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Lake Tahoe Family Vacation: Skiing, Sledding & Skating with Kids

Okay, the snow’s not quite here yet, but if you’ve taken a season or two off while pregnant or toting around a pre-walker, you’re probably itching to get back on skis. It’s never too early to start planning a ski weekend, particularly when you’re packing for little ones. Hopefully you can trade off with another family member in keeping the kiddos occupied, but with all the fun activities to do with kids up in the Sierra, you may be content to spend another year away from those moguls.

In SF? Click here for our tips on driving to Tahoe with kids.

Staying in Lake Tahoe with Kids
For those who prefer the north side of the lake, the newly revamped Village at Northstar boasts a ton of comfy lodging options for you and the fam. The newest and poshest of these is the Ritz-Carlton Highlands, opening in 2010 mid-mountain at Northstar. Expect 5-star Ritz service, with ski-in-ski-out convenience, plus a spa worth bribing your SO to take the kids for a couple of hours.

If your kids aren’t quite ready to “put on the Ritz,” the Village Lofts and condos at Northstar make a perfect alpine lodging experience, walking distance from the gondola, restaurants, and shops in the village.

If being close to the action is what you crave, the Village at Squaw Valley plunks you and the fam just steps from the gondola, lifts, shops, and great restaurants of the former Olympic Village. Condos come in sizes from studios to three-bedrooms, so there’s room for all.

On the South side of the lake, there are sometimes better deals to be found, as well as some top-notch skiing. Sierra-at-Tahoe, Heavenly and Kirkwood resorts all boast high snowfall, and Kirkwood’s added some condos in the past few years, upping the draw to the south end of the lake.

If you’re looking to team up with another family and perhaps bring the dogs, (plus have your own yard for snowman-building and snowball-hurling) the best options are found on vrbo.com. We recently saw a South Lake 2,800 sq. ft, dog-friendly cabin with a cozy, alpine feel that sleeps 14-16 for $250-350/night.  You can find something on either end of the lake, close to wherever you prefer to ski, hike, sled, or just curl up and play games in front of your own fireplace.

Things to do in Lake Tahoe with kids
Kids’ Skiing in Tahoe
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Some of you may be itching to get the little ones up on skis for the first time. If they’re ready to go for it, most of the larger ski resorts have ski schools that are perfect for tiny beginners. Squaw’s program takes kids as young as 3, and these “Snow Cubs”  learn on the flats, with about a 3-to-1 student to teacher ratio. Slightly older kids (4-6) learn with the Snow Sliders group. And at Northstar-at-Tahoe’s youth ski/snowboard  program takes 3-year-olds and up as well. TIP: For first-timers, most resorts recommend starting off with a half-day, to keep their little legs from getting too tired, then checking them into day care so kids can have a blast while you go big on the slopes.

Kids’ Sledding in Tahoe: It’s not all about the slopes, though. Bundled-up kids will enjoy a sleigh ride pulled by horses: there’s one at Squaw Creek Meadow (free for kids under 2) and also one in South Lake Tahoe at Borges, a family-run outfit. Dog-sledding trips might thrill older kids who can stand to be on a husky-pulled sled for an hour. Check out the websites of Wilderness Adventures Dog Sled Tours and Husky Express Dog Sled Tours if you think this classic outdoors adventure is a fit for your family.

Kids’ Tubing in Tahoe: If your tot prefers to pull his own sled, there are dozens of options for sledding hills and tubing parks all around the lake. If you’re planning to ski at one of the major resorts, you’ll be glad to know that Squaw, Northstar, Kirkwood, and Sierra-at-Tahoe all boast tubing parks where kids can slide in a giant doughnut for a small fee. And the smaller resorts have some pretty tricked-out sledding hills these days, too: Soda Springs lets tots as little as 3 take its tow ropes to the Tube Express, or, for a slower ride, the Little Dipper; Granlibakken rents saucers (no tubes or toboggans) and lets kids play all day for just $9. For good, old-fashioned classic sledding, there are some hills around the lake that do it old-school: BYO sled, and best of all, no fee. Our pick for a mild run for the very small kids is the West Shore park, ½ mile south of Tahoe City on the east side of Rte. 89…look for parked cars and a small clearing.

And let’s not leave out that classic winter pastime: ice skating! The year-round rink at Northstar (roller-skating in the summer) is in the center of the village, so parents can sip a hot toddy while kids twirl away in their sightline on the ice. And the resort at Squaw Creek’s outdoor rink makes a perfect photo op, with its Sierra backdrop and hot chocolate on hand.

Indoor Play: When you just can’t get them into their snow pants, hats and mittens (or have little ones that are simply not ready for the slopes yet), head for Truckee and hit up the KidZone Museum for indoor fun including art projects, climbing adventures and rotating exhibits. Hint: Your Bay Area Discover Museum pass can get you in for free or discount (depending on your membership level).

Kid-Friendly Dining in Lake Tahoe
If your kids love pizza and can stand a little wait for a custom-made pie, Truckee’s Zano’s Pizzeria, near Northstar, is a family-geared spot for hearty Italian grub. For some special views, the lakeside dining at Riva Grill in South Lake Tahoe is surprisingly kid-friendly..order up a Virgin Woody (the nonalcoholic version of their famous house cocktail) and soak up the scenery of that iconic lake. And finally, both Squaw Valley and the newly revamped Northstar-at-Tahoe resort boast a wide variety of casual restaurants (and a couple of nice ones too, in case you’ve brought a sitter or are going to take advantage of village childcare—Baxter’s at Northstar, and Plumpjack Café at Squaw). Just wandering around in ski boots is bound to work up an appetite!

Kids Baby Services in Lake Tahoe

For a grown-up night out, try All About Kids Tahoe, a babysitting service for newborn through teenaged kids than has been serving Tahoe families since 2002. They can come to your hotel or vacation rental, or even take the kids out for a day of skiing or sledding while you get some R & R.

—Sarah Bossenbroek

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