Why You Should Ski Palisades Tahoe This Winter

Dust off your downhill gear and head to California’s legendary high-alpine resort

January 11, 2023 6:54 am
person downhill skiing against a blue sky in Palisades Tahoe
Adventure awaits in this snow-filled wonderland
Go Tahoe North

Everyone from NOAA to Powderchasers predicted La Niña conditions and tapped Tahoe for above average snowfall for the 2022-2023 season. And with several major storm systems having blown through since early November — including a record-setting seven-feet-per-hour monster on New Year’s Eve — it turns out those predictions have thus far been correct, making high-alpine favorite Palisades Tahoe one of the best places to chase fresh powder this winter.  

Throw in technical chutes, hike-to back bowls and forested glades across 6,000 skiable acres to those many multiple inches of snow, and it’s easy to see why the resort has been one of the most celebrated ski destinations in the United States for more than 70 years.

A skier in Tahoe
Palisades Tahoe

Unless you live within driving distance of the mountains and keep a close eye on The Weather Channel, timing can make or break a ski trip. Pick a random date on the calendar, and you’ll spend a weekend scraping around on unforgiving hard pack; get lucky with the Snow Gods, and it’s two days of fresh tracks, face shots and smiles for miles.

Flying into Reno after more than nine feet of snow fell in Tahoe in mid-December meant that, after several dry spell winters with a snowboard bag gathering dust in the garage, my bluebird day karma was about to hit pay dirt. A slower than usual transfer because of heavy traffic on the I-80 with North Lake Tahoe Express still got me into the valley just after 2:00 p.m., which allowed plenty of time to walk around Palisades Village, check out the shops and restaurants, and grab an early dinner. Thick layers of sparkling white snow coated every tree in the valley, a glorious winter wonderland and sight for sore eyes.

Olympic Valley
Palisades Tahoe

A Legendary Olympic Site

The Winter Olympics have only been held once in California — Lake Tahoe and the then-called Squaw Valley hosted in 1960. Some highlights from the games made history, include CBS inventing “instant replay,”  a first-time medal win on metal skis instead of traditional wooden ones and Mr. Walt Disney himself directing the opening and closing ceremonies. While the terrain’s granite faces and chutes remain unchanged and the Olympic Flame still burns at the entrance on Olympic Valley Road, the legendary site was renamed Palisades Tahoe in 2021, removing the offensive term “squaw” and instead honoring the resort’s history as a “home to freeskiing pioneers, Winter Olympians and cultural icons across decades of ski history.” 

The name change might have been universally embraced, but another new addition — the $65 million Base to Base Gondola connecting Palisades with Alpine Meadows — has been more controversial. The “next chapter” in Palisades’ history might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it has created one of the largest ski resorts in the country, spanning almost two and a half miles and ascending a total of 3,105 vertical feet between Alpine Lodge and The Village at Palisades Tahoe. 

The new base-to-base gondola
The new base-to-base gondola
Palisades Tahoe

The Iconic KT-22 (and Its New Midway Station)

Surrounded by six peaks and with 30 chairlifts providing access to what is considered some of the most technical terrain in the country, I was eager to explore and joined The Funitel line in anticipation of its 9:00 a.m. opening. Seasoned-sounding locals discussed strategy — basically head straight to high-speed chair Siberia Express to access the lift’s namesake bowl and ridgeline.

On powder days when first track competition is fierce, lift lines in Palisades are said to be brutal. But with a day’s buffer since the last snowfall, the vibe felt super mellow. I warmed up on Granite Chief and took in textbook postcard views of “Big Blue” from The Mora, a rare green and flattish “need to keep your speed up” connector run at the top of the Gold Coast Express quad. 

Every other chair, I overheard people discussing their thoughts about the soon-to-be-opened Base to Base Gondola. Some weren’t phased by the resulting new “mega resort” and said less traffic jamming up valley roads would be a plus; others feared larger crowds — even midweek — and fresh snow getting tracked out sooner. Several mentioned not being too stoked about “inexperienced skiers and riders” having even easier access to the resort’s iconic KT-22 summit. 

