Sierra at Tahoe is a resort that covers both ends of the skiing continuum, from beginner to expert and everything in between.
Gentle green runs, a great ski school, over 100 acres of terrain dedicated to beginners, and four beginner-only surface lifts make Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort a popular destination for those just getting started on the hill.
Top notch tree skiing and 320 acres of expert level backcountry terrain at Huckleberry Canyon have accomplished riders and skiers heading to the resort with frequency.
Anything for intermediates? Half the trails are rated blue, with a wide selection of groomers of varying grades and plenty of fresh corduroy.
Sierra at Tahoe: Skiing and snowboarding
With 2,000 acres and a 2,212 ft vertical drop, Sierra at Tahoe’s 46 trails cover some ground across the mountain.
Three high-speed quads, five cozy doubles, and one triple whisk skiers and boarders up the mountain, with several separate areas on the mountain primarily defined by how they are accessed: Grandview, Huckleberry Canyon, Backside, Nob Hill and the West Bowl.
The Grand View Express lift, located behind the ski school, serves the east side of the mountain, delivering skiers and riders to spectacular views of Lake Tahoe.
At the top of the lift, 360 Smokehouse BBQ is a great spot to grab lunch, head up to the rooftop deck for a photo opp of the lake, and check out Huckleberry Canyon.
On the front side of the hill, skiers and riders will find a wide variety of terrain including bumps, groomers, and glades.
Just under the Grand View lift are some nice advanced runs or for a gliding groomer, head off toward the west to tackle the longest run on the mountain, Sugar n’ Spice, a 2.5 mile green run that winds down from the top of Grand View Express all the way to the lodge.
The Huckleberry Gates
A short hike from the top of the Grandview lift, the Huckleberry Canyon backcountry terrain can be accessed from five gates.
The 320 acres of Huckleberry Canyon delivers some of the most challenging inbounds backcountry skiing and boarding at Lake Tahoe.
With cliff drops, chutes, bowls, glades, and cornices, it’s steep, it’s deep, and it’s definitely an experts-only adventure.
For two days, more than 50 of the top freeride skiers and snowboarders from around the world competed for Freeride World Tour qualifying points and a share of $5000 in prize money. It was an awesome display of tricks, thrills, and spills on the natural, rugged terrain. Be sure and mark your calendars for the annual event!
Heading off the back of the mountain from the Grandview lift, the Backside has some fun trails and is home to Sierra at Tahoe’s boarder cross features. Located on the south side of the mountain, the sunny Backside is best skied in the morning once spring rolls around.
Popular with riders of all levels, Nob Hill departs near the base area and delivers skiers and riders to a variety of challenges, including access to the very wide and somewhat steep intermediate run, Lower Main, that ends in the base area.
Moving to the west side of the mountain, West Bowl is a great place for intermediate and advanced skiers to play.
The high speed quad, West Bowl Express, accesses terrain ranging from long, fast cruisers to beautiful glade runs amidst the magnificent Red Fir trees for which Sierra at Tahoe is so well known.
Sierra at Tahoe has six terrain parks, the Smokey BoarderX course, and a halfpipe.
Designed with an emphasis on advancing skill levels in appropriate conditions, Sierra’s Burton Progression Park was created with first-timers in mind. From there, freestylers can tackle jumps, boxes, rails and build their trick repertoire at the various parks located throughout the resort.
The kiddos love Sierra at Tahoe’s on-mountain themed adventure zones. With animated characters, educational signs and pint-sized terrain features, children are entertained as they learn their way around the snow.
Sierra at Tahoe Ski school
Along with a highly-friendly environment for those just finding their way around the slopes, Sierra at Tahoe has a great ski and snowboard school for riders of all ages and all abilities.
Parents rave about the Wild Mountain children’s program, which both gets kids on skis and entertains them at the same time. Located next to the Main Lodge, programs are grouped by age and ability and are designed to encourage children’s love of the sport and their progression through skill levels.
Sierra at Tahoe: Dining & drinking
Sierra has some tasty options for dining and drinking, both on-mountain and at the lodge…
At the Main Lodge & Solstice Plaza
Java Junction – Serving a wide variety of coffee selections, as well as breakfast and lunch items
Mama’s Kitchen – With fare from breakfast burritos to soups, sandwiches, pizza and mac and cheese
Aspen Café – Grilled items and a variety of lunch options served with one hour of free WiFi access
Golden Bear Terrace – Located outside the Main Lodge, specializing in burgers, sandwiches, craft beers and goggle tans
Solstice Eatery – Specializing in tasty wraps, salads and whole wheat and gluten-free pizzas
Sierra Pub & Deli – Serving sandwiches, nachos, and pizza – a great spot for après with live music, happy hour specials and “local bar” atmosphere.
And perhaps the best beer bargain around – join the Sierra Pub Club and get happy hour prices all day long.
