dipper Knob Trees and the area known as the “western perimeter” (off Olympic Chair, ride the ridge to the trees, where you’ll find natural hits, waves and lots of powder). On the California side, the best woods are Ski-ways and Maggie’s Canyon (both reached by the Sky Express lift).

Other playgrounds include the numerous hits in Sand Dunes, the waterfall in North Bowl trees and the natural pipe left of Sky chair. Stick to Stagecoach and Olympic lifts if you want to carve your brains out. And if you must head to the terrain park, ride the trees on the northeast side of it instead. First-timers will find isolated learning terrain with their own lifts at the top of the gondola.

Parks and pipes

You’ll find four terrain parks, one lighted for night riding. The resort boasts one of the pre-eminent park builders on the West Coast.

The advanced park, High Roller California, is on the upper California side off the Canyon chair. The High Roller Superpipe is at the top of the Powderbowl chair on the California side. The resort purchased a 22-foot Zaugg pipe cutter and plans to build Tahoe’s largest pipe. The intermediate park, High Roller Stateline, is off the Tamarack chair on the California/Nevada border. The beginner park, Low Roller, is between Groove and Patsy’s chairs on the California side.

Heavenly has South Lake Tahoe’s only after-hours terrain park—with hits, rails, and funboxes—lighted 5–9 p.m. every Thursday through Saturday. The High Roller Nightlife Park is off the World Cup chair next to Heavenly’s California Lodge. The resort plans to have frequent rail jam competitions and DJs spinning tunes. Your season pass or day lift ticket gives you access to the park.

Heavenly Mountain Cross-Country and snowshoeing

The Lake Tahoe region may have the greatest concentration of large cross-country ski areas in the U.S., with more than 800 km. of groomed trails. Most of that is on the north end of the lake, but South Shore has a good network of trails, too. Most also allow snowshoes.

Heavenly’s Adventure Peak (775-586-7000) at the top of the gondola includes a cross-country skiing and snowshoeing center. You’ll find 5 km. of groomed trails that meander through the forest and provide awesome views from nearly 3,000 feet above Lake Tahoe.

Spooner Lake Cross-Country (775-887-8844, recording; 775-749-5349, live voice) on Hwy. 28, about a half-mile north of Hwy. 50, has more than 80 km. of trails, nearly all of which are machine groomed, with one 19-km. backcountry trail. Lessons and cross-country gear, snowshoe and pulk sled rentals are available; you also can rent a backcountry cabin.

Kirkwood Cross-Country (209-258-7248) has 80 km. of machine-groomed tracks, skating lanes and three interconnected trail systems with three warming huts, including the 1864 Kirkwood Inn, a trappers’ log cabin full of nostalgia. Rental gear includes cross-country, telemark, snowshoes and pulk sleds. Lessons are also available. Here’s a trail map.

Hope Valley Cross-Country Ski Center (530-694-2266) is near the junction of Hwy. 89 and 88. It has about 100 km. of marked trails, a quarter of which are groomed. Trail fees are by donation. Lessons and rentals are available. The trails at Sorensen’s Resort (800-423-9949; 530-694-2203) hook into this system.

Camp Richardson Resort (530-541-1801 or 542-6584) in South Lake Tahoe has a cross-country ski center with lessons, rentals and 35 km. of groomed trails along the Lake Tahoe shoreline. There are additional marked trails venturing into Desolation Wilderness. It’s usually voted “Best Place to Cross-Country Ski” by Tahoe locals. You also can get full-moon guided tours, snowshoe rentals, and lodging/cross-country ski packages.

Sierra-at-Tahoe (530-659-7453) has more than 3 miles of groomed snowshoe trails complete with interpretive trail signs. Daily snowshoe rentals and guided tours available. There are no cross-country trails or tours here, but telemark skiers can get tours either in-bounds or into the backcountry, at Sierra’s new Telemark and Backcountry Center. Telemark gear is available for rental.

