The Boreal Park. PHOTO: BOREAL

At 500 vertical feet, Boreal, at the peak of Donner Pass on I-80, would be a mere blip, literally and figuratively, on the radar as readers of this magazine power toward Lake Tahoe resorts with bigger terrain and several times more vert. But the 380-acre ski area deserves some attention for two reasons. The first is the outrageously fun skatepark-style terrain park that can be lapped off the high-speed quad, 22-foot pipe run included, in well under 10 minutes. The second is that Boreal has established itself as a legitimate and affordable beginner breeding ground—an unappreciated phenomenon in an industry with anemic growth.

Obsessed park rats are right at home here. $199 season passes, which include night skiing, get kids slaying boxes and rails from October to mid-April, when the groomers start pushing snow toward the central lane in anticipation of the Woodward Tahoe summer camps, which offer on-snow park training through early July. During the winter, the park is a creative skier’s playground, with most jibs set up so you can hit them at least three different ways while cutting across lanes to hit a different line every time. It’s more akin to flowing through a skatepark, and tying an improvised line together, than the standard park experience of hitting every feature in one line and in one direction. While the park skier scene is small compared to the numbers of snowboarders, several skiers from the Moment Skis team, as well as the Good Enough crew, have carved out a friendly ski scene here.

When you do take a break from the rapid park laps you walk into a rather simple lodge populated by a more diverse crowd of snow enthusiasts than any other resort this skier has ever been to. People are speaking Spanish, Hindi, and Russian here, a product of Boreal’s extensive catering to the first-timer Sacramento market an hour and a half away. The hallmark is the 1,2,3 Ride Free program, where first-timers get a lift ticket, rentals, and a lesson for $75. The second and third visit, that package goes down to $30. After that, new skiers are rewarded with a free season’s pass for the rest of the year, with an unlimited rental pass available for $149.

Boreal has integrated their Woodward facility in a smart way, too. Noting the relative unfamiliarity and intimidation most beginners are likely to suffer— going out with an expert skier, dealing with lifts, lift lines, maybe even the entire athletic experience for the first time—the Ride With Woodward program gives first-timers some prep time off-snow with their coaches in the Bunker, including warm-up exercises and stretches. They get to know their instructors in an indoor environment first, and strap into skis and get pushed around on a gentle carpet to gain familiarity with their equipment before ever stepping out onto snow. Boreal has noted much faster progression with beginners who take take advantage of this program.

While it might never be the place you’d think of first on your way to Tahoe, the kind of places whose progression is focused on turning first-timers into life-long skiers deserves some praise.