Named for the 22 kick turns that expert skiers can achieve on their descent, Palisades’ fabled cliff face is now home to the new gondola’s midway station. Nicknamed “The Mothership” and littered with “technical lines, steep walls and landable cliffs,” KT-22 is a sacred site in Tahoe ski lore with terrain (one of the most infamous inbound freeride spots in the Lower 48) that’s been a proving ground for many winter athletes of note. After chatting to a friendly Cal Poly senior on my way up the KT quad, I turned left at the top and dropped in on Women’s Downhill (the site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Women’s Downhill race) for a heart-thumping and leg burner of a tight turn descent through tracked but still deliciously fluffy and close to knee-deep powder. For my second KT-22 stab, I turned right and came down Saddle before a cruisy Home Run finisher. 

After being advised to check out The Arc at Gold Coast, I grabbed a late lunch mid-mountain where views from the wraparound deck were unbeatable, especially when low clouds rolled in around 2:00 p.m. I fueled up on a burrito from Funi’s and, although tempted by a canned cocktail, opted to responsibly hydrate with water while consulting my now well-worn paper trail map and pondering where to go next. With just a one-day lift ticket to enjoy, I had barely scratched the surface on Tahoe Palisades. But, riding solo, I decided to save Granite Glades for another time — tree well and deep snow suffocation is real, and there are plenty of signs warning of its dangers. Maybe a few more runs over on Granite Chief or back to KT-22 for another adrenalin-boosting descent. Decisions, decisions.

The Poulsen Suite at PlumpJack Inn
The Poulsen Suite at PlumpJack Inn
PlumpJack Inn
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Stay Slopeside Adjacent at PlumpJack Inn

Back down in the village, the boutiquey and almost ski-in/ski-out PlumpJack Inn made a cozy home away from home in Olympic Valley. It sits steps from the Aerial Tram, ticket office, Funitel, and shops and restaurants in Palisades Village. And with 25% off any two nights between Sunday and Thursday, staying here midweek definitely helped save on trip costs. Rooms and suites are spread across two floors, and there are fluffy PlumpJack robes to kick back in (no slippers, though, so you might want to pack a pair), plus a Keurig machine for the mornings, although complimentary tea and coffee is available in the lobby until 11ish.

Popular with locals, PlumpJack’s bar opens at 3:00 p.m. for drinks, where they serve great craft cocktails and an award-winning wine list, with several bottles from California Governor Gavin Newsom’s PlumpJack Estate Winery. Food is served an hour later, no reservations required. In-room dining is another option, but to eat at the highly-rated PlumpJack Cafe, you’ll need to book a table several days in advance. Both the bar and cafe are closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, so plan accordingly to avoid a major case of FOMO. For those traveling with a four-legged family member, it’s worth noting that PlumpJack is also the only dog-friendly hotel in Olympic Valley.

Ski and snowboard trips don’t usually fall under “budget travel,” but saving on lift tickets is another way to help keep overall costs down, and Palisades Tahoe has some sweet deals.  It’s too late for an Ikon Pass, but the Tahoe Super or Midweek 4-Packs are affordable options for anyone within driving distance who can cherry pick their days or plan on spending a week in town. They average between $120 and $145 per day with some holiday blackout dates, while those keen to ski or ride more can always add extra days and save 25% off window rates. 

The Village at Palisades Tahoe
The Village at Palisades Tahoe
Go Tahoe North

Après Ski and High-Alpine Vibes

The legendary steeps and challenging terrain at Palisades Tahoe might draw crowds, but its village has a lively and well-loved scene that leans more Europe than North America. Le Chamois & Loft Bar (aka “The Chammy”) is the après-ski spot, but for Margaritas, tortilla soup and fish tacos, Tremigo Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar comes highly recommended. PlumpJack doesn’t serve breakfast, but between the Wildflour Baking Company and the Euro Crepes cart (get The German with ham, cheese and Dijon), you’ll be set before heading up the hill. For a fine dining lunch with a view, ride the Aerial Tram to The Granite Bistro at High Camp. 

The fire pit-dotted plaza has stores from big-name brands Patagonia and North Face, plus local retailers, including the Ledge Boardshop. If you need gear, Plumpjack has two retail spaces, PlumpJack Sport and The Inn Shop, where guests get 20% off rentals. 

Palisades’ area snowfall averages around 450 inches every winter, bestowing it with one of the longest ski and snowboarding seasons in Tahoe. A late dump last April kept the mountain open until Memorial Day, and people have even been known to ski on the Fourth of July. And if record-breaking snowfalls keep coming, this could be one of those years.


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