I think what I enjoy about Tahoe is that a weekend can go in a number of different directions. Skiing and gambling in the casinos at Heavenly, dropping cliffs and hot-tubbing at Squaw, or a quick day of nordic at the Royal Gorge. That’s right, the Royal Gorge… a little know place to many of us, it happens to be THE LARGEST nordic center in all of North America; and it is fantastic. Basically, you get off the highway about 15 miles west of Truckee (prior to passing any of the alpine resorts) and head in to a network of cross-country skiing trails that are beautifully groomed daily, and packed with Norwegians and other European types. The terrain includes over 9,000 acres of skiing, almost 100 trails (~20 of which are advanced), and ranges in elevation from 5,800′ to 7,400′ — now just think about that for a minute. In one day of x-country you can actually climb 1,600′ in vertical, entirely on nordic tracks!!! Good luck. (www.royalgorge.com)
The terrain is so extensive that they have half a dozen warming lodges, serving hot tea, sprinkled throughout the territory. In addition, one of the trails actually meets up with Sugarbowl, enabling the energetic telemarker to change their pace with a brief skate down the corduroy. Two lodges, including the Rainbow Lodge and the Ice Lakes Lodge, allow guests to stay, eat, and access the terrain very easily. They are fantastic, offering a quiet and rustic feel, without the crowds of big resorts and without all the new construction (both were built long ago… Rainbow originally built in the 1800’s!).
We spent Sunday crossing the cross-country paths in 35 degree weather and without a cloud in the sky – it was one of the most enjoyable days of skiing I have had in a long time. Our only mistake was spending Saturday at Northstar… after paying $30 to park the car, walking across half a mile of cement, paying $79 for a ticket, and $39 for a terrible pair of rental skis, we got in line for the Gondola. Northstar is the ONLY place I have ever been that offers “two classes of citizen” in lift passes. For $79 you can buy a standard day-pass and for $99 you can buy a “fast pass” which allows you to cut the lift-lines. This infuriated me… especially since you feel completely robbed at gunpoint to start with, and then you realized that it’s likely the most crowded mountain you have skied since that powder day at Killington in ’97 when half the terrain was shut down. After about 5 runs and 4 hours of waiting around we retired tot he Ritz for apres and dinner. Next time we will ski Alpine, Sugarbowl, or simply NOT ski at all…