In Scandinavia, there’s a saying—there’s no bad weather, only bad clothes. There’s no “I’m freezing;” or “it’s too cold out;” or “I can’t wait for summer.” There’s just aprés ski around a fire pit; a hot tub on a snowy night; a snowshoe trek through a silent meadow; a tree run on a bluebird day. To say we agree is an understatement. And if you don’t, we have good news. There’s no better place to change your mind than Lake Tahoe in winter.
What’s the weather like during winter in Lake Tahoe?
We think of Lake Tahoe as the San Diego of winter locales. There tends to be either an active storm, or clear, blue skies and relatively warm temps (re: in the mid-40’s). This isn’t the rule, of course, but it happens pretty often.
That weather pattern is really pretty ridiculous in terms of winter recreation. It’s incredibly easy to find things to do during a Lake Tahoe winter when you get fresh snow one day, and blue skies the next. It simply makes all winter activities better. Snowshoeing, snowboarding and snowmobiling under a clear sky is just… it’s something, alright.
When does it snow in Lake Tahoe?
People that don’t live in the snow tend to think of Lake Tahoe as a mystical, icicle land where snow falls every day from October to April. (We wish.) The truth is, Lake Tahoe winters tend to be pretty mild.
Typically, it snows in Lake Tahoe from the beginning of December until mid-March.
But Mother Nature is sassy. She likes to mix it up. She might sprinkle in a ‘Miracle March,’ where there’s scant snow until March hits. Perhaps a ‘Febru-buried’—thirty plus feet in a single month. Or maybe a smacking Thanksgiving storm. Every year is different, and you don’t really know until you know.
What’s the best time to go skiing in Lake Tahoe?
The ski resorts open early in the season because they can make their own snow. Even if there’s only been a few lackluster storms, there will still be early-season skiing.
What you’re really looking for is a good base layer of snow. That is, snow that covers the boulders, tree stumps, branches and other quirks of the mountain. Without it, you need to be extra careful of where you go, even on a groomer.
So the best time to ski? We’d be rich if we could know for sure. Seasoned skiers religiously watch the weather forecast and plan around fresh snow. If you’re just looking to get up on the mountain for the weekend, really any time will do. But January and February usually bring the best snow and a healthy base layer.
What to do in Lake Tahoe in winter?
We’re gonna go ahead and claim the sno-parks as the single most underrated winter activity in Lake Tahoe. For $25, you can get a season permit that lasts from November 1 through May 30. The permit gets you access to 19 sno-parks in the Sierras, a handful of which are around the Lake Tahoe basin.
Sno-parks are basically parking lots. Parking lots in the mountains that give you direct access to the soft, powdery bliss of the backcountry. Want to take the kids sledding? Park at a sno-park, and hike to a hill. Snowshoe trailblazing? Sno-park. Snowmobile trails or winter camping? Yeah.
Here’s the best part of all: overnight parking and in-vehicle camping (no tents or campfires) is allowed. There’s a million creative ways to make use of a sno-park permit. It’s a must-do for anyone spending time around Lake Tahoe in winter.
Skiing & Snowboarding
There are nearly 15 ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe basin, and most of them boast amazing lake views. Whether you know how to ski or not, there’s few better ways to spend a winter afternoon. Besides, there’s no shame in hanging with a chili-bowl or Bloody Mary in the lodge.
Towering over South Lake Tahoe is Heavenly Ski Resort, the area’s most popular ski mountain. With long, swooping runs, expansive lake views and a hyper-central location, it’s easy to understand why. Many locals favor nearby Kirkwood for its steep runs or Sierra-At-Tahoe for its mellow vibe.
On the west shore is Homewood, a comparatively smaller ski resort, but one that’s relaxed and easy-to-access.
Then, there’s the north shore of Lake Tahoe, where you’ll find widely known favorites like Squaw and Northstar. Humble neighbors like Diamond Peak and the area’s tallest mountain, Mt. Rose are nearby too.
If you need to rent skis, there’s tons of local spots where you can rent for less than they’ll cost at the ski resort. If you’re skiing Heavenly, a few are even within walking distance of the gondola. (Powder House, we’re looking at you.)
Listen, skiing will always steal the show. But we’ve got a soft spot for snowshoeing. In fact, we’d call snowshoeing one of Lake Tahoe’s best winter activities. You can still get snow in your pants, snap way too many photos and enjoy Lake Tahoe’s epic winter landscape. Plus, it truly takes no skill. It’s just like taking a walk with big, bulky shoes.
You will, however, need a pair of snowshoes. There’s plenty of places around town where you can rent a pair of snowshoes, then find a trail of your own—or you can book a tour for a curated trek with a guide.
You can snowshoe literally anywhere that there’s snow. But an easy, scenic place to get started is Echo Lakes. Remember that sno-park permit? It’ll come in handy now. Park at the Echo Lake sno-park, then follow the trailhead at the entrance of the parking lot. You can find an excellent guide to the area here.
