Why Northstar at Tahoe is great for families

For the next few weeks I’m going to be publishing a series of posts that might loosely be called “The Ones that Got Away.” These are stories of adventures my family has taken during the past year or so that I have not yet written about. Today I share the story of our 2013 spring break skiing Northstar at Tahoe, which graciously hosted my family and covered many of our expenses.

You may have noticed that I’m a little excited about skiing these days. I can’t wait for winter. So while I lease skis for my kids, sort through my family’s gear, and buy our passes, I’m also spending my free time dreaming about our last skiing trip of the 2012-13 ski season. Our skiing destination was northern California, and although that’s a bit far from our home in Delaware, we loved Northstar at Tahoe so much that it was worth the trip.

What are the top reasons families should visit Northstar Resort?


Northstar at Tahoe Resort

The trails at Northstar Resort are gorgeous

Steep, wide, bumpy runs…

I loved skiing the trails off The Backside Express, which have gorgeous views and long steep stretches of moguls that really let me pick up some speed. Trails like Sierra Grande and Challenger made me feel like a kid again.

…And lots of blue trails

This is not an intimidating ski resort – Jon Jacobson, Matt and my ski instructor, referred to it as “comfortable” and I think that’s an accurate description. I like that there are numerous trails for skiers like my kids who definitely fall on the big spectrum between beginners and experts.

Full disclosure: Yet again, we were stuck skiing out west under less-than-optimal conditions. It was the bitter end of what had been an extraordinarily dry season.

But Northstar did a great job of husbanding their limited snow resources and every day started out with some really nicely groomed runs. By mid-afternoon, the snow had turned into what I now know is called “Sierra Cement” and was pretty un-skiable. But that was just one more excuse to find a cabana and sip a mojito (see “the chill atmosphere” item below).

But it also meant I could only look longingly at all the closed glades. Northstar at Tahoe is reputed to have amazing tree skiing. I’d like to have seen that for myself.

The terrain parks

Shaun White was practicing some of his new moves while we were at Northstar, which meant we weren’t allowed to check out the 22-foot superpipe he designed since that area of the mountain was closed off. (Although his mere presence was enough to get ten-year-old Tommy really stoked.)

Terrain park Northstar Resort

The boys spent a lot of time skiing Northstar’s terrain park

But we did spend a lot of time in the Burton Progression Park on Sidewinder which was perfect for my two beginning freestylers. The elements here start mere inches off the ground, progressing to steeper challenges as the trail descends. The boys loved being able to practice their jumps – and I loved that it felt safe for them to do so.

Burton Progression Park Northstar Resort

Catching a little air (safely)

The friendly, knowledgeable staff

We started our first day of skiing at Northstar with custom fittings for demo skis in the Adventure Guiding and Learning Center – I highly recommend paying for this service if it fits into your budget. Jordan greeted us with a smile, took time to carefully measure our feet and find comfortable boots and also consulted with us about what type of trails we planned to ski. Tommy was thrilled to have slightly longer and wider skis than he’d used in the past.

Northstar Resort ski instructor

The boys loved skiing with their instructor Brian

Tommy and Teddy, who had just turned 8, are not at the same level of skiing ability but I appreciated that their private instructor Brian found ways to keep them both happy at the same time. He also let them spend lots of time in the terrain park, and taught them how to land safely when they caught some air – a skill I definitely want them to have.

My husband Matt and I are also at very different ability levels (I’ve been skiing since childhood; he learned to ski four years ago) but our teacher also worked with both of us. “I’m passionate about making our instruction the best in the industry,” he said. His specific tips about putting pressure on my boot tongues, pointing my nose at the same angle as my uphill toe, and pushing toward the trees on the side of the trail visibly improved my turns and my speed by the end of just one lesson.

Another telling moment for me was when Matt and I stopped on the mountain to consult a trail map. We hadn’t been standing there more than 30 seconds when a ski patroller came over to see if we needed any assistance. We told him that we were trying to figure out how to get over to the Martis Camp Chair. “I’m not sure what’s open over there,” he said, “Let me radio and find out.”

As it turned out, nothing we wanted to ski in that portion of the resort was available. The patroller saved us valuable skiing time with his help and recommended we explore trails off The Backside chair, which as I indicated earlier ended up being a great idea.

