Hidden Heavenly: More than meets the eye at Tahoe resort

By: Jeffrey Weidel
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It’s a relatively quiet Sunday morning in South Lake Tahoe, a day when the weekend warriors are waking up late, a bit groggy from staying in the casinos far too long the night before.


Want to get in some extra runs at Heavenly Mountain Resort on a crowded Sunday? Get out of bed early, hop on the Gondola by 8:30 a.m., and be one of the first ones to point your skis or board down the mountain.


Although Heavenly is an enormous resort that features 30 lifts, 94 trails and is stretched out over 4,800 acres, it still can feel crowded on a busy weekend day.


Yet here’s the thing about Heavenly – the mountain has more secret stashes opportunistic skiers and riders can veer into than any resort in the Lake Tahoe region. Don’t believe it? Check out a trail map. Heavenly is a veritable mountain of trees, which means the pursuit of fresh snow in a relatively uninhabited location is sometimes an endless journey following a good snow storm.


On this particular week, much of the snow came pouring down by mid-week and had mostly departed by Friday. Although it was two days later, some fresh powder was still available on early Sunday morning runs off the Stagecoach chair on the Nevada side.


Of course, it was nothing a person could spot riding up the chairlift. It required a dip into Scorpion Woods to discover some freshies amidst a grove of somewhat intimidating trees that left many people content to sample some very nice groomers.


A little while later on a subsequent run, an even larger batch of powder was discovered in Galaxy Woods. Gliding effortlessly through the trees in several feet of powder that would likely be gone later in the day made waking up early well worth the effort.


 “Hidden Heavenly” is an apt term for a resort that is more than meets the eye.


“If you ride up the Siberia chair at Squaw or go up The Wall at Kirkwood you see the mountain laid out in front of you and see all the gnarly stuff,” said Russ Pecoraro, Heavenly’s director of communications. “But if you ride up a lift at Heavenly you have no idea what’s below other than the groomed trails. There are different places to go on literally every chair that not many people know about.”


It makes no difference where one ventures around Heavenly – California side, Nevada side; beginner lifts or the narrow chute-laden areas off Mott and Killebrew Canyons – the exploration is endless.


To put yourself at ease, wearing a helmet is probably a good idea. And when surrounded by trees, abide by these helpful tips below.

  • Don’t look at the trees, look at the gaps in between the trees.
  • Keep the eyes forward and have an idea of where you want to go by plotting out a path.
  • Work on making a lot of short radius turns on groomed runs, which will be helpful when among the trees.


Steve Evenson has been skiing Heavenly since his father put him on skis some 53 years ago at age 2. A Tahoe native who left the valley for only a brief period, Evenson has been a Heavenly ski instructor/coach for the past 19 years. He knows the mountain so well he refers to many of the hidden areas by their nickname, which only the locals tend to recognize.


Taking a cruise around the mountain with the knowledgeable Evenson is truly getting an insider’s view. In fact, Heavenly has an “Adventure Session” for individuals or groups that provide a day-long guided mountain tour in undetected areas. The session comes with some helpful ski tips as well.


“There are little spots all over this mountain that only the locals really know about,” Evenson said. “Most people stay on the groomers, but there are so many trees here that a lot of times you can find a stash of fresh power days after it snows.”


Evenson says that experts should explore the tree runs and steep, tight chutes off Killebrew and Mott. The wooded areas off famed Gunbarrel – Hogsback and East Bowl Woods – are also not for the timid.


Yet tree runs off Powderbowl, Canyon, Dipper and many other chairlifts are much more suited for the intermediate crowd.


“If you really want to experience Heavenly, you need to try skiing the trees,” Evenson said. “There are plenty of intermediate runs where the trees are spaced far apart and there’s not that much pitch, so even a low intermediate can do it. A lot of these are areas that people go by and never even realize are there.”


Jeffrey Weidel is a Sacramento free-lance writer with more than 25 years of skiing experience.