I recently took my first trip to Tahoe and decided on Kirkwood after reading several reviews/posts on the mountain. I was joined by my wife and two kids, 7 & 11, as well as another family with children of similar ages. The trip took place from the 20th to the 24th of February, 2013. I figured I would give my review of the resort in the hopes that it helps others thinking about making a trip to the South Tahoe area. Be advised, this is a review from a family trip and not from someone on a strictly hard core snowboarding trip seeking out the best terrain and exploring the mountain to its full extentÖ
We decided to drive up from San Diego. What can I say; itís a very long 9 to 10 hour drive. The worst part about it is 5.5 to 6 hours in you pass Mammoth. The drive to Mammoth from San Diego is pretty horrible. Itís extremely boring and honestly not very scenic until you get past the Bishop area. The drive from Mammoth to Kirkwood is actually really nice and scenic. It had snowed approximately 8 to 10 inches the night before so there was plenty of snow on the ground but the roads were clear with no restrictions. You also pass June Mountain, itís closed this season but looks like a good spot to hit if you ever stay in Mammoth and want to avoid the crowds. The 88 up to Kirkwood is surprisingly mellow, Iíve heard it can be a nightmare after big storms but other than being a bit wet, the roads were clear and easy to navigate.
Accommodations, Nightlife, etc.
We actually rented a house off VRBO so I donít have much to add about the resort hotels/lodges other than they looked nice from the outside and were very conveniently close to the slopes. Kirkwood is a very small town centered around the resort so you only have a few options. The shuttles are very convenient and will pick you up from virtually anywhere in town so there really is no need to drive unless youíre like me and like having the car/truck available. Parking is easy and within walking distance even if you get there late. Iím not sure there is much nightlife to speak of. Itís not about that in Kirkwood in my opinionÖheck, even the resort bars, etc. were dead once the lifts closed. If youíre looking for a party you probably should head somewhere else.
Lift Tickets & Lessons
My assumption is that the purchase of Kirkwood by Vail has resulted in the resort being a little more costly and with fewer available discounts than in the past. This being our first trip I have nothing to compare it to but I did notice they no longer took part in the ski for free program (2 for 1 Tickets when you purchase gas) or have any affiliations with discount lift ticket web sites. We did receive a nice discount by purchasing multi day passes, in advance, online. I believe the single day ticket window price was $89 for adults. We paid right around $65 per day for the 3 day pass. I was a little surprised by the price of the 5-12 year old childís tickets. Typically resorts will offer extremely cheap tickets for young kids; however, Kirkwood wanted $69 at the window for their Childís tickets. I think we ended up paying $42/day for the 3 day pass. They do have a rewards program and we did earn a free lift ticket already with our purchasesÖhopefully they carry over because I wonít have a chance to use it this year. They do use a card that scans through jackets, etc. so it was very quick/convenient through the lift lines.
Lessonís are fairly pricey but they offer a significantly discounted price for multi day lessons. I believe a single day lesson was $125, full package with rentals and lunch, while a 2 day lesson was only an additional $60. The only problem is the lessons must be consecutive. My youngest son took 3 days of lessons but we had a day off in-between so we had to pay full price for the 3rd day. The resort wouldnít budge on that consecutive dayís requirement even though their multi day passes are good over an extended period, 3 days over a 5 day period for example.
As I mentioned my son took 3 days of ski lessons. He has taken 7 or 8 lessons before and honestly we have him in lessons for daycare purposes as much as we do for him to learn to ski. Past experiences at local Southern California resorts and a couple other trips, including Mammoth, havenít resulted in much more than him either asking to be picked up early or telling us he doesnít like being cold, etc. With that, I couldnít be happier with the results from Kirkwood. My son went from border line crying before the first day of his lessons to begging me to stay and do runs with him after a full day on the mountain. Kirkwood is intent on teaching kids, or adults, to Ski, Snowboard, etc. Over the course of 3 days my son went from plowing down the bunny runs to skiing Snowsnake Gully and other black diamond runs off of Chair 11. I was amazed at how fast he learned and how absolutely dedicated to teaching these instructors were. Never has my son been so excited to go skiingÖ.hopefully Iíll be able to convert him to a snowboard next year. Long story short, your money will be well spent with lessons at Kirkwood. Be advised, the lessons donít start until 10:15am or so, guess thatís my only complaint.
I was a little concerned that my wife, who is a beginner, and son, who is good but not very confident in his skills on more advanced runs, would be able to enjoy a resort that is known for its steep, challenging terrain. What I found was a mountain that literally had runs for every skill level. Kirkwood is made up of essentially two main areas and a ďbacksideĒ of the mountain.
