At Kirkwood Ski Resort, the operative word is "snow," and it’s Tahoe’s deepest and driest. For most of the last decade, the resort has had the deepest snowpack of any ski area not just at Lake Tahoe, but anywhere in North America. Average annual snowfall is always more than 500 inches—some years more than 700 inches--and this is quality stuff, typically the driest snow in the entire Sierra Nevada. If Heavenly Ski Resort received a foot of snow overnight, Kirkwood probably got two or three.
Thus far this mountain has largely remained a secret powder stash for locals. Lift lines are nonexistent, even on weekends. Besides world-class snow, Kirkwood’s offerings include a host of snow-related activities like dog sled tours, evening snow cat tours, grooming cat rides, and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing at the Kirkwood Cross-Country Center.
The resort is in the midst of a 20-year expansion that will add eight more lifts and 800 dwelling units, restaurants, retail shops, and an ice-skating rink. Someday, sleepy little Kirkwood will be a destination resort with its own shopping and nightlife. Currently, ski-in/ski-out lodgings are available, but little else. If you require après-ski action, you’ll want to park yourself in South Lake Tahoe, about 45 minutes away. A shuttle bus runs to and from the resort a few times daily, so you don’t have to drive if you choose not to. The shuttle stops at all major casinos and hotels in South Lake Tahoe.
Kirkwood’s devout fans don’t notice its lack of amenities; this is the place where they come to ski, not to shop. Its alpine slopes feature steep chutes, big volcanic cliffs, sharp cornices, and five powder-filled open bowls. Each bowl has the expert runs at the top; these funnel into wider intermediate trails lower on the mountain.
Fourteen lifts serve nearly 70 runs, which are carved over 2,300 acres of skiable terrain. The longest vertical drop is a respectable 2,000 feet; the longest run is 2.5 miles. Kirkwood's base elevation is 7,800 feet, which is higher than all other Tahoe-area resorts except Mount Rose. Even at the bottom of the mountain, snow depths are generally more than 20 feet. The resort’s highest elevation is 9,800 feet.
For those who prefer fresh tracks, Kirkwood also has some of the best backcountry skiing—if you like extreme steeps--anywhere in the Tahoe basin. When the backcountry access gates are open, skiers can find great lines heading out of Kirkwood in all directions, and the mountain vistas are sublime. More than 1,000 acres are reachable by climbing or hiking over remote terrain that has a true wilderness feel. The resort capitalizes on this asset with Expedition Kirkwood, a school that teaches backcountry skills, including avalanche awareness and survival techniques. A special area called Beacon Basin is reserved as an avalanche transceiver training area.
Beginning skiers don't get left behind. Kirkwood's Timber Creek has been rated as one of the top learning areas in the country. This gentle, green-circle terrain is in a separate area of the mountain with its own lodge and three lifts. The Mighty Mountain Children's School teaches kids ages 4-12 how to ski and ages 5-12 how to snowboard.
Tricksters have plenty of cheer about at Kirkwood, too. The resort has three terrain parks, including a 350-foot-long superpipe with 18-foot walls.