Darren Johnson. Kirkwood, California. PHOTO: Hank de Vre

This article, and distribution, was paid for by Visit California and produced in conjunction with POWDER.

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Kirkwood Mountain Resort is way out there, and that's how they like it. The 2,300-acre ski resort sits on the crest at the northern post of the High Sierra, a geography that blesses them with abundant snowfall. The ski resort receives an average of 354 inches of snow a year, but when Mother Nature focuses her attention on California, it's not unusual to get upwards of 600 or even 800 inches of snow.

The ski resort wraps around the end of a north-facing U-shaped valley that is punctuated by Thimble Peak—elevation 9,805 feet. It is surrounded on all sides by the Eldorado National Forest, featuring thousands of acres of wild and public land. Once skiers arrive to Kirkwood, the scenery and the crisp winter morning are guaranteed to get the blood flowing. Skiers drive 30 minutes from South Lake Tahoe and traverse two mountain passes on a rural highway—or it's a two-hour drive from Sacramento in the other direction. Either way, the commute filters the crowds. The few who go the distance will be happy for it.

Chairs 6 and 10 are quick rides to the top of a long ridge line that drops skiers fall line for a thigh-burning, non-stop 2,000 feet. The mountain's volcanic landscape offers natural features that will inspire creativity and reward curiosity—gullies, kickers, cliffs, wind lips. With such varied and challenging terrain, it's no wonder the ski resort has bred so many aggressive skiers, including Freeride World Tour competitor Hazel Birnbaum, Salomon athlete Josh Daiek, and big mountain telemark skier Meghan Kelly.


Kirkwood is all about the skiing, and while there are fewer restaurants than at some resorts, there are great options for anyone who’s really here to eat vertical. The Kirkwood Inn & Saloon is just as rustic as it was in 1864 when Zachary Kirkwood built it, now with a full bar and a menu for après and dinner. For grab-and-go sandwiches and espresso, the General Store is a good place to stock up on the usual supplies.


Kirkwood's laid-back vibe is ideal for tailgating, especially on one of the 300 days of sunshine in the Sierra Nevada. Pack a couple chairs and a cooler and make some friends in the parking lot. Or, drive 30 miles down Highway 88 to Meyers, a hamlet just outside of South Lake Tahoe, where a lot of Kirkwood skiers live. The Divided Sky is an all-time local haunt with plenty of whiskey, a solid beer selection on tap, and live music.


The ski resort has a selection of slopeside hotel rooms and condos in the valley, just be prepared for quiet nights after the lifts shut down. If a storm comes in, though, you'll be one of the lucky few at the resort first thing in the morning on a powder day. For more options and more nightlife, stay in South Lake Tahoe, where you can find everything from bargain motels to ritzy suites in the casinos.