At last! It’s time to pack up the skis, snowboards and tire chains, (and the kids), as the snow piles up at Lake Tahoe. World-famous for major ski resorts, the lake is also legendary for its apres-ski scene, from “Next Gen” brew pubs to Vegas-style nightspots where snow bunnies shake their booties, and family-friendly fire pits with s’mores and hot toddies. After a long day on the slopes, apres-ski at Lake Tahoe means unwinding with a warm libation or a frosty beer around a flickering fire, as much a part of the skiing culture as the sport itself. There is something about being out all day in the bracing winter weather, and the excitement of skiing and boarding, that brings makes people want to relax and relive it. And late-night action is always available at Tahoe’s nightclubs and bars, too, but, don’t be surprised if your family and friends want to hobble off to their hot tubs, condos and cabins right after dinner!
With an annual average of 450” of snowfall and 300 sunny days most years, the steep slopes of Squaw Valley and its sister resort, Alpine Meadows, attract some of the best skiers and boarders in the world. At the base of the lifts, trams and gondolas, Squaw Valley Village warms up tuckered skiers with three big fire pits, heated outdoor seating at many bars and restaurants, and live music every day. It’s feet up by the flickering flames at the old favorite Fireside Pizza, which also has indoor booths and sports-TV. Within sight of the Saturday night fireworks on the mountain, the Plaza Bar treats customers to acoustic music and a hot chocolate bar for kids, while a youngish crowd meets at [email protected] for blood orange margaritas and Irish whiskey toddies.
After the lifts close at Squaw and Alpine, parents can kick back at happy hour in the Village while their pint-size Olympic hopefuls, ages 6 to 12, play around until 6 or 7 p.m. at SnoVentures, practicing on the beginner terrain, driving mini-snowmobiles on a groomed track, and snow tubing.
Accessed by the Aerial Tram based in the Village, the complex at High Camp has been completely remodeled. With dazzling Sierra and lake views from 8,200 feet in elevation, the sprawling Terrace Restaurant & Bar now has a light, airy feel, while the more intimate Granite Bistro is a cozy spot for a late lunch. Tourists pull out their cameras on the observation deck above the swimming pool and hot tubs, while skiers kick back on comfy benches and sofas, and kids head for the new play area.
Near the tram in the Village, those in the know linger around the cozy fireplace in the bar at PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn (which after the ski season will close for about 18 months for a major expansion). Behind the inn in the A-frame building, Le Chamois (the “Chammy”) has filled up with apres-skiers, ski bums, and ski patrollers at the end of every snowy day since 1969. When the pro athletes are in town for NASTAR and other big races, huge crowds show up on the deck and out across the meadow. $100 gets you a “Buddy Pitcher Pass” for 10 pitchers of Bud.
Beyond Squaw on the way to Lake Tahoe on Highway 89, stop in at River Ranch Lodge & Restaurant, right on a fast-flowing section of the Truckee River, for live music in the pub and happy hour specials, 5-7 p.m. on weekends. At Tahoe City, take a right around the lake and watch for Homewood Mountain Resort, a small, “old Tahoe-style,” family-oriented ski mountain. Just across the road, the West Shore Café lays out free s’mores every late afternoon at their waterfront fire pits, and takes in dog-tired skiers for happy hour with a view ($3 and $5 drinks, 3-5 p.m.). A popular warm-up is “Smokey and the Bandit,” a mescal, prickly pear and jalapeno cocktail.
North from Tahoe City, both with sprawling decks and dazzling water views, Sunnyside and Gar Woods are packed to the rafters all year round. It’s martinis and music on Friday nights at Sunnyside, and on scenic Carnelian Bay, Gar Woods Grill & Pier is a West Shore icon famous for the “Wet Woody,” a stiff one comprised of rum, liqueur, and a float of two high-octane rums (on Tuesdays, they’re served with twice the rum float. . . ).