Vail’s sister on the big, blue lake
HEAVENLY, Calif. – Three self-proclaimed snow junkies set off in search of new terrain in Heavenly, Lake Tahoe and found a brand new world. What you need to know and where you need to ride at the South Shore’s largest resort: Will your Vail ski pass work at Heavenly?That all depends on what type of pass you have. You’re in luck if you are a Vail Resorts employee and have the time and money to get to Tahoe, and believe me it’s well worth the effort. If you are a merchant pass or Peaks Pass holder, you get a discounted rate. Either way, if you have not had the chance or taken the opportunity – do it. Heavenly has more than 4,800 acres of in-bounds terrain and 3,500 feet of vertical. The average annual snowfall is more than 30 feet. This scenic mountain resort brings a different personality into the family of Vail Resorts. Reno, stairway to HeavenlyReno is a terrific jumping off place for some tremendous winter adventure in the Sierras. This time around, Heavenly was the destination of choice. Coming from the homeland of Vail Resorts, the chance to take a look at the newest addition to the quiver was too good to pass up. After crawling out of the smog, neon and clattering coins of the “posh” gaming industry of Reno it was on to the stop-and-go strip mall express of Carson City.The concrete eventually abates to a scenic two-lane highway where hand-painted signs and rural charm adorn the view. Highway 50 leads straight to Lake Tahoe. They say first impressions last a lifetime and in the case of Heavenly the sparkling blue sapphire that is Lake Tahoe goes a long way in making a good impression.
To say the least, the first sight of the blue gem is welcoming. Especially for a self-proclaimed group of ski freaks tired of breathing stagnant casino air. The sense of adventure that accompanies our addiction was elevated by the fact that Heavenly borders Nevada and California. Locally, the people we talked to had more to say about the Nevada side. However, Marshall Woodridge, bartender at the mid-mountain Adventure Peak, summed it up when he said, “If you see it, you can ski it.. With the majority of the terrain blue runs, locals attest Heavenly is all about the trees. Going to California with an aching in my heartCalifornia has a reputation as a free-living, fun-loving, liberal Mecca. Mythologized in song and forecast to one day drop into the ocean, California has got plenty to offer the Rocky Mountain rider. A decent park, sick glades and scented ponderosa pine set the stage. A local tip turned us onto a short hike up a cat track off the Tamarack chair which dropped us into a section of the Skiways Glades not often tracked. We arrived too early in the day to really enjoy the spring corn. The terrain, on the other hand, found us muttering “Can you imagine this with a foot a snow?” The answer, of course, is always yes. From the top of the Sky Express chair we headed down Skyline Trail and passed a sign noting we were entering Nevada. We joked about stopping at the slot machines and kept an eye out skiers right looking for the beginning of the hike to the top of Milky Way Bowl. Long story short, it looks bigger on the map. It wasn’t until we had a better understanding of the Nevada side that we got a feel for what the short hike had to offer. Gambling on the Nevada side
Inside information from a few local sources led us to explore Nevada. Milky Way Bowl and the chutes in Mott Canyon came highly regarded. We never made it too the chutes in Mott. Something special called to us, Killebrew Canyon on the eastern side of the resort. We discovered it trying to access Mott Canyon. A hidden gem and a local favorite, Killebrew Canyon is a must for the advanced skier/rider looking for something steep and challenging, not to mention scenic. Under the Gun is the first run we came across after crossing through the gate. Steep and soft in the spring sun, this run is skiers left of the canyon. Like most worthy terrain, a hike in or a long traverse out is called for. Our late-spring excursion required a summer-like hike through sage and fallen ponderosa with a great view of Gardnerville, Nev., miles below. Rumor has it locals ride something akin to the Vail’s Minturn Mile down to Gardnerville from an unknown backcountry gate on the eastern side. A word of advice, don’t be that guy and explore the Nevada backcountry without proper equipment and a knowledgeable, local guide. Killebrew Canyon was too good to ride only once – everyone agreed. The terrain off the Olympic chair and North Bowl also came highly recommended by the locals. However, the lower part of the Nevada side was closed for the season. The only good thing about that was it left us wanting more and a good excuse to return mid-season. After a long season, everyone we talked to was more than happy to hook us up with local advice and had a real laid-back, mountain-town attitude. Maybe the fact we let everyone know we came from Breckenridge and Vail added some credibility to our cause. Who knows for sure, but all that really matters is that at Heavenly, it’s all good.
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