Thank you to Tahoe Donner for inviting our family to spend a fun and snow-filled day at the downhill ski resort.
If you’re staying in and around Truckee with kids, Tahoe Donner is an affordable ski resort that’s great for beginners, including children.
Our snow trips and skiing/snowboarding adventures have changed quite a bit since having a kid. Convenience, affordability, and kid-friendly ski lessons are our top priorities now and Tahoe Donner checks all those boxes. With the past few winter storms, there is plenty of snow this season to get skiing time in. This year the Tahoe region broke its snowfall record for the month of December (exceeding 179 inches last held in 1970). That’s a lot of snow.
What we love about the Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Resort
Tahoe Donner offers some great runs for beginner and intermediate skiers. The resort’s terrain ratings are 40% novice and 60% intermediate. We love the magic carpet area for kids and the wide green run is accessible to the lodge for those new to the lift. It’s also hard to beat their pricing compared to other competitors in the region (we see no point in paying $100 + a ticket for beginner and bunny slopes). We find it better to funnel that extra cash saved from lift tickets to private or group ski lessons.
We visited Tahoe Donner with friends that had a similar age kid to our daughter (ages 4 and 5). Our initial plan was to spend the first half of the day attempting to teach them on our own. It started off okay, but we soon learned that we may have made a mistake and should have put them in lessons right off the bat. We forgot that no one wants to learn from their own parents, right? Our daughter refused to learn how to “pizza” aka learn to brake/slow down— opting instead to bomb it down the hill with no regard to what was (or who was) in front of her.
We were able to sign up our daughter and her friend for a one-hour ski lesson in the afternoon and the difference was astonishing. The girls immediately picked up their own skis and started listening to instructions. They learned so much quicker with their instructor (who donned an adorable unicorn headband for the occasion) and had a blast.
After watching the girls do a run or two, we opted to get a few parents’ runs in before their lesson was over. I haven’t jumped on a snowboard in a few seasons so it was nice to be able to get a run in with the fresh snow. Then we understood. The appeal of ski lessons for kids is dual purpose: kids learn how to ski and parents can get some solo time skiing or snowboarding. Game changer. We’re definitely upping the ski lesson to a three-hour session next time. Tahoe Donner also has full-day child ski and snowboarding lessons available (starting at age 5).
By the end of the session, the girls were playing a game of “red light, green light” with their instructor. And lo and behold, our daughter learned how to “pizza.” We loved how proud our daughter was of her improvements. She’s been asking to take another lesson next time we go skiing.
Tips for a Smooth Visit at Tahoe Donner with Kids
As with any activities with kids, especially snow activities, we know things take longer than expected. We visited during the holiday season so we expected to wait in long lines to pick up our tickets and get rentals. We got to the ticket booth a little before 10 am and were pleasantly surprised that the lines were manageable, but I noticed it started to get a bit crowded. The ticket booth and rentals open up at 8 am, an hour earlier than the ski lifts open.
Next time, if we want to maximize a full day of skiing, we may consider getting there earlier to get those logistics out of the way faster. I’ve heard other people say rental lines can get busy so we perhaps arrived during a nice lull. I was thoroughly impressed with all the staff from the rental station to the instructors. Everyone was very helpful and friendly which goes a long way with kids in tow.
We also were given the heads up that parking can fill up fast at Tahoe Donner. We counted about five mini parking areas and there are shuttle buses ready to pick people up from designated pick up and drop off locations. Unlike other resorts we’ve been to, we appreciated that the parking lot wasn’t terribly far away from the entrance. If we wanted to, we could walk back to the car, but the shuttles were quick so we didn’t feel like we needed to.
A few extra tips to make for a magical day:
- On Gear. Kids taking lessons are required to have eyewear, gloves, waterproof pants, and a helmet (available for rent) to participate. I’d also add that warm ski socks are essential. Nothing is worse than having cold and wet feet all day.
- On Lunch. We opted to have an early lunch (around 11:30 am) and thought it was a good choice, especially when purchasing hot items from the resort. Between 12:30 pm -1:30 pm, the lunch area gets crowded and you’ll have to wait much longer for food and for a table. The bratwurst is delicious, by the way.
- On Lockers. Bring quarters with you if you want to rent a locker for the day (costs $1). We prefer to bring a backpack to hold snacks and personal items so we don’t need to go back and forth from the locker or car.
- HotHands hand warmers are lifesavers for very cold days.
Plan your visit to Tahoe Donner (as of Dec 2021)
- Road Safety. Make sure you have the latest information on winter storms and road safety before heading to Truckee/the Tahoe region. We found Caltrans District 3’s Twitter account to have the most up-to-date information on road closures, etc.
- Hours: Lifts open from 9 am to 4 pm. The rental shop and ticket office open at 8 am. Parking shuttles start running at 8 am.
- Tickets and Reservations: Lift tickets, rentals, and lessons must be pre-purchased online. Be sure to book early for popular dates (such as holidays) as those can sell out quickly.
- Price: One-day lift ticket prices differ for children based on age ($20 for 6 and under; $48 for 7-12; $68 for 13-17). Adults lift tickets are $78. There is also Senior (60-69) and Super Senior (70+) pricing and discounted rates if you are a Tahoe Donner member or guest of a member. Season passes are also available.
- Rentals: Rental equipment is priced and reserved separately and pre-purchased online. Adult rentals (13 to 59) start at $55/day. Child/Senior rentals (under 13 or over 59) start at $43/day. We’ve also had friends rent ski equipment cheaper elsewhere (such as Tahoe Dave’s) and then bring the rentals to the resort.
- Parking: Free, but get there early for the good spots. Parking shuttles are also available for free to get you to the entrance.
- Location: 11603 Snowpeak Way, Truckee, CA 96161
- Lessons: Group and private ski and snowboarding lessons book fast, especially the longer sessions. Reservations are recommended weeks in advance for peak dates and at least 48 hours in advance for other dates. If your date is booked, keep checking the website. Sometimes other people cancel lessons and you can snag one that way. That’s what we did during this last trip.
- Tahoe Donner offers downhill ski and snowboard group lessons (ages 7+), private lessons (ages 3+), and group lessons specific to kids under age 5 (Snowflakes and Shedder program). Young children need to be potty trained and willing to ski/board.
- Group lesson packages include a full-day lift ticket and full-day equipment rental, including a helmet.
- Helmets are required for kids under age 13.
- No on-site childcare.
- Private + Group Lessons and Youth Programs >>
Bottom Line: Tahoe Donner is a great option if you’re staying in Truckee, priced right for beginners and kids. It’s our go-to resort for family-friendly skiing/snowboarding and affordable lessons.