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Children love California’s laid-back Lake Tahoe ski resorts where you can ski through the trees like something out of Santa’s magic grotto or snowboard in the tracks of the legendary Shaun White.

WORDS Hilary Doling

Heavenly ski resort in Lake Tahoe, USA frequently wins ‘Most Scenic Mountain’ awards from ski magazines in the US. The view must be good because even the two little girls in bubblegum pink ski suits sharing the Vista chair lift with me leave off discussing Katy Perry’s hair long enough to ooh and ahh at the vibrant blue-slushy coloured lake below.

“Is the mountain called Heavenly because the lift is so high?” asks Pink Number One. “No it is because all the runs are named after stars,” says Pink Number Two. It has to be said skiing here is a pretty heavenly experience, with plenty of runs to suit all the levels of skiing. And many of the runs are named after constellations (Brownie points to Pink Number Two). We cruise gentle groomers off the Galaxy Chair and the Dipper and Comet express and explore the Milky Way Bowl.

Traditionally Australians heading to the USA to ski choose Colorado, but there is a lot to be said for exploring the lesser known, laid-back charms of the resorts around Lake Tahoe.

Heavenly straddles the two states of Nevada and California and children love the idea of spending the morning skiing in one state and the afternoon in the other – “and you don’t even need a passport mummy”. Down in town parents should be aware of the divide because California is the more family-friendly of the two, the late-night casinos of Nevada are not the ideal venue for kids. On the California side The Grand Residences by Marriott is Heavenly’s most deluxe offering and has one, two and three-bedroom apartment suitable for families. The big advantage of the Marriott for tired legs in ski boots – “Muuuuuuuuumm, my feet ache” – is that the hotel is right by the main gondola lift, so not too far to carry skis (or children) if necessary.

Children’s facilities at Heavenly are excellent; snow parks, beginners ski areas, innovative instruction – you name it they have it. No surprise really since Heavenly is owned by the mighty Vail Resorts, which also owns its sister resort Northstar on the other side of the lake.

Main image: Skiing at Heavenly.
Above: Ritz-Carlton from Northstar
Ice-skating fun.

From above: Outdoor fire pits at Northstar Village.
The luxurious lounge at the Ritz-Carlton.

Since the Ritz-Carlton was built mid-mountain two years ago five star families in search of ultra-luxury have headed to Northstar. The hotel is a busy parents’ dream, not just because the rooms are the definition of ‘comfort’ with fluffy doonas as big as snow drifts but because your child’s every whim can be met by someone other than you. Everything from ski lessons to ski hire can be booked through the hotel. The Bears Den kids’ club takes care of the littlies but top marks go to the special ski concierges. At the end of the day the concierges magically deal with that tired tangle of skis, poles and tight fitting boots that is your child after a long afternoon on the snow. They deal with you too; removing boots, stacking gear and eliciting smiles, so all you have to do is head off to the lounge for a hot toddy.

All the charms of Northstar are right outside the hotel’s door. On our first morning we ski straight out to a winter wonderland of white. Snow has been falling all night and now even the moguls look as puffy and soft as marshmallows. The resort is known for its trees and we ski through pines so decorated with icicles it feels like Santa’s magic Glade. Northstar’s family-friendly beginner teaching area features the sculpted Smart Terrain™ designed especially to improve the learning curve for beginning skiers and snowboarders. The rest of the resort’s 97 trails have something to suit the whole family. Little kids will love the fun parks and my son’s snowboard hero Shaun White has put his name to a super pipe here, so I guarantee older kids will be happy too.

Children love the special gondola that runs from the backdoor of Ritz-Carlton down to the tiny village below. Once there you’ll find a great sushi restaurant or the obligatory pizza. Parents can also sit in one of the outdoor cabanas which surround the village icerink and watch their kids wobble onto the ice for yet more winter fun.

As you ride the lifts you’ll hear kids, and the odd adult too, indulging in a game of ski one-upmanship. “I’ve skied 30 lifts and 52,000 vertical feet” says one teenage boy to his friend proudly. How do they know? Because the special Epic Pass tells them so. A lift pass on your arm calculates your ski miles and uploads free photos taken on the mountain by the resort photographers to your personal web pages, to be shared on facebook with family and friends. Each time you visit another Vail Resort ski miles are added to your tally. And just for the record I skied 58 lifts in five days, that’s 28 more than the cool dude teenager beside me – but who’s counting?

 Grand Residences by Marriott
 Heavenly Ski Resort

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