Thursday, March 22, 2018

Heavenly Hospitality

Heavenly Lake Tahoe - Credit: Vail Resorts
The heart-soaring combo of lake and mountain is something that has appealed to me for decades, ever since visiting Lake Geneva in Switzerland and Lake Annecy in France. That’s why I have been trying to get back to Lake Tahoe for many years. I first visited in 1991 when I managed a few days skiing at Northstar, Squaw Valley and Diamond Peak (then called Incline), staying at the delightfully rustic and hip King’s Beach in North Tahoe.

Twin Pines Lake & Ski House
credit Clear Creek Tahoe
Having decided to re-visit Tahoe at last – and catch up with an old friend who still lives there in the gentrifying town of Truckee – I was also keen to add South Lake Tahoe to the equation. Landing in Reno, I could see the pendant pistes and peaks of Mt Rose calling me to the slopes. But I had to make one stop off first at Clear Creek Tahoe, a five-star golf community currently in development. Not to play golf – although the Coore and Crenshaw greens were clear enough to get in a round – but to check out the progress on the 2136-acre scenic Sierra setting before moving on to Twin Pines, their private Lake & Ski House at South Lake Tahoe, five minutes from the 4,800 acres of Heavenly Mountain Resort.
S'mores at Clear Creek Tahoe
Attracting buyers from the Bay Area, around California, Texas, and as far afield as China and Japan, around 55 lots have already been snapped up, with another 236 on the master plan. Five huge homes are under construction with amazing views over the Sierra Nevadas and there are two cute cabins ready for guests to stay in. The current golf clubhouse has a pro shop, restaurant, patio, pub and outdoor grille which will eventually be supplanted by an even grander Clubhouse Campus with a spa, pool and wellness facility. Slated to open this summer is the Family Recreation Centre which will include tennis courts, basketball and pickleball court, pool and water slides. And golf will resume as usual in the spring.

Wow factors for Clear Creek Tahoe include five-star hotel hospitality care of Franck Savoy who is the son of famous French chef, Guy Savoy, owner of Guy Savoy Michelin star restaurants in Paris and Las Vegas. “I used to work for the Four Seasons in New York - and before that in Paris,” says Franck. “My background is in hospitality, hotels, and restaurants and I want to bring that here. I compare this place to a hotel, and I want it to be resort-style, private, with a hospitality focus.” He believes that golf clubs are no longer gentleman’s clubs and must have a broader appeal to the whole family.

Twin Pines Ski and Lake House designed by Julia Morgan - credit Clear Creek Tahoe
Amazing architecture at Twin Pines Ski and Lake House
- credit Clear Creek Tahoe
And, of course, the second wow factor is Twin Pines. Golf members and property owners get to use this gorgeous heritage house as a wintersports, social and dining base, with shuttles to nearby ski hills such as Heavenly and Kirkwood. “The Ski & Lake House means that members and lot owners have a piece of South Lake Tahoe,” says Franck. “They can park there and get ferried to Heavenly rather than fighting for parking.” In summer, the 1936 Julia Morgan mountain masterpiece right on the lakeshore becomes their watersports and beach base with its own boat buoys and jetty.
Twin Pines boat - coincidentally with my name on it! - credit Clear Creek Tahoe
Sunset from the dock at Twin Pines
credit Clear Creek Tahoe
I stayed at the Twin Pines guest house for two decadent nights, skiing Heavenly by day, watching the sunset over Lake Tahoe with a glass of pinot on the jetty early evening, and dining in the lake house by night. On Saturdays Twin Pines hosts live music (the talented Tammy Tam Tam when I was there) around the cozy fireplace from 2-6pm, along with après ski drinks and appetizers.

Lots at Clear Creek Tahoe start at $225,000 and it is in Nevada so taxes, building costs, maintenance, and living overheads are much lower than in California. And there are significant tax benefits, too. Golf membership costs around $40,000 initial buy-in and then approximately $7000 per year in dues.

If you want to stay right on the lake next time you visit Tahoe – but can’t afford to buy a property at Clear Creek Tahoe or a membership at the golf club – there’s Edgewood, right next door to Twin Pines. I scouted it out one morning for coffee and would recommend it for its incredibly beautiful lakeside position and sumptuous mountain-modern architecture. Surrounded by its own golf course, the setting is really tranquil with what locals – including my ski instructor - told me is a great restaurant, bar, and bistro. There’s also an outdoor heated pool, hot tub and firepits overlooking the lake.

