I'm In Heaven: Toting Toddlers To Heavenly Resort, California - My Family Travels

What's in store for your tiniest travelers headed to Lake Tahoe, California? A lot of fun, if you're hanging out at Heavenly Ski Resort.

For the first two years that we were in San Francisco, my husband and I longingly studied the wonderful snow reports at Lake Tahoe ski resorts.  We were unable to consider a family ski vacation there because of the lack of daycare facilities for children under two.  Lake Tahoe is only a three and a half hour drive from our home in San Francisco, yet we found ourselves flying to resorts in Colorado and Utah.

All that changed in 1999 when Heavenly Ski Resort, (800/HEAVENLY, 775/586-7000) the largest mountain in the Lake Tahoe region, opened a new daycare center for children beginning at six weeks.  While the thought of skiing six weeks after giving birth is a little hardcore for me, they claim to have had several 2-month-olds whose mothers skied a run or two in between feedings.  There is a quiet room set aside for just that activity.

In any event, I set out for a weekend last April to squeeze in a couple more days before admitting the season was over.  I took my 4-year-old, Nathaniel, and went with some friends who have a 5-year-old daughter, Rachel and a 2 1/2-year-old, Maureen.  Nathaniel and Rachel, who both had a few days of skiing under their belts, were enrolled in the full-day “Perfect Kids” program, which starts at 4 years and goes to 13.   Maureen went to daycare.

Rachel, who is both older and stronger than Nathaniel fared much better in the lessons.  She was a bit unhappy the first day,  but by the second day was really having fun.  Nathaniel was not happy about being in lessons for a full day and after lunch they beeped me to come get him. If you enroll your child in the full-day program, you should be pretty sure that he or she will enjoy a whole day, because there is no guarantee that there will be room in the day care facility for kids who opt out of this program. 

Heavenly Ski and Play

There are two other program alternatives.  For 3-4-year-olds there is the Ski/Play Program, where the children are mostly in daycare, but have an hour-long introduction to skiing in small groups. For 4 and 5 year olds there is the Half & Half Ski Program, where the kids are in day care in the morning and ski the afternoon.  Sometimes, the ski school offers half-day Perfect Kids lessons, but you will need to inquire about that for your particular dates.  For all programs, reservations are strongly recommended and are required for day care.  Heavenly Day Care and the Perfect Kids Ski Program can be reached before arrival at 800/HEAVENLY ext. 6912.

The great news about registering your children for skiing at Heavenly is that they take care of fitting the equipment.  We have been to a number of resorts recently where you have to stand in a separate line to rent the kids’ equipment, which is both annoying and cuts into your own ski time.  Here it’s one stop shopping; once you register your child, you are free to go. 

More Heavenly Than Ever 

The mountain itself offers some wonderful skiing, mostly intermediate and advanced.  The layout of the beginner slopes was a little strange when we were there, since the majority of  them are at the top of the aerial tramway.   There was only one short beginner run near the ski school, so if you wanted to ski with your child at the end of the day, you had to take them up the lift.

Some of this configuration changed in 2000, when Heavenly installed a new gondola leaving from downtown South Shore, convenient to many accommodations.  This provided a much needed facelift to the downtown area and is now the closest thing Heavenly has to offer to ski-in lodging.  The resort hotels will offer upscale retail and restaurant space, a movie theater and a ice-skating rink.  In addition, the ski school has opened mid-mountain for easier access to the beginner slopes.

Off-Slope Activities

South Lake Tahoe offers a number of activities other than skiing that kids would enjoy.  Sleigh rides are offered at Camp Richardson Corral (530/541-3113), snowmobiling is offered through several vendors including Zephyr Cove Snowmobile Center (800/23-TAHOE) and Lake Tahoe Winter Sports Center (530/577-2940).  Paddlewheel cruises are offered daily on the M.S. Dixie II (800/238-2468).  Finally, for older children, you might consider one of the shows in the casinos.  Some of the shows at Harrah‘s are apparently family friendly, Harvey‘s has musical revues and Mont Bleu Resort offers some headline acts that may be appropriate.

Lodging and Dining

In the meantime, there are several options for family lodging.  We stayed in a condominium operated by Lake Tahoe Accommodations, which did not have a hot tub, but was otherwise quite functional.  They have properties both in Nevada and California, so be sure to check how close you will be to the mountain.  They are reachable at 800/544-3234.  Another  good option is the Embassy Vacation Resort at 800-737-9884.  They offer one and two-bedroom condos with full kitchens and fireplaces. This facility has the advantage of being close to restaurants, activities and the ski resort, plus it has a pool..

Restaurants are no great shakes in the area, but certainly all are family friendly.  Harrah’s offers the American River Café (775/588-6611), which is open late.  I had a great breakfast a bit off the beaten path at The Red Hut Café (775/588-7488).

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