Alpine Meadows, California

By Susan Schnier

Alpine Meadows MapThe freeheeler Mecca on North Lake Tahoe, Alpine Meadows is smaller than neighboring Squaw Valley USA, but it’s the hands down winner for hike-to terrain. Alpine also enjoys a more mellow vibe that appeals to lower key locals and families.

Marquee Route

The High Traverse leaves the crowds behind, accesses many of Alpine’s best off-piste runs and winds up at the bar – what more could you ask for? Check out the views of Lake Tahoe and the peaks in Granite Chief Wilderness and Tahoe National Forest along the way and drop in anywhere that looks good. The descent averages 35 degrees in pitch and is mostly open-bowl turns with old growth forest interspersed. The High Traverse ends at the Sherwood lift, where you can shed some layers and sunbathe at the Ice Bar while enjoying tunes, barbeque and an extensive selection of microbrews.

Off-Broadway

D8 chute is the obvious, 100-foot wide, 45-degree slope underneath the Summit Six Chair, about three towers before the top. D8 Chute gets hammered, but the trees to its right are often overlooked. Duck into the trees to find fresh powder. Even if the snow has been skied, it stays light and dry because it’s protected by the trees and north-facing.

Powder Day

The Buttress is a haul, but its well worth it. Go right off the Summit Six chair and traverse past Idiot’s Delight, Beaver Bowl, Estelle Bowl and Bernie’s Bowl. It takes about 20 minutes, but you’re rewarded with lots of vertical and continuous powder turns that will be the envy of all the onlookers in the parking lot. The top section is steep and technical and the bottom mellows out into a huge powder field. Rock drops from five to 35 feet challenging the aspiring hucker and the pro. The area is south-facing so it’s best to hit it in the morning before the California sun has its way with it.

Three Days Later

Keyhole’s 1200 vertical feet can be intimidating, but the snow stays cold and dry because of its north-facing aspect and high-elevation. It’s steep, but since the snow is usually soft and chalky, it’s highly edgeble.

Park and Pipe

Alpine has three parks (small, medium and large) just above the base area. There’s a halfpipe in the large park, accessible from Kangaroo Chair. A poma services the small park for speedy access, and the medium park is serviced by the Roundhouse lift. The TK area is lit and open at night.

Advanced park riders should head to Kangaroo Run and Nick’s Run (accessible via Kangaroo Chair) and solid intermediate jibbers should make for Kangaroo Ridge. The Ridge is about 15 degrees, and has a top-to-bottom flow of roller jumps, 20-foot table top jumps, rails, and boxes. There’s just enough space between features to regain control, or stop, and then jump right back into the flow of the features.

Backcountry Access

Turn left at the top of the Scott triple chair, and traverse out toward the Promised Land. Pass by the Broccoli Tree (very old Juniper tree and a common pit stop for local crowd) and “Lower 40” slope, and you’re in Gentian Gully! It’s fairly steep, faces west, and is sprinkled with interesting lava rock formations. The lower half is a beautiful tree run through huge pine trees. Pop out at the Subway Double Chair/Tahoe Adaptive Ski School. Take the chair back to the main lodge or walk up the parking lot.

Weather

California sunshine and Sierra cement. Wet storms moving in from the Pacific often dump feet overnight. The moisture in the snow means that it doesn’t take much to fill in rocks and bumps and put a fresh coat on the mountain. If it’s not snowing, make sure you’ve

Apres

If the weather is nice, the Main Lodge Sundeck has beer on tap at the outside bar and one weekends, starting in March, there’s usually a live band playing. Unwind there before driving down the road to the River Ranch, for has heaping nachos, every kind of après drink imaginable, a roaring fire place, and a warm, welcoming group of employees and locals. In the spring, their deck provides a great place to kick back and watch the Truckee River roll by. Happy Hour at the “Ice Bar” at bottom of Sherwood Chair has music, munchies, and cheep beer, plus a sweeping view of Ward Canyon.

Fuel

River Ranch on the Truckee River has a surprising selection of game and rich meals on their menu: elk, bison burgers, lamb, filet mignon… as a vegetarian, I order their portabella mushroom steak with sweet potatoes that are mashed. Also served with asparagus.

Up All Night

Just across the state line in Nevada, the Tahoe Biltmore never closes. You can cash your paycheck, gamble it away, and still find 99 cents in your friend’s car cushions to buy the famed “Bilty Breakfast.” Dine in faux tropical comfort. Greasy eggs, bacon, and toast will soak away the night’s boozing.

Digs
There’s no lodging at Alpine, but Sunnyside on Lake Tahoe’s west short is a five minute drive from Tahoe City and a 15 minute drive from Alpine Meadows. Right on the lake, they have a great sushi bar and fish taco night every Wednesday (cheep all you can eat fish tacos – a local’s favorite). The lodge only has 23 rooms, but that’s part of the cozy Tahoe appeal.