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Lake Tahoe is one of the world's leading ski regions, centred on one of the biggest Alpine Lakes on the planet with a great snowfall and snow quality record. There are 13 ski areas to choose from (more if you travel a few miles further out) - each with their unique character and selling points. The best known are Heavenly (now owned by Vail resorts), at the south end of the lake with bases in both Nevada and California and Squaw Valley USA at the north end, which is a former host to the Winter Olympics and has added a new base village in recent years. Other well known resorts include Northstar, which has recently expanded dramatically and also added a new base village; Kirkwood - also with a new base village; Alpine Meadows and Sierra-at-Tahoe. The remaining choices are Sugar Bowl - another rapidly expanding ski area; Diamond Peak; Mt Rose; Tahoe Donner; Boreal; Soda Springs and Donner Ski Ranch. During winter, weather systems from the nearby Pacific are carried north via the Polar Jet Stream to the Gulf of Alaska where they cool before heading south and tracking towards Lake Tahoe. When the weather systems meet with the Sierra Nevada mountains they cool rapidly and the moisture condenses to produce more than 500 inches of snow annually. Most of the mountains top 10,000 ft which produces even lighter powder. The area is renowned not only for its winter activities but also for its diverse entertainment options off the slopes. These include gourmet dining, shopping, gambling and live performances by some of the world's top entertainers. Vast amounts of money have been and continue to be spent on constant improvement of this ski area giant. The total value of recent spending adds up to over $1 billion. These include quarter-of-a-million dollar spends at each of Heavenlyt Kirkwood and Squaw. Heavenly is 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, one of North America's largest alpine lakes, 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. Another of North America and the world's major resorts, Squaw Valley 's history dates back to the late 1940's when the resort's first chairlift was installed. A little over a decade later the resort's meteoric rise saw it hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics. With more than 30 lifts, including North America's first Funitel, serving 4000 skiable acres Squaw is definitely a world class resort. The ski-in and ski-out lodging property, the Resort at Squaw Creek, opened in the early 1990s. Still family owned, Squaw is sensibly following the trend in North America's top resorts and has extended its existing slopeside lodging to create a state-of-the-art $250 million resort village, in partnership with the best in the business, Intrawest. It incorporates over 80 shops and restaurants as well as more than 700 condos. The resort's move into the 21st century has been boosted by the $20 million investment in a new Funitel. This is a combined gondola-funicular system with 46, 28 person cabins capable of transporting 3000 skiers per hour in winds which had, on occasion, caused the resort to suspend operations of older lifts on the higher slopes. The ascent time has also been cut from 12 to 8 minutes. The resort's achievement in hosting the 1960s Olympics is still a topic of conversation more than forty years on. It wasn't just that the area succeeded in staging what was then the world's largest games, with a thousand competitors from 34 nations, a little over a decade after Squaw's inception, but that the resort actually won the bidding five years earlier, in 1955, when it was virtually unheard of outside California. Northstar is one of Lake Tahoe's bigger resorts, thanks to a gradual expansion over the past 30 years. It's owned by the Booth Creek Group who also owns sister resort, Sierra-at-Tahoe, along with four more elsewhere in the US. Northstar has a fast, efficient lift system and an intimate, friendly feel. In the midst of an exciting Renaissance, Northstar is in the process of developing a 'mountain village' at its base, with up-market ski-in, ski-out condominiums, shops, restaurants and they hope a lively après ski scene. The six main Ski Lake Tahoe resorts (Alpine Meadows, Heavenly, Kirkwood, Northstar-at-Tahoe, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Squaw Valley USA) are available on one pass for guests planning to stay a week or more. There are two variants - the 'Domestic interchangable' for North American residents who can purchase a 5 out of 6 day, a 6 out of 7 day, an 8 out of 10 day or a 10 out of 13 day ticket at most of the ticket windows of the resorts on the Pass. The second option, for non-North American residents, is the International Interchangable which is only offered through tour operators and travel agents. The Pass covers the 100 lifts offered by all the resorts combined, and one British tour operator believes that the total skiable terrain offered on the pass works out at nearly 800km or 500 miles, which if correct would make it the world's fourth largest area covered by one lift ticket, after the French Savoy Olympic Pass, and the Italian Dolomiti Superski and Aosta Valley passes. Unfortunately no accurate comparison is possible as some of the Tahoe resorts only follow the North American norm of measuring the area of their skiable terrain in acres, rather than the total length of the ski runs - the norm elsewhere in the world. What's not doubted is that the total skiable terrain is 17000 acres, the largest individual area offered by Heavenly with 4800 acres, with Squaw not far behind with 4500 acres. The lifts include numerous high speed chairs, cable cars (or 'aerial trams') and gondolas.

