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Kirkwood ski resort in California is located deep within a still largely undeveloped area of the Sierra Nevada, around 50km south of Lake Tahoe. Kirkwood has long been this region's local freeriders' favourite, renowned for having some of the deepest and driest snow conditions in the Sierras.
aurora photography kirkwood mountain resort


Kirkwood's profile on the wider national and international ski travel markets was raised considerably at the beginning of 2012 when the resort was acquired by the huge Vail Resorts group, promising upgrades to installations and amenities together with increased development of the nascent resort village here at this previously day-visitor only ski area.

The resort sits at the tip of a high flat-bottomed U-shaped valley, surrounded by a sweeping cirque of lightly wooded and impressively craggy mountains, whose fluted slopes are laden with rideable gullies, steep chutes and powder-catching bowls, making Kirkwood a paradise for snowboarders and freeski enthusiasts.

There's plenty here to appeal to less advanced visitors too, and Kirkwood's Timber Creek beginners and children's zone provides a first rate introduction to the wonderful world of snowsports for first-timers.

Kirkwood can easily be combined with visits to the nearby Lake Tahoe resorts, particularly Heavenly which is also a member of the Vail Resorts group and covered together with Kirkwood (and Northstar at Tahoe) by Vail's multi-resort 'Epic Pass' lift pass.

Ski area

Kirkwood sits at a much higher base altitude than most of the other Lake Tahoe area ski resorts, so it regularly boasts the best snow conditions in the region. The resort has become a firm favourite with snowboarders and freeskiers because of the quantity and quality of its snow, coupled with its wealth of natural freestyle-friendly terrain features.

Beginners have a whole sector of the slopes to themselves at Kirkwood's Timber Creek base area at the north-western edge of the resort, tucked safely away from the main pistes until they've mastered the basics. The well-groomed tree-lined lower slopes of the other sectors then offer plenty of scope for building skills and confidence.

Keen intermediates may be frustrated by their inability to tackle the difficult uppermost reaches, but do have a good range of attractive slopes to cruise over and play on throughout the rest of the ski area; the Sunrise lift in Kirkwood's Backside sector does however give intermediates access to a high point alongside the experts, serving the 'Elevator Shaft' and 'Happiness Is' high-end blue runs. On powder days the wide open ungroomed inter-piste slopes also offer intermediates a perfect space to work on more advanced off-piste skills.

Advanced and expert visitors get the most value and enjoyment out of Kirkwood: seekers of steep challenges are well served by the Cornice Express lift that gives access to the tough 'Chamoix' and 'Look Out Janek' descents; whilst powder hounds who are lucky to be here for fresh snowfalls should head for Palisades Bowl, Wagon Wheel Bowl and Fawn Ridge.

Kirkwood is regarded by many of its fans as one huge natural terrain park, but fans of jibbing rails and boxes are well catered for, too, in two separate parks, one for novices and one for intermediate to advanced freestylers.

Off the slopes and apres ski

Kirkwood Mountain Village is the central focus of the resort, perfectly sited at the foot of the home-run pistes with all of the principal access ski lifts fanned out directly in front of its stroll-to base area. Here and in the surrounding compact central area is where Kirkwood's few village shops, bars and restaurants are to be found, and this is where the resort's low-key family-friendly apres ski is focused; the Cornice Grill is the liveliest gathering place at lift closing time.

For those who crave a much livelier nightlife scene, the glitzy attractions and distractions of the resort city of South Lake Tahoe and its adjacent Stateline casino district are only a hour's drive away (road conditions permitting).

Alternative activities at Kirkwood include a lift-served snow-tubing hill, plus the terrific 'Zip Tahoe' adventure park featuring multiple tree-top zip-lines and sky-bridges; there are also a great range of cross-county and snowshoeing trails on the central Kirkwood Meadow itself and in the nearby Caples Lake and Schneider Trailhead areas, serviced by the dedicated Kirkwood Cross-Country and Snowshoe Center located at the entrance to the resort.

Apres Ski
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Off the slopes
Resort Charm
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Train station