We are huge fans of Kirkwood, Lake Tahoe. One of the largest and highest at 7,800 to 9,800 feet in the Sierra Nevada, Kirkwood Ski Resort usually features the most and often time the best snow in the region. The resort is quite big and has opened the backside with new lifts.

Why Kirkwood Ski Resort?

As you will read, Kirkwood Mountain Resort snow conditions were less than perfect, the result of several years of drought in California. That shows how great Kirkwood Ski Resort is because it was still the best resort to go to under these icy and spotty conditions. Now, Kirkwood snow report usually shows top snow level compared to any other resort. So if you have one mountain to pick in Northern California, Kirkwood should be your first choice. Kirkwood snowboarding is always top of our winter trips!

Kirkwood Meadows

Kirkwood Ski Resort features a wide array of rides for all levels, from bunny slopes perfect for beginners to terrains better reserved for advancers skiers and snowboarders. The experts will enjoy the long 2-mile ridgeline and test their skills on 2,000 feet of vertical cliff drops and cornices. Jump enthusiasts will appreciate the various terrain parks with different levels of difficulty, from the freestyle beginner to advanced riders. Each terrain is complete with jumps, boxes, and rails perfect for jibbing.

The Village is the starting point for both beginners and advancers runs alike. Warm-up around Cornice Express, or start your day strong with The Wall in the early morning hours when freshly groomed.

Our preferred area is the “backside” of the mountain featuring groomed runs but also open terrains among the trees. There you can enjoy untouched powder around Fawn Ridge. Fewer skiers and snowboarders tend to come to this part of Kirkwood, allowing them to enjoy the uncrowded slopes.  Kirkwood and especially the backside, are in our mind among the top among many ski resorts in California.

A Day Snowboarding on the Kirkwood Mountain Resort

The slopes looked good but as we arrived at the top of the first lift, Solitude, and quickly noticed how icy it was. That winter was one of the worst in recent years in California due to the drought conditions. The warm temperatures of the previous days and the lack of new fresh powder meant the melting and freezing of the snow over and over. The bottom line, we were too early on the slopes. After trying Corniche Express and seeing the same type of icy run, we decided to head toward the backside, which has more sun exposure.

We decided to go through The Reut and snowboard the mountain down towards the backside – this turned to be a bad idea. What should have been a fun ride through the trees turned out to be a pain in the butt for me – literally. Icy terrain meant I could not get my turns right and kept falling. In retrospect, we should have thought this would be the case. We finally managed to reach Caples Crest, the access lift to the backside. I was ready for a break, not in a good mood. And the brown spots covering that area of the mountain were not very motivating either. Bruno and I talked about heading back to the Village, the prospect of hot chocolate being way more appealing at that very moment.

Kirkwood Sky Resort - Back Side Mountain

But as our first trip to the snow for the season, we thought we should try to show a bit more motivation, and as we exited the lift, we were headed for some more afternoon fun. I guess my body was not agreeing with this decision, and I flipped over as I was pushing my board away from the lift.

Hitting my head – hard

Luckily I wore a helmet that absorbed most of the shock, but I did see a black flash for a second and felt my brain hitting the back of my skull. A sudden headache came upon me right away, and I was quite shaken by the fall. I decided to wait out for a while, and stayed by the Emergency outpost – very relevant and reassuring if I was going to pass out! I encouraged Bruno to carry on to the backside – one of us should have fun!

My headache started to recede, and as it was lunchtime, my stomach took over my brain (not an unusual occurrence, unfortunately), and felt I was feeling good enough to join Bruno. As great minds think alike, I received a message from Bruno to come and meet him for lunch if I felt like it. Putting my board back, I cautiously made my way down, not trying any trick. Reaching Bruno by the outdoor BBQ concession, I was glad I did, and we were soon enjoying a tasty burger, relaxing by the side of the slopes, warming up under the midday sun.

USA. California Lake Tahoe. Windy Day on the Ridge

Windy Day on the Kirkwood Ridge during a separate snowboarding trip

Happy I hadn’t fainted by then; I decided to join Bruno for some afternoon snow time. Heading up the top of the mountain via the Sunrise lift, we had a couple of good runs – some part icy, some part slushy but with (almost) no one else on the slope, we were Kings of the Hills and could carve as we wished. I was still careful not to push my luck but had a good time.

After-Riding Activities

It was time to head back to the Village, and catch some of the festivities provided by Bay Area Ski Bus. Fresh hot dogs, cookies, nuts, pretzel, red and white wine, hot coffee and tea, fresh fruits – plenty to recover from our efforts of the day. Once again, we liked the services provided (and no, if you ask, we are not paid or sponsored by Bay Area Ski Bus, just sharing our appreciation). The return ride was smooth, glad we could sleep it off a bit, though I did watch some of the provided movies.