Owen and Sam with glorious Lake Tahoe in the background - love the bright suits!
Always on the lookout for colourful ski outfits, I bumped into Owen Nitka and friends who were celebrating a 30th birthday on the slopes at Heavenly. “This is the weekend of ‘South Lake Sammy’s’ birthday,” Owen told me. “We do the same trip with 15-20 people every year, but this year is Sam’s 30th!” Their San Francisco-based ‘ski squad’ are mostly Epic Pass holders who ski Heavenly around seven days per season and also love the snow and terrain at Kirkwood. “It’s a three and a half hour drive from San Francisco and we had a few surprise visits from Sam’s Chicago and Minneapolis crew,” said Owen. The group alternates between rental houses, gondola-friendly Heavenly hotels or the casinos just over the Nevada border: “The casinos are one of the best deals. Cheap, clean rooms, next to the village and free parking.”

Heavenly DJ Cat - Courtesy of Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe
Fireside beer bevvies - courtesy of
Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe
Owen’s favourite runs are on the Nevada side of the resort: “Long runs with great pitch and some big bowls. For bluebird days, like this past weekend, you can tour the whole mountain on the blue cruisers. Ridge Run is the most impressive view in all of Tahoe. Lots of people stopping to take photos.” Après ski revolves around Tamarack Lodge, at the top of the gondola, which has a fun Happy Hour. “Outdoor food, drink and DJ playing out of the back of a snowcat,” Owen describes. “On a sunny day, it gets to be a pretty raucous time.” It’s called Unbuckle and features fun games as well as dancing. Every day at 3pm TAP is another on-snow après attraction just nearby, with free craft beer samples from local breweries and vouchers for discounted refills and appies at the lodge. When Owen’s troupe makes it back down to base they gravitate to the Village for a variety of food options and live music, Tahoe Brewery for pizza and craft beer, and to the casinos for later entertainment. Maximizing their Epic Pass advantages, they also ski other Vail Resorts in Utah or Colorado every winter and, this year, are trying out Whistler in a group of 20 for a long weekend.

How to combine business with pleasure at the Tahoe Mountain Lab - credit: Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe

Greg leading the way and matching the sapphire lake in the background!
I was skiing that day with Greg Lyons who is an instructor with a long list of carving credits: PSIA Level 3 Alpine, Level 2 Telemark, Children’s Specialist Level 2, President PSIA Western Division, Staff Trainer for Heavenly. He’s also been there for 30 years since driving a friend there back in 1987 and opting to stay himself (although the friend didn’t)! Along with George Fish, a fellow Brit and the GM of Heavenly Adult Ski School, we skied around heavenly groomers in brilliant sunshine, checking out the glades of the Milky Way in the afternoon: think black pitch with undulating topography over a wide basin with well-spaced trees. Another fave area was the bump-blessed Sam’s run – named for the 97-year-old who died recently but who spent his life clearing brush voluntarily in the glades, continuing well into his 90s. Greg also pointed out Maggie’s, a locals’ secret stash which stays pristine long after powder is tracked out elsewhere – urging me not to tell anyone! Shush!! Lunch was fabulous that day at Booyah’s, at the top of the Tram on the California side, which has wonderful views, great soups, salads and sandwiches, and a surprising, high altitude co-working space right in the lodge, called Tahoe Mountain Lab. Pretty cushy place for an office at 8250 ft with ‘board’ meetings on the chairlift I presume.

My last night at South Lake Tahoe was spent right at the base of Heavenly Village where the Marriott rules the roost, running the ski rentals, with two hotels sandwiching all the amenities. I stayed at the Grand Residences, which was perfectly poised in the centre of town and had lovely, luxurious and large rooms and great hot tub. Right next door, I discovered the cutest driftwood-decorated diner - called Driftwood Café - with great salads, wraps, service and a remarkable price:portion ratio – always a good thing to discover in a ski resort!

