At one time or another, and many times all together, Heavenly, Alpine Meadows, Kirkwood, Mt. Rose, Northstar-at-Tahoe, Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Squaw Valley USA appear on most of the top-rated ski resort lists of respected purveyors in the ski scene.
Plan Your Day Trips
I know most of us are used to loading the skis on the family car and heading out for a drive to a favorite resort. While there are times I'm content with a whole week ski-in, ski-out, I really do like to explore regions where I can find a good family oriented hub and be able to ski multiple areas.
My family nested at the Marriott Timber Lodge in South Lake Tahoe and we skied around the Lake. During this stay, we managed to ski at Heavenly, Kirkwood, Squaw Valley USA, and Northstar-at-Tahoe. While I drove our rental SUV in South Lake Tahoe, there are also shuttle buses and van service to the out-of-town resorts.
You should pay special attention to Lake Tahoe and the surrounding area weather as roads close when there is a threat of snowslide. Kirkwood keeps an update on their web site as to what is happening on the access roads. Check the west side of Lake Tahoe when you head to the resorts at the north end. Highway 89 closes a lot in winter - even when it's beautiful in South Lake Tahoe.
On the flip side, when you plan to ski in South Lake Tahoe, check the Heavenly web site for lifts on hold. I found that when the Gondola and lifts on the California side are on hold, the Nevada side is open.
Have a Checklist and Use It
When making day trips to various resorts out of a vacation base have a complete skiing checklist and use it. When day tripping out of your home you can pack gear and clothes on automatic pilot, since you know where things are kept. On vacation, your child's glove won't be on the post next to the door but, if you have a checklist - and use it - you won't leave the condo or room without junior's gloves.
Rent Skis Ahead
If you can call in, order online, or fax skier info to the Ski Shop you choose it will save you several hours that first day. In South Lake Tahoe rentals are available across the spectrums of equipment fitness and cash.
You can rent cheap - there is actually a shop called Dan's Cheepo Ski and Snowboard Rentals - or you can go to one of the several Heavenly Sports shops that rent brand name equipment on a large scale.
If you are a more serious skier I suggest renting at Tahoe Boot 'n' Bike Works in Heavenly Village. Owner Patrick Medeau can set you up with powder skis or carvers, depending on the snow conditions. He has a qualified staff of certified boot fitters that can fix any boot problems and who use the patented Biostance system to assure your alignment is correct either on rental skis or on your own.
Get the Most Out of Time On the Snow
I'll be first to say not to expect to see all a resort has to offer in one day. However, to get the most out of your day of skiing at a resort you never visited before take advantage of mountain tours. Or, if tours aren't available look to take a lesson. Most intermediate or advanced group lessons will tour quite a bit of varying mountain terrain. Check on any available clinics . For example, Squaw Valley USA runs a lot of daily clinics for all ages, abilities and ski styles.
Study the trail map before you go, or go to the resort web site. Many resorts now offer interactive trail maps to get a fix on the areas where you want to ski based on your ability and on those skiing with you. Know the conditions - Northstar-at-Tahoe passes out a lot of daily trail grooming brochures. The Snocator application for my iPhone has been useful, too.
Also try to familiarize yourself with the base area map so when you get to the parking lot or drop off point you have a basic idea of the village layout. As for parking, Squaw Valley USA has a huge parking area, just plan to get there early. Kirkwood and Northstar are compressed, especially on holidays and weekends, so you might want to think about preferred parking, especially if you have a car filled with youngsters.
You might also want to call the resort information to find out where the "day-tripper' lockers and changing area are, and how much are the lockers - you may need a credit card or correct change and knowing that will save a lot of time.
Dining at the Resorts
One thing for certain you won't go hungry at Lake Tahoe ski resorts. There are plenty of on mountain and village restaurants at every resort. No matter what your, or your family members' food choices or dietary requirements are you won't have a problem finding a good meal.
Bring a Camera
From the top of Heavenly to the top of Squaw, and all points in between and around Lake Tahoe, you will be overwhelmed with magnificent scenery. I guarantee you won't forget the views and it all makes for great family photos you all cherish until you can come back and take some more.