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Sierra at Tahoe is a small but perfectly formed little ski area tucked away at the eastern edge of California's El Dorado National Forest, less than 30km south of Lake Tahoe, and is regarded by many Tahoe locals and regulars as the region's most authentic local ski hill.

Overview

Sierra at Tahoe has been operating for over 65 years now, yet it remains a day-visitor ski area only, with no on-mountain accommodation or resort village; this restrained approach to development, coupled with the largely unspoilt nature of the surrounding mature forest, accounts for much of Sierra's charm and appeal.

The other major attraction is of course the terrain: the pisted ski area here may be small, although it does offer a nice mix of slopes for all abilities, but the main draw is for advanced and expert skiers and snowboarders who come to pass through Sierra's revered Huckleberry Gates to access some of the Tahoe region's best lift-served extreme ski terrain.

The microclimate in this area also delivers a seasonal average of over 10 metres of accumulated snowfall, a not inconsiderable additional factor making Sierra at Tahoe a true gem amongst the glitzy ring of ski areas around Lake Tahoe.


Ski area

The base-area car parks and ski-area access point at Sierra at Tahoe is actually located at a mid-mountain altitude, some 200m above the area's lowest slopes and ski lifts; visitors can choose either to head for the nearest lifts for direct uplift into the upper sectors, or to simply secure their bindings and glide off for a warm-up run down the hill towards the lower base-elevation lifts.

Beginners have their own spacious learning zones close to Sierra's main base lodge, plus a nice selection of green trails served by chairlifts close at hand; there's even a full summit-to-base route, called 'Sugar 'N' Spice', manageable by novices.

Intermediates have their pick of virtually all the remaining marked runs, with only a couple of double-diamond classified gladed bowls perhaps just a bit too testing for all but the most competent intermediates.

Those gladed bowls together with a handful of mogul runs and steep chutes will keep advanced-level visitors entertained for a couple of hours, but the main attraction for more expert-skilled skiers and riders is the backcountry-style Huckleberry Canyon to the east of the summit sector: accessible only by passing through one of five separate control gates spaced out along the ridge, this steep and deep terrain is classified as 'extremely challenging' and includes cliff drops, cornices, couloirs, powder bowls, glades and pillow-lines.

Sierra at Tahoe's ski-patrol team offer a guide service in the canyon, reservations are required and all participants must undergo an on-site assessment of their skills before being accepted on the tour.


Off the slopes and apres ski

Sierra at Tahoe is a day-visitor ski area with no adjacent resort village, so there's no slope-side accommodation here and no off-slope ambiance outside of operational hours; the Sierra Pub at the base-area day-lodge does however get quite lively around lift-closing time, usually with a live band and always with a friendly laid-back atmosphere.

The nearest big resort is Heavenly at the city of South Lake Tahoe, just under 30km to the north on the shore of Lake Tahoe, offering a massive range of accommodation and dining/entertainment options. Slightly closer as the crow flies, but almost twice the distance by road, the small and friendly family-orientated ski resort of Kirkwood is also a good base from which to visit Sierra at Tahoe.

// HIGHLIGHTS //
Apres Ski
1
Families
5
Lift System
5
Off the slopes
1
Off-piste
8
Resort Charm
6
Ski Area
4
Vertical drop
674m
Altitude range
2024–2698m
Ski area
809
Parks
5
Resort height
2024m
Summit
2698m
Airport
Reno/Tahoe
Train station
Truckee
beginner
25%
intermediate
50%
expert
25%