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As you would expect with 13 ski areas to choose from, the range of skiing around Lake Tahoe is both vast and varied. There's something for everyone. You can choose between a quiet, intimate, small scale ski area for unpressurised family fun, through a wide selection to an internationally famous centre with world class slopes to challenge the most demanding skier or boarder. The Ski Lake Tahoe Interchangable Pass for international visitors gives access to over 500 trails on 17500 acres, the most skiing on an area pass any where in North America. The area pass give access to - Kirkwood, Squaw Valley, Northstar, Sierra at Tahoe and Alpine Meadows. It's also possible to travel between the North and south ends of the lake by using a traditional mississipi paddles steamer across the Lake with an on-board après ski party in full swing on the way back. Beginners and intermediates will find superb skiing wherever they choose to spoend the day. However experts need to choose a little more carefully. At Heavenly advanced to expert level skiers will find just over a third of 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. Famous for having some of the steepest terrain in North America, Squaw also has less widely publicised beginner terrain which, as you would expect from a resort with its reputation, is also world class. Unusually, the beginner slopes are at the top of the mountain so beginners can benefit from the same views and higher-elevation snow conditions as the more experienced. Nor should intermediates feel too intimidated by Squaw's reputation as 45% of the terrain is geared up to suit them. For better skiers, the KT- 22 Peak, accessed by the KT-22/Olympic Lady Express Lift, is legendary. From the top of KT22 the entire spine of the snow covered Sierra Nevada is strung out in bold view for the eye to see. Some guests visiting Squaw's slopes wouldn't have a clue that a restaurant aptly named "The Cornice" used to sit near KT's present top terminal, or that there was actually a family of eagles that roosted in the "Eagle's Nest. West Face, renamed "Moseley's" in February 1998 in honour of Squaw Valley Freestyle Team member and Nagano Gold Medallist Jonny Moseley, is the flagship of KT's double diamond terrain. Bumps on the steep slope stay cold, soft, and gullied into massive mounds storm-to-storm. Negotiating down its rippled compressions is like facing hand-to-hand combat. But KT-22 also has plenty of terrain to offer the intermediate-level enthusiast. From the top, head west along the Saddle Traverse and drop into the long lovely gradients of the Saddle. Keep skier's right for its steeps and a fun finish, or cruise left onto the well-groomed paths and the Mountain Run. Although much of Northstar's terrain is graded intermediate and easy, there are several steep sections, most notably Lookout Mountain, which added five black-diamond runs, Prosser, Stampede, Gooseneck, Boca, and Martis (named after reservoirs visible from Lookout Mountain) to the area thanks to a new quad a few seasons back. Before that the backside of the mountain and the East Ridge with its short sharp blacks like the chute dropping down from it, were the main advanced ski areas, the former home to the mile long Rapids run, right under the Backside express quad, one of the toughest on the mountain. With 12 lifts, a 2,000ft vertical descent and over 68 runs to choose from, Kirkwood boasts some of the deepest snow in North America. The resort is known as the home of Tahoe's deepest snow with steep chutes, powder filled open bowls and numerous runs with varying terrain have made Kirkwood one of Lake Tahoe's premier ski resorts and a favourite with locals. First time instruction takes place at Timber Creek on the region's widest, most gentle beginner slopes, away from faster moving skiers and boarders with lessons led by skilled professionals who provide individualised attention in a relaxed group environment. For the more experienced skiers, Kirkwood offers various camps including All Mountain Day Camps which focus on all mountain skiing with four on-snow hours and an hour of video analysis, and Ladies All Conditions Camps which encourage ladies to ski at their ability level while pushing their limits in a safe and supportive environment. Homewood is the only Tahoe ski area where the lifts and runs start right down by the lakeside, which is just over the street. It has around 60 runs, half of them intermediate and a reputation for family skiing. Alpine Meadows has 2000 acres of varied terrain including six bowls, chutes, glades and cruisers. Boreal is a particularly good choice for beginners, the area's Nugget chair is free and offers gentle terrain, ideal for beginners and children. Offered when the mountain is 100% open. Nugget is easily accessible, and easy to see from the lodge. Take a beginner lesson at Boreal and you can come back for free lessons until you reach the mountain top, or a level III lesson.