The Timber Creek area is where the ski school is and consists of basically shorter green and blue runs. The blues, off Chair 7, are actually very low intermediate and great for those just learning. While theyíre not very long theyíre definitely much better than a lot of the beginner type areas you find in other resorts. They also have some fun natural gullies in this area that my younger son just loved. They have a beginner park in this area that had some fun jumps and boxes to progress on. Some of the best and most challenging terrain is just above the Timber Creek area in the Sentinel and Palisades Bowles; however, for some reason they donít have a lift to access it. You actually have to take Chair 6 and traverse over in order to take advantage of this area. While Iím sure the locals, especially skiers, love this aspect it made it difficult to get to and unfortunately something I didnít have time to try out due to having to spend most of my time with my oldest son and/or wife. My assumption is with Vail taking over they will have a chair to access this terrain sooner than later. A friend of mine, that joined us on the trip, made it over there for a single run and said it was some of the best terrain he had seen. Once youíre ready to head over to the main lodge itís an easy ride over from Chair 7. Getting back from the main lodge is somewhat of a pain and requires you to maintain speed on Home Run off Chair 5.
Mountain Village is essentially the main area of the mountain and is where a majority of your time will be spent. From here you can access everything from intermediate to double black diamond runs. I spent a lot of time with my wife and son on Chair 5. It goes up to about mid mountain and consists of some nice intermediate groomed runs and some bigger park features. Off to Skiers left of Chair 5, next to Lower Zachary, is a nice gully run. You can also access The Drain from 5 but you have to traverse over quite a bit. It was worth it as no one is over there and it has some of the taller/steeper walls that I found. Chair 11 was our next stop. 11 also goes up mid mountain but consists of mostly easier advanced runs and one of my favorite runs, Snowsnake Gully. Snowsnake is really fun and, in my mind, what snowboarding is all about. Basically just a long banked gully/run that you can surf/carve the entire way. Once youíre ready for some of the steeper terrain you can hit chairs 6 and 10. Chair 10 leads to the infamous, double black, Wall run. In all honesty, there is no way this run is a double black and itís not even the steepest terrain of the two lifts. Chair 6, in my mind was more advanced because of the length of the steeper runs. The wall is basically a 10 foot icy steep section that once youíre past it you can pretty much bomb down the run to a very flat section below. Donít get me wrong, it was fun and I think if you traverse over to the Wagon Wheel Bowl itís probably worthy of its double black designation. Anyway, I took my son down the Wall, he hated it and I never made it back up 10 for the rest of the trip. We made him do it because he bought a sweatshirt with the expertís only skull and crossbones on the back so we felt it was only fair he had to earn it. We did Chair 6 a couple times and as I mentioned runs such as Olympic or Look Out Janek were what I considered to be much steeper and much more challenging mostly due to the sheer length of the runs compared to the wall. There is very little difference in pitch from top to bottom so you really couldnít just bomb down these runs compared to 10. As mentioned before 6 is really a gateway to a lot of different challenging terrain; unfortunately, I wasnít able to take much advantage of itÖI did however get stuck on the lift for over 30 minutes in some pretty fierce wind, more on that later.
The backside of Kirkwood is both really fun and really irritating. To get to the backside you have to take a couple lifts, Chair 1 which is basically all flat beginner runs and should be avoided, and Chair 2 that has some fun wide open intermediate runs that you can do a couple laps on before you get bored. Chair 2 was my wifeís favorite area but again, sheís pretty new to snowboarding and likes the somewhat short mellow runs there. I liked it as well because you could hit Juniper and do some easy tree runs. From the top of 2 you can ski down towards Chair 4 and the backside of Kirkwood. The ride down to 4 is pretty simple but can be a nightmare for less experienced riders as evidenced by my wife. She wanted to kill me after that. Honestly, Iíll get into it later but unless youíre a pretty decent boarder/skier just stay away from the backside for the mere fact that the last portion of runs back to 4 are pretty flat and you have to maintain speed. For most itís really simple but I saw a lot of skating in those areas. I had a love/hate relationship with Chair 4. The lift itself is pretty long and ridiculously slow. Once you got to the top you fell back in love. 4 offers some really fun intermediate to advanced terrain and is wide open so you can go just about anywhere. The top, especially when hitting the groomed intermediate runs or heading toward the wave is a sheet of ice so be careful. I typically headed skiers left down Hully Gully and then cut across towards Cold Shoulder or Larrys Lip. From there you could find some untracked snow towards chair 4 albeit it not for very long. You could also take a T bar towards Covered Wagon and Fawn Ridge for some really fun glades. Like I said, 4 is a blast but that slow lift and flat section, especially when youíre with a less experienced rider, can be taxing. When heading back to the main lodge, make sure you head skiers right from the top of 2 towards Whiskey Slide. The run isnít much to talk about but if you head straight down 2 youíre likely to get caught in some very flat areas. Whiskey slide isnít much better but you can take the ďadvancedĒ portion of the run at the end which is short but kind of fun especially if you traverse to the right and get lucky with some untracked snow.
As you can see my experience at Kirkwood was more about hanging with family and having fun then it was about hitting the most challenging terrain and exploring the mountain. Iím sure some of the locals or people familiar with Kirkwood are thinking I didnít even hit a quarter of what Kirkwood has to offerÖI know, trust meÖI know. This trip wasnít about that but I canít wait until I can get back and experience those things. With that said, I had a blast. Kirkwood is one of the most fun trips I have had snowboarding and I go to Whistler and Mammoth pretty regularly. The terrain, even the marked trails off the easier lifts is just so suited to what I think snowboarding is all about. The gullies are something I really havenít found at other resorts and were so fun considering my surfing background. Kirkwood is all about natural terrain so the parks were just okay, which was fine with me as I donít waste much time in there unless Iím at the local resorts that donít have much more to offer.
