An Insider’s Guide to Heavenly Mountain: A Must-Visit Tahoe Ski Resort

Heavenly embodies its name quite literally. Situated on the southeast side of Lake Tahoe, you’ll have otherworldly views of the sparkling turquoise water framed by the majestic, snow-capped Sierra as you hit the slopes.

Initially named Heavenly Valley, the resort opened in 1955 with one double chairlift, a couple rope tows, and a warming hut that had been built eight years earlier. After offering free rides on opening day that joyously coincided with two feet of fresh snow, Tahoe started turning into a winter destination. (The 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley helped tremendously, too.) In fact, there were 14 World Cup events held at Heavenly between 1967-1985.

By 1962, the resort’s first aerial tram was constructed, offering year-round views of the magnificent lake and panoramas of its surrounding peaks. Two years later, the Kuraisas sold the resort to Hugh Killebrew, who wanted to expand to the Nevada state line. By 1967, he managed to do so, making Heavenly the largest ski area in America at the time. The resort and surrounding developments steadily grew over ensuing decades, ownership changing hands a few times before Vail Resorts took over in 2002, renaming the area Heavenly Mountain Resort

Today, Heavenly is the largest resort in California, boasting nearly 100 runs covering almost 5,000 acres of skiable terrain, with 28 chairlifts and vast opportunities for powder seekers in the area’s notoriously wide glades. 

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With so much to choose from, we put together a few pointers on making a Heavenly ski day as enlightening as possible. 

You can expect an average of 360 inches of snowfall year round at Heavenly.

Best Beginner Runs

An impressive 20 percent of the runs at Heavenly are considered easy runs, so here are a few of the best to get you started.

Boulder Bowl: The easiest access area for beginners can be found at Boulder Lodge on the Nevada side of the resort. Here, the Boulder triple chairlift services Boulder Bowl, a short, peaceful slope comprised entirely of wide-open mild terrain. 

Enchanted Forest: On the California side, the ideal learning area is situated under the apply-named First Ride triple chair. Enchanted Forest is one of the short runs in this beginner exclusive area, a wide valley spotted with flags, encouraging signs, and a super gentle slope. 

Maggie’s: Although it requires some traveling to reach—up the Aerial Tramway and then up the Powderbowl Express Lift—Maggie’s is worth the trip for the views alone, with Lake Tahoe sprawling out below in all of its glistening glory. Plus, the perfect corduroy presents a prime opportunity to earn your EpicMix Arcin’ Not Parkin’ badge.

<<So what do the lifties think are the best runs at Heavenly? Check out their favorites here!>>

Best Intermediate Runs

A true heaven for intermediate skiers, nearly half of the resort’s terrain is covered in blue trails.  

Olympic Downhill: Stretching 5.5 miles, Olympic Downhill tops Heavenly’s bountiful list of cruisers, and is also its longest ski trail. Take a right off of the Olympic Express and practice your tuck as you wind all the way down to the base of Stagecoach Express, covering nearly 2,000 vertical feet along the way.

Ridge Run: Ridge Run is one of the most iconic ski runs in America, skirting the resort’s highest boundary and offering soaring views of Lake Tahoe along the entire ridgeline. Take the Sky Express Chair and hang a right at the top. Conveniently steering you back to the base of the lift, the magical experience begs to be repeated again and again, leading to your EpicMix Afternoon Delight badge if you do the lap 10 times after 12 p.m. 

Skyline Trail: Although it doesn’t offer the same vertical drop as Ridge Run, Skyline delivers similarly spectacular views, maintaining a bird’s eye panorama of the Sierras. Get to it by taking a left off of Sky Express and heading toward the Nevada border, wrapping up at the Big Dipper, another exhilarating cruiser. Nab your EpicMix Border Patrol badge while you’re at it. 

The 3,500 feet of vertical gain at Heavenly is the most you’ll find anywhere on the West Coast.

Best Expert Runs

Thirty-five percent of the terrain at Heavenly is black diamond or harder, with plenty of steeps and backcountry for the true thrill seekers among us.

Gunbarrel: One of the resort’s original runs, Gunbarrel has remained relentless throughout the decades. A mogul lover’s dream, the trail offers a consistently steep pitch of rhythmic bumps for roughly 1,700 vertical feet. If your thighs can handle it, pick up your EpicMix Bumpy Ridge badge for 10 rides on the Gunbarrel Express. 

Milky Way Bowl: Offering as much cosmic adventure as its name implies, the Milky Way Bowl is an ideal place to find an untouched milky line of your own, either in the wide-open bowl and its adjacent chutes or in its east-facing glades. It’s accessed by taking Skyline Trail about halfway down and dropping in to your right. 

Mott Canyon: Home to some of Tahoe’s highest angle chutes, Mott Canyon requires quick turns and adrenaline-charging line selection. You won’t find another jackpot in Nevada that will make your heart rate soar like this. 

Where to Get the Best Lake Views

With so many trail options and breathtaking views, Heavenly makes a great weekend getaway with some friends.

Right from the get-go, if you’re heading up the gondola from Heavenly Village, just turn around and take in the magical vista of the lake behind you. For more of a bird’s eye view, take a skiers’ right to Ridge Run from the summit of Sky Express Lift. Keep an eye out for a viewing spot on the left side of the run where the white-capped Sierra loom over the turquoise water. There are also phenomenal lake views from East Bowl and Gunbarrel.  

Where to Après

It’s not much of an insider’s secret that Unbuckle Après is not only the best party in Tahoe, but possibly at any ski area anywhere. The Tamarack Lodge wall-to-wall celebration feels more like a nightclub than a ski town bar. The throwdown starts every day at 3:30 with live DJs, half-priced drinks, and food specials and wraps up with dancing lead by the Heavenly Angels. 

Where to Stay

Figuring out where to lay your head after a long day on the slopes is one of the most important parts of planning a ski trip. Luckily, Heavenly has a variety of lodging options, whether you’re looking to ski-in/ski-out each day, for just a short walk to the lift, or for something a little farther away. Book a room at one of the hotels on the mountain for a romantic getaway, reserve an entire condo or house for your family or a group of college buddies, or stay at a casino hotel to experience the nightlife scene. 

As long as you’re going to Heavenly, there’s really no bad choice!

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