Walking down the staircase into the Village at Northstar recently, I had a flashback to the first time I skied at Northstar California in the late 80s. My dad carried my skis down the same staircase from these same lots and that excitement of us going into the village to ski, shop and play is still palpable.
Even now in its 50th year, Northstar has kept that family-friendly, California-cool vibe while trying to strike a balance between improving the guest experience and being stewards of the community.
Comstock & cocoa
Because I got there at 7:30 a.m., I was able to quickly get my lift ticket and hop on the gondola, where I met up with Ashlee Lambert, Northstar’s communications manager. We were at the top of the mountain by 9:15 a.m. and took a few runs down Burnout, the East Ridge and even went through the fun kids’ zone/art sculpture garden. Its new high-speed, six-pack Comstock lift kept the lines moving and I noticed the clear and consistent signage throughout the mountain that kept people safe on the trails.
Lambert and I took a mid-morning break at The Lodge at Big Springs, where I guzzled one of the most delicious hot cocoas I’ve ever had and we talked about the past, present and future of Northstar. Staring out toward the halfpipe accessible from the Vista chairlift, Lambert said Northstar recently hosted the Rockstar Women’s Only Weekend, which was such a success that attendees are already asking when the next one will be held.
Speaking of women, Tahoe ski industry veteran Amy Ohran just became the resort’s fourth female general manager and it was clear to me that Lambert is proud of where she works and the direction in which Northstar is going.
Managing traffic, access
Lambert passionately talks about Northstar’s commitment to the environment and how to keep sustainable tourism.
Everyone understands that there are issues with accessibility and capacity into the resort and the need to balance short-term guests and locals. Programs such as TART Park & Ride that Vail Resorts invested in could greatly reduce traffic, if only people used it.
“The traffic you’re sitting in is the same I’m sitting in,” Lambert says. “What’s tough is we have a lot of resources that people don’t realize.”
She explains that a trend this year is that more locals are coming to Northstar than destination group travelers, but that’s also one or two people per vehicle who aren’t as likely to carpool. “We’re trying to figure out how to better incentivize people to use that service. How can we make all those things more efficient and better educate people on that?” Lambert says.
Considering that these types of issues are happening in other destinations driven by increased interest and participation in the sport, we talk about how it’s not just a Northstar problem or even a regional problem, it’s a ski industry problem.
Bliss Bowls & bubbly
Lambert and I then took a few more runs and headed down to the new Wild Pine restaurant. Its interior pays homage to Northstar’s earlier life as a lumber yard (before relaunching as a ski resort in December 1972) and it has a unique menu of hearty tasty food and a page full of libations. Lambert and I both got Bliss Bowls, hers with roasted chicken and mine with tofu. I couldn’t believe how good mine tasted; I would go back to Northstar just for that.
Lambert admits that the last few years of the pandemic hit the tenants in the Village at Northstar hard, but some have remained and a few new ones have moved in, providing a new energy/mix of retailers and vendors.
We took the gondola back up to catch Tōst on the East Ridge trail with about 200 other people and with bubbles in our tummies, we went through the terrain park and halfpipe.
Lambert did give me a glimpse into the next 50 years, which could include putting in another gondola from Castle Peak to the Village to ease vehicle issues and continuing to support community stakeholders in their efforts to maintain the quality of life for those who live and work here full time.
“We want to celebrate the history but continue to improve the experience and work with all the different agencies to preserve what other people love about Lake Tahoe. We want to be stewards of this place, look at what sustainable tourism is in Tahoe and how we can contribute to that,” Lambert says.
Cheers to the next 50 years, Northstar. | northstarcalifornia.com