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Kirkwood Mountain Resort, California

Kirkwood is tucked away from the glitz and lights of South Lake Tahoe, but close enough for those who want the action mixed with great skiing.

The lovely drive through Hope Valley to Kirkwood from South Lake Tahoe takes only about 45 minutes, but it is light-years away in altitude and ambiance. Now owned by Vail Resorts, Kirkwood has no bright lights, no ringing jackpots, no wide blue lake, no high-rise buildings and no urban noise. Instead, you have the feeling that you are entering a special secret place, known to a select few. Yet you’re at one of Tahoe’s “big six” resorts.

As you drive up the access road from Hwy. 88, it’s easy to see why these giant bowls were chosen for a ski resort. Skiers and snowboarders have left their tracks on every slope leading down to Kirkwood Village. No town existed before the resort came to fruition in 1972, and whatever you see was built (and is still being built) for a purpose: to improve the skiing and riding experience. Not that there was much to improve. Kirkwood sits in a natural basin with a base elevation of 7,800 feet—the highest in the Tahoe area. In a mountain range known for heavy powder (a.k.a. Sierra cement), Kirkwood’s snow is often lighter and fluffier and more abundant than the other Tahoe resorts. Consequently, the resort frequently stays open into May with good late-season conditions.

Terrain-wise, Kirkwood is the most balanced resort in the Tahoe region. It has one of the best learning areas in the country; several gentle runs off to one side, away from the main traffic, are served by their own lifts. Kirkwood will thrill any expert, even super-expert, with its steeps and dozens of chutes. And it offers great terrain for all ability levels between those extremes.