There are no Starbucks here, no condos, no village complex. Sierra-at-Tahoe is most loved by day skiers, not destination skiers, who make good use of its easy-access location right off U.S. 50, 12 miles west of South Lake Tahoe. For skiers traveling from the San Francisco Bay Area or Sacramento, a day spent on Sierra’s slopes shaves nearly 30 minutes off the trip to the South Shore’s better-known Heavenly Resort.
Location is just one thing that Sierra has going for it, but there’s plenty more. Owned by the same corporation as Northstar-at-Tahoe on the North Shore, the resort has 2,100 mostly wind-protected acres and 46 runs, so there's no shortage of terrain. There's no snowmaking equipment, either, since the average annual snowfall is an impressive 480 inches.
The 8,852-foot mountain summit is graced by the Grand View Bar and Grill, where an ordinary pizza or a hamburger achieve new culinary heights. With the first hint of sun, skiers spread out over its spacious decks to bask in the view of Desolation Wilderness and distant Lake Tahoe and recharge their batteries. Snow Country Magazine lists Sierra-at-Tahoe as the best resort in California for on-mountain food.
Freestylers and riders are fond of Sierra-at-Tahoe because of its six terrain parks, nationally ranked superpipe, and two radical half-pipes. Skiers who enjoy a few obstacles in their path like the amount of quality tree skiing available. Enter the glades at the summit and you might not see another skier until you bottom out. Five backcountry gates, when they are open, can get you onto the slopes less traveled in Huckleberry Canyon (the resort is hoping to incorporate this area into its in-bounds, but for now, it’s off-piste and open to advanced backcountry skiers only). Those in the know bypass the busier main slopes and ski the West Bowl, then pull up a beach chair at the West Bowl Smokehouse, where waitresses wearing chaps serve platters of mesquite tri-tip and ribs.
The emphasis at Sierra is on fun and learning. Laid-back cruiser runs are the resort’s signature. With Sierra’s "Learn to Ski Guarantee," beginners are promised they will be able to ski or snowboard from the top of the mountain after three lessons or the fourth lesson is free. A long and gentle, 2.5-mile, green-circle run travels all the way from the top of the mountain to the base, so most novices ride the lift to the summit on their first day. A tubing hill keeps the non-skiing kids occupied. With all this, it is no surprise that Sierra-at-Tahoe has a well-earned reputation as a family-friendly resort. For everybody else, this is still a great place to ski on a windy, stormy day, especially if you head for the trees.
The closest lodgings and restaurants are 12 miles away in South Lake Tahoe, which will become your base of operations. If it snows like crazy overnight and you don’t want to drive through the snow over Echo Summit to ski at Sierra, relax and take the free shuttle bus. It leaves from the towns of Stateline, South Lake Tahoe, and Meyers multiple times each morning, then makes the return trip to the South Shore several times each afternoon.