Check out the Tahoe Adventure Company for snowshoe tours. Located in Tahoe City, they offer snowshoe tours for all-levels. Join an experienced guide for an afternoon walk through the woods, or elevate the experience with a sunset or full moon trek.
Ready to book those ski or snowshoe rentals? Get ‘er done:
Sledding. Yes. We don’t care what age you are. The thrill of sliding over the snow like a glossy-bellied penguin isn’t something that fades with time. Similar to snowshoeing, there’s two routes when it comes to sledding hills around Lake Tahoe—pay-to-play or find your own.
If you opt to DIY the experience, be respectful. It is not cool to: park on the side of a busy road, launch down a sledding hill that dead ends in the street, leave behind lost mittens or broken sleds. What you should do is have fun, be safe and send your kid off the biggest jump you can find. Here’s a few free sledding options:
If you take Emerald Bay road north past Camp Richardson, there’s a mellow slope at the entrance to Fallen Leaf Lake campground on the left hand side of the road. This is a great spot for some easy, fun sled action.
At the top of Spooner Summit, you’ll find a parking area off the SR24 near Highway 50. It’ll be easy to find. People love this spot.
The real deal sledding hills require you to pay. Usually you can get an hourly or all-day pass that includes tube rentals and long, groomed runs that range from mild to rollercoaster-esque. Here’s a few of our favorites:
The sledding hill at Tahoe City’s Granlibakken Resort makes for the perfect all-ages winter activity. For just $20 per day, or a $100 season pass, you’ll have access to their massive, groomed sledding hill. The neighboring ski hill is a nice perk for kids and beginning skiers. For $40 a day (sledding hill included!), you can take advantage of the gentle slope for no-stress intro to skiing.
At the top of Echo Summit, you’ll find Adventure Mountain, a verifiable sledding mecca sitting at 7,350 feet above sea level. Prices range from $40-$55—but that fee is collected per car rather than per person. Once you’re there, there’s sledding runs galore, but plenty of snowy pockets for snowball fights, snowmen or any other snowy day activities you might enjoy. This spot gets busy because it’s one of Tahoe’s best. You can bring your own sleds or rent, and there’s a cafeteria for snacks and beverages.
If snowmobiling sounds kind of gnarly to you, you’re not entirely wrong. At the top level, snowmobiling is an extreme sport. But for beginners navigating groomed trails with a guide, it’s really simple and really fun.
A well-loved favorite in the world of Lake Tahoe snowmobile tours is the Scenic Lakeview Tour from Zephyr Cove. This two-hour tour takes you through the east shore backcountry, with narrated stops and you guessed it—epic views of the lake. They also offer advanced tours for those with a little more experience.
On the north shore, Lake Tahoe Snowmobiling shows off the basin’s backcountry with beginner, advanced and private summit adventures. Their snowmobile tours follow miles of groomed trails along mountain ridges for the ultimate snowmobiling experience.
You’ll be glad you read this: dress as if you’re going skiing for your snowmobile tour. Invest in a neck gaiter and some waterproof & windproof gear. This’ll drastically improve your experience!
Outdoor ice skating
Want your Lake Tahoe winter vacation to feel like a scene from a Hallmark movie? Visit a festive, outdoor ice skating rink. There’s humble opportunities for ice skating at both the Heavenly and Northstar villages; each surrounded with fire pits, happy hours and a general jolly feeling.
We’ll let you in on a secret. You don’t actually have to spend the day skiing in order to spend the evening aprés-skiing. In mountain towns, aprés ski is a state of mind and there’s no wrong way—or time—to do it. So if a mid-mountain cocktail isn’t in the cards for you, opt instead for one of these aprés spots down on flat land.
Really anywhere in Heavenly Village delivers when it comes to aprés opportunities, but few do it better than Basecamp Pizza. We love this spot for the laissez-faire patio chilling, daily live music and almost oddly competitive cornhole board.
A cozy interior paired with a well-curated beer and wine offering makes the Coachman Hotel an easy-to-love aprés spot in South Lake Tahoe. A spacious outdoor fire-pit makes it exceedingly so. There’s plenty of space to hang, plus it’s comfortably walkable from the Heavenly gondola—even in snow gear.
Incline Village’s Alibi Ale Works is a wildly fun aprés ski option with a whole host of house beers and good vibes. Ample bar seating and a large outdoor space for the brave, Scandanavian types wearing well-insulated gloves makes this a happy choice for big groups.
Another north shore favorite, the Lone Eagle Grille is perhaps one of Lake Tahoe’s classiest ways to aprés. With massive fire pits just steps from the lake and an elevated cocktail menu, it’s so good that it’s almost too good.
We could continue to wax poetic about the joys of a Lake Tahoe winter, but honestly, we’re out of breath. And seriously, about the “only bad clothes” thing—you can get amazing used winter gear at the South Lake Tahoe Goodwill. So, no excuses!