Cover: Big mountain skiing at Kirkwood Ski Resort Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media
Are you a fan of big mountain skiing with no lift lines? Then Kirkwood Ski Resort is the place to go.
With 2,000 feet of vertical drop from a summit of 9,800 feet/2987 meters and 2,300 acres of terrain, Kirkwood delivers a day of challenges, adventure, and pure skiing pleasure.
But, don’t let the term “big mountain” make you think Kirkwood isn’t a great spot for all levels. Kirkwood has plenty of diverse terrain for skiers and boarders of all levels, from gentle greens, to wide blue groomers, to legendary steep chutes and cornices.
Kirkwood’s high elevation also delivers some of the driest skiing in the west, creating plentiful powder stashes throughout the mountain.
A bit off the beaten path, Kirkwood is located 80 miles south of Reno and 34 miles south of South Lake Tahoe – a little extra drive that is rewarded with less crowds, great skiing and boarding, and an unpretentious atmosphere.
Kirkwood Ski Resort: Skiing and snowboarding
Starting with the beginners areas, 12% of Kirkwood’s trails are rated green and are primarily located near each of the base areas off of the Snowkirk and Bunny lifts. Kirkwood’s greens are gentle and the terrain near the Bunny lift is all green, making it a perfect environment for novices to gain skills and confidence without dodging faster, higher level riders.
For intermediate skiers, 30% of the runs are blue, with most of the trails spread across the resort at the mid-mountain level. A great intermediate plan of attack – take the Snowkirk lift out of the Village, then turn left and head over to the Caples Crest lift.
At the top of Caples Crest, take Herringbone Straight off the back, then head up the Chair 4/Sunrise lift. Enjoy the stunning views as the sun begins to warm the day, then head down Elevator Shaft or my favorite, Happiness Is.
After a morning of play near the Sunrise lift, the Sunrise Grill is a great on-mountain spot to grab a burger and a beverage, soak up some rays in one of the Adirondack chairs, and marvel at the views.
When you are ready to explore further, take the Ironhorse lift to connect to any of the blues back to the Village, then hop aboard Solitude.
At the top of the Solitude lift, turn right and then watch for Home Run on the left on the descent, which will deliver you to the Timber Creek Base Area.
The tree-lined trails off the Timber Creek lift are an intermediate playground, with multiple blue trails and loads of tree skiing fun.
Famous for its advanced (38%) and expert (20%) terrain, Kirkwood has it all for skiers and snowboarders looking for a true challenge.
From chutes, to cornices, to glades and bowls, Kirkwood has some jaw-dropping descents. That said – expert is really expert at Kirkwood, so don’t underestimate the extreme terrain and overdo it, putting yourself and others at risk.
Kirkwood has two terrain parks – Bandit at Timber Creek (closed for the 2015-2016 season) for beginner-level boxes, jumps and rails and Outlaw off the Solitude lift, with three box and rail features and three table top jumps.
How about some cross-country skiing? Kirkwood boasts 80 kilometers of groomed cross-country trails amidst fabulous scenery – even a one kilometer loop adorned with animal cutouts called the “Kiddy Kilometer.” The cross-country center is located near the Kirkwood Inn and offers lessons as well as equipment rentals.
Ski and ride school
The Kirkwood Ski & Ride School is a great place to begin a visit to Kirkwood. With lessons available for beginners, intermediates and experts, even a one day lesson provides tips and tricks that enhance your time on the snow.
In addition to the ski school, Kirkwood offers online equipment rental, a demo center, a tuning center and ski shops at both villages with a full range of equipment from skis and boards, to boots, to soft goods.
Kirkwood Ski Resort: Dining & drinking
A variety of shops, restaurants and bars are located around and on the mountain, providing a wide variety of choices whether you’re seeking something to grab and go or a slopeside patio.
In addition to the Sunrise Grill, one of our favorites is Off the Wall in the village, with an authentic lodge feel indoors or spectacular views on the patio. Try the blackened shrimp and avocado quesadillas – they are tasty!
Where to stay
Accommodations near Kirkwood are primarily townhouses and condominiums rented through property management companies and/or the owners. A wide selection of hotels are available in South Lake Tahoe, which is located about 55 minutes away. If staying at South Lake Tahoe, be sure to check into the Kirkwood shuttle that provides roundtrip transportation for $20.
Getting to Kirkwood and parking
Kirkwood’s address is 1501 Kirkwood Meadows Drive, Kirkwood, CA 95646.
Kirkwood Mountain Resort is located 80 miles from the Reno Tahoe airport, or about 1 hour 40 minutes. From South Lake Tahoe, Kirkwood is 34 miles or about 55 minutes. From San Francisco (SFO), Kirkwood is 184 miles or about 3 hours and 35 minutes.
Know before you go
Photo: Greg K. Hull © Chasing Light Media
Understand the symptoms of altitude sickness. Altitude sickness most commonly occurs above 8,000 feet/2400 meters due to the lower oxygen levels. If you live at a lower elevation and travel quickly to a high elevation, you are more likely to experience some form of altitude sickness, which can include tiring easily, headaches, nausea, loss of appetite and other symptoms. Drink plenty of water, limit alcohol consumption and take it slow when you arrive. If you fly into Reno, which sits at 4,415 feet/1,346 meters, consider spending a night or two in Reno to acclimate before heading to the mountains.
Carry chains if driving. Road conditions and weather change quickly in the Sierra and frequently chains are required. Information on road conditions can be found at the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).
Consider hiring transportation to the Kirkwood or South Lake Tahoe. Several private companies offer shuttle services to South Lake Tahoe, so you simply sit back, relax, and enjoy the view.
Visit in the summer as well. Kirkwood is a year-round destination with lift-accessed hiking and mountain biking, disc golf, fishing, boating and zip lining.
Learn more on the Kirkwood website.
The content & opinions expressed in our Kirkwood Ski Resort Review are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.