Insider’s Guide to Spring Break at Northstar California Resort

best family ski resort in california Andie Huber
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Want to be let in on a secret? Lake Tahoe might be known for its winter and summer activities, but the under-the-radar spring skiing season at Northstar California Resort is the hidden vacation gem that no one is talking about. Called the “shoulder season,” spring skiing typically begins in Mar. and runs through Apr. And, more times than not, you’ll be rewarded with sunny skies, mild temperatures and little-to-no lines to get onto the ski lifts or into the restaurants. It practically feels like you have this quintessential European-inspired mountain village to yourself. If you’re ready to plan an epic family-friendly spring break vacation, here’s everything you need to know about spring skiing at Northstar with kids, including where to eat and what to do on and off the mountain.

What You Need to Know about Northstar Ski Resort

family-friendly ski resort Northstar

Located on the northern side of Lake Tahoe, Northstar is its own, self-contained village. There are shops that sell weather-appropriate gear (no worries here if you forgot something critical for a day on the mountain) plus a variety of restaurants and cafes to dine from both day and night. And lest you forgot something important like toothpaste, there’s a convenience store for must-have items or other forgot-to-pack toiletries.

Family-friendly lodging at Northstar includes in-village options called Timber Creek Lodge, as well as the Constellation Residences at Northstar, plus 1-2 bedroom condominiums called the Ski Trails Condominiums and the Northstar Mountain Condos—the latter two (some that are ski-in and ski-out) are just a short walk away from the Village. All condos have fireplaces, balconies and kitchens—super convenient if you want to stay in and cook—clutch when everyone is too tired to move from a full day of skiing. Amenities also include an outdoor pool, hot tubs, game room—and during the summer months, tennis courts and kiddie splash pad are open.

Pro Tip: Instacart is available in the area—order groceries ahead of time and have them delivered to your condo when you arrive.

But what makes Northstar truly spectacular is that it is a family-friendly ski resort top-to-bottom. The vibe is super chill, and there are fun activities for kids of all ages and for all ski and snowboarding experience levels (13% of the trails are beginners, 60% are intermediate, and the 27% are advanced) thanks to 100 trails plus terrain parks for those daredevils.

Village dining options are sure to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters—from build-your-own burritos at Los Arcos to sweet, mochi cake donuts from Northstar’s newest food shop White Rabbit Ramen + Donuts—the entire resort is a stress-free environment that focuses on the fun (and yum!) of being in the mountains. And if you’re lucky—you’ll get an unexpected spring snowfall that adds even more charm to this mountain resort.

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Insider Tip: Pick up a s’more’s kit from Frites (another good food spot for takeaway gourmet fries and craft brews located next to the skating rink) and hang out by a fire pit to roast marshmallows under the stars.

Good to Know: Thanks to Northstar’s free transportation service, getting around the Village and back to your condo is a cinch. Download the Northstar Village Transit App and you can request a ride to pick you up from your condo’s bus stop to take you to any other part of the resort. Another bonus for being here during the spring season? You never have to wait long for the pick-up to take you where you are going. The service does stop running after 6 p.m., though, so if you’re out to dinner, do plan on walking back to your condo in the dark (initiate those iPhone flashlights!), but there are pathways and the night walk makes for a fun adventure.

best family-friendly ski resort

Skiing for the First Time at Northstar? Here’s What You Need to Know

Pro Tip: Download the EpicMix App—a free app that details everything you need to know about the life on the mountain—trail and lift status, interactive trail maps, dining reservations, where to find rentals, ski school reservations and more. It’s all the information you need about the mountain in the palm of your hand.

Good to Know: The EpicMix App is also used at other Vail Resorts located across the country—from Kirkwood and Heavenly (sister resorts located in Lake Tahoe) to East Coast ski resorts like Okemo and Stowe.

Pro Tip: There is a storage facility where you can check in your “hard gear” (skis, poles and board) next to the Big Springs Express Gondola that whisks you to up the mountain’s base. It is absolutely worth the small fee to store your gear here, so you don’t have to lug your poles, skis, or board around the Village and back to your condo.

We are not experienced skiers, and our kids had never skied before. We knew we wouldn’t be able to teach them ourselves. Our first order of business was signing them up for ski lessons. Another bonus we discovered about spring skiing? The snow is usually soft—meaning falls, and the like don’t hurt as much as when snow is more compact.

There are two types of lessons to choose from—group or private. Both can be booked in half-day or full day increments.

Group lessons have the advantage of being less expensive but there is also less individual instruction. You have to weigh the cost with how much you think your kid will pick up skill-wise. But because the spring season is quieter at the mountain, even if you sign up for a group lesson, your group will most likely not be full—so you get the savings with the extra personal instruction.

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Since neither of my kids had never skied before, and they have a fairly big age gap (5 years), we opted for private lessons to maximize their time and experience. Our expectations were extremely low, but we received a photo from their amazing instructor Sonja mid-morning—both kids made it onto a ski lift and were officially skiing by lunch! Added bonus: At the end of the day, we were able to ski back down to the Village as a family.

Good to Know: When you book a lesson through the ski school, you receive a discounted lift ticket or discounted rentals—available as add-on options during checkout.

Skiing & Snowboarding at Northstar Resort

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Kids aren’t the only ones that can use some instruction on their first few days. Booking a guide to take us around the mountain was by far one of the best experiences, as adults, we could have asked for. Rich, our knowledgable instructor, not only provided us with tips along the way, he helped us navigate the various trails for our experience level and showed us cool views around the mountain (like how to see Lake Tahoe from the top). To really maximize your time on the mountain, it’s well worth the investment—even for just a half-day.

