Kirkwood Mountain Resort
Steeped in Legend—raw and pristine—smack-dab in the middle of the old emigrant trail: Kirkwood. Amongst the best ski areas in the greater Tahoe area, Kirkwood rivals all of the best—including Squaw—yet over the years has never let its’ stature go to its’ head. In many ways the anti-Squaw, Kirkwood is roots in a way that is hard to find in most ski areas of the 21’st century. With big steeps, amazing snow, and terrain that can honestly scare you, Kirkwood punches above its’ weight as an unpretentious and un-crowded South shore option that once visited, takes root in the soul forever. At 1501 Kirkwood Meadows Drive, this mountain resort is much more mountain, and way less resort.
Nestled snuggly in Kirkwood Valley, KMR occupies a large portion of Sierra Crest ridgeline, which means that, in some years, it receives ridiculous amounts of snowfall. My friend Brian once put it well, “Anywhere else, these storms would be seen as a natural disaster. Here--just business as usual.” Kirkwood’s unique position on the Sierra Crest renders it a magnet for big-dumps. Often referred to as the K-factor, Kirkwood valley is known to create and trap a microclimate that can often double the snowfall accumulations seen elsewhere; because of this dynamic, powder-hounds from all over North America have heard of Kirkwood, and keep it on their hit list.
Also, due to its’ remoteness, Kirkwood maintains a much more below-the-radar vibe, meaning that even on a busy day, lift-lines are far less than another trendy resort (cough-Heavenly-cough). For the Kirkwood local, this works out very well, because the terrain and snow at KMR are easily the best of the South Shore. So, just to paraphrase, Kirkwood has better snow, better terrain, and fewer people; to all but the most image-obsessed, this is a winning equation.
With all this in mind, one would assume that Kirkwood is all double black diamonds and expert slope. While KMR certainly has a plethora of these options, it also hosts Timber Creek—one of the best ‘learn to ride’ beginner programs on the west coast—meaning you can drop your kids off at TC and feel good about knowing that they’ll have just as much fun as you will.
Almost mythic in their reputation, three chairs are the bread and butter of Kirkwood: Cornice Express (6), The Wall (10), and Sunrise (4). Always the first of these chairs to open, 6 offers amazing fall-line skiing and riding that allows access to much of the front-side of the mountain. The Wall, my favorite, opens up access to Wagon Wheel bowl—a large swathe of avalanche terrain that should not be underestimated as it is full of cliffs and horizon lines that challenge even the best skiers and riders. Sunrise, also known as the backside, could be a whole other ski area; this area is best known for Fawn Ridge, the Wave, and Thunder Saddle—all excellent options.
If other resorts in the Sierra are beginning to feel a little too flat, take a drive up 88, and see what all the rumors are about…