Split down the middle between two states, Heavenly Ski Resort allows you to ski or board from California to Nevada and back again in one day—and that’s exactly the route to take for an epic day on the slopes of Heavenly.
With the perfect amount of intermediate slopes, Heavenly is popular with skiers and snowboarders alike who are drawn to the clear blue skies above, glistening Lake Tahoe below and expansive trails perfect for cruising and taking it all in.
The perfect day in Heavenly is one spent in both California and Nevada; here’s exactly how to plan your day to avoid the crowds, see the best parts of the mountain at the best times and have an overall memorable day.
Morning: Explore California
There are two ways to get to the California side of the mountain: either you start at the Gondola in Heavenly Village or you start at the California Lodge a few miles away. The Gondola is your best bet, as it gets you up the fastest, is the most comfortable in any weather and you can’t beat the views it offers along the way.
Once you reach the top of the Gondola, it’s time to strap on your skis or board and follow the signs to the California Trail. Relatively flat for the first part, you might have a little trouble getting started, but it’s a good way to warm up and get your heart rate going. This is especially true for snowboarders. While Heavenly has become more snowboard-friendly in recent years, it wasn’t designed with snowboarders in mind so there are some flat trails (most notably the California Trail and the Skyline Trail) that might give snowboarders some trouble. Enlist a skier friend to offer you their pole and a pull, or at least their patience as they wait for you to navigate the flats.
Cruise down the California Trail until you reach the Sky Express lift, which, early in the day, won’t have a line. Shoot on up to the very top of the mountain (10,040 feet in elevation) where you’ll be met with a choice: left off the lift takes you to Nevada, right keeps you in California.
Because the California side tends to get more crowded as the day progresses, stay in California for the morning and explore everything it has to offer. Taking your first run at Heavenly down Ridge Run—with its expansive views of Lake Tahoe (including areas you can “pull over” to snap some photos) and wide-open, well-groomed terrain—will instantly make you realize what the Heavenly hype is all about. Take Ridge Run all the way down to the Sky Express lift and repeat, repeat, repeat.
There are other trails in the area to explore, including Liz’s and High Five (more smooth, blue runs) or Ellie’s (a black diamond, which, when groomed, is a great first black run for intermediate skiers or boarders looking to take it to the next level).
Once the crowds start to build up, take the Sky Express one more time, but this time, head left to start your trek over to Nevada via Skyline Trail.
Afternoon: Discover Nevada
Skyline Trail is relatively flat, but you’ll be thankful for that because all you will want to do is crane your neck to the left to take in the views of Lake Tahoe as you cruise on down. After the flats, you’ll link up to a variety of trails in the main area of Nevada, most named after a Heavenly theme—from Orion to Big Dipper to Meteor, there is plenty to discover.
Dipper Express and Comet Express are the two main lifts that service these runs and you can explore the area until you start to feel the crowds build up, or skip it altogether if what you are really looking for is a less-traversed area of Heavenly. If that’s what you’re in the market for, Galaxy is the place to be.
The Galaxy area is serviced by a lift reminiscent of what all ski lifts were like back in the day: it fits two-people and it’s slow. Some might find the Galaxy lift to be painfully slow, but trust us, the runs in the area are worth every minute of the 15-20 minutes spent on that lift.
We discovered the Galaxy area one day by accidentally taking the run Perimeter down from Big Dipper instead of the trails that would have led back to the Dipper Express, and it was the best mistake we could have made! The trails in the area are steep enough so you can pick up as much speed as you want, but still well-groomed so it’s an easy area to feel confident traversing. And did we mention that it is basically empty, even on a Saturday?
Back to Earth
While the rest of the mountain closes at 4pm, the Galaxy area closes at 3pm because it takes a while (and a few lifts and runs) to get back to the Gondola, which is the only way to get back to Earth and down to Heavenly Village. Once you’re settled on the Gondola, don’t forget to look out the windows for a view of the lake—it sparkles even more in the afternoon.