Lake Tahoe’s downhill resorts get the big press, but local cross-country ski areas are first class, as well. In fact, the cross-country ski venues in the region provide more than 500 kilometers of beautifully groomed trails, giving Tahoe the largest concentration of cross-country skiing in the United States. There is something for everyone: World-class training facilities, long and challenging hills, easy romps through the trees, long loops along valley floors and plenty of spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and the High Sierra.
Auburn Ski Club Training Center
Auburn Ski Club (ASC) Training Center is located on north-facing slopes at the top of Donner Summit. The area often is the first of the Nordic ski resorts to open and the last to close. ASC has an active focus on a variety of ski training and racing programs and a regular venue for school races including several Junior Nationals.
Training programs start at the youngest age with Super Sliders and go up to its Comp and Devo teams that have trained some of the best cross-country skiers in the region. ASC is a full Nordic center with 25 km of trails and a focus on providing the best possible grooming every day.
It’s the site of the only Olympic-distance, year-round biathlon range in the West and hosts clinics and a variety of biathlon races throughout the year with training provided by Glenn Jobe, a former Olympic biathlete. | auburnskiclub.com
A perfect day | Arrive early for a quick warm-up loop around the trails, stopping for a glimpse of Castle Peak. Experience the challenging exhilaration of biathlon by joining a clinic or race.
Camp Richardson’s Mountain Sports Center provides 10 km of groomed and marked trails for beginners to experts. Several trails head out from the center looping through the open forest to the shores of Fallen Leaf Lake. Two other shorter trails meander through the grounds of the resort and along the shores of Lake Tahoe. | camprichardson.com
A perfect day | Head out from the Mountain Sports Center toward Fallen Leaf Lake and return for a short jaunt along Tahoe. Finish your day by watching the sun set over Lake Tahoe at the Beacon Bar and Grill.
Clair Tappaan Lodge
This rustic Sierra Club lodge is located near the top of Donner Summit, often buried in snow. There are 14 km of trails heading out from the back door of the lodge and up to the area near the back of Boreal Ski Resort. Skiing is free for lodge guests and rentals are available. | clairtappaanlodge.com
A perfect day | Check in at the lodge late in the afternoon and enjoy dinner, before settling down into a comfy couch next to the large fireplace to read a book. After breakfast, head out from the lodge on skis. Return for sledding in the backyard and picnic in the snow with the brown bag lunch.
Donner Memorial State Park
Donner Memorial State Park has more than 16 km of trails throughout the park. Although the trails are not groomed you can make your own route to Schallenberger Ridge, Coldstream Canyon or along the shores of Donner Lake. Parking is located at the expansive visitor center. Access to the trails is free; parking is $5. | parks.ca.gov
A perfect day | Ski through the trees over level terrain to the shores of Donner Lake. Find a perfect spot on the shore and settle in for a picnic. At the visitor center, after your ski, explore the displays on Native American history, on the infamous Donner Party and the importance of this narrow travel corridor to California.
Close to Tahoe City, Granlibakken Resort has a small downhill ski hill that in 1932 was home to the National Championships in ski jumping. Skiers can explore the resort’s 72 acres or follow marked trails to Page Meadows to experience Tahoe’s back country. There’s a warming hut open seven days a week. | granlibakken.com
A perfect day | Spend the night at the resort and enjoy an elaborate breakfast spread. Ski or snowshoe up to the lovely series of meadows known as Page Meadows. It’s enough of a workout to build up an appetite for lunch back at the lodge. Spend the afternoon at the Tree Top Adventure Park located adjacent to the resort. Don’t forget the Granlibakken sledding hill.
Hope Valley Cross Country
Hope Valley Outdoors provides cross-country skiing from its yurt at Pickett’s Junction, the remote meeting of Highway 88 and 89 in Hope Valley. The setting is sublime in an alpine valley surrounded by the high peaks of the Sierra. Hope Valley Outdoors regularly grooms about 30 km of trail with another 30 km marked and mapped for exploration. These self-guided trails lead to Carson Pass, Red Lake and Scott Lake. Ski and snowshoe rentals are also available.
The remote location means no Internet access; only cash or checks are accepted. Trail passes are by donation, so the more money received the more trails can be groomed. | hopevalleycrosscountry.com
A perfect day | Take the Burnside Lake Trail to Burnside Lake, then return to the yurt. Head on over to the Hope Valley Cafe or Sorenson’s for lunch, then join in a campfire talk led by local historians to learn about this fascinating pathway to Carson Pass.
