Two mountains mean double the fun at this Lake Tahoe resort.
Variety! Sure, there are cheaper, more intimate ski resorts near Lake Tahoe, but none have the diversity of terrain and sheer quantity of skiable acres that Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows offers. One lift ticket gives you access to two breathtaking mountains for a combined 6000+ skiable acres. From black diamonds to magic carpets, cliffside runs to open bowls, tree-lined gullies to terrain parks, there’s something for all skiers and boarders to love.
For those not keen to ski or ride, Squaw offers plenty of alternatives including snowmobiling, snow tubing, gondola rides, shopping, and a vibrant après ski scene.
Photo courtesy: Trevor Clark
Where to stay?
For skiers and boarders, you can’t beat the convenience of staying at or around the basecamps of Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley. It’s worth looking on Airbnb or other homesharing websites to see if you can find a condo with a kitchen, where you can feed the family.
If you’re not able to find or afford such a convenience, Truckee and Tahoe City are each about 11 miles away with plenty of options. With just 24 rooms, Basecamp Hotel is a stylish boutique choice for those who want to be in downtown Tahoe City and just a five-minute walk to the lake. For kids, there are rooms with bunk beds or indoor tents, plus firepits and fixing for s’mores. Rates start in around $140/night.
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Photo courtesy: Basecamp Hotel/Paul Dryer
What to do on the slopes?
Alpine Meadows is more low-key than Squaw, and we liked that. Because it’s smaller, it’s simpler to navigate and find one another on the slopes or at the base. If you don’t need shopping, an après scene or to be seen, this mountain provides plenty of sun and snow without all the fuss.
Our family started the day on the Kangaroo Lift with access to short, easy, and empty runs. It was a safe place for my 7-year old son to brave his first solo lift ride. Next, we took Summit Express, which seated the five of us together. The reward at the top was a spectacular view of Lake Tahoe.
But once we discovered the Hot Wheels Lift, we couldn’t stop riding it! This was, by far, our favorite lift of the weekend; it gave us access to Hot Wheels Gully, a curving, intimate, natural half-pipe surrounded by deep forest. It was a black diamond full of kids, who gleefully rocked back and forth down the sides of the gully before shooting out into an exposed open run. Then just before you hit the base, there’s another special treat: a non-intimidating terrain run with jumps and boxes that were just big enough for the kid to catch some air. Whoopee! We must have done this combo at least five times in a row.
Squaw Valley is even bigger than Alpine Meadows and has diverse runs to meet all skill levels. We spent a lot of time on the Big Blue Lift, which offered a half-pipe and two terrain courses that gave my son the rush that he craved and the challenge that my 9-year old daughter and 10-year old niece needed.
Later in the afternoon, I took the kids up Headwall Lift to the double blue diamond run, Bullet. While the kids did really well, I don’t think that they’d choose to do it again - a few too many moguls and steep cliffs at the end of an exhausting day.
KidTripster Tip: When the weather looks good, buy your lift tickets in advance to save money. The more days you buy and the more that you bundle in (like rentals), the less you’ll pay per item. If you give 48-hour cancellation notice, lift tickets are refundable.
Both mountains offer ski school for kids (age 3 and up), either afternoons or full day, that include instruction, lift tickets, rentals, and lunch. Full day cost: around $200; discounts if you order online. You also can sign up for a private, half-day family lesson. Know that there’s no day care center at either mountain, so that’s something to consider if you have wee little ones.
KidTripster Tip: Don’t forget to bring pain killers for potential altitude headaches.
Photo courtesy: Jeff Engerbretson
What to do off the slopes?
A ski vacation can be overwhelming; you’ve got cold, altitude, gear-schlepping, and let’s be honest, some bruising. So take a break with the easy thrills at Snoventures Adventure Zone. Nothing excites a 7-year old quite like tossing him the keys to a mini snowmobile and saying “squeeze the throttle for speed, sweetie!” The track at Snoventures allows four children (ages 6 to 12) to snowmobile at a time. Our kids sped off from the starting line and almost immediately maxed out at the daredevil speed of 10 miles per hour. We cheered from the sidelines as they completed each lap in about 30 seconds. The whole joy ride lasts 20 memorable minutes. The attendant outfits the kids with helmets, goggles, and a short primer on how to use the machines. From the sidelines, it doesn’t look that exciting, but the kids loved the freedom, control, and power. They repeatedly asked to go back. Click here to see. Cost: $34.
Snow tubing can be a family affair. A magic carpet assists you up the hill where you’ll delight in unlimited rides. At the top, choose from three different runs. If you’re feeling bold, ask the attendant to give your tube a spin at the top and donut your way down with laughter. 55-minute session cost: $34.
Ever wonder about your place in the world? Well, the aerial tram is a great way to gain some perspective! The tram - a graceful glass box about the size of an RV - whisks you 2000 ear-popping feet up in eight minutes. It provides breathtaking, 360-degree views of Lake Tahoe, and for just a few minutes, you know what it’s like to be a bird, soaring peacefully above it all. And then, the attendant puts on some rock music, and the kids start dancing and spinning, and you remember you’re not a bird; you’re a parent, and you start dancing, too. Cost: Youth (under 5) Free; Youth (5 to 18) $22; Adult $44.
Up top, there are some restaurants including the 8’200 Grille, which is named for how high above sea level you are. A quaint free museum displays stories and artifacts from the 1960 Winter Olympics, which were held at Squaw. Check before you go to see if the High Camp ice skating rink is open.
KidTripster Tip: Bring your own refillable water bottle. Both mountains have lots of free refilling stations, where they encourage you to drink their fresh mountain water and prevent plastic bottle waste.
Hungry for dinner? Why sit still at the table waiting for dinner when the kids can get outside and peer into the roaring Truckee River from the deck of the River Ranch Lodge and Restaurant? It’s just three miles from Squaw Alpine, and its burgers, steaks, and Caesar salads are popular with locals.
Another favorite food stop for local kids is The Pfiefer House, which offers steaming potato pancakes with applesauce or sour cream in an authentic Bavarian setting. And yes, you can eat pancakes for dinner; you’re on vacation! If your children have budding adult palates, go for Pfeifer’s goulash or schnitzel.
By car, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is a 1-hour drive from Reno, 2-hour drive from Sacramento or 3-1/2-hour drive from San Francisco.
Once you’ve made it to the resort, you can ditch the car and take the free Squaw/Alpine Express Shuttle between the bases of the two mountains. It runs every 20 to 30 minutes starting at 8:30 a.m. daily.
And if you’re worried about parking and lugging gear around with a van full of kids, both resorts have a loading area and preferred carpool parking. Also, the handy SquawAlpine App will notify you if and when the parking lot fills up.
It’s also easy enough to fly in and out of Reno and then take a shuttle, taxi or rideshare service to Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.
Francesca Segrè lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two young globe-trotting adventurers, ages 7 and 9.