The best lunch on the mountain

Tahoe at Northstar sandwich

The sandwiches at Zephyr Lodge are to-die-for

I’ll cover more of Northstar’s dining options in a later post, but I think it’s safe to say that Zephyr Lodge has some of the best ski area cafeteria food I’ve seen, including custom-made stir-fries and gourmet sandwich options. It’s not cheap, but the portions are generous. I really liked that we could get a healthy, filling lunch without packing our own or going back to our condo.

And the view from the deck didn’t hurt either.

Zephyr Lodge view Northstar Resort

Not a bad spot to eat lunch

The Village at Northstar

The village area here is small enough to be comfortable and easy to navigate (stay there and it’s an easy walk to the ski school, rental shop, and gondola) but it also has some really nice amenities including a fantastic toy store, a sushi bar, a make-your-own pottery and candle studio, and a gelato shop.

Northstar at Tahoe toy store

The Village at Northstar has a full-service toy store

We stayed in the heart of the resort’s village in a cozy one-bedroom condo with a large bathroom, full kitchen, and plenty of space to spread out and relax. The nearest well-stocked grocery store was about 20 minutes away in Truckee and I filled our fridge with snacks and plenty of breakfast food.

We had one rainy day during our stay, when it just wasn’t appealing to head up onto the mountain. Usually I would worry about a day like this with my ski-crazy family. But my concern was unfounded.

Northstar at Tahoe fun

Ski boots, swim suits, and Big Foot – it doesn’t get better than this

Despite the drizzle, the boys put on their swim trunks and snow boots and with much giggling we headed over to the heated outdoor pool at the fitness center, meeting Bigfoot on the way.

The village also has its own movie theatre. It’s such a small, contained area that Matt and I gave the boys one of our cell phones and let them go see The Croods while we retired around the corner to Petra, the lovely wine bar, for snacks and a glass or two. It was their first solo movie outing. Everyone was so happy that I don’t think any of us noticed that we weren’t skiing.

The chill atmosphere

Northstar at Tahoe cabana

Relaxing by the rink

You definitely know you are in California when you ski Northstar at Tahoe. Every afternoon the cabanas around the skating rink fill up with families relaxing around the fire pits. There are multiple places to get a drink and the staff passes s’mores around.

Teddy found his bliss on the bungee trampoline, while the rest of us chose to lounge and soak up some rays.

Northstar at Tahoe bungee

A bluebird day for the bungee trampoline

To complete the Cali vibe, the weather was warm enough while we were there at the beginning of April that the rink had switched from ice to roller, with plenty of groovy tunes. I put on roller skates for the first time since 1982 and had myself a pretty good time (though I won’t tell you how many bruises I ended up with).

Northstar at Tahoe skating

I hadn’t roller skated in…well, let’s say it had been a while

The memories

Northstar at Tahoe wagon

We were all smiles at Northstar

Our last day at Northstar was gorgeous. Tommy and I stopped repeatedly to check out the view from the top of The Backside before barreling down. At the bottom, the scent of sun-warmed pine filled the air and I let Tommy pass me on the way to the chairlift as again and again and again we rode up and descended.

I lost count of how many perfect runs we enjoyed, but I can tell you that the visceral feeling of freedom is carrying me until I can strap on my skis again this year.

Travel-with-kids tips

  • If you’re traveling to Northstar at Tahoe from the East Coast your best bet is to fly to Reno, Nevada and rent a car there. There are affordable shuttles as well, but we liked having a car to explore the Lake Tahoe area. If you’re going in the winter, rent a car with tire chains as you won’t be allowed to drive on the road up to the resort without them if you get caught in a snowstorm.
  • It’s an easy drive from the resort down to the shores of the lake and also into Truckee, which has lots of great restaurants and shops as well as a nicely stocked grocery store.
  • We arrived at the resort around nine on a weeknight evening without having had dinner (this wasn’t our original plan – our flight was cancelled) and discovered to our dismay that the restaurants in the village were closed. We should have stopped for a meal on the way or eaten at the airport.
  • Northstar Resort will open on November 22, 2013. Save money on your trip there if you book by opening day.

For more family skiing tips and information, be sure to visit my new Back to Ski website; sign up for the newsletter and get skiing tips and deals right in your inbox.

Many thanks to Northstar at Tahoe for hosting my family, covering our lodging, ski equipment rentals, ski lessons, and some of our meals. You can always count on me to tell you when I’ve received something for free and to share my honest opinions.

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  1. says

    Northstar at Tahoe offers great Learn To deals for new skiers, so it’s definitely a place to check out if families have young ones just starting or anyone who wants to get into the game!

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