March 1, 2019
Duration: 2 days
Starting point: Mountain View, CA
Average budget for 2 people: $280 ($60 gas, $100 food, $120 hotel) *
- Day 1: Early morning drive to the mountains (or Friday after work drive, then hotel price doubles), snowboarding
- Day 2: Snowboarding and drive home
* Excluding ski lift tickets and gear/clothes rental
When we used to live in Southern California we went snowboarding to Mammoth Mountain, however, after we moved to the Bay Area it is much more convenient to go to Lake Tahoe. Luckily, Epic Pass includes 3 awesome resorts: Heavenly, Kirkwood, and Northstar. After spending many fun weekends on those mountains I decided to collect some statistics about them and share their comparison from our point of view.
Our favorite mountain resort in Tahoe is Kirkwood and it is also the closest one from Mountain View if road conditions are good (182 miles, approx. 3.2 h drive). Northstar is 228 mi away and Heavenly is 223 mi which is quite similar and is approx. 3.4 h drive. Roads to Norstar and Heavenly are wider and better maintained while the way to Kirkwood is a one lane curvy road that can be covered in snow. But this doesn't stop us from going there and we usually spend Saturday in Kirkwood and Sunday in Heavenly (because of cheaper hotel options).
Here is a brief statistics about these resorts. Even though it looks like they are getting a similar snowfall I would say that Mammoth is the best, then Kirkwood, then Northstar with Heavenly. If you are not sure where to go and how bad the season will be in California then Mammoth is a safer bet, however, it is approx. 6 h drive from Mountain View.
|Skiable terrain||2300 acres||4630 acres||3110 acres||3500 acres|
|Number of lifts||14||28||20||25|
|Number of trails||85||97||100||150+|
|Top elevation||9800 feet||10067 feet||8610 feet||11053 feet|
|Average snowfall||354 inches||360 inches||350 inches||400 inches|
|Longest run||2.5 mi||5.5 mi||1.4 mi||3 mi|
All resorts are very well maintained, nicely groomed trails, chair lifts are quite similar except for Kirkwood which has a little older equipment. All resorts also have ski parks but you need to check their status online before going. Now the most important things to consider while choosing a resort.
Heavenly has some very nice off-piste slopes where you can ride between the trees:
Mammoth has a lot of hotels to a different taste as well as house rentals, however, everything is getting quite expensive for the winter season if you are booking late. In Tahoe area Heavenly is the only place with cheaper hotels right next to the gondola. In Kirkwood and Northstar hotels that are near the lifts are very expensive and limited, all other lodging options are within a driving distance. If we go to Tahoe we usually stay in Heavenly for this reason.
Village and activities:
The most beautiful village is definitely in Norstar, it looks very luxurious :) Kirkwood is located in the middle of nowhere and there are not many things to do there. Mammoth and Heavenly are located in bigger cities with lots of restaurants and places to go to.
Northstar views this season:
Crowds and bottlenecks:
If weather conditions are good then Heavenly offers amazing views from Taramack express, tram, and Canyon Express, it's definitely worth checking out. Several years ago I complained in Heavenly that moving between different sides of the mountain is hard because the runs are too flat, however, this year I was able to make them on my snowboard. Also, Heavenly says that the longest run is 5.5 mi but it is only available when there is enough snow and it gets very bumpy.
See you on the slopes! And check out our instagram for more pictures :)