Kirkwood is a casual family resort located south of Lake Tahoe and west of Sacramento in Central California. This ski resort receives great snowfall every year thanks to its location along the Sierra Nevada Crest. The resort has undergone some major renovations in the past few years, adding in a slopeside village with some shops and dining options. Slopeside lodging options have also increased with many new condominiums being built. While Kirkwood is far from a destination resort on par with Heavenly or Northstar, the terrain more than makes up for the lack of apres ski locations.
Kirkwood is located high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the Eldorado National Forest. The base of the resort, Kirkwood Meadow is located at 7800 feet above sea level. The resort spans across four separate peaks. Thimble is the highest, with an elevation of 9876 feet. The others are The Sisters (9400 feet), Glove Rock (9360 feet), and Covered Wagon Peak (9565 feet). The peaks are all connected by a connected ridgeline, which leads to some crazy drop ins. Kirkwood gets about 470 inches (12.0 meters) of snow every year. The official vertical for Kirkwood clocks in at 2000 feet, but staring down the double black diamond run, The Wall, from Thimble Peak, it seems a lot higher.
Kirkwood has fifteen total lifts. Two high-speed quads, a fixed quad, six triples, one double, and five surface lifts ferry over 21,000 people per hour up the slopes to over 65 named trails. The official blend of trail difficulty comes in at 12 percent novice, 30 percent intermediate, and 58 percent expert. This trail difficulty mix is weighted toward the advanced skier, but beginners can still have fun. The designated beginner area is well away from other areas of the park that might intimidate a novice, centered on the Timber Creek Base, under Glove Rock and Martin Point.
For advanced skiers looking for bowl skiing, these two peaks are where you want to be. Sentinel and the Palisades have wide-open bowls with interspersed trees and dense glades just waiting for new lines to be cut. If you’re after something a little more challenging, Thimble and the Sisters have you covered. From the steeps of Cold Shoulder and its surrounding runs to the chutes off the Sisters, there are black diamond and intermediate runs aplenty.
One thing that often comes up is why should you spend your time at the Wood instead of other Tahoe resorts? Here’s the deal: if you want apres-ski options, you’ll probably be happier at Mammoth or NorthStar. If you’re looking for pure skiing, Kirkwood won’t disappoint. The resort rarely gets crowded, and the locals are friendly. Because of the elevation, the snow that drops on the mountains isn’t the heavy wet stuff that most of Tahoe gets. You’re going to find champagne here, in all its light and fluffy glory. With only two high-speed lifts, it does take longer to get up the mountain, but that only contributes to the laid-back feel at the Wood. If you want to ski or board and you don’t care about the rowdy nightlife, you’ll love it at Kirkwood.