Nov 06, 2008
Trace a line formed by Maine's State Routes 16, 27, 4, and 142 and you will encircle some of the state's highest mountains. In the southern part of the circle you'll find the long, impressive mass of Saddleback Mountain, from whose summit drop the twisty, wooded trails of Saddleback the ski resort.
Sugarloaf boasts 138 trails, 15 lifts, and a bustling village at the base.
Even on the biggest dump days the place is peaceful: Lift lines barely push four minutes, and locals take leisurely dips into untracked shots all day.
One of last season’s snowiest resorts, Alpine Meadows is small enough to host little more than a hole-in-the-wall coffee and pizza joint (Treats) but serious enough to rival the terrain at nearby behemoth Squaw Valley (the two resorts merged in September and now offer joint tickets). Hop on the Summit Six chair for earn-your-turns access to Estelle and Beaver bowls—some of the best powder on the mountain. Or lap the steeps skier’s right of the Alpine Bowl chair and pick your way down rock-spotted lines. Once you’ve had your fill, hit the Crest Café at the bottom of the Alpine Meadows Road for $1.50 PBR drafts all day, plus ski-bum-priced meatball sandwiches and pizza. You’ve earned it.
Powder Day: The Buttress is well worth the 20-minute hike. Head right off the Summit Six chair and traverse past Idiot’s Delight, Beaver Bowl, Estelle Bowl,and Bernie’s Bowl. You’ll reap continuous powder turns—to the envy of parking-lot onlookers.
Three Days Later: Unload Summit Six and head east past the towers on Ward Peak. Sidestep through the keyhole-shaped rock and stop at the top of Keyhole’s 1,200 vertical feet. The 55-degree top pitch can scare, but the north-facing snow stays cold and edgeable.
Park and Pipe: Session the Tiegle park with the kid-friendly poma or Hot Wheels chair. Or hit Kangaroo Ridge—at 15 degrees, it’s a flow of roller jumps, 20-foot tabletops, rails, and boxes.
Backcountry Access: Turn left at the top of the Scott chair, and traverse past the Broccoli Tree (an old Juniper) to west-facing Gentian Gully, where 45-degree steeps weave through huge pines. Pop out at the Subway double and ride back up. Check conditions at avalanche.org.
Weather: Storms from the Pacific dump feet of dense, powdery snow on the Sierra overnight. Remember the sunscreen for when it’s not puking: The high-alpine sun can be intense.
Après : Do happy hour at the Ice Bar—at the bottom of the Sherwood chair—and enjoy music, munchies, and Sierra Nevadas, plus sweeping views of Ward Canyon.
Fuel: Stop by the Crest Café (at the intersection of Highway 89 and Alpine Meadows Road) for a muffin and a breakfast mimosa on Sundays; or come any day at lunchtime for an Italian Panini or Asian wrap.
Up All Night: The Tahoe Biltmore, right across the Nevada state line, never closes. You can cash your paycheck and gamble it away, but be sure to save $1.99 for breakfast at noon.
Digs: Sunnyside, on Lake Tahoe‘s west shore, is a 15-minute drive from Alpine Meadows. The lodge has only 23 rooms, but that’s part of the cozy Tahoe appeal (sunnysideresort.com).
GO: Where to stay
The closest lodging to Alpine Meadows Ski Area.