Heavenly also has the highest summit elevation of any resort around Lake Tahoe (10,067 feet), and a greatest vertical drop of 3,500 feet, one of the most extreme on the West Coast. The resort’s longest run covers a prodigious 5.5 miles. Servicing Heavenly’s 94 runs requires running 30 chairlifts and a two-mile-long gondola.
This megaresort is also notorious for having the highest ticket prices of any ski hill in the Tahoe basin—even higher than Squaw Valley. What you are paying for is Heavenly’s ultra-convenient location smack in the middle of the South Shore. Most skiers access the resort from the base of its gondola on Highway 50 in South Lake Tahoe, which is flanked by upscale Marriott properties on both sides. Dozens more hotels, motels, and restaurants are within walking distance, plus a passel of casinos, nightclubs, and cinemas. You can park your car at your lodging and lose your keys for a couple days.
If you aren’t a city slicker, forego the gondola and the downtown bustle and access Heavenly from one of its more sedate entrance points. Heavenly’s California Lodge offers the easiest access and parking. You can also get to the slopes from the Nevada side (good for morning sun), at Boulder or Stagecoach Lodge.
Heavenly isn't the best place for beginners to try out their first pair of sticks, but it's tons of fun for intermediate and advanced skiers. One-third of the mountain is for experts (try the mogul-studded precipice known as Gunbarrel, or the famous World Cup run), nearly half is intermediate terrain, and beginners get the scraps: a mere 20 percent of the mountain. From a ridge near the top of Heavenly’s Olympic chair, three gates access the backcountry for daredevils who want fresh lines, offering a route to two infamous runs: Palisades and Fire Break. These two backcountry canyons are now as popular, or more so, than Mott Canyon, Heavenly’s equally famous in-bounds expert area. Beginners are best staying close to the neatly groomed corduroy near the Boulder Lodge learning center. On Heavenly’s California side, the lake views are outstanding from almost every run. On the Nevada side, skiers look down on the Carson Valley and the desert beyond.
The resort typically sees 360 inches of snow per season, and they have abundant snowmaking equipment, so there's usually plenty of white stuff from December to March. If Heavenly has one shortcoming, it's that its season usually ends a bit early. Annual snowfall at other Tahoe resorts is typically much greater.
Heavenly was purchased by Vail Resorts, Inc. in the spring of 2002 and a blizzard of success has fallen upon it since. The resort has been posting record seasons and is consistently rated one of the Top 20 Ski Resorts in North America by Ski Magazine, both for “overall best resort” and for “off-hill activities.” All these accolades mean big crowds, especially on weekends and holidays.
Part of the reason for Heavenly's good fortune is its $23 million gondola, built in 2001. Traveling 2.4 miles in about 12 minutes, the gondola is California's longest, and its 138 cabins ferrying eight passengers apiece give it the most uphill carrying capacity of any gondola in the state. Plenty of non-skiers ride it, too, just for the chance to enjoy the winsome Lake Tahoe views.
Whether you are buying an adult ticket, child’s ticket, or half-day ticket, expect to pay about 20 bucks more to ski here than you would at Kirkwood, Squaw, Northstar, Sugar Bowl, or Alpine Meadows. The best values are available by purchasing multiple-day tickets at least a week in advance (click here for deals on skiresorts.com).
If you are staying on the South Shore, there’s no need to drive and hassle with parking near Heavenly’s gondola. Instead, take the free Heavenly Shuttle, which is operated by BlueGO (www.bluego.org), and stops at all major casinos and hotels in town.
*all photos courtesy of Heavenly Ski Resort