I am miserably behind on reviews. Yikes! Now I understand how the other snowboard bloggers are still posting content frequently in August!
First on my to-do list is my sole non-New England mountain of the season, Heavenly Ski Resort of Lake Tahoe. Rob and I spent a week out there about two weeks ago, and we’ve been ready to go back since we left!
Yet, how does it fare when compared on all the same points as our New England resorts? Let’s see!
Location: Assuming you’re already in the area, Heavenly can be an interesting trek to get to. It’s just shy of 4 hours from San Francisco or 1.5 hours south of Reno. If you’re a New Englander planning on flying out, I recommend checking out Reno or Sacramento airports instead of the Bay area. Way too hectic to figure out with a snowboard or ski bag!
As for the drive itself, it’s unique! From San Franciso you’ll be taking Route 50 which is honestly pretty awesome. The views from Twin Bridges to Meyers are up there with the Mount Washington Auto Road, if not better. Be sure to check the California DOT website before getting on any of the highways crossing through the mountains as snow can frequently mean chain restrictions or even closures!
Parking: I’ve never seen a setup quite like Heavenly when it comes to parking. I’ve been to places with more than one base lodge, but Heavenly technically has 4 – sort of. There’s California, Boulder, Stagecoach, and the Gondola/Village.
Your best bets for parking are at California, Boulder, and Stagecoach. California is in a pretty residential area and not near the hotels. Boulder is a little isolated, but there’s a bus that runs frequently to Stagecoach. Stagecoach and its trails run right into a pretty dense condo area (that’s where we were).
Ticket Counter/Guest Services: We bought our tickets ahead of time, so we had our Epic tickets (more on that later) shipped to us about a week before we arrived. This meant we went directly to the lift, and didn’t have much of a chance to check out the ticket counter.
On the other hand, we definitely did get a lot of chances to talk with various members of the staff over the entire time we were there. To sum it up, I’m impressed. I’m so accustom to seeing ski and snowboard instructors literally drawing straws on who gets the clumsy kid (yes, saw that at a New England resort), that when I started meeting these passionate, happy, pleasant, friendly instructors with their students, I swear I must have been staring like an idiot.
To add to that, ski patrol and the information/mountain ambassador folks were awesome. For starters, they were literally everywhere. At one point Rob and I came across a girl who had injured her knee, so I set off to find some help. I think it literally took me about a minute and a half to find a mountain ambassador who was able to radio in the injury. Nice!
And there was all the little things the staff did to make Heavenly pretty awesome as well. For example, I’ve never had so many employees actually hold doors open for me at random (all the lodges). At the Tamarack lodge, they hold the doors open and offer everyone Kleenex and Jolly Ranchers. I know it’s just little things – but they count!
Price: Before I went to Heavenly, I read a few dozen reviews. The biggest complaints: price, staff, trails. While I vehemently disagree with two of those (staff and trails), I’ll admit the price was a bit insane. We bought our tickets ahead of time so got the best pricing we could apparently at $324 for a 4 day ticket. If we had bought tickets everyday at the window, we could have been paying as much as $98 a day… each. Ouch.
However, I’ll admit that there is a certain level of understanding the ski areas thinking in this case. Heavenly is the largest ski area in California with over 4800 acres of terrain, 30 lifts, 97 trails, and over a 3500’ vertical drop. That takes a whole lot of staff to maintain, patrol, groom, etc.
Just wish they’d consider maybe jumping into the Liftopia game or something. Not everyone out there is super resourceful at finding cheap lift tickets, but it would be nice if there was a way to save a few bucks if you put the research in!
Lodge: The only lodge that really is a true lodge that a New Englander will recognize will be California. This isn’t the resort to plan on getting changed at, stashing your bags somewhere, etc. Not to say people don’t try…
Also important to note is that none of the lodges are in true walking distance of each other, so be sure to know a thing or two about the bus system. It runs frequently but be sure to ask where the bus goes before getting on! To further confuse the visitor, Gondola/Village doesn’t have any trails coming down to it. It’s just the Gondola that goes up and down… to Tamarack. Confused yet?
If you’re coming with beginners, you have two choices for lodges – Boulder or Gondola. Boulder will give newbies a nice lift to practice on (but they may have to share with other people trying to get up the mountain for real) and a pretty gentle green trail. Once they’re more comfortable, they can jump on the next lift up and get on the rest of the mountain. The other option is to take newbies up the gondola and head on over to Big Easy – a dedicated learning area with a nice slow lift.
The nicest lodge by far is Tamarack which is at the top of the Gondola. Be sure to check it out!
Lifts: During our stay we rode about half of the lifts, and they all seemed to be in great shape. I can’t say I noticed anything off about any of them. Most of them are high speed quads, which is awesome.
Lift operators definitely kept the lines moving on the weekend, so even the biggest line we saw (the gondola on Saturday morning) was a short wait. I was actually really impressed to see that they were able to speed up the process by helping skiers and snowboarders load and unload equipment instead of the usual hectic race to get everything in.
Trails: Heavenly is MASSIVE so they have a trails for just about every taste. If you want wide open trails with amazing views, they have that. Want insanely steep trails with boulders and trees? Got that too. How about insane trail with switchbacks and drops between levels? Yep. I really can’t pick a favorite, but be sure to check out the California Trail for the views.
The only thing that wasn’t so great was the flat sections. As a snowboarder, we need an incline, so when given a flat section followed by an uphill section – we’re probably going to walk, sulk, and complain. The worst culprits seemed to be sections of the Nevada Trail and a section of Round About. The good news though is most of Heavenly has pretty amazing inclines!
Anything else?: Another really cool thing about Heavenly was the Epic pass. The epic pass was simply your ticket with an RFID chip enclosed. New concept? Not exactly. What is very new is all the things that get attached to this little RFID chip. Every time you get on a lift or get your photo taken by an EpicMix photographer, the information is uploaded to your EpicMix account.
So why is this so cool? For some odd reason or another, I love knowing that while at Heavenly I did just about 27,000 vertical feet of snowboarding, and I hit almost all the goals I set for myself every day (number of runs, number of lifts, etc.). To add to this, I’m always the one taking pictures at the mountain, so I’m never in pictures. At Heavenly, just find one of the photographers in a neon green jacket, and ask for a photograph. They’ll scan your pass, take your picture like a pro, and it shows up later for you to share on Facebook, Twitter, or buy as a digital copy. Honestly, it was pretty sweet.
Before heading out to Lake Tahoe, we were warned it was the land of the $10 beers. So, we planned ahead. We rented a condo with a full kitchen, visited a grocery store (several times), and ate in almost every meal. But don’t worry – we made sure we tried some of Heavenly’s food!
Sure enough though, it was insanely expensive. On the first day on the slopes, we tried the Epic Burger paired with a bag of chips and a soda. So that’s 1 burger, 1 bag of chips, and 1 soda. That came to $21. Ouch. It was delicious, but not $21 delicious.
As for the chicken tenders, it was just as expensive. $10.50 got us 4 medium tenders and another $4.75 got us a side of fries. So $15.25 for a chicken tender basket. Ouch, again. While the fries were awesome and it was a pretty decent sized helping, the chicken tenders weren’t what we expected. There was entirely too much breading without enough flavor, and honey mustard was nowhere to be found. I guess to some extent, for $15.25 I expected some seriously gourmet tenders. Oh well.
My advice, bring a lunch or split an Epic Burger with someone!
Final Score: 2.25 out of 5 Tenders