Heavenly Mountain Apres-Ski / Nightlife

The gondola changed the apres-ski scene here at Heavenly. Fire and Ice right at the gondola base has fire pits to provide warmth on the deck spreading from the restaurant. The Blue Angel Cafe on Ski Run Blvd. has affordable bears and reasonable pizzas. Blue Moon, in front of the Tahoe Beach & Ski Club, also has good immediate apres-ski.

The Mulligan’s, a great Irish pub near the state line, has terrific live music (listenable rather than danceable), pool tables on the first floor, giant TV screens and is packed every night. McP’s across from the gondola has great music as well seven nights a week.

Later in the evening, blu in the Montbleu Resort Casino and Spa is a spectacle of light, sights, and sounds as their DJs provide the rhythm track for an evening of hip-swinging. The Pub at Tahoe, a great Irish pub near the state line, has terrific live music (listenable rather than danceable), pool tables on the first floor, and is packed every night.

If you’ve been to rocker Sammy Hagar’s legendary Cabo Wabo Cantina in Cabo San Lucas, or always wished you could visit, you’ll want to head to his Tahoe nightclub inside Harveys Resort Casino. Every day drink specials make this a great gathering spot. Try one of the many selections of premium tequilas straight up or in an innovative tequila-based cocktail. It really starts rocking at 10 p.m. Live entertainment most nights sometimes means impromptu appearances from big-name musicians in the area to perform in concert at other venues.

Other spots recommended by locals are Divided Sky and Hoss Hoggs. Both have a loyal group of local bands that play most weekends. Dixon’s features some good and not so good open mike nights plus the town’s largest beer selection and happy hours from 3–6 p.m. Whiskey Dicks also has occasional live music.

The bargain spot is the Lakeside Inn and Casino with $1 beers at happy hour and $2 beers the rest of the time. Food is also a grand bargain.

Mott Canyon Tavern & Grill (775-588-8989;$) has 13 beers on tap, late-night food and a late-night happy hour from 12 a.m. to 4 a.m.

And of course, the casinos have musical reviews that are extravaganzas of sight and sound. Some shows run through the season; others are top-name singers and comedians who do one or two shows. Check a local newspaper for up-to-date listings.

Heavenly Mountain Lodging

South Shore accommodations divide into four categories: the multistory casinos hugging the Nevada border for great views and nonstop nightlife; the top of Kingsbury Grade, near the base of Heavenly’s Nevada side, for upscale condominiums and top-quality hotels; along the California lakeshore for moderately priced motels; and at Kirkwood to escape the hustle and bustle. Central Reservations for South Lake Tahoe is (800) 288-2463.

If you plan to do all your skiing at Heavenly, Heavenly Tahoe Vacations (800-243-2836; 775-588-4584) can arrange an entire ski vacation including airfare, transfers, lessons, rentals, non-ski activities, skiing and lodging. If you can stay Sunday through Thursday nights, you can get extremely good deals. Lodging and lift packages can run as low as $69 per person, per night, double occupancy. If you’re here Friday and Saturday, however, prices double or sometimes triple. South Shore has a wide variety of lodges and prices, however, so tell the agent how much you want to spend.

Many destination visitors like to be smack in the middle of the action. If you’re in that group, try Harveys Resort & Casino (800-648-3361 from outside Nevada or 775-588-2411 from Nevada; $$–$$$; above right) and Harrah’s Casino Hotel (800-648-3353; 775-588-3515; $$–$$$$), which have everyone’s highest ratings, from AAA to Mobil. Other casino-hotels within walking distance of the state line are the Montbleu Resort Casino and Spa (888-829-7630; 775-588-3515; $$-$$$$), which has undergone such an elegant and modern makeover, you would never believe it had once been the Caesar’s Tahoe, and the Horizon Casino Resort (800-648-3322; $$–$$$$). Ask for a lake-view room with a balcony at the Horizon.

