Nevada County residents enjoy diverse winter recreational opportunities |

Nevada County residents enjoy diverse winter recreational opportunities

Royal Gorge
John Hart | The Union

Residents of the Sierra foothills have the benefit of living in proximity to one of the most diverse and high-quality winter recreational areas in North America.

From sledding with children to adventurous overland snowmobiling treks through national forest land to accessing some of the most challenging downhill ski terrain on the North American continent, it’s all within an hour and a half drive.

“It’s sweet,” said Elijah Herlitz, 19, a ski technician at Mountain Recreation, an outdoor recreation retail outlet in Grass Valley.

“There are lots of really good resorts in the area. You can go night skiing at a small mountain or hit a huge mountain on a powder day. It takes about an hour, an hour and a half at the most, to get to most of all the killer resorts.”

While some people head east on Highway 20 to Interstate 80 over the crest as soon as the first snowflakes flit from the sky, others prefer to stay closer to home.

A winter experience is available in Tahoe National Forest just outside of Nevada City when the snow gets low, said Ann Westling, spokeswoman of TNF.

Often, residents park in any of the numerous turnouts along Highway 20 and bust out the sleds and toboggans for some old-fashioned winter play, Westling said. The primary concern lies in the large number of visitors parking far enough away from the road to not obstruct traffic.

Snowmobiling through the forest is a popular activity for area residents, as there are at least 12 prominent trails where the off-highway vehicles are permitted to venture.

Cross country skiing trails proliferate throughout Tahoe National Forest with about 20 designated trails, ranging from easy to difficult, smattered throughout the recreational areas of the forest, Westling said.

Finally, hikers who lament the arrival of winter as the season when their favorite trails are no longer accessible are encouraged to buy or rent a pair of snowshoes, which opens up terrain to anyone.

Mountain Recreation has snowshoes available for rental or purchase, said owner Jason Auld.

“Snowshoeing has become extremely popular,” Auld said. “There is virtually no learning curve. If you can walk, you can snowshoe.”

While the national forest resting right outside of Nevada City is enough to satisfy the winter yearnings of a large portion of Nevada County’s population, the need for speed on the slopes is what drives many people to pass the many turnouts lining Highway 20 and head east to the high country.

Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, Boreal Ski Area, Soda Springs Ski Area, Donner Ski Ranch, Sugar Bowl, Northstar at Tahoe and Squaw Valley are all positioned on Tahoe National Forest land and are within a 90-minute drive time of western Nevada County.

A little farther away, Homewood Mountain Ski Resort presents a small resort heavy on lake views, as it is situated on the west shore of Lake Tahoe.

Across the border in Nevada, Mt. Rose Ski Resort and Diamond Peak Ski Resort also afford quality turns and expansive views of the Northern Sierra’s unparalleled scenic beauty.

On Lake Tahoe’s south shore, Heavenly Mountain Resort and Sierra at Tahoe both boast a wide array of downhill terrain but lie on the fringe of day-trip range for western Nevada County residents.

Sugar Bowl Ski Resort is the closest major ski resort to western county residents and was recently named as one of the best resorts in North America.

“It’s a quick drive from the foothills,” said Jennie Bartlett, a Sugar Bowl spokesperson. “We draw a lot of skiers and snowboarders from the foothills region.”

Bartlett said the resort is excited to unveil the newly purchased Royal Gorge, at one point the largest and most legendary cross country ski destination in the American West.

“We’re excited to get it up and running,” Bartlett said.

Squaw Valley was recently named by Outside Magazine as the best ski resort in North America, beating out seminal destinations like Vail in Colorado and Whistler in British Columbia. Amelia Richmond, spokeswoman for Squaw Valley, said the resort has unveiled three new ski lifts, designed to showcase the resort’s beginner and intermediate terrain and move people around the higher areas of the mountain more efficiently.

Squaw is famous for its advanced terrain, where only the skilled and courageous dare to venture.

The resort has also made an effort to enhance its park experience, incorporating new features and elements in the intermediate areas of the resort, Richmond said.

Northstar California, which was also named to the Outside list, has rolled out some new shiny features, adding another high-speed chair lift to the backside, which has allowed resort operations to add more intermediate terrain to an area where only advanced skiers and riders previously dared to delve, said Jessica Van Pernis, spokeswoman for Northstar.

Soda Springs and Donner Ski Ranch are much smaller resorts but are ideal for families with young children or beginning skiers looking to enter the sport on forgiving terrain away from crowds.

“I learned to ski at Soda Springs,” Westling said.

Boreal, which does not boast huge square footage, has gained renown for its park terrain and offers the increasingly popular night skiing.

“Last year,” said Herlitz of Mountain Recreation, “I’d get out of school at 11 a.m. and head up to Boreal for the entire night.”

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email or call (530) 477-4239.

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