Baja Grill – At the foot of the West Bowl Express, the spot for fresh fish tacos, quesadillas, burritos, and tacos
360° Smokehouse BBQ – Located at the top of the Grandview lift at 8,852 feet, specializing in soups, BBQ and stunning Tahoe views (they have a veggie burger as well)
Where to stay
A wide variety of hotels and resorts are available in South Lake Tahoe which is about 17 miles from Sierra at Tahoe.
The complimentary South Shore Shuttle provides transportation from South Lake Tahoe to Sierra at Tahoe – shuttle times and information can be found on the Sierra at Tahoe website or by calling 530-659-7453.
Getting to Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort
Sierra at Tahoe’s address is 1111 Sierra at Tahoe Road, Twin Bridges, CA 95735.
Sierra at Tahoe is located 74 miles, or about 1 hour 45 minutes, from the Reno Tahoe airport. From Sacramento, Sierra at Tahoe is 91 miles, or about 1 hour 45 minutes, on Highway 50.
From the San Francisco airport (SFO), Sierra at Tahoe is 188 miles or about 3 1/2 hours.
Know before you go
Check on the Sierra at Tahoe website for discounts before you head to Sierra at Tahoe – the resort is known year after year for affordable lift tickets and great discounts on first timer lessons.
Reserve lessons and day care in advance. The kids programs are very popular, so reserve a spot for the little ones in advance. On the day of the lesson, drop off parking is available directly in front of the school.
Plan on traffic on the weekends and holidays. Sierra at Tahoe draws a big Sacramento and Bay area crowd, so arrive early to spend more time on the slopes and less in your car. Or, better yet, come midweek for no lift lines and plenty of untouched pow.
The content & opinions expressed in our Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort review are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
On a bluebird Saturday morning just south of Lake Tahoe, more than 50 top freeride skiers and snowboarders from around the world gathered in Huckleberry Canyon at Sierra-at-Tahoe to compete in the first Sierra-at-Tahoe Huck Cup.
The 2 star International Freeskiers & Snowboarders Association (IFSA)/Free World Qualifier (FWQ) had the top-tier athletes pulling out their best tricks at the two-day event held February 26-27. The top finishers earned qualifying points for the Freeride World Tour and shared $5000 in prize money.
The Freeride World Tour consists of a series of skiing and snowboarding events where freeride athletes compete on natural, rugged terrain at legendary freeride venues in Europe, North America, South America and Oceania.
Held in what was formerly an out-of-bounds area, Huckleberry Canyon is now 320 acres of steep and deep inbounds terrain with chutes, glades, boulders and precipitous drops accessed via five gates at the summit of Sierra-at-Tahoe.
How tough is it? Standing on the ridge looking down at the massive rocks jutting out from the snow will get your heart pounding. Heading over its steep edge in a plummeting descent, navigating spines, flying over cliffs and tackling the canyon’s rugged curves – calling it intense is an understatement; insane is probably more accurate. It’s definitely something straight out of an extreme skiing flick and it puts the expert in expert terrain.
During the inspection period before the competition began, riders tossed snowballs over the edge looking for a line and could be overheard discussing their strategies for attack with a combination a subdued nervousness and excitement.
The women snowboarders and skiers kicked off the day, followed by the men in both categories.
The riders brought their best big mountain riding skills, with thrills, spills and some highly-creative approaches to tackling the snow-covered rock face.
Throughout the day, spectators took in the action from points around the canyon ridge and on the rooftop deck at the 360° Smokehouse, cheering on the riders under the warm, early-spring skies.
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.
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.
Located in quiet Homewood, CA across the street from Lake Tahoe, Homewood Mountain Ski Resort offers spectacular views of Lake Tahoe, over 2,000 acres of skiing and snowboarding terrain, one of the best value ski and snowboard school deals around, and a family friendly, low-key locals’ vibe.
Not glitzy like the nearby larger resorts, Homewood is relaxed, where it’s about the skiing experience. Friends and families gather at large tables over lunch, laughing and sharing stories about their day on the hill, then it’s back up for some more fun on the snow.
Homewood Ski Resort: Skiing and snowboarding
Homewood Ski Resort’s 64 trails and 6 terrain parks are accessed via 8 lifts. Situated on the west shore of Lake Tahoe with a variety of terrain, Homewood is big enough to keep it interesting, but small enough to maintain its laid back appeal. And, with views that skiers and boarders visiting from both near and far stop to capture.
Combine receiving an average of 450 inches of snow per year with being notoriously uncrowded (especially on non-holiday weekdays) and you have an authentic day of skiing with plenty of secret stashes to be found – all the way into the afternoon.
Protected from ridge-winds by Ellis Peak’s unique position, the wind is far less of an issue than at other resorts, keeping lifts turning.
Half of the trails at Homewood are rated intermediate, with plenty of wide cruisers and paths to explore and 35% of the runs are advanced, with some incredible tree skiing and exhilarating terrain.
