Got it, thanks. Being on the mountain would be a plus, but we also like some sort 'village feel' (a few restaurants, place for coffee, etc.).
Different question: I have read that the road long the west side of the lake is often closed when it snows. Hope that will not be an issue at that time (around New Year), but if it does get closed how far can you typically go? Is Homewood still reachable or would it already affected by the closure?
Homewood is still reachable, they usually close it farther up the highway but they will close it. It may affect you if it snows and you want to go ride a resort on south lake.
Squaw and Northstar are the best for a ski in/out experience. The villages at the base of both places have plenty of restaurants and the accommodations at both places are great, I like the village at Northstar at little better but the terrain at Squaw is definitely more challenging. Mid-week the week after New Years it usually great, the crowds die way down from the holidays. If you can swing the $$$, the Ritz Carlton at Northstar is a cool place to stay, it's a ski in/out hotel up on the mountain and you can also ride down to the village or catch a gondola.
Drive from San Francisco to Tahoe, by the time you go through the airport hassles and drive from the Reno airport you could already be in Tahoe.
Awesome, thanks everybody. This forum has really come through with the goods/info. Really stoked about the trip now.
Only concern is that a lot of the hotels currently show no availability for that period - wonder whether they not released the rooms into the booking systems yet or whether they are really full already...
PS: I know it was bad to say Frisco, but I thought San Fran was acceptable - thanks for setting me straight on that.
I'm going to assume you also have a manual gearbox? When you can engine brake on the demand, you have more control.
Why do you say that? When you lose control on ice/snow, it happens because of insufficient friction between your tires and the road. No matter how you slow the rotation of your wheels (through brake pads, engine braking, or baseball cards in the spoke), your control is determined by (a) your tires and (b) how abruptly you stop the wheel rotation.
Sure, it is easy to slow the wheels too quickly by slamming on the brake. But it's also easy to slow the wheels too quickly by downshifting too aggressively. Both brakes and engine braking allow a whole range of braking force. Neither is better or worse for control, though most people probably have a preference based on what they use most.
Re: snow tires vs all seasons. Sure, you usually can get away with all seasons and AWD. But is "good enough" really what you want on an icy mountain road? A FWD economy car with chains on is better in snow and ice than an AWD with crappy all seasons. Some all seasons are better on snow than others, and with a rental you probably have no control over which one you get. You could also try renting a car IN the Tahoe area, there you would probably be more likely to get adequate tires on the vehicle.