by Jack Johannsen

Lift tickets cost more each year, so it's a good thing Heavenly Valley lets you save on gambler-subsidized food and lodgings just minutes away in South Tahoe.

Has it been 50+ years since Heavenly Valley opened its slopes in 1955, at what many considered the wrong end of Lake Tahoe? Must be, that's the theme for this year. Not that Heavenly needs a special theme. With the azure waters of Lake Tahoe on one side and the colorful high deserts of Nevada and the green ranch lands of the Carson Valley on the other, Heavenly would be worth a visit even if it didn't have the longest run and highest vertical in the Tahoe Basin. It's also a superb place to introduce new skiers to the snow for, if the bunny slopes don't take, the area has more than enough "no ski" activities to keep anyone interested. But for skiers, the only problem is trail selection once you reach the top of the tram. hvalley3.jpg (8116 bytes)

Skiing with the lake in the distance.


There's a choice of powder in the trees, wide groomed slopes, twisty expert runs and neat open bowls with varied east, north, west and south exposures so you can always find decent snow somewhere. Best of all, at least for those who don't gamble, you can find luxury, but affordable lodgings in any of a number of Nevada-side casinos. Gamblers pay the freight. So you enjoy inexpensive buffets, solid restaurants and rather nifty shows as well. These, plus the free shuttles to the slopes can radically cut your package costs for a weekend or week long stay. So can avoiding car rental costs. Stick with the free shuttles and cabs unless you want to sample Tahoe's North Shore ski areas like Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows or Sugar Bowl up at the top of Donner Pass. Of course, casinos bet you can't resist the temptations of the tables. How certain are they? Most offer free 24-hour a day shuttles to and from the slopes.

One thing seems certain, with so much night life, skiers who hit the 25 Heavenly Valley lifts when they open at nine -- 8:30 on weekends and holidays -- find plenty of untracked runs -- 79 in 1995, with a mix of 20% beginner, 45% intermediate and 35% Advanced and experts -- and plenty of space with nearly 5,000 patrolled acres that enjoy a "paltry" 300 inches average snowfall that's supplemented by 120 inches of machine-made snow that's shot onto two-thirds of the hill as needed.

Favorite runs are personal, but it's wise to loosen up with easy runs and work up to the top of your ability level. End your day with easy runs too! Most injuries are early and late. Then, once you find that near perfect run, ask the lift attendants what other runs are just about the same. Hopefully, you'll ski Heavenly for enough days to learn how you can follow the sun around the mountain to stay with perfect snow conditions.

As at most top resorts, ski schools at Heavenly are popular enough to insure you ski with others at your ability level. If you can, opt for a woman instructor. These usually seem more supportive and often, more skilled, than macho males. There are also special ski seminars and classes for women, seniors and kids. The last have their "Magic Carpet" lift at the Children's Ski School.

TIP: check out the Nevada side's nine lifts, which often collect fewer bodies than the more scenic California side runs. If you ski with kids either stick them in the kiddy ski school or limit them to runs on one side of the mountain or you won't see them until dark!

Boarded with Skiing

If you want to try something different, and find x-c skiing too tame, try a snowboard. This is easier than it looks as the board keeps your feet in the right place and you don't mess with ski poles. The "Airport" snowboard park on the Nevada side has all sorts of nifty runs, tubes and pipes, and you'll find "Shred Ready" schools both at the nearby Boulder Lodge and the California Lodge. There's even a "Boardinghouse" next to Long's Drugs on Highway 50.

No Snow Shows

Winter brings big name entertainers like Frank Sinatra to South Tahoe show rooms. Stage shows like 42nd Street hit the boards here too. We do find the later cocktail shows a bit more lively than dinner offerings, but some of the best acts are in lounges and piano bars where lively new talent makes their mark. Discos, western bars and dance halls finish off the nightlife set.

Days can fill with shopping, dog sled or sleigh rides, cruises on the lake, visits to Carson City, Nevada's capitol, and its fine museums and much else. Granted you pay the price of a bit of strip mall zoning on the California side, but you can find plenty to do even if you don't ski. And, of course, there are always the slots and tables!

Getting There

The easy way in from Northern California is on Highway 50 if you consider chains and such. When the weather's more questionable many drive in over Interstate 80 and come down through Nevada or along the East side of Lake Tahoe. If you fly in, Reno's Cannon International Airport runs shuttle buses and rents winterized cars -- either 4WD or front wheel models with chains. Unless there are four or more in your group, consider the shuttle. It's about an hour and a quarter to South Lake Tahoe. You can also take TW Express flights from Los Angeles or San Francisco to South Tahoe Airport about ten minutes from town.

Getting Around

Between the Heavenly free ski shuttle from most South Tahoe lodgings, the free casino shuttles and TART -- Tahoe Area Regional Transit -- buses there's little need for cars unless you plan to ski other areas with Heavenly "interchangeable" lift tickets. Don't overlook sternwheeler or sailboat tours in fall or spring either.

Food & Lodgings

Casinos offer more of each for less, IF you don't gamble, or you simply consider gambling losses as entertainment expenses. Aside from that, you'll find 11,500 housing units and all will be absolutely packed during holidays. So book early. We've had good luck with Heavenly Central reservations. Do ask about their Winter lift/lodging packages and, in particular, the special discounts that run early and late in the season. Phone 800-2-HEAVEN or write Heavenly Ski Resort, Box 2180, Stateline, NV 89449. Their ski condition number is 916-541-skii(7544) or 702-586-7000.

* Interchangeable tickets are good at Heavenly, Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, Kirkwood, Northstar and Sierra-at-Tahoe. Most North Tahoe locals ski at either Squaw or Alpine Meadows.