NOTE: As of March 18, Granlibakken is open for sledding and downhill skiing (the lift is down temporarily, but skinning uphill is available with a ticket), and the cross-country trails are groomed. Purchase tickets online here. Book lessons at snowschoolers.com. Kids from TTUSD can show their ID for $5 sledding.
Off Highway 89 on Lake Tahoe’s West Shore is a 74-acre ski and snow play area that has been around since 1922. Granlibakken, meaning “hill shelter protected by firs” in Norwegian, is one of Tahoe’s oldest ski resorts. It started off as a casual tobogganing and cross-country hill with a ski jump until a previous owner realized that the slope was perfectly graded for a competitive Olympic event, although the Tahoe Sierra lost the bid to host the Winter Olympics in the early 1930s.
“We’ve kept our offerings contemporary; we pay attention to what people like to do and create activities that appeal to them.”
Flash forward 98 years to the recent winter break and Granlibakken is crawling with kids — either playing in the outdoor swimming pools, building snowmen, sledding or skiing down the groomed slopes or getting a quesadilla from Rusty’s snack bar inside the log cabin-like Ski Hut, a historic landmark. Granlibakken is an intimate resort and it appeals to beginner skiers and those who just want to be on the snow.
Read about Granlibakken’s history.
Watching all the activity midweek in February and thinking about the cost of managing the mountain, I wondered, how has Granlibakken remained an independent, family-owned ski resort all these years?
“We’ve kept our offerings contemporary; we pay attention to what people like to do and create activities that appeal to them,” says Granlibakken owner Ron Parson.
Granlibakken had been through some rough times. In the late 1960s, UC Berkeley claimed the land and then sold it to “The Joy of Cooking” publisher M. Hughes Miller. By 1978, Granlibakken was bankrupt. When the property was back in Chase Bank’s hands, local Tahoe property managers William and Norma Parson were asked if they’d like to carry a $100,000 note on the property and inherit its ski hill, conference center and undeveloped land. The condos remained with the homeowners’ association. They took the deal.
“My uncle [William] kept it open and Granlibakken has never missed a winter season since 1922,” Ron Parson says.
Granlibakken was managed primarily as a ski area until the mid-1980s; Parson believes that building up the sledding hill and keeping lift ticket prices affordable are what has kept the winter retreat viable in recent years.
“Lifelong skiers are bringing their kids here to learn. A whole family can ski for the price of one lift ticket at one of the other resorts,” he says. “And if you can ski our hill top to bottom, then you can ski any groomer in the world.”
The Parson family also maintains the U.S. Forest Service-owned cross-country area behind the hotel in Page Meadows. Granlibakken’s historic ski jump is back in use; the Squaw Valley Freestyle team practices on it in the summer months.
Parson admits that maintaining the infrastructure to run a ski area independently is incredibly expensive and they struggled to keep Granlibakken open in the early 2000s. He suggests that bigger ski resorts are able to manage their costs by offering real estate.
“But now we’ve hit a sweet spot to keep it affordable for families while also being able to afford to run the place,” he says.
Even though managing Granlibakken is a challenge — the resort is comprised of a hotel, swimming pool, restaurants, conference centers, gym, yoga studio, day spa and more — Parson wouldn’t have it any other way. He just bought out the remainder of his aunt’s shares and he plans on being there for a while longer.
“I love living here. I was in the U.S. Navy for 25 years and was coaxed back into the Tahoe lifestyle by my aunt and uncle,” he says. “Running Granlibakken reminds me of being on a ship. Even though there’s no water, we run three restaurants, a ski area, conference centers — there’s a lot going on. But I love the hiking, the rich history that’s here and the natural environment. I’m lucky that I can be involved in all these diverse projects.” | granlibakken.com