Back home around 9.30 pm, we were tired but happy with our day after all. I was somewhat concerned about falling asleep because of the potential concussion, so I set my alarm clock to ring every 3 hours. This snowboarding day trip left me somewhat tired the next morning, but as this blog can attest, I made it through the night.

USA. California Lake Tahoe. Kirkwood Backside Ridge

Kirkwood Backside Ridge

Kirkwood Ski School, Rental & Tickets

Kirkwood ski lessons and gear rental are available in the Mountain Village. Kirkwood ski packages can be purchased for kids 5 & 10-package as group lessons.

Expert riders or those looking for exciting adventures in the fresh powder of the backcountry can sign-up for the Expedition: Kirkwood tours led by private guides.

REI and Sports Basements usually have good Kirkwood ski resort discount lift tickets. For other tours and activities around Lake Tahoe, click here.

If you are an REI member (and you should if you are not!), check REI’s current deals and Save up to 30% on deals from Patagonia, Mammut, Marmot, and REI Co-op brand.

Kirkwood Lodging

The only drawback is the lack of budget Kirkwood hotel, with limited hotels near Kirkwood mountain resort, and no nearby town similar to Truckee on the North Shore, or South Lake Tahoe in the area bearing the same name. Kirkwood has its village, composed of condos, cabins, and lodges, but most of them are on the pricey side unless you book months in advance or have a ski lease. A couple of nearby lodges exist on Highway 88, but they sell out quickly and early in the season. This lodging situation results in many visiting the resort as a day trip rather than spending the weekend there.

If you don’t plan to spend the night in Kirkwood, you can either go to Kirkwood to South Lake Tahoe where you will find a large choice of budget motels, including dog-friendly hotels if you come with your four-legged buddies.

Among other places to stay in Kirkwood, you might also rent private cabins near Kirkwood ski resort on Airbnb or VRBO. Many avid skiers and snowboarders consider a Kirkwood ski lease as a good option.

USA. California Lake Tahoe. Bruno taking a break from snowboarding Kirkwood

Bruno taking a break from snowboarding Kirkwood


Where is Kirkwood, California?

If you are looking for Kirkwood on the California map, the resort is quite isolated in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The resort is 182 miles from San Francisco, about a 3h30 drive though this usually takes longer on Friday evenings.

Pioneer is the last major city coming from San Francisco, so it’s an excellent place to stop for dinner or breakfast and fill your tank.

You can either plan for an early drive or a long day, which we did for many years. Or you can let someone do the driving and enjoy your long day without fearing the trip, especially the tiresome return.

USA. California Lake Tahoe. Powder day at Kirkwood

Powder day at Kirkwood

Bay Area Ski Bus

How so might you ask? Well, we used one of the Bay Area ski buses and loved it! We knew of these coaches for years, but for some reason, failed to try them. I guess we were also a more significant group of snow lovers, but many of our friends now have kids and other interests and are less inclined to hit the road on a bright Saturday morning.

Anyhow, we tried for the first time last year, and we were sold. We used Bay Area Ski Bus both times and liked their services. Not trying to sell anything here, just sharing a good tip. They organize trips almost daily in the season, to different ski resorts, and for different types of customers – teens, family, or adults only. They offer different picking up locations (one conveniently at Rockridge Bart, close to where we live in Oakland). Tickets include some breakfast, an end-of-day barbeque, and storage for your day stuff while you are on the mountain. They can also provide ski lifts at a very reasonable price. Anyhow, we liked them, found the tickets to be relatively cost-effective (think gas, mileage, stress, and potentially bad weather vs. sleeping on the bus) – we will try again!

Patricia ready to carve snowboarding Kirkwood

Even during the most severe drought years that California experienced, and even with less than ideal conditions, Kirkwood Ski Resort was still the best option for snowboarding in the region. Kirkwood Resort weather report is usually the best of all the other resorts. You can also check the Kirkwood ski resort webcam to monitor different sections of the mountains during the winter season.

If you are around Lake Tahoe, you can also check other resorts. On the South Shore, Heavenly Ski Resort is the central mountain. On the North Shore, top choices include Northstar, Sugar Bowl, Alpine, Palisades Tahoe (formerly known as Squaw Valley) on the California side, Diamond Peak, and Mt Rose on the Nevada side. For other ski opportunities in the US, check Steamboat in Colorado.

Looking for exciting winter adventures? Check our Husky dog-led and tundra camping trip in the Canada Arctic!

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