Northstar at Tahoe is located just inland from the north-western shore of Lake Tahoe in California, close to the small town of Truckee. The resort is a member of the Vail Resorts group and is covered by their multi-resort 'Epic Pass' lift pass, which together with the group's principal Colorado resorts also covers Northstar's nearer neighbours of Heavenly and Kirkwood that lie beyond the southern shore of Lake Tahoe and are also operated by Vail Resorts.
Northstar is best suited to beginners and intermediates and is perfect for families and leisurely recreational skiers and snowboarders, offering generally undemanding terrain in an attractive densely forested setting that gives the impression of being deep in the mountains, yet with all the creature comforts close at hand to ensure a comfortable and relaxing holiday.
There are two principal focal points to the resort from an accommodation and services point of view: the well-designed compact main Northstar Village at the foot of the mountain is a relatively recent development, centred around an outdoor ice rink and pleasant pedestrian plazas, with a fair selection of boutiques and entertainment/dining venues surrounded by a handful of hotels and apartment complexes; further high-quality slope-side accommodation and services are located at the resort's mid-mountain Big Springs area, directly linked with Northstar Village by gondola.
The ski area at Northstar at Tahoe spills off the summit and long ridges of Mount Pluto that sits to the south of Northstar Village, together with the adjacent linked Lookout Mountain out to the west of the resort; together these two mountains offer a fairly sizeable and interesting mix of terrain that is ideal for competent novices and intermediates.
The entire area is forested, quite densely so on all but the upper slopes of Mount Pluto where the more widely spaced trees offer some inviting glade skiing possibilities; at 2,624m, Mount Pluto is the highest point at Northstar and offers fine views out across the treetops to Lake Tahoe and its surrounding peaks.
The well-equipped and spacious main beginners area is located at the mid-mountain Big Springs level at the top of the gondola, although there is also a separate small children's beginners zone next to the base-area Northstar Village; progression routes out into the main ski area are straightforward and competent novices should be able to range out across both mountains, from summit to base, within their first week.
Northstar classifies over a quarter of its slopes as advanced, although expert visitors may find the scale of the area a bit limiting; there's certainly a fair selection of good challenges though, mostly in the form of mogul fields and steep fall-line descents on narrow straights through the trees, particularly in the BackSide sector of Mount Pluto and on Lookout Mountain.
There are also six very good terrain parks sprinkled throughout the area, the majority of which can be ridden in circuits using the fast Vista Express chairlift above the Big Springs mid-altitude services area.
NB: plans have been submitted for approval for an expansion of the ski area at Northstar at Tahoe, to open up more slopes on Mount Pluto's East Ridge and Sawtooth Ridge, as well as on Lookout Mountain, which would add further high-end intermediate and advanced terrain.
Off the slopes and apres ski
Your impression of the off-slope ambiance at Northstar at Tahoe largely depends on where you choose to stay in the resort: the main base-level Northstar Village is a fairly animated place that houses a pleasant little cluster of boutiques, cafés and snack bars, together with a couple of decent restaurants and relaxing bars, focused around an outdoor ice rink and a number of cosy fire-pits.
The mid-altitude Big Springs area at the top of the gondola houses the resort's main day-lodge and a popular lift-served snow-tubing hill, so it's also nicely animated during the day. It's also the site of a very impressive 5-star Ritz-Carlton hotel & spa that offers a much more refined and peaceful setting in the evenings, with its own in-house bars and lounges plus Northstar's headline fine-dining restaurant, 'Manzanita'.
Northstar Village also has a two-screen cinema, plus a recreation centre with a swimming pool, hot-tubs and a well-equipped gymnasium. Alternative activities available at the resort include snowmobiling and dog-sled excursions.
Bars and clubs