Squaw Valley is one of the historic greats. It's where the 1960 Winter Olympics was held, and offers spellbinding beauty of mountain-fringed glacial Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border. There are views of the lake and surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains from the slopes, and even the rare ski resort attraction of boat excursions. It’s one of the country’s biggest ski areas, with 4,000 acres across six peaks, yet has a sunny California beach feel with the culture transferred to the mountains.
Sunny and special. There are more than 170 trails, with a quarter of them for beginners, nearly half for intermediates and the rest great expert terrain. Progression is easy. Start at SnoVentures with gentle slopes and tubing, move on to Big Blue with its fabulously groomed slopes, lake views and the High Camp learning terrain, and then Shirley, an almost endless array of cruising. Teenagers love the bowls, gullies and moguls of Headwall, Silverado, The Chief and KT-22. All in all, a perfect place for taking big steps forward. The lift ticket gives access to Alpine Meadows, which more than 100 trails, between Truckee and Tahoe City, and is excellent both gentle skiers and thrill seekers.
The Village is a bustling yet traffic-free hub with a modern mountain ambiance. Sit down with a hot chocolate and gaze up at the daunting slopes of KT-22 and the skiers on them. Surrounding the main square, where there’s usually live music in the afternoon, is a wealth of restaurants and bars, as well as a large number of shops and plenty of big yet cozy, condo-style rooms. Suites go from one bedroom to three, sleeping up to eight for all family combinations. Other accommodation fans out from there.
The chalet-style rooms at Alpine Meadows offer good value and the feel can be quieter than at Squaw. There are all types of attractions including snowshoeing, dog sledding and skating with lake views from the on-mountain Olympic Ice Pavilion. You can bask in glory at the Olympic Museum, packed with 1960 memorabilia, on the mountain at High Camp where, by March, the open-air pool will be up and running. Skiers and non-skiers can lounge in the heated waters or soak up the rays. Varied boat trips and dinner cruises operate along the shore.
Ski lessons are available for all ages and will help build confidence in the snow. Tiny tots will use magic carpet lifts before moving on to gentle slopes. Older children can choose to ski or snowboard. There are also private family lessons enabling parents and children to bond on the snow. All skiing starts from the lifts at the village so keeping track of youngsters and getting them to lessons is a cinch. Youngsters also love the 30-foot climbing wall in the aerial tram building and the mini-snowmobile course.
On the north shore of Lake Tahoe, Squaw is just over a three-hour drive from San Francisco, a great American road trip into the heart of California. While some people may fly into San Francisco, there is also nearby Oakland or Sacramento and Reno-Tahoe airport which is only 45 minutes from the resort and offers flights from 20 U.S. cities. You can get away without a car once you’re here although the 70-mile drive around the water’s edge is a great attraction.
Nick Dalton, a U.K.-based travel writer for newspapers, such as The Times, has visited nearly 90 U.S. ski resorts (and another 20 or so in Canada). When not skiing he's also an expert on cruises, and his children, Georgia and Henry.