Three years ago, I took my then six-year-old daughter on her first US ski trip.
Things were much easier back then – just daddy and his little girl on a road trip that began with cycling the Golden Gate Bridge and touring round San Francisco before heading over to ski Squaw Valley, Northstar, Kirkwood, Sierra, Heavenly, Mammoth and finishing with the ultimate treat in LA: Disneyland.
It truly was a trip of a lifetime (if you’re really interested, you can read the article I wrote about it in the Daily Mail Ski & Snowboard magazine). Make sure you give me a shout if you like the sound of it, and we’ll organise it for you.
Fast forward to 2011, and Emilia is now nine (what’s more, we now have Emma who is six months old!). Although we still love skiing in the States, a road trip was out of the question with a baby on board. We needed to spend the week somewhere where we could take it in turns to ski with the nine year old whilst the other parent babysat.
My wife and I would have to pick our destination very carefully. The answer was Heavenly. And I’m about to tell you why.
1. The views are Heavenly
You have the lake to look at one side and the desert on the other side.
2. They “get it”
I’ve been all over the place with my skis, from Northern Europe to the chilliest parts of South America, but Heavenly are one of the best at their game. There’s a reason that they’re the biggest ski resort company in the US; they have a smart, friendly team of highly-qualified people, and that’s just one of the reasons why they “get it”.
3. Ski in, ski out comes as standard
They have 10,000 beds that allow you to walk outside and already be up the mountain. Heavenly.
4. It’s the second biggest resort in the US
With 47 intermediate ski runs, lots of terrain and adventure parks for children, it would take a several days to explore it all.
5. Skier-friendly tree lines
So this is a slightly strange one, but then again, all Emilia wanted to do was ski in the trees. Usually this terrifies me. But not in Heavenly – the trees here are deliberately spaced apart to make it easier to ski them.
6. The ski school rocks
As with many American resorts, the ski school is fantastic with kids. It’s always nice to have instructors for whom English is a first language, too. There’s also a great childcare centre at the base of the gondola in case both mum and dad want to ski.
7. Not everyone is a hardcore skier
Most of the folks in Heavenly want to do more than just ski, and that’s what ticked the box for us as a family. It’s international with great restaurants, bars, and casinos with heaps of entertainment and concerts (I was devastated to miss Robert Plant’s gig by just a couple of days!). There’s also no need to drive in resort, there’s an ice skating rink, cinemas and – best of all – you can combine the trip with a stopover in San Francisco for a spot of shopping or a day in Yosemite National Park.
Hardcore skiers need not despair, though. If you want to tick off a few other ski resorts, then Kirkwood, Squaw Valley and Northstar are all within an hour’s drive and all accessible by the shuttle bus.
PS. If you’re really lucky, as I was, you might ski with Mike Frye – Lake Tahoe Visitor Authority’s frontline dude and the most stylish skier I have ever skied with. An ex-race coach, PSIA examiner, instructor, programme director, and a resort boss at Kirkwood in the past. I wish I was him.
Mike, about to embark on the “Fire Break”, a fire break in the trees that runs from the top of East Peak down to the village.
Skiing on either side of the “break” brings on consistently steep pitch high 30 degrees terrain..fall line riding….and you come out directly at Forest Suites hotel and walk across the street to Heavenly Village. Very little like it in the USA…..really big old growth trees….. monster granite boulders…..and outrageous scenery.
Detour to visit Yosemite national park before heading back to the UK.