Kirkwood Cross Country & Snowshoe Center
Kirkwood is situated at 7,800 feet in the middle of the heavy snows of the Carson Pass area, 25 miles south of Lake Tahoe. There are three interconnected trail systems providing 60 km of trails with amazing views. The amenities of the Kirkwood Resort are just down the road a mile and the historic Kirkwood Inn is next door. Kirkwood’s cross-country ticket and rental package includes either a group lesson or a tour. Perhaps your tour guide will be resort manager and two-time Great Ski Race winner Debbi Waldear. | kirkwood.com
Two perfect days | On Day 1, from the main lodge, cross Highway 88 and enjoy a warm-up loop around the Kirkwood meadow taking in the views of the Kirkwood Mountain. Head back to the lodge and roll through the Cable’s Creek Trail system through sheltered forests and quiet meadows along the creek. For lunch, plop yourself down at the Kirkwood Inn.
On Day 2, it’s time to climb and treat yourself to some of the best mountain views to be found on any trail system in the region. Drive east to the Schneider Trailhead where the climbing through the open bowls begins. Eventually you reach the old barn from the Schenider Cow Camp. Keep climbing to Coyote Pass, at 9,000 feet. While you may need to stop frequently to catch your breath, it’s all downhill back to the trailhead.
LTCC Nordic Center
This center on the campus of Lake Tahoe Community College provides up to 7 km of trails for classic and skate skiing. The trails provide views of Freel Peak and Job’s Sister. South Lake Tahoe businesses may purchase interchangeable business passes. For LTCC students, passes are free. | ltccnordiccenter.weebly.com/
A perfect day | Go out for a morning 5km ski. Head to a class at the college, have a leisurely lunch at any one of the many eateries in South lake Tahoe and in the late afternoon, hit the ski trails again for another loop.
Nevada Nordic is a nonprofit organization attempting to bring a groomed cross-country ski presence back to the state of Nevada. This winter it will be grooming 2 to 4 km on a regular basis at the Incline Mountain Golf Course.
As of press time, it has also applied for a grant to obtain funding for a grooming machine for the trails at Spooner Lake State Park. It has also put in an application with the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest to groom 7 to 10 km in the Tahoe Meadows area off of the Mt. Rose Highway. | nevadanordic.org
Northstar Cross Country, Telemark
& Snowshoe Center
Northstar provides 30 km of groomed trails on its quieter side, a relaxing escape from the hubbub of the downhill resort. The trail network includes views of Lake Tahoe and a variety of terrain. It’s mid-mountain location makes it the perfect spot for a family with divided interests — all can go their own way and meet up later for lunch at the lodge. | northstarcalifornia.com
A perfect day | Catch the Express Gondola up to the lodge, then book a tour of the best trails with the resort’s guide service. Meet up with your downhill friends at the lodge. The Village at Northstar offers a number of places to enjoy a coffee, cocktail or meal. In the evening, join local astronomer Tony Berendsen for a stargazing snowshoe tour to enjoy the stars in the winter sky.
North Tahoe Regional Park
This eclectic park in Tahoe Vista provides ball fields, playgrounds and bike trails in the summer, and cross-country skiing in the winter. The North Tahoe Public Utility District grooms a series of marked trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and dog walking once the depth of the snow allows it. The trails wind through the forest passing immense cedar trees. Get the latest grooming updates via the winter hotline (530) 546-5043 or its Facebook page. | northtahoeparks.com
A perfect day | Begin your day with a short jaunt on the freshly groomed trails. Be sure to save enough fuel in your tank to climb into the trees at the Tree Top Adventure Park. After your ski, it’s a short drive to downtown Kings Beach for lunch or window shopping.
Resort at Squaw Creek
A venture onto the 18 km of groomed trails at Resort at Squaw Creek is a quiet refuge from the crowds of Olympic Valley and the views of the mountain are spectacular. The trails are just outside the door of the resort, so in between spa appointments, a visit to the skating rink and dining at one of the restaurants, you can get in a nice ski. Dog sledding is also a popular activity on the Resort at Squaw Creek trails. You can join in the fun behind the huskies or watch them fly by when you are skiing. | squawcreek.com
A perfect day | Skate ski around the meadow enjoying the level terrain and spectacular views or hop on a dog sled and take a ride around the meadow. Finish off your adventure with a cocktail and piano music in the resort’s lobby, followed by dinner at Six Peaks Grille.
Royal Gorge is the region’s largest cross-country ski resort with 140 km of groomed trails and six distinct trail systems. Glide along the crest of the Sierra on Razorback, letting the breeze push you across the Van Norden meadow or wind through the forest for views of Devil’s Peak — there’s a lot to explore, including more than 11 km of dog trails.
This summer Royal Gorge carried out an ambitious program of trail and drainage work to divert snowmelt off the trails and enable a longer ski season. The activity calendar is packed with events including special women’s clinics, training with former Olympians, orienteering activities and waxing clinics. | royalgorge.com
Two perfect days | Climb to the Razorback Trail because these north-facing slopes stay cool all winter and the views at the top of the Sierra Crest and Sugar Bowl are sublime. The trip back down seems as if you are flying.