The base elevation at Homewood is 6,230 feet/1,899 meters, with the lift-accessible terrain topping out at 7,880 feet / 2,402 meters. Above the lifts, an additional 750+ acres of terrain can be accessed on one of the Homewood Snowcat Adventures guided tours, which provides snowcat access for groups of 10 skiers and/or riders maximum to the top of the mountain, which reaches 8,740 feet/2,664 meters.
Homewood Snowcat Adventures participants gain access to over 750 acres of backcountry terrain on Ellis Peak, ranging from bowls to glade skiing.
While only 15% of the terrain is for beginners, Homewood has four surface lifts and a great beginners area for new skiers and riders.
Homewood is an affordable place for families to learn and play together. Homewood offers Value Days throughout the season (tickets must be purchased in advance – check the Homewood website for dates & pricing), free skiing for active military on non-peak days, and kids under 4 ski free.
Homewood Ski and Snowboard School
Homewood’s ski and snowboard school offers classes from beginners to advanced and has one of the most affordable ski/snowboard deals around. The 2016 Homewood Learn to Ski or Learn to Ride package is available on non-holidays, Sunday-Friday, for $52 and includes a half-day lesson, all day equipment rental, and a beginner lift ticket – an incredible bargain. Learn to Ski or Learn to Ride packages must be purchased online at least 2 days in advance of the lesson date.
Equipment rentals are available at the North Lodge rental shop, as well as retail items and waxing services.
Homewood Ski Resort: Dining & drinking
There are two-day lodges at Homewood, with the North Lodge at the north base area and one at the South Lodge at the southern base area. At the South Lodge, The Southwest Grill serves up southwestern fare and the Fireplace Tavern is a full bar with daily drink specials.
Upstairs at the North Lodge, the 89 Bar & Grill is a popular spot with a full bar and restaurant offering burgers, soup, and salads.
Downstairs, the Madden Cafe is a great spot to grab a quick coffee or pizza and enjoy it at one of the plentiful outdoor tables at the base of all the action.
Just below the top of the Madden Triple Chair is the Big Blue View Bar, with burgers, hot dogs, a full bar, and incredible lake views.
Homewood Ski Resort: Where to Stay
The West Shore Café & Inn is located directly across from Homewood with five guest rooms & suites and two villas. Additionally, a variety of lodging options is available in Tahoe City about 7 miles away.
Homewood Ski Resort: Getting there
Homewood Ski Resort’s address is 5145 W Lake Blvd, Homewood, CA 96141.
Homewood is located 58 miles, or about 1 hour 10 minutes, from the Reno Tahoe airport, and approximately 213 miles from San Francisco. From Highway 80, take the CA-89 S (exit 185) exit and continue on Highway 89 for 21 miles to Homewood, California.
Parking at both of the lodges is free, close and convenient – but limited. The Homewood Shuttle is an on-call service for guests from Incline Village to The Rubicon. Homewood Visitors who take Tahoe Area Regional Transit (TART) receive a voucher for $5 off a lift ticket.
Stay hydrated. Remember you are at elevation, which causes you to lose water through respiration, so drink extra water while in the mountains.
What to bring/send with your child to ski school. To get the most from any day in ski school, dress in layers to stay comfortable throughout the day’s changing temperature, wear waterproof jacket and pants, bring gloves or mittens, wear warm socks, and always wear a helmet when on the snow.
The content & opinions expressed in our Homewood Ski Resort Review are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
When one of our favorite wineries, Rodney Strong, called a couple of months ago to see if we’d like to come out for a few days to learn more about the winery and attend a blending seminar, we only had one question – when? Whatever the date, we would clear our calendar to attend such a unique experience.
Our Master Blender experience was scheduled for the first week of February and when we received the final agenda the week before – wow! Amazing food, wine tastings, luxury accommodations, visits led by the winery’s viticulturist to locations few get a chance to ever see, sessions with Rodney Strong’s winemakers to learn about the winemaking process, and a blending seminar led by Rodney Strong’s head winemaker, Rick Sayre.
Rodney Strong Vineyards Master Blender Experience Day 1: Arrival and welcome dinner
We arrived early in the afternoon at the Vintner’s Inn in Santa Rosa where we would be staying during the event. A four-diamond luxury hotel, the Vintner’s Inn is the epitome of wine country elegance, with stately rooms, elegant gardens, and one of our favorite restaurants, John Ash & Co.
With such a beautiful Sonoma afternoon at our disposal, we set out for a hike on the two-mile trail around the property while a bottle of Rodney Strong Chalk Hill Chardonnay chilled in the fridge – the perfect post-hike refreshment upon our return!
Our welcome dinner was at John Ash & Co. with winemaker, Justin Seidenfeld, Rodney Strong’s social media manager, Laura Perret Fontana, and the four additional event attendees, Marlynn Jayme Schotland, Jana Seitzer, Annabelle Pericin and Robert Larsen.
As we worked our way through savory courses accompanied by Rodney Strong wines, Justin provided the background and details on each of the wines. Originally from Colorado, Justin graduated from the University of California, Davis in 2006 with a B.S. in Viticulture & Enology and has been making wine in Sonoma county since 2005, and at Rodney Strong since 2010.
Off to a great beginning to a fascinating week, we were eager to explore the vineyards and learn more about the winemaking process.
Rodney Strong Vineyards Master Blender Experience Day 2: Vineyard tours, barrel tasting, and an abundance of spectacular food & wine
Winegrower relations manager, Ryan Decker, was our guide for vineyard tours for the morning of day two. Our first stop – Chalk Hill in Windsor.
As we enjoyed a delicious breakfast prepared by Rodney Strong Winery Chef Tara Watchel amidst the vines, Ryan explained the unique properties of the Chalk Hill area, where the soil appears “chalky” due to ash deposits from a long-past volcanic eruption.
An excellent start to the day – learning about the vines that produced the very Chardonnay that was in my hand just the afternoon before.
First released in 1974, Alexander’s Crown was Sonoma’s first single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, quickly gaining acclaim, including being named the highest rated Cabernet Sauvignon in Robert Parker’s first issue.
Situated on hills that rise 360 feet above the valley floor, 66 acres are planted at Alexander’s Crown, with Block 1 at the top of the hill producing the prime, most intensely flavored grapes. Listening to Ryan describe the meticulous grape growing processes, it became obvious there are no shortcuts in creating a spectacular bottle of wine.
Each detail is constantly analyzed in an effort to gain even a fraction of improvement. Grapes are picked in 1/2 ton sections to isolate the best blocks or sections of vines. Cross arms were added to the stakes a few years back to “add shade with dappled sunlight” as overexposure can result in too much tannin. And the list goes on, in pursuit of producing an even more perfect bottle of wine.
The Alexander’s Crown property is also the home of Rodney Strong’s owners, the Klein family, and the location of a former home of Rod and Charlotte Strong. Ryan explained that Charlotte bred Bull Mastifs and would frequently take the dogs down to play in an area between Alexander’s Crown and the Russian River. That same area, where she spent so much time, now produces a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, called Charlotte’s Home.
Rockaway at Rockaway
As we drove through the back roads of Sonoma County on our way from Alexander’s Crown to our next destination, Rockaway, Ryan would point out highlights along the way. Given that his family first settled in the Alexander Valley in 1858, it’s understandable that he knows the area like the back of his hand.
Along the way, Ryan explained that the Pine Flat vineyards next to Sausal Creek produced some of the best Merlot of all the vineyards and it was one of the few that could be dry farmed, meaning no supplemental water was required. Dry farming requires a high vigor, deep rooting stock.
Entering the Rockaway vineyards, we began to climb up through the rolling, vine-covered hills which rise to an elevation of 750 feet. Rodney Strong purchased the property, which grows mostly Bordeaux varietals, in 2003. It produces the grapes for the single vineyard Rockaway Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
As we passed a few olive trees, just barely visible from the road, Ryan explained there were more – he’d found an olive orchard on the property. Following his discovery, he’d torn out the brush and pruned the trees and, in 2014, they produced their first batch of oil from the orchard.
Arriving near the top of the hill, we left the car and climbed to the summit, where sweeping views of the Sonoma Valley and a bottle of Rockaway awaited our arrival.
Such an appropriate ending to our morning vineyards tour – sipping an amazing wine at such an amazing place. Standing atop Rockaway, gazing out over the Alexander Valley with its many vineyards, farms and ranches, it re-emphasized the importance that Rodney Strong places on location in artisan winemaking.
From such a vast amount of potential spots to grow grapes, narrowed down to the very place where we stood, then artfully created into a spectacular wine that made its way back again to this spot to be enjoyed with this stunning view – Rockaway at Rockaway is not your average morning.
Lunch at Catelli’s in Geyserville, California
Lunch was just a few minutes down the road at Catelli’s in Geyserville. Originally opened by Santi and Virginia Catelli in 1936, the restaurant is now owned and operated by third generation Catellis and siblings, Domenica and Nicholas Catelli, and specializes in local and organic creations served in the historic location.
A variety of appetizers, salads, and bottles of wine quickly appeared at the table, including our first sampling of a Davis Bynum wine. Rodney Strong acquired the Davis Bynum winery in 2007, and the commitment to preserving Bynum’s passion for quality winemaking is apparent throughout Rodney Strong.
Ryan recommended the kale salad with blood oranges, which was delectable, and then we selected the award winning 10-layer layer lasagna with the slightly spicy Domenica’s sauce. Pasta perfection. For dessert, Catelli’s delivered “grown up” root beer floats to the table. One taste and Annabelle exclaimed, “That will put chest on your hair!”
An afternoon wine tasting touring with Winemaker Justin Seidenfeld and Ron Washam
Arriving back at Rodney Strong Vineyards after lunch, it was time for a winery tour and some wine tasting. Our guide for the afternoon was Ron Washam, whose 35 years in the wine industry have included twice being named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers’ Association and who also judges at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition.
Each step of winemaking at Rodney Strong is a combination of art and science, with industry-leading techniques deployed where appropriate to assist in crafting world-class wines. Meeting up with winemaker Justin Seidenfeld in the tank room, Justin walked us through the conversion process that brought square fermentation tanks to the winery.
The square tanks allow more wine to be stored in a given space as compared to traditional cylindrical tanks. The tanks can be monitored and controlled by an app on a smart phone or tablet, complete with alerts, from anywhere in the world.
Additionally, the interior surface of the square tanks is easier to clean, reducing water waste, which supports Rodney Strong Vineyard’s commitment to protecting the environment. Rodney Strong Vineyards operates the winery with a carbon impact of zero, making it the first carbon neutral winery in Sonoma.
Next stop, the barrel rooms and barrel tasting of the Symmetry 2014 and the 2014 Rockaway. Barrel tasting is like getting to open a present before it’s actually your birthday. Sampling from a barrel provides a glimpse of the future wine – a glimpse in that the wine changes as it matures and the winemakers may adjust the blend as well. While the primary purpose of barrel tasting by the public is for purchasing futures, a private barrel tasting in the warehouse is an entirely different experience and a great chance to learn more about the winemaking process.
Following our barrel tasting, we headed to the tasting room to do some finished works sampling, which culminated with a side by side tasting of the three 2012 Rodney Strong single vineyards wines: Alexander’s Crown, Rockaway and Brothers.
With 2012 having been an excellent vintage for Sonoma County, all three are remarkable wines. Which was best? As head winemaker, Rick Sayre, would comment the next day – it’s about taste preference. Describing a side-by side tasting, he stated favorites were nearly always split 1/3, 1/3, 1/3.
Dinner at Jackson’s Bar and Oven with Winemaker Greg Morthole
After an hour’s rest at the hotel, our ride picked us up for a dinner at Jackson’s Bar in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square.
Owned and operated by Chef Josh Silvers, Jackson’s is a casual, wine country eatery, serving comfort food crafted from seasonal, organic Sonoma ingredients. Our winemaker host for the evening was Greg Morthole, who oversees the Reserve and Single Vineyard wine making.
The evening was a wonderful blend of wine, food and conversation, ending with amazing beignets served with chocolate sauce, vanilla anglaise, and a fresh raspberry sauce.
Rodney Strong Vineyards Master Blender Experience Day 3: Blending seminar with head winemaker, Rick Sayre
Just when you think it wouldn’t be possible to eat or drink anything ever again, the next day dawns and breakfast sounded pretty good.
The group met at the Vintner’s Inn Café for a healthy start to the day, then it was off to the winery for a blending seminar with head winemaker, Rick Sayre, who joined Rodney Strong Vineyards in 1979 and Rachel Voorhees, director of education for the winery.
Morning blending seminar with head winemaker Rick Sayre and director of education Rachel Voorhees
Heading into the blending seminar, we had no idea what a cool morning we were going to experience. Rounding the corner to the room, each place was set with tasting glasses of each of the varietals used in the 2012 Symmetry, and a glass of the actual 2012 Symmetry. Historic vintages of wines lined the walls of the room, including some bottles with hand written labels by Rod Strong dating back to 1970.
Symmetry is a Meritage (pronounced like heritage), with the wine being crafted like a Bordeaux blend with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. A Meritage must not contain more than 90% of any one single grape type.
Rachel and Rick walked us through a brief overview of Rodney Strong Vineyards, the history of Meritage, and the properties each grape brings to the blend. Then it was time to blend some wine.
Armed with bottles of the varietals, beakers, and pipettes, we each set out to blend our own version of the wine. When finished, Rick tasted our creations, commenting on our blends, and awarded an overall winner.
I called mine “A Secret.” As in, “What are you drinking?” “It’s A Secret.” I went with the 80/20 rule, as in 80% Cab and 20% of the others (it donned on me later that I should have named it Pareto). My blend consisted of 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 5% Malbec, 5% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot.
My blend ended up 2nd runner up, with Annabelle’s winning the day. The experience was fun, educational and truly a cool adventure!
Lunch prepared by Rodney Strong winery chef Tara Watchel with head winemaker Rick Sayre
Our time at Rodney Strong ended with a lunch with Rick Sayres in a dining room above the tasting room.
The lunch, prepared by winery chef, Tara Wachtel, was exquisite, served with perfect wines and some of the olive oil from the orchard Ryan had discovered at Rockaway. The group chatted about fishing in Alaska, Sonoma county, and Rodney Strong’s history, savoring the time remaining in our amazing visit.
Huge thanks to Laura Perret Fontana, Justin Seidenfeld, Ryan Decker, Greg Morthole, Ron Washam, Rachel Voorhees, Tara Wachtel, Rick Sayre and everyone at Rodney Strong Vineyards for such a wonderful experience.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
It’s not every day you hit the slopes for a day and ski from Nevada to California.
With the state line between Nevada and California running down the middle of Heavenly Ski Resort at South Lake Tahoe, you’ll do just that – ski in two states on one day. It may take you awhile though, considering the fact that Heavenly is massive.
Heavenly is without a doubt one of the most appropriately named ski resorts in the world. With many runs providing sweeping views of the sapphire blue waters of Lake Tahoe, the experience is simply… Heavenly. While most all of the Tahoe resorts have beautiful lake views, Heavenly’s are the most expansive, with a photo opportunity around every bend. So, grab your skis or board and your camera phone, and plan on an incredible day on the snow.
Heavenly Lake Tahoe: Lay of the land
A giant of a resort, Heavenly’s 4,800 skiable acres make it the largest ski resort at Lake Tahoe and the fourth largest in the United States. Understanding how to access all that terrain is important for making the most of your time at the resort.
Gondola/Heavenly Village area: The gondola departs from the Heavenly Village area at Stateline, where numerous hotels, casinos, restaurants, equipment rental shops, and retail stores are located. The Tamarack Lodge is at the top of the gondola and all levels of skiing can be accessed from this point. However, parking is limited near the gondola area so one of the other lodges may provide a better starting point for those arriving by car.
The California Lodge, Heavenly’s original mountain base, is located and about two miles from the Heavenly Village gondola area.
Located at the bottom of the Gunbarrel run (a very long, double black, mogul run – don’t freak out, there are other ways down), the California Lodge has free & premium parking, an equipment rental shop, The California Bar, a ski school and the Aerial Tram.
The World Cup ski area, where race events are frequently held, is also near the California Lodge.
Oh, and, that way to get back down without tackling the Gunbarrel bumps – near the base of the Powderbowl Express and Patsy’s take the intermediate Round-a-Bout down, or just simply download on the Tram or Gunbarrel Express.
Nevada side lodges: Boulder Lodge and Stagecoach Lodge are located on the Nevada side of the mountain about 4-6 miles from the Heavenly Village gondola area. Both have free parking and offer equipment rental. Boulder has an adult and children ski school and provides access to the entire mountain for all levels of skiers and riders. Stage Coach also provides access to all of Heavenly but is only appropriate for intermediate and advanced skiers.
Heavenly Lake Tahoe: Skiing and snowboarding
How big is Heavenly? 97 trails, two terrain parks, 28 lifts (14 in California & 14 in Nevada), a gondola, a tram, and great skiing and boarding for all skill levels.
The base elevation on the California side is 6,540 feet/1,995 meters and 7,200 feet/2,195 meters on the Nevada side.
If you think the sights are great on the lower trails, head to the summit where you’ll feel like you just stepped into a Heavenly ad with its panoramic views. Reached via the Sky Express lift (not suitable for beginners as trails are blue and black), the summit sits at 10,067 feet/3,069 meters, the highest at Lake Tahoe.
While at the summit, be sure to stop by the Ski Patrol, pick up a Heavenly Avalanche Rescue Dogs t-shirt, and say hi to the friendliest group of Ski Patrollers you’ll meet on a mountain and their fabulous four legged companions – who by the way, star in their own Heavenly video…
Now, that we have the sightseeing finished, it’s time to get down to business with 3,500 feet/1,067 meters of vertical to explore.
Well-known for their wide-open, blue cruisers, 45% of Heavenly’s trails are intermediate.
From the top, you have two choices – ski toward Nevada along the spectacular Skyline Trail, linking to the Big Dipper which lands you in an assortment of tree-lined intermediates serviced by Dipper Express and Comet Express.
Or, continue to play in California, heading out on Ridge Run, then taking Liz’s or High Five, both which are pure fun.
Experts and advanced skiers have 35% of the terrain to navigate with steeps, chutes, moguls, and some of the best tree skiing in North America. The expert areas of Mott Canyon and Killebrew Canyon on the Nevada side, really are expert, so don’t attempt these double blacks unless you have the skills to pull it off. Last, but not least, the above mentioned Gunbarrel is a huge mogul hill leading down to the California Lodge.
For the beginners, 20% of Heavenly’s runs are gentle green groomers. Near Powderbowl Express, Mombo and Maggies are enjoyable runs and Easy Street can be accessed close to the Tamarack Lodge at the top of the gonodola. For those just starting out, Boulder at the Boulder Lodge is a good option.
But, an even better choice is to spend some time with the Heavenly Ski and Snowboard School. With schools located across the mountain for children and adults, including a First Timer option at the California Lodge, a few lessons will greatly improve both your skill and enjoyment of snow sports.
Heavenly Lake Tahoe: On mountain dining and drinking
From microbrews & burgers to pizza & paninis, to snacks & warm beverages, the multiple dining options spread across the mountain offer something for all tastes.
Our favorites: The Sky Deck at the foot of the Sky Express lift, with grilled fare (try the black bean burger), a bar and plenty of space to catch a few rays and relax during your lunch break.
Steins, near the Patsy’s and Powderbowl Express lifts – also a great place to grab a beer and a soup and soak up the sun.
Heavenly Lake Tahoe: Additional mountain activities
For skiers and non-skiers alike, a wide variety of mountain activities are just a 2.4 mile, breathtaking gondola ride up to the Tamarack Lodge.
Observation deck. Take the Observation Deck stop on the gondola ride and take in the panoramic views of Lake Tahoe and grab a drink or bite to eat at Café Blue.
Tubing and sledding at Adventure Peak. With five lanes of tubing and sledding fun on a 500-foot long course with a 65-foot vertical drop, Adventure Peak offers great family fun.
Unbuckle après ski party. A perfect spot for skiers and non-skiers to meet and share some on mountain fun. Located at the Tamarack Lodge at the top of the gondola with drink specials, live DJs, and dancing.
Ice skating. Near the base of the gondola in the village, the Heavenly Village Ice Rink is an open-air ice skating rink which is open daily throughout the ski season.
Heavenly Lake Tahoe: Where to stay
From luxury hotels to casino hotels to rustic cabins, South Lake Tahoe has a wide variety of lodging options. Hotels located in Heavenly Village, nearest to the gondola, include Grand Residences by Marriott, Marriott’s Timber Lodge, and Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel.
Heavenly Lake Tahoe: Getting there and parking
Heavenly Lake Tahoe’s address is 4080 Lake Tahoe Blvd, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96150.
Heavenly Ski Resort is located 58 miles or about 1 hour, 8 minutes from the Reno Tahoe airport or about 200 miles from SFO airport in San Francisco. From Reno, take I-580 south to Carson City, then take US-50 W in South Lake Tahoe.
Heavenly offers a complimentary ski shuttle service throughout South Lake Tahoe and Stateline, making stops at most major facilities, from 8:00am-5:00pm.
Heavenly Lake Tahoe: Know before you go
Bring the sunscreen. While you may want to go home with a goggle tan, you don’t want a sunburn. With over 300 days of sunshine and the highest elevation of all the Tahoe resorts, sunscreen should be applied often.
Drink lots of water. According to experts, you lose water through respiration at high altitude twice as quickly as you do at sea level. Whether you’re skiing on the hill all day, shopping in Heavenly Village or out for an evening in the casinos, you need to drink extra water to combat the effects of higher altitude.
Dress in layers. Conditions change quickly on the mountain and what starts out as a warm, bluebird day on the mountain, can quickly change to cold and snowy conditions. We ski with a small backpack for different gloves, hand warmers, and other items.
Consider hiring transportation to the mountain. Weather and road conditions change quickly in the Sierra and chains are frequently required. Check out the road conditions at the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) before heading to Heavenly or better, hire transportation, so you can relax and enjoy the trip.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Well-known as one of the top surfing spots in the world, Santa Cruz is also a vibrant community along the California central coast with great hotels and resorts, restaurants featuring dishes crafted from fresh local ingredients, fabulous hiking trails amidst the area’s natural beauty, amazing wildlife viewing, and beautiful beaches.
Situated along scenic Highway 1 just 70 miles/112 km south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz is the perfect spot for a quick getaway or a longer retreat. The warm sun, low humidity, and plentiful activities attract visitors from both the region and the world to the scenic destination.
Santa Cruz: Where to stay
With a wide selection of lodging options from quaint coastal lodges to luxury resorts, Santa Cruz has something for every vacation style and budget.
Our choice when visiting the area is Chaminade Resort & Spa. Recently renovated, Chaminade is the perfect combination of quiet retreat, with top amenities, numerous on-site activities, a full-service spa, great food, a super staff, and gorgeous views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Monterey Bay. Learn more about Chaminade Resort & Spa »
Santa Cruz: Things to do
1. Stroll the Santa Cruz Wharf
Located between Santa Cruz Main Beach in front of the Boardwalk and the popular surfing spot, Cowell Beach, Santa Cruz Wharf is the longest wharf on the west coast of the United States at a length of 2,745 feet /836.68 meters.
Built in 1914, the Wharf today is a hub of activity with shops, restaurants, boat tours, kayak rentals, fishing, and a great spot for watching sea lions.
2. Play at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk
The famous seaside amusement park, the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, is just down the beach from the Wharf and is home to the Looff Carousel built in 1911 and the Giant Dipper wooden roller coaster, which dates back to 1924. Both are National Historic Landmarks, as is the entire Santa Cruz Boardwalk, which has been operating since 1907.
Admission to the amusement park is free, with small fees charged for rides. In addition to the rides, the Boardwalk has the largest selection of games in Northern California and a wide variety of food choices ranging from corn dogs to deep-fried artichokes.
3. Shop or take in a movie in downtown Santa Cruz
An eclectic shopping area centered around Pacific Avenue, downtown Santa Cruz has over 100 boutiques, restaurants, movie theaters, and art galleries, attracting a diverse mix of patrons in an outdoor mall atmosphere. The pedestrian-friendly small town is a great place to grab a coffee or ice cream and people watch, visit the weekly farmer’s market, or browse the monthly Santa Cruz Antique Faire.
4. Visit the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center
Established in 1992, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary stretches along the coastline from San Francisco to Cambria and is one of the United States’ largest marine sanctuaries, with a vast array of wildlife including seals, sea lions, sea otters, and whales.
Located near the Santa Cruz Wharf, the Sanctuary Exploration Center features a variety of displays and interactive exhibits for visitors to explore to gain a better understanding of the marine sanctuary and how they can help protect this underwater treasure.
5. Explore the Santa Cruz Harbor area
The Santa Cruz Harbor area is a great spot to take a walk along the beach, have lunch, visit the Walton Lighthouse and watch the boating activity in the harbor.
With over 800 permanent slips, the Santa Cruz Harbor also serves as a launching point for kayaks and paddleboards. Bring a camera and stroll along the harbor area as a kaleidoscope of colorful boats and pleasure craft navigate the harbor.
Adjacent to the harbor on the east side of the water, is Santa Cruz Harbor Beach, a popular spot with volleyball courts, kayak rentals, restaurants, and shops.
If visiting on a Saturday morning, grab a coffee at the Java Junction and enjoy the music of the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz, a talented group of locals that have a great time playing tunes on the beach.
Time your visit near mid-day, then head to The Crow’s Nest for lunch. Located on Harbor Beach and frequented by locals and visitors alike, The Crow’s Nest has been serving great food with spectacular views since 1969.
Across the harbor are Walton Lighthouse and Seabright Beach.
A paved walking path leads out to the Walton Lighthouse, also known as Santa Cruz Breakwater Lighthouse, built in 2002 on a jetty at the harbor entrance has been the site of a light station of some form since 1964.
Huge waves crash along the jetty, which is lined with tetrapods, structures that look like giant concrete jacks. Tetrapods, which in Greek means four-legged, dissipate the force of the waves, allowing water to flow around the structures, rather than against it.
The view from the lighthouse back to the coastline is beautiful in both directions, with great views of Santa Cruz Harbor, Harbor Beach, Seabright Beach, Santa Cruz Main Beach, Santa Cruz Boardwalk, and the Santa Cruz Wharf in the distance.
6. Watch the surfers
Nicknamed “Surf City,” Santa Cruz consistently nears the top of all surfing destinations lists.
While donning a wet suit and grabbing a board may not be on your to-do list, heading to one of the popular spots around Santa Cruz County to watch the skilled surfers is an activity not to be missed.
Top spots to check out the surfing action are Pleasure Point, Manresa State Park, Steamer Lane, Waddell Creek, and 26th Avenue.
7. Kick back at the beach
29 miles of coastline along Santa Cruz County provides a wide selection of beaches to choose from.
Whether you are looking for a quiet place for a picnic, a dog-friendly beach, or the perfect spot for some volleyball or water sports, there’s a beach in Santa Cruz County that will fill the bill.
8. Sip some wine
Home to over 70 wineries and tasting rooms, the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is mostly well-known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon varietals.
One of the oldest wine growing regions in the United States, wineries range from small, boutique locations to larger operations including David Bruce Winery in Los Gatos, Ridge Vineyards’ Monte Bello Estate in Cupertino, Bonny Doon Vineyard in Davenport, Byington Vineyard in Los Gatos, and Bargetto Winery, which has a tasting room in Soquel. Many wineries in the region offer visits by appointment only or only on specific days of the week, so call ahead before visiting.
9. Take a hike
The abundant natural beauty of Santa Cruz beckons one to get out and hit the hiking trail. The only question in Santa Cruz County is which one.
From the popular Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park with its giant Redwoods to California’s oldest state park, Big Basin Redwoods where you’ll find the largest continuous stand of Ancient Coast Redwoods south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz County’s 14 state parks has a hike for everyone. Find yours by visiting the California State Parks website – just select “Find by County” and choose “Santa Cruz” for a great list of options.
10. Pay a visit to Capitola Village
Founded in 1869, charming Capitola Village sits beside the sea, drawing visitors with its colorful buildings, beach, boutiques, antique stores, galleries, restaurants, and wharf.
The oldest seaside resort town in California, Capitola Village is home to outdoor movies in the summer, numerous festivals throughout the year and the Capitola Historical Museum.
Know before you go
Climate: Average daily high temperatures in the winter and early spring months (November – March) range in the neighborhood of 60°F, with daily highs from April to October reaching into the 70s. Nighttime temperatures drop into the 40s in the winter and 50s in the summer, so a sweater or light jacket is a good idea for evenings year round.
Driving: In northern and coastal areas of California, it normally takes longer than in other areas due to winding rows and heavy traffic. Allow extra time. Upon arrival, do not leave any valuables in your car and watch out for pedestrians.
Poison oak. When hiking, be aware that poison oak is prevalent in the Santa Cruz mountains.
Conserve water. California is in a historic drought, so re-use hotel towels and conserve water whenever possible. Restaurants generally do not bring water to tables without it being requested, so don’t think its bad service – simply ask the server for a glass.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.