Think T-shirts, hiking shorts and polypropylene socks and you’ll get a hint of the magic of spring ski season while the snow lasts.
I know from experience that families want good snow plus sunshine on a spring break snowsports adventure. While the Christmas-New Year break is a crowded and expensive time, the spring and Easter breaks are dramatically less so, due mainly to the fact that different parts of the country have offset Spring Breaks. It may cost a bit more to book at the last minute, but do it — evaluating current conditions is essential to a fun trip at season’s end.
Spring Skiing: Pros & Cons
Depending on how late Easter falls, the choice of ski destinations can be limited. Many Western resorts close around the middle of April and most eastern mountains will close even earlier. Killington is often the only East coast choice, with very limited terrain into May. Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia often has good snow into May, but the weather can be gray and rainy.
We have skied Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Beaver Creek in the spring and enjoyed them thoroughly, though by mid-April the snow can be thin in Colorado, depending on the weather patterns of the year.
Other drawbacks to skiing late in the season include less snowmaking and a reduced number of trails; ski in-and-out housing that you can neither ski into nor out of, and a staff whose nerves are frayed by a long season.
But the joys of T-shirt skiing and basking in the rays at a slopeside barbecue are immeasurable.
Palisades Tahoe Has Enough Snow for Spring Breakers
Since it’s often open until Memorial Day after an annual average snowfall of 450” across six peaks — and generally laid back — Palisades Tahoe (the former Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows) has one of the longest ski and snowboard seasons in Lake Tahoe. For several years, it’s won ‘Best Ski Resort’ in North America from USA Today, 10Best Readers’ Choice and othe awards making it an even more desirable destination.
At our visit, it had been a good spring at Palisades with a base of 20 feet (yes, count ‘em, twenty) on some parts of the mountain and a fresh layer of powder from a three-foot snowfall just before our arrival. While the number of trails and staff was reduced from peak season, so was the customer demand. Lines were short and the skiing, well, just plain spectacular.
As with spring skiing anywhere, the best conditions are to be found in the morning, before temperatures climb and nudge the snow into the mush zone. So, we were early to the lifts. The teens skied and boarded fiercely until lunchtime, then went out for an hour more and called it a day by 2:30pm. By then, the snow on top was deteriorating and, toward the bottom of the mountain, getting downright gnarly.
Squaw Valley is just a great mountain, with many satisfying runs for every level criss-crossing over 6,000 skiable acres. It was the site of the 1960 Olympics, yet 65% of the terrain is comprised of beginner and intermediate runs, including 14 easy-to-navigate mountain zones for all ability levels.
Palisades Tahoe Plays Hard Enough for Spring Breakers
A new and fun development for 2016 is drone filming, done on mountain by Cape Productions. The company has long been in the drone photography business, so their skilled team recording your best runs, is quite a plus. Guests can sign up their group to take three runs followed by both a drone overhead and a camera crew alongside, and get a neat cut of their on-mountain experience for just $99.00.
From early April until closing, guests punctuate ski days with time at the resort’s High Camp Swimming Lagoon & Spa, perched on the slopes at 8,200 feet. Even on days when the resort lifts stay open till 2pm (yes, Happy Hour begins just as they close!), your family will find probably mushy but delightful and unforgettable conditions on mountain. This year, the snow is so good that Palisades signature events like the Snow Golf at Alpine Meadows and the Cushing Crossing pond skimming have been rescheduled for late April.
By the way, stay through Memorial Day and you can plan a “beach” day between your ski days. Sand Harbor State Park is the place for rentals so you can go boating on the lake. Chimney Beach has cool rock formations and great views. Hit up Kings Beach Recreational Area or Hidden Beach (a hike in from the eastern shore) to frolic in sand before dipping toes in the cold clear water.
Palisades Tahoe Kids Learning and Play Centers
The instruction for all ages is skillful and sympathetic. While one of my teens skied off with his class, the other enrolled in a snowboarding clinic where he ended up being the only (lucky) student. I enjoyed two of the best instructors I’ve ever skied with.
The Palisades children’s center (each mountain base has a program) has a great reputation and a super facility. Children’s classes start at age 3 and extend to age 13, with snowboard skills taught about age 5. Programs vary from private classes for toddlers to family lessons that suggest teaching techniques in parents, to group lessons that use terrain-based learning to help beginners overcome the challenge of turns. All students get progress reports that help them and their parents understand what comes next. Mountaineers and Jibbers ages 8-13 take group classes together to improve ski and snowboard skills, respectively.
You should reserve early for any of the slots in the programs, as there is great demand and limited availability. By the way, there is no longer daycare for the 2s and 3s, as before, nor was there ever a nursery for kids under 2.
Family-Friendly & Convenient Accommodation
Palisades Tahoe features slopeside lodging at the base Village at Palisades Tahoe, which bustles year round with nonstop events and nearly 60 bars, restaurants and boutiques.
Condos above the shops range from studios to three-bedroom units with a balcony and gas fireplace. Done in different styles, all have fully equipped kitchens, laundry facilities on each floor, kids play room, a full time front desk staff and more. On our spring trip, we stayed in two very different lodges and enjoyed the strengths of each.
The Palisades Tahoe Lodge is located a snowball’s throw from the cable car. It has a real condo lodge feeling pumped up by a AAA four-diamond rating. It only lacks a bar or restaurant to complete the package. However, food and drink are within easy walking reach and the proximity to the lifts, ice skating, cross-country skiing and tubing, plus equipment rentals and the children’s center, is a huge bonus. With moderate rates in spring, this place is good value.
Further down the valley, seven minutes’ by shuttle bus (or the resort’s lift), between woods and streams, lies the luxe Resort at Squaw Creek, which is the complete resort you’ve always looked for. You would stay here if only for the view over the large heated pool, a breathtaking sight of valley and mountains. It’s a postcard vista and worthy of a visit even if you’ve only come for a drink or dinner.
But the delights of this resort go way beyond the many available activities and postcard look. The food offerings are high quality and the bar welcoming and warm. The rooms, whether you choose the deluxe rooms, one- and two-bedroom suites with kitchenettes or bi-level penthouses, are well appointed in haute mountain style. There is a spa with the full menu of services (my Sports Massage was the best I’ve had in years.)
Trip Planning Details for a Palisades Tahoe Spring Break
The new Palisades Tahoe is made up of the former Squaw Valley USA and sister resort Alpine Meadows, which hope to be connected by a two-mountain gondola project awaiting final approval from the state. (There’s currently a free shuttle between them.) As you can see from this video shot by Cape Productions, the gondola ride will provide remarkable views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada range as well as facilitating cross-mountain skiing.
Wherever you stay, in the base village or a nearby inn, you’ll find the towns of Truckee and Tahoe City worthy of visits for both shopping and eating events.
In the summer, the melting snow yields to the golf course beneath, the bike trails leading down to Lake Tahoe, tennis courts, and more. It’s a real destination getaway any season of the year.
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