I know this is an old thread, but since people are still posting I thought I'd chime in for the newbs looking to hit up Tahoe...SOUTH LAKE SUCKS! There, I've said it. But I guess I'm old. If you're looking to party all night and hit the mountain with a throbbing head, South Lake is for you. All-night casinos (I actually like the Lakeside Inn, with their 24-hour cheapo Mex restaurant and low-stakes casino -- they cater to snowboarders with no money). But other than that and Heavenly (ugh!), there is no there there.
That said, it is a gateway to Kirkwood. Seriously, if you're going to Tahoe, fuck everything else and just go to Kirkwood. Trouble is, Kirkwood isn't really at Lake Tahoe. It's 45 minutes off South Lake. So we use South Lake (and the Lakeside Inn) as a cheap sleepover on our way from Tahoe City (Alpine, Squaw, Homewood, Northstar). Stay in Tahoe City, it's mellow, with decent restaurants, board shops, dogs wearing bandanas, total mellow California vibe. And the mountains are all really close by...put on your gear at home at be at the lifts in 20 minutes. I honestly don't get the appeal of South Lake. It's a shithole honky-tonk, and Heavenly is totally overrated and overcrowded (unless you want to take pictures -- but even then, Homewood is far more beautiful and way less crowded).