Friday, February 5, 2010

Tahoe's Great Snow at Great Prices

Lake Tahoe's ski areas are having their best year in at least four years. More snow has fallen and more skiers are hitting the slopes, much to the relief of those in the travel industry here. In the Colorado Rockies, Lake Tahoe's main competition for skier travel, snow arrived late and the amount disappointing. Tahoe, meanwhile, luxuriates under blankets of fresh snow that seem to arrive each week on schedule, with a few days of brilliant sunshine in between. On a trip to South Lake Tahoe last week for the Society of American Travel Writers conference, resort operators said that they are thrilled. The slopes were filled with skiers from all over the world. "There's no other lake like this and no other ski destination like this in the world," said Andrew Strain, Heavenly's vice president. But the economic recession has taken its toll. Resorts last fall responded by heavily discounting season passes to stimulate business and it worked. If you bought last year, you could get unlimited skiing passes for some of the major areas for under $400, including at Heavenly (top right). I met a woman from Placerville who purchased a season pass for the Sierra-at-Tahoe resort for $369 for the entire season (the only restriction: it can't be used on Saturdays) together with ski rental for the season for only an additional $109. At Harrah's, the casino seemed quieter than usual, but late afternoon there was a steady stomp of skiers late heading back to their rooms to change for drinks and dinner. The hotel has terrific midweek ski-and-stay packages for getaways. I had some good meals, with two standouts: Ciera, an upscale steakhouse at the Montbleu Resort and Evans, an elegant little neighborhood restaurant serving California cuisine with some Asian influences. For those who don't ski, there's wonderful snowshoe and cross-country skiing opportunities at quiet, lovely Camp Richardson (see photos) where the Beacon Grill is open for hot chocolate, drinks and a good selection of beer served in front of big picture windows overlooking that oh-so-lovely-blue lake.

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