We got pretty lucky. After what seemed like weeks of no snow and well above temperatures, we arrived to around a foot of new snow and it snowed a few inches here and there the entire time. Kirkwood also had a nice deep base from some good December and early January storms so coverage was really good all around. As with any resort, if youíre not up bright and early youíre not getting untracked snow so I wasnít expecting much. You could find some stashes here and there but Iíve heard people flock to Kirkwood after decent storms and this appeared to be the case.
Iím only adding this because we had an unfortunate experience with one of the lifts, Chair 6, breaking down and leaving us stranded for over 30 minutes very close to the top and pretty windy conditions. Letís just say it wasnít a lot of fun being in that situation with my son. Long story short they had a mechanical issue and ended up shutting the lift down for about an hour after they finally got us off. When we finally got off the lift an employee wrote something on our pass and told us to go to the ticket office. The resort offered us a free voucher for our troubles. I was honestly surprised, itís one of those things you think they should do but never actually offer. Looking back it wasnít that big of a deal and didnít really impact the day so getting a free lift ticket was way above and beyond what I would have expected. I actually turned down the voucher as I had no use for itÖjust offering it was enough to tell me they cared about their customers.
My family and I loved it. Definitely consider Kirkwood for a nice family vacation or a trip to challenge yourself with some good friends. The mountain offers something for everyone and the people there are great. I canít wait to go back.
Thanks for the review!
I'll be heading out there next week and hopefully catch a storm when I'm there.
Did you happen to do any tree riding? I'm looking to do some glades while out there as well.
I would consider Kirkwood my home mountain even though it's 2.5+ hours away and I will agree that Kirkwood has everything and anything that you're looking for. If you do get a chance to come back, Chair 6,4, and 10 are definitely where the advanced terrain is at but you have to be able to get there to get to it. The backside opens up to some pretty sick chutes but if you don't maintain your speed in them towards the bottom you'll end up walking back to chair 2 and either heading back to 6 or going back to 4 to hit more of the backside.
If you're looking for trees, Kirkwood has trees galore. I can't say enough about how amazing Kirkwood is, so I'd definitely recommend going here if you plan a trip to Tahoe. Kirkwood is meant to be explored and that's what I love about it.
My personal favorite runs here are taking chair 6 and going left to some of those chutes (Sister, Mt. Shaffer). Hitting Eagle Bowl is great too when there's some new snow there. The Wall can be sketchy at times when there hasn't been any snow for a while so just keep that in mind.
Now that I'm thinking about it, I don't ever take pictures. I'll have to start taking some and share them with all you brojets.
Trees galore? Awesome! Any particular locations? Thanks for the tips.
Looks like they'll be getting some snow when I get there. I have tickets for all 3 locations. So I was wondering at what wind speeds does Kirkwood start shutting down/slowing down their lifts? They'll have less wind than Heavenly. Looks like kirkwood and northstar will have the least wind Wed and Thur. Winds are anywhere from 5-22 mph on wed/thur and 22-25 mph oh Friday.
I don't think it'll be as bad as this though...lol
Watch 110mph Winds On Ski Lift Video | Break.com
I was originally gonna go with just my SL. Now I wonder if it would be worth it to bring the Charlie Slasher I just picked up.
I really didn't get to much time in the trees. The little I did I wasn't finding any untouched powder but that's probably because I was sticking primarily to the common areas and just trying to hit the trees off the runs while my wife and son stuck to the trails. I did have some fun in the fawn ridge area but even it was pretty tracked out. With that, there is plenty of glades to be had if you do some exploring as Saucy mentioned and if the snow keeps up you won't have to look far. Definitely try and hit the Sentinel and Palisades area as it doesn't get nearly the crowds due to the lift situation in that area.
While I did get there right after a small storm with some minor accumulation during the trip, I also went right after about a week of 40+ temp days so the snow was a little crusty in spots and pretty icy under neath the small amount of snow that accumulated up top. Hopefully you'll get a little better conditions. Anyway, have a blast and let us know how it went.
Backside first chair....this past Dec. KirkRider leading..KirkRider Junior following :)
and 2 weeks ago on hardpack :icon_scratch:
Gonna be up in SLT this Thursday til next Tuesday. Probably going to be mostly at Kirkwood and Heavenly, maybe Northstar. Looks like there will be snow so it should be good times :thumbsup:
That 2nd video looks like what I got while I was there....still fun, but no comparison.
Agree.... nothing like powder early in the morning. Yes we should finally get a decent storm this week...even if still about inches...not feet. Nothing like 2 seasons ago....the place was shut down for 3 days...when they opened it was epic waist deep goodness...a slide inbound... half of the resort un-rideable because of the deep snow on flats....amazing.
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