News from the snow
Heavenly is unique. For those of us that collect facts and figures about ski resorts it's unique because it exists in two US States, with just over half of its lifts in California, the remainder in Nevada. It can also claim to have the biggest vertical on the western coast of the United States, the biggest ski area in California (and the second biggest in North America) and the highest skiing in the famous Tahoe region. More important than the numbers though is the stunning scenery as you look down on Lake Tahoe, North America's largest alpine lake, and for many visitors the availability of Tahoe's legendary '24 hour nightlife' once they're off the slopes. It was the view, and the 'heavenly relief' of the warm air rising, that lead settlers in the 1800s (arriving in the area from the backside of Heavenly rather than the Tahoe side), to give the area its name. A century later, the name 'Heavenly ' fortunately turned out to be a marketing man's dream. Of course, this being a huge ski area, there is terrain to suit everyone, with sharp chutes on one side and long wide open cruisers on another. Snow is another asset for which Heavenly is famous, its average annual dump of nearly 30 feet (around 9 metres) is of course vast, but 70% of the trails have snowmaking cover, one of North America's largest machine-made blizzards, giving top-to-bottom coverage on both Nevada and California sides. Natural snow has been known to fall on the high Sierra where Heavenly sits during every month of the year. Heavenly has been around for 50 years now and has gone through various metamorphises during that time. There were skiers here longer ago than in most places, most notably the famous Snowshoe Thompson who crossed over the area where Heavenly now stands when carrying the mail by ski in the mid-nineteenth century. Heavenly's current owner is Vail Resorts, the group's first full resort purchase outside of Colorado. The company bought Heavenly during a period of major improvement both on the mountain and around the South Lake Tahoe area at its base. The biggest improvement for the ski area is the new Village at Heavenly with the Heavenly Gondola as it's centrepiece. Two new Marriot properties sandwich the Gondola base lodge and the Village also included a Cinema, Ice Skating Rink anda multitude of shops, reastaurants and bars.
One of the largest ski areas in the United States and one of the few North American ski areas with more than a 1,000m vertical. Heavenly is now owned by Vail Resorts and has base areas in Nevada and California. There are spectacular views over Lake Tahoe and great nightlife and resort facilities along the south side of the Lake.
Beginners have gentle terrain near the base lodges and friendly Californian tuition to look forward to. The resort has recently upgraded its beginner programs in a bid to get way above the national average in North America where apparently only 12% of first timers get hooked and stick with the sport. The new approach includes shorter lighter beginner-friendly skis from Rossignol and a specially tailored package dubbed 'Learn To Ski - Easy as 1-2-3' which includes rentals, tuition and beginners' lift tickets.
Intermediates have the most to benefit from a visit to Heavenly, where they'll find they're able to tackle most of the terrain. Anyone interested in purchasing new gear, or just keeping up to date with what's on offer in the rapidly changing ski hardware market, can join in a free 90 minute Guided Demo. Groups of up to six can demo new gear in the company of a guide who will try to ascertain exactly what you want from your skiing, suggest gear to match your ideals, and then let you try it out. The scheme has been so successful that there are now Guided Demo centres on both sides of the mountain.
Advanced to expert level skiers will find just over a third of Heavenly's terrain classified for them, with famous runs like Gunbarrel, on the Californian side, is ideal for those confident enough to do some posing under the chairlift. Otherwise the Milky Way Bowl and Killebrew Canyon over on the Nevada side should provide plenty of entertainment.
Once children are old enough to strap on their first skis and get on the slopes they can enjoy the Heavenly Kids Centre, newly expanded to cater for almost a third more children. Special features of this facility, which has also recently been relocated to slopeside, includes an indoor skill development play area for four and five year olds who are new to winter sports. Pagers are available to parents who want to be able to be in constant contact with their children.
Private family lessons can be arranged where parents and children can learn together; parents also get tips on how best to help a small child on and off a lift, glean useful advice on the dos and don'ts of buying children's gear, and learn to recognise the first signs of excessive fatigue.
The resort organises special family weeks with lots of additional family oriented activities laid on. It should also be mentioned that South Lake Tahoe is a great place for a family vacation once you're off the slopes too, with lots more for kids to do - including bowling, cinemas, dog sledding and paddle steamer rides, to name but a few of the options.
The casinos provide low cost all-you-can-eat buffets for those on a budget. If you are seeking fine dining, the casinos provide that as well.
Plenty of unique watering holes, including Nevada's oldest bar and saloon in the State's first settlement, Genoa, located close to the resort's Nevada base. It's a rare experience to find anything indigenous but not native that's nearly 200 years old in Western North America and well worth the visit if you have a car. As is Virginia City, 40 miles away, a well preserved former mining town.
The casinos provide their own unique form of entertainment with 24/7 gambling - and, of course, free drinks for anybody playing.
One of the first of the Tahoe centres to welcome 'boarders (in 1988), Heavenly has continued to invest in snowboard-oriented attractions, activities and events. The resort owns two snowboard-only retail outlets in South Lake Tahoe.
The terrain parks are spread throughout the mountain and a pipe dragon is employed to maintain the pipes. A range of events and contests are staged throughout the season to help underline Heavenly's position as a 'boarders mecca. They include half pipe competitions and boardercross.
Around 70% of Heavenly's terrain is groomed nightly, making it a carver's paradise and the resort has added a Bombadiere halfpipe grinder to its already impressive grooming fleet.