An Insider’s Guide to North Lake Tahoe

From Taco Tuesdays in Truckee to scoring “The Big Three”

January 17, 2023 6:00 am
Homewood Lake Tahoe
Homewood Lake Tahoe
Go Tahoe North

The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe has a stellar source for local recommendations both on the mountain at Northstar and around Lake Tahoe’s north shore: Jason Preus, Mountain Concierge Manager of the region’s only ski-in and ski-out resort. With the 2022/2023 winter season marking the 50th anniversary of operations at Northstar California, we tapped Preus for background on the best — and longest — runs and hidden forest powder stashes across the mountain, plus where to get a coffee, head for sunset cocktails and spend a day off the slopes. 

Preus, who has been with The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe and snowboarding Northstar for a decade, shared that area locals only were hired for the ski concierge program in a seasonal first to provide guests with the best insider intel about Northstar (whose peak Mt. Pluto is an extinct volcano) and North Tahoe. For the five-star mountain concierge uninitiated (think of it like a valet service), Preus’ team also elevates the ski-in and ski-out experience by handling everything from equipment storage, tune-ups and booking lessons to warming boots ready for a day on the hill. Located mid-mountain at the top of Highlands Gondola, Ritz-Carlton guests get a head start when it comes to first tracks and access to one hundred trails across Northstar’s 3,170 skiable acres via high-speed quad Arrow Express just a few easy turns from the outside concierge deck.

InsideHook: What’s one rookie mistake first-timers make skiing or riding the mountain?
Jason Preus: For the more experienced, only sticking to the frontside where the beginners are learning and not venturing to the backside where lines are generally shorter and the terrain is more advanced.

What’s your first chair/run? 

Arrow Express to Comstock and The Backside, conditions permitting. It’s all black runs on the backside of Lookout Mountain except for Washoe, which is blue. Challenger is another favorite. You can see for miles over Martis Valley, which is just a really beautiful spot, especially in winter. 

What about the best powder stashes and freestyle areas?
The good stuff usually gets skied off quickly, but any of the glades around Lookout Mountain: Sawmill, Sugar Pine, Monument. For freestyle, kids love learning at “Lil Stash,” which is part of a larger natural terrain area designed by Burton Snowboards under the Vista Express chair.

And the longest run?
Logger Loop on the Vista lift side is 1.4 miles from top to bottom, although you can always add The Woods down to The Village at Northstar then ride Village Express to get back to the hotel.

Can I still enjoy the snow if I don’t ski or snowboard?

Yes. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are both great ways to experience the mountain — Northstar’s guided twilight snowshoe tour is super popular. There are shops, restaurants and a movie theater, plus an ice skating rink in winter to check out around The Village at Northstar, too. 

Where can I get a cup of coffee near the hotel and go for a good walk?
They’re a short drive from the hotel but local roasters Drink Coffee Do Stuff have opened a place in Incline Village. From there, you’ve got the paved East Shore Trail or the Incline Flume Trail up on Mt. Rose Highway — walk about two miles in for great views of the lake. In Truckee, there’s Dark Horse and a paved trail that runs beside the river through Truckee River Regional Park.

Where can I find the best cheap eats in town?

Taco Tuesday at Casa Baeza in Truckee. They do these dollar tacos in clay pots which are awesome, and the margaritas are solid too. 

Where can I go for the best dessert?
I’d say Manzanita here at The Ritz-Carlton. Our new chef Jonathon Musto and his pastry team created this dessert that looks like a pine cone — it’s chocolate on the outside but mango ice cream on the inside. 

Where’s the best place for a sunset cocktail?

During winter, après at The Backyard here at The Ritz-Carlton is tough to beat. The menu is seasonal, but Partridge in a Pear Tree is pretty popular at the moment, plus there’s the Whiskey Cabin for fine malts and Luxury Lounge for fireside cocktails once the sun has set. During summer, I’d say the Lake Club for hotel guests or Lone Eagle Grille over in Incline Village.

Where should I go in the area for a day spent outside?

Most visitors skip it, but Donner Lake is low-key and easy to access from the freeway. You can bring dogs there too, so it’s popular with locals. Sand Harbor is the second most visited spot in Lake Tahoe and has an amazing beach, so that’s another option for those warmer months. 

Where’s a good spot to snap an Instagram-worthy photo? 

Monkey Rock outside Incline Village, which has a really good view of Crystal Bay. The trail starts at the end of Tunnel Creek Road and you can hike there in winter with Yaktrax or snowshoes. 

What’s the best neighborhood to take a four-hour stroll?

Truckee’s historic downtown has cool shops like Grizzly Menswear and RMU Truckee, plus local cafes and breweries. Tahoe City’s walkable downtown is nice too, and it has a historic museum, galleries and places to eat along the Commons Beach stretch of North Lake Boulevard.

What’s the easiest way to get around town, in terms of transportation?
Driving, although Ritz-Carlton guests who fly in can hop on a shuttle to and from Truckee in the winter and the North Shore Beach and Lake Club during summer. North Lake Tahoe Express also operates several routes from Reno Airport to Truckee and locations along the north shore.

What’s the best thing you can only do in North Tahoe?

The Big Three. It’s possible in the spring when you ski or snowboard in the morning, then go for a hike before heading down to the lake to paddleboard or get on the water in the afternoon. 

What’s something that tourists tend to do that really annoys locals?
Not being aware of driving restrictions and spacing when driving or being prepared for winter conditions by bringing chains or checking tire tread. They crash and jam up the freeways. 

What’s something I can say or do to endear myself to locals?

See above.

I’m looking for a low-key brunch. Where to?

It’s going through a renovation right now, but Chambers Landing does a really good brunch and is the oldest bar on the water here in North Tahoe. 

Any potential issues I should be worried about or pay attention to when it comes to public transportation? 

The TART can be difficult to figure out and doesn’t run 24-7. Uber and Lyft are good if drivers are working, which isn’t always the case during a storm. Plus, to drive between state lines they need a special license, which can impact availability — especially during winter.

What’s the one thing everyone forgets to pack? Or the one thing everyone should remember to pack when visiting?

People always forget their gloves in winter, although they can pick up a replacement pair in our retail shop True North. Chains are probably the biggest big one though and having an emergency kit for the car in case they get stuck in a snowstorm on the highway. 

Finally, what’s the best book to read about the area before I come?

Not a book but Bad Times at the El Royale with Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm and Dakota Johnson was (fictionally) set in North Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada state line. The cast came out here for a premiere and the director talked about how the old Cal-Neva Resort Casino (once owned by Frank Sinatra and fellow Rat Pack member Dean Martin) helped inspire the movie.

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