On the California side, several beautiful hotels have been built in the past few years. The Marriott Grand Residence Club (866-204-7263; $$–$$$$) is in the Heavenly Village development at the base of Heavenly’s gondola. It features in-suite kitchens, laundry service, a ski-check room, as well as a number of retail shops and the FiRE + iCE Restaurant (see Dining). It’s also the closest hotel to Heavenly’s gondola, which gives skiers and sightseers a jaw-dropping view of the lake in its 12-minute journey from downtown to the slopes.

Also near the gondola is one of our favorite places, the Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe Resort (800-362-2779; 530-544-5400; $$–$$$; right). Just 50 feet from the nearest casino, it has an indoor atrium, indoor pool and hot tub, an exercise center, on-site restaurant and lounge. Cooked-to-order breakfast and happy hour are included in the rates.

The California side of South Lake Tahoe has many hotels and motels lining Hwy. 50. Among the best are two Best Western properties—The Timber Cove Lodge (800-528-1234; 530-541-6722; $–$$$), located on the beach; and Station House Inn (800-822-5953; 530-542-1101; $$–$$$), within walking distance of the casino area, on the California side of the border. Two miles from the casinos, Inn By The Lake (800-877-1466; 530-542-0330; $–$$$; below left) sits almost at the shore (although on the wrong side of Hwy 50). It has 100 guest rooms—including nine suites with kitchens, but many of the regular guest rooms are large and have refrigerators—plus a free continental breakfast with enough selections to keep you full until lunch, heated pool, and bi-level hot tub. It’s also one of the stops on the free shuttle to the slopes.

Embassy Vacation Resorts (800-362-2779; 530-541-6122; $$$–$$$$) is a 300-suite resort with timeshare condos and all the amenities. At the intersection of Hwy. 50 and Ski Run Boulevard, it is close to the lake, the ferry dock and Heavenly’s slopes.

For the rustic-minded, try the Historic Camp Richardson Resort (800-544-1801; $$–$$$). The cabins have large fireplaces, spacious living rooms and full kitchens. Perfect for couples traveling together or families who enjoy various outdoor sports. Onsite sledding, snowshoeing, cross-country trails and wilderness sleigh rides complete this seasonal resort. The historic hotel and beachside inn provide more “civilized” accommodations. A similar mountain paradise can be found on the Nevada side at Zephyr Cove Resort (775-588-6644; $$–$$$). The beachfront resort offers mountain cabins set amidst the pines, guided snowmobiling tours, cross-country skiing, plus it’s the home of the M.S. Dixie II paddle wheeler, which operates year-round.

Adjacent to the Lakeside Beach is the funky Royal Valhalla Motor Lodge (800-999-4104; 530-544-2233; $–$$$), some rooms with kitchens and most with wonderful lake views. Just two blocks from the casinos, it sits in a quiet neighborhood.

Lakeland Village (800-822-5969; 530-544-1685; $$–$$$$) has a hotel and condominiums on the lake with shuttle bus service to Heavenly and Kirkwood. The units range from studios to a lakefront four-bedroom, three-bath unit. For those who want a room 150 yards from Heavenly’s California base, the Tahoe Seasons Resort, with 160 suites, has received good reviews from everyone locally (530-541-6700; $$–$$$$). Another possibility is the Holiday Inn Express (800-544-5288; 530-544-5900; $$–$$$$).

One for couples only: The Fantasy Inn (800-367-7736; 530-541-4200; $$$–$$$$) has about 60 rooms designed for romance and a wedding chapel. Each room has one bed in a choice of several shapes (round, heart-shaped, water or regular mattress, king-size), a jetted tub for two, an in-room music system with 30 channels, adjustable peach-colored lighting and showers with double showerheads. Sixteen of the rooms have themes, such as Rain Forest (plants and rattan decor), Caesar’s Indulgence (a sexy black decor), and Romeo and Juliet (the honeymoon suite). Theme suites are in the $245–$295 range. Ask about special ski and/or wedding package rates.

Accommodations Legend: (double room) $$$$–$200+; $$$–$141–$200; $$–$81–$140; $–$80 and less

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