On the second day, take the Palisade Trail to Stage Coach, followed by an open view of Devil’s Peak. Head back to Snow Mountain trail, which climbs to the Hellman Trail and eventually Point Mariah where the view into the Royal Gorge itself rivals that of Razorback. Make sure to top it off with Fish Tacos at Summit Station Café.
This was once home to the cross-country ski events of the 1960 Winter Olympics. There are 20 km of trails are available for cross-country skiing at the park. About 8.5 km of trails on the forest side of State Route 89 are groomed several times a week by the Sierra State Parks Foundation. Use of the trails is free; it cost $5 to park. No dogs are allowed.
While not groomed, two trails on the lakeside of the highway are well worth the effort because they bring you to the shore of Lake Tahoe where osprey and eagles can be spied. There’s a heated restroom in the General Creek campground. | sierrastateparks.org
A perfect day | After checking the grooming schedule, follow in the path of the Olympians on the Red Trail that loops around General Creek. Cross the highway and follow the signs on the ungroomed Yellow Trail to the shores of Lake Tahoe for a lunch you picked up at Obexer’s General Store in Homewood.
Tahoe City Winter Sports Park
This winter park is located on the summer grounds of the Tahoe City Golf Course. It provides 4 km for both skating and striding, as well as a snowshoe loop/walking trail. The lodge features Cafe Zenon. Outside the door is a skating rink and sledding hill. Situated in the center of Tahoe City, the area is a perfect stop for a family who wants a quick introduction to winter sports downtown. | wintersportspark.com
A perfect day | Get out early to enjoy the freshly groomed tracks around the meadow. Keep your eyes peeled for a lake view on what in the summer is Hole 7, then head back to the lodge to change from skating skis to ice skates and hop onto the only ice skating rink on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe. Window shop through downtown Tahoe City, then grab a coffee or tea from Dam Café and sip them on Fanny Bridge over the waters of the rushing Truckee River. Take in the history of the area at Gatekeeper’s Museum.
This much-loved, unassuming ski area is best known for its relaxed atmosphere where friends have been meeting to ski for decades. It’s also the home base for The Great Ski Race, the largest Nordic ski race west of the Mississippi. The area offers 65 km of skate and classic tracks trails that wind through a variety of terrain — some with awesome views of Lake Tahoe. Three trails allow dogs and a regular contingent of dog lovers are loyal season passholders. There are three warming huts with cocoa, tea and water, extensive programs for kids and free lessons offered for those with a trail pass almost every day of the week.
There’s a new executive director this year, Ben Grasseschi, who has coached the region’s best cross-country athletes for the past 20 years, including several with a shot to qualify for the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. Other changes include a new grooming machine and an interior remodel of portions of the lodge. | tahoexc.org
Two perfect days | On Day 1, glide on the Orange Trail to the Red Trail that skirts the edge of Antone Meadows, before climbing to the top of Kevin’s Crest on the Lakeview Trail. The view is stunning so bring your camera. Relax at the Free Heel Café for coffee and a delicious panini.
On Day 2, make your way to the top of the Gold Trail to fly back down the thrilling Bronze Trail to Silver. Relax at the warming hut overlooking the lake. Bring a picnic lunch from Tahoe House and have some hot cocoa while enjoying the view.
Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Center
With more than 100 km of trails, this center has been voted one of the 10 best cross-country ski areas in North America and the best cross-country ski resort in North Tahoe the past two years. The ski area is housed in the Alder Creek Adventure Center, an expansive state-of-the-art lodge with ski waxing and locker rooms, indoor and outdoor seating with fire pits, restaurant and a separate bar with fireplace overlooking the trails.
Tahoe Donner is known for everything from super easy to super hard: from the long, gentle glides in a winter-wonderland valley to never-ending climbs with jaw-dropping views. It’s Truckee’s favorite cross-country ski venue. This year, several new benefits have been instituted for season passholders including 7 a.m. trail access and discounts on food and beverages. | tahoedonner.com
Two perfect days | It’s good to ease into Day 1. Take North Fork Trail to Last Round Up to begin the long, gentle descent into Euer Valley, surrounded by high peaks. Circle the valley and head back out or climb up Crabtree Canyon to the Crabtree Lookout at the top. At the lodge, enjoy an après-ski menu at the Trailside Bar.
Day 2 climb to the top of Hawks Peak and the Drifter Hut. Sure, it is a long climb, but the views along the way are sublime and from the top it’s almost all downhill back to the lodge. Have a hearty organic lunch at Alder Creek Café.