Snowbound in North Lake Tahoe with Bill Fink
Journalist & Writer
Adventurer, Die-Hard Skier & Snowboarder
My travel cravings are for an exotic thrill ride that will make my heart explode, scenery that will make my eyeballs bleed, and a raging campfire around which to share stories (and drinks) with good friends. My earliest travel memory is sledding on a little bump of a hill in Northern Illinois, age four or so. I was kicked off the hill for my persistent efforts to keep climbing up the down slope. I’ve kept this same stubborn perspective in my travels, leading to some unique adventures (and misadventures). I would spend my perfect winter day in North Lake Tahoe because it’s a skiers’ & snowboarders’ paradise, but has a more laid-back vibe than casino-choked South Lake Tahoe. The scenery is amazing whether you’re at the lake or up in the mountains. And the towns have plenty of places to eat, drink, and be merry. I would stay at the Resort at Squaw Creek, because who wouldn’t want to have a ski lift in their back yard? The lodge is homey, the food tasty, and the rooms comfy. They have a slew of non-skiing activities, a nice outdoor hot tub area (best enjoyed under some gently falling snow), and good area shuttle service.
The places you should definitely see
- The Lake! In winter, the stunningly blue water with snowcapped mountains in the background makes Lake Tahoe fairy-tale pretty. Appreciate it from shore, or drive around to sample great overlook points around the 72-mile perimeter—but be mindful of the winding roads and the weather.
- High Camp, Squaw Valley: Even if you’re not skiing, take the tram up to the mid-mountain at Squaw to see the spot where much of the 1960 Winter Olympics took place, including the ice skating rink, a new Olympic-based museum, and great views from the restaurant.
- Old-town Truckee: Walk the main street in this historic railroad town, and warm up inside some of the toasty bars, restaurants and shops.
The activities not to be missed
- Skiing and snowboarding, of course. With the super-sized downhill resorts of Northstar, Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, and Sugar Bowl all in the vicinity, it’s a winter sports paradise.
- Snowshoeing: A great cheap way to enjoy a winter wonderland at a slow pace. Resorts have guided tours, or just rent a pair of shoes and walk a trail.
- Apres ski: Whether enjoying a beer in front of a band at the base of a ski hill, or a hot toddy in front of a fire at your lodge, or some wine at a lakefront restaurant, there’s always a good way to cap off a busy Tahoe day of outdoor activities.
My favorite places to eat
- The Log Cabin, King’s Beach: Great waffles and pancakes, but their eggs benedict is probably the go-to dish.
- Moody’s, Truckee: Gourmet corn dogs and deviled eggs for an après ski snack, or the brick oven thin crust pizza in front of live jazz on weekend nights
- Lone Eagle Grille, Incline Village: Best venue on the shores of Lake Tahoe, a big old lodge feel, with a huge fireplace. The tri-tip sandwich with a side of crispy calamari is some good winter comfort food.
My hidden gems would be
- Homewood Ski Resort: On Tahoe’s Northwest shore, this smaller resort is hidden in the shadows of some of the bigger neighbors. But its views of the lake are unparalleled, and the skiing is surprisingly good
- Cross-country skiing at Royal Gorge: The largest cross country ski area in the U.S. gets neglected by being in the neighborhood of so much downhill skiing. Tahoe Donner is another scenic cross country locale where you can get a good winter workout.
- Ritz Carlton, Northstar: You wouldn’t think a Ritz would fly under the radar, but this beautiful property is tucked into the hills around the Northstar resort—featuring a top notch spa and great restaurant even if you’re not planning to stay there.
Insider tip: Driving to Tahoe from SF on a big ski weekend can be a traffic nightmare. The roads get clogged starting around 3 p.m. from the city, and don’t let up until almost 8 p.m. Plan to leave around noon (if you can), or delay for a later departure.
The place I'm most excited to go to next is Sochi, Russia in advance of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Na Zdorovie!