Rich also led us through The Kids Adventure Zone (watch the video to see what I’m talking about)—a trail that is filled with wood-carved animals like bears, mountain lions and eagles—an eye-spy game of sorts in the middle of the mountain. And while our kids aren’t experienced enough to ski The Kids Adventure Zone (yet), it was sweet to see and gives us something to look forward to sharing with them when they do become more experienced skiers.

Where to Eat at Northstar Resort in Lake Tahoe

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During the day, if you’re skiing and snowboarding, there are two dining options mid-mountain.

The Lodge at Big Springs: Located at the top of Big Springs Express Gondola and is a fantastic meeting point for families—especially if everyone is off doing their own thing. We coordinated with Sonja, our kid’s ski instructor, so that we could all have lunch together and hear all about their morning. Expect to find belly-filling fare like cheeseburgers, chicken fingers, fries, salads and wraps. Don’t miss the blondies by the cash register—perfect for stashing in your pocket for a mid-lift snack—we couldn’t get enough of them. There’s also a hydration station to refill those water bottles.

Insider Tip: Need to use the bathroom? It’s located downstairs but just to the left of the stairs is an elevator if you want to give your legs a much-needed break.

The Zephyr Lodge: Located at the top of The Tahoe Zephyr Express ski lift, takes a bit more effort to eat here if everyone in the group isn’t capable of skiing down. To get here, take the gondola at this lift (rather than the chair lift) and then walk 5-7 minutes through the snow, to the lodge—the floor-to-ceiling views of the Sierra Nevada range are totally worth the effort, but if your crew is hungry, we recommend sticking to the Lodge at Big Springs.

Rubicons Pizza: This family-friendly pizza spot offers crowd-pleasing menu items like Spinach Artichoke Dip and Crispy Calamari, and of course, pizza galore. With over ten variations to choose from, your best bet is to order a few different pies to share—or create your own if you’re feeling inspired. And don’t forget to order the “Out of the Oven Chocolate Chip Cookie”—you’ve certainly earned it.

Bourbon Pub: Award-winning Chef Michael Mina is at the helm of this casual, fun dining spot that delivers reinvented pub fare—think warm pub pretzels (order two for the table as everyone will want more), Prime Rib French Dips plus a full kid’s menu. And if you like spicy food, we can’t recommend the Tokyo Hot Chicken enough—and haven’t stopped thinking about since. PS: The dipping sauce is actually spicier than the chicken in case you think you’re cooling your chicken down before diving in.

Where to Eat in Truckee, CA

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A post shared by Moody's Bistro Bar & Beats (@moodysbistrobarbeats)

Truckee is a bustling town full of cafes, bars and restaurants just 15 minutes north of Northstar. If you want want to venture into town, we recommend dinner at Moody’s Bistro, Bar & Beats—located on the ground floor of the Truckee Hotel, established in 1837. And while this white linen-dining may feel like an elevated dining experience that isn’t kid-friendly, the overall mood is casual, fun and as kid-friendly as they come. There’s a kid’s menu with kid-favorites like cheeseburgers, pasta and pizza. And for the adults, I highly recommend the Crispy Brussels Sprouts, the Maine Day Boat Scallops, and if you have room, the Durham Ranch Hanger Steak Frites. If you don’t have a car, Ubers are readily available and cost around $40 to take you to town.

Moody’s Bistro, Bar & Beats
10007 Bridge St.
Truckee
Online: moodysbistro.com

Gear to Borrow, Rent & Buy If Skiing for the First Time

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Winter Gear to Borrow: Tap into your friend and Facebook network and borrow all the soft gear that you can: ski pants, gloves, ski goggles and jackets.

Pro Tip: Spring skiing can be especially sunny—it’s a must to protect those eyes. Make sure to wear ski goggles (the reflection from the snow plus the sun can burn your eyes). If you can’t borrow goggles, the Village has a variety of options for kids and adults, starting at $20.

Winter Gear to Rent: Definitely rent your boots, skis and/or snowboards, poles and helmets from the resort—they will make sure everything is the right fit. Make sure to bring the socks you’ll be wearing while skiing to your boot fitting—this can dramatically change the fit of the boots (believe me—you don’t want to get your boots refit the next day because they are suddenly too tight).

Pro Tip: A company called Kit Lender is solving winter gear problems for those of us that haven’t been building our winter wardrobes. You can rent high-quality ski and snow gear (individual pieces or head-to-toe kits) for both kids and adults and have it shipped to your resort—for free. Simply wear the gear and then return it by dropping it in the mail once you’re done. Bonus: You avoid having to pack all that extra winter gear into suitcases and can avoid some of those airline baggage fees not to mention not having to do all that extra laundry upon your return.

Winter Gear to Buy: If you do end up buying winter gear, most of the shops on the mountain are having their winter sales to get rid of their seasonal stock—a great time to stock up on must-haves like ski goggles. Check out Big 5 (a lot of their winter gear was on sale in Mar. & Apr. as they made room for warm-weather clothes and accessories) or check out some of our favorite consignment shops to save a little cash in the process. I also found this kid’s ski jacket at Amazon for $50 (purchased slightly big to last at least one, if not two, more seasons). Socks and heat tech layers (Uniqlo is a favorite resource for these) are a good investment and can always be used throughout the year on other adventures.

Things to Do at Northstar That Isn’t Skiing or Snowboarding

ice skating at northstar california resort

photo: Vail Resorts

Of course everyone may not want to be on the mountain all the time but there is plenty to do off the slopes. