Sugar Bowl Ski Resort in Tahoe offers a great experience for families, and I road-tested it for you.
Though I recommended Northstar after my kids made significant progress there on the road to skiing, we discovered that Tahoe's Sugar Bowl has a couple of advantages that won us over, even when compared to the beautiful Northstar resort.
1. Sugar Bowl is closer to home. About 15 miles closer to the Bay Area, this may not matter to you depending on your vacation plans, but if you are doing one of those crack-of-dawn drives, it's helpful. The location worked out very nicely for us for the following reason…
2. Half-day lessons. It took a lot of searching to identify a resort that would allow us to put our kids in a lesson that didn't last the entire day. Sugar Bowl offers a 2-hr lesson at 9:45 am and at 1:00 pm. Although my husband and I didn't want to spend money on lift tickets for ourselves to get started at 1:00 pm, we were glad to give our kids a 2-hour lesson while we hung out in the lodge. (I watched a movie on Netflix on my Kindle Fire!) Being able to drive up and have a lesson on the same day felt so productive!
3. Great teachers. My children had very good experiences in all of their Sugar Bowl lessons, with attentive, enthusiastic, and supportive instructors. But, having recruited a friend to join us one day, I must disclose that they had to divide up the children into smaller groups and my friend's son got arbitrarily leveled down and was a little bored. Stick around while the kids get put in groups if you are particular about your child being challenged.
4. Way cheaper. Skiing is so flipping expensive! Sugar Bowl lift tickets for adults are about 70% of what we've paid at Northstar. Kids ski for $49 any day all season when purchased online at least two days before, this also includes a sweet deal for adults with 50% discount when buying tickets in advance. Advanced purchase will save you money, but comparing at-the-window sales for my family of four, that's a big difference, and we haven't even paid for cocoa. It all adds up. Kids 5 and under are free.
5. Kid rentals near kid lessons. There's no debate in my mind: far more exhausting than skiing or boarding itself is navigating two kids through gear rental and guiding them over to ski school. At Northstar, I expended more calories returning the gear to the rental shop (maybe easier than schlepping it back to the car?) than I did on the mountain. At Sugar Bowl, the bottom of the beginner hill is just a few steps away from the kids rental shop. Thank you.
There are all-day lessons for kids 4+ at Sugar Bowl, too, but no childcare available for kids too young for ski school. Kids lessons are grouped in ages 4-5 and ages 6-12, for guaranteed class size of 3.
We have had a similarly convenient experience for the kiddos at the Tahoe Donner resort, but that mountain offers much less terrain for intermediate and advanced riders.
After staying in a Tahoe Donner rental home for a couple nights, we timed our drive home to hit a 10:30 am lesson at Sugar Bowl before heading down to the Bay Area.
What's your go-to ski resort and why?