Tabletop S'mores at the The Loft, in Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe (credit: The Loft)
Noteworthy nightlife at Heavenly includes The Loft, a magical mix of lively lounge bar, Italian restaurant and live theatre. Just had dinner there, but would love to check out the adult-oriented Magic Fusion show another time. Menu includes wonderful tomato bisque served in shot glasses with grilled cheese dippers, wild boar cannelloni, steak gorgonzola and a really unique tabletop S’mores dessert complete with small fire, toasting forks and all the ingredients. Also Base Camp, where we had pre-dinner cocktails, looked a fun place to eat – you can book a table under the heated awning outside to enjoy live music while you feast on pizza.
Central ice skating rink - credit: Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe

Credit: Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe
Atmospherically, Heavenly Village has it all – everything kids want including huge outdoor central skating rink with music, bungies, cinema – and masses of après for adults, from casinos and nightclubs to fine dining and shopping. And, with so many choices, rather than missing out on all the best venues and activities, you can book a VIP Private Guide – not just for the skiing, but also for après!

As well as local breweries - spawned from the very first one, Sierra Nevada, which was founded three hours away in Chico where we used to go for craft beer-battered fish and chips in 1991! - Tahoe is famous for moonshine. In the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, on the California side of the lake, is the home of Tahoe Moonshine Distillery. Located at 6,200 feet, a unique blend of quality ingredients and high altitude adds tantalizing tastes to each tipple. Rachelle Atherton, who introduced me to Loft, recommends their distilled gin - it makes delicious Grey Hounds!
Incomparable view and groomer at Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe
Heavenly 2017-2018 Winter News

'Miracle March' is in full effect at Tahoe with 13 inches of fresh in the last 24 hours and a total of 247 inches snowfall so far this season. 

Video Ski and Ride School Lesson
Heavenly takes ski and ride school to a whole new level! Guests will be toured around the mountain by a ski and ride school instructor while learning how to use a portable video camera to capture first-person video and photography of Heavenly’s secret stashes, powder pockets and stunning views. Guests will get to keep their memory card full of their day’s footage after the lesson has ended.

LAT 38 – The California Rooftop Bar
California Lodge’s new roof top bar, LAT 38, is the ultimate posh happy hour scene. With a mountain-modern feel, stringed café lights, a unique warm drink menu, cozy fire pits and acoustic live bands, this is the best place in South Lake to enjoy an après drink (i.e. the “Dirty Snowman”) and appetizer after a day on the mountain.

Scenic Tram at Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe
Surprise and Delight Moments
Get energized in the tram to pop-up live music, sample wines and local brews while watching the sun set at Lakeview Lodge or participate in the Heavenly Winter Olympics-themed activities…there’s something for everyone during the Surprise and Delight moments taking place throughout the season.

Cross State Lines
The only ski resort in North America, to span across two states, Heavenly allows skiers and riders to experience the absolute best of both California and Nevada terrain. Guests can snap photos next to the new “Welcome to California” and “Welcome to Nevada” signs that boast this feat.

Pink Heavenly
On March 24, the first annual Pink Heavenly takes place in collaboration with the Barton Wellness Foundation, where participants are encouraged to dress in pink and raise funds for the Cancer Wellness Center by asking family and friends to sponsor their ski day. The event culminates with a party at California Lodge from 2-4 p.m. featuring live music, food and drinks, games, prizes and giveaways.

With so many choices, skiers and riders are a short hop away from non-stop fun. You can find Reno-Tahoe International Airport’s flight tool here. With nine airlines now providing air service, this is truly the Gateway to Tahoe.

·      Coast-to-Coast
East Coast outdoor enthusiasts will now spend less time in transit and more time enjoying the scenic views of the Sierra Nevada. JetBlue Airways offers the only daily non-stop service between John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

·      Chicago-to-Tahoe
Chicago O’Hare offers twice a week non-stop service in Late December until the beginning of April via United Airlines.

·      Denver-to-Tahoe
Frontier Airlines begins new non-stop service three times a week in late November.

·      SoCal-to-NorCal
SoCal skiers and riders can now take advantage of 10 daily non-stop flights out of Orange County, Long Beach and LAX:

o   Alaska Airlines is offering service between Orange County, CA and Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
o   Jet Blue is offering service between Long Beach, CA and Reno-Tahoe International Airport.
o   America, Southwest and United Airlines offer a combined eight daily flights between Los Angles (LAX) and Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

·      Dallas-to-Tahoe
With Southwest Airlines, guests are now able to fly from Dallas Love Field into Reno-Tahoe International Airport. The service is offered weekly.

·      Atlanta-to-Tahoe
Southerners are now able to access Lake Tahoe’s variety of activities with ease. Delta Airlines offers daily non-stop service between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport and Reno-Tahoe International Airport from December 21 – January 7. Then the service will be offered weekly, on Saturdays only, between January 13, 2018 and March 25, 2018.

·      Texas-to-Tahoe
American and Southwest airlines offer service to Reno-Tahoe from both Dallas Fort-Worth (DFW) and Dallas Love Field (DAL).

Ski School at Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe
Customized On-Demand Ski and Ride School Lessons
Ever wish you could request a ski and ride coach on the fly? Guests can now find an on-demand ski and ride school kiosk up on the mountain at the base of East Peak Lodge. Request a coach for one hour and evaluate if a second would be worthwhile.

Heavenly Holidays at Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe
Heavenly Holidays
Every December, Heavenly Holidays transforms the Heavenly Village into a holiday winter wonderland with lights, decorations, music, ice sculpting and more. It all cumulates on New Year’s Eve, with a live band and brightly-lit Gondola that descends over the crowd, signaling the start of the New Year and a festive fireworks show. 

Heavenly is all about après – from first chair to last call, our guests truly go all in. This season, there are more après options than ever before! Every day beginning in December, themed après parties and happy hour will take place from 3:30-5:30 p.m. with Booyah Grill’s 96 microbrew selection, California Bar’s tequila and tacos, LAT 38’s rooftop bar and warm drink menu, Stagecoach’s  local vibes and Boulder Lodge’s family feel.

South Lake Tahoe’s Spring Loaded Celebration
Heavenly and Tahoe South are coming together to bring guests and the community a loaded two-week lineup of spring events including live music, loud outfits and various sun-fun filled festivities from March 23 through April 1. Spring Loaded kicks off with Pink Heavenly, a two-day cancer awareness event. It continues with Gunbarrel 25 on March 31, an Easter egg hunt on the mountain, pond skimming, specials during college basketball finals, a live karaoke contest, food and bartending contests, a snowboard rodeo and more!

The ultimate downhill disco - credit: Heavenly Lake Tahoe
Heavenly upped the ante in December 2013 by partnering with Aaron Hagar to retrofit a retired grooming machine into a custom-built mobile DJ station, complete with 52 high-output speakers, provided by Kicker Audio, and 1,200 watts of power. The DJ CAT will be bringing the party to the mountain every Friday and Saturday at East Peak Lodge all season long.

Gunbarrel 25 moguls course at Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe
The Gunbarrel 25
If endurance is your pursuit, don’t miss out on the 14th annual Gunbarrel 25 on March 31! Taking place on Heavenly’s famous mogul run, The Face, this long-time tradition challenges participants to lap the run 25 times. Those who chose to up the ante can compete for the quickest finishing time and earn their name on the famous Gunbarrel 25 plaque that hangs in the neighboring California Lodge.

Giving Back – Heavenly’s Epic Promise

Vail Resorts commits to a zero net operating footprint by 2030. This includes zero net emissions, zero waste to landfill and zero net operating impact on forests and habitat. Heavenly plans to achieve net zero emissions through the following initiatives:

·      Recycling: Goal is to increase recycling diversion and optimize capture with enhanced signage and employee training program
o   Examples:
§  1000+ gallons of fryer grease per year are recycled with Reno Rendering
§  Recycle 30-50 tons of scrap metal annually
§  Recycle pine needles to create erosion-fighting soil cover
·      Snowmaking: Making snowmaking investments in low-energy technology, fan gun technology
o   Example: Heavenly has already invested several hundred-thousand dollars in more efficient snowmaking equipment and technology upgrades over the last six years
·      Community Outreach: Working with Tahoe community members to be successful
o   Examples:
§  The Tahoe Fund – ski pass $1 donations have raised over $208,000 since inception which go to assist environmental improvement projects around Tahoe
§  Sponsor Earth Day Celebration for the past 10 years
§  Tahoe Transportation District: Free ski shuttles to all four base areas with 300,000 riders annually reduces emissions
·      Other
o   Lighting audits
o   Infiltrating storm water runoff
o   Reporting erosion hot-spots

Me (in my favourite Alchemy of Ride jacket) at Heavenly Lake Tahoe in Feb
For everyone renting ski or snowboard equipment in Lake Tahoe, Ski Butlers ski rental delivery service is a must. For the same price or less than most resort ski shops, Ski Butlers makes renting ski and snowboard equipment hassle-free. Packages include delivery of boots, skis, snowboards, poles and a personalized fitting by a ski technician. Helmets and other accessories are available too. It's a great way to avoid long lines at busy ski shops, allowing more quality time on the slopes and less money spent on airline luggage fees. Based on customer reviews, Ski Butlers has earned the coveted TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for providing personalized service at North Lake Tahoe (including Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Northstar and Sugarbowl) and South Lake Tahoe (including Heavenly, Kirkwood and Sierra at Tahoe). 

Season Passes
These are no longer just for locals - they are also cost-effective for ski tourists who notch up several ski trips per season at a variety of resorts. Newest resorts to join the Epic Pass collective include Telluride, Crested Butte, Okemo, Mt Sunapee, Kicking Horse, Fernie, Kimberley Alpine Resort, Nakiska, Mont Sainte Anne, and Stoneham. For the latest information on resorts, pricing, pass deadlines or to purchase season passes, visit

·      Epic Local Pass: Epic Local pass holders can ski the best of Tahoe with limited restrictions and receive a total of 10 days at Whistler Blackcomb, Vail, Beaver Creek, and Stowe with holiday restrictions. The Epic Local provides guests with unlimited, unrestricted skiing or riding at Breckenridge, Keystone, Wilmot, Mt. Brighton, Afton Alps and Arapahoe Basin with limited restrictions at Park City Mountain, Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood. The Epic Local Pass pays for itself in just over three days. Epic Local passes for children and college students are also available.

Terrain Park at Heavenly Mountain Resort, Lake Tahoe
Tahoe Local™: The best way to access Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood seven days a week, the Tahoe Local Pass includes Saturday access at all three resorts with limited holiday restrictions and pays for itself in just under three days. The Tahoe Local Pass also includes five total days of skiing and snowboarding at Utah’s Park City, the largest ski resort in the U.S., and Colorado’s Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Arapahoe Basin with holiday restrictions. Lift tickets for pass holders are available for purchase at a discounted rate during blackout dates at Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood.

·      Tahoe Value™: Ski or snowboard seven days a week at Heavenly and six days a week at Northstar and Kirkwood. The Tahoe Value Pass has holiday restrictions at Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood, with Saturdays excluded at Northstar and Kirkwood. Pass holders can purchase discounted lift tickets valid at Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood Resorts on restricted days. 
Kirkwood, Feb 19 2018 - courtesy of Vail Resorts

·      Epic Pass™: Ski unlimited and unrestricted from opening day to closing day. The Epic Pass pays for itself in just over four days of skiing or snowboarding. Enjoy full access to Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin in Colorado (and now also Telluride); Park City in Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe; Afton Alps in Minnesota; Mt. Brighton in Michigan; Stowe Mountain in Vermont; Wilmot Mountain in Wisconsin; Whistler Blackcomb in Canada; and Perisher in Australia for the 2017-2018 season. The Epic Pass grants limited access to Arlberg in Austria; Les 3 Vallées, Paradiski and Tignes-Val D’Isère in France; Skirama Dolomiti in Italy and 4 Vallées in Switzerland. No restricted dates. Check out my Globe and Mail article on this at:
Fun Facts

·      At 4,800 acres, Heavenly has the most skiable acreage in California
·      The 2016-2017 winter season was the deepest on record with a season-to-date total of 659”
·      Heavenly is the only resort in North America to span across two states

Social Media Tags

·      Facebook: Heavenly Mountain
·      Instagram: @skiheavenly
·      Twitter: @skiheavenly

·      Hashtags: #skiheavenly #heavenlysnow
Tamarack Lodge - credit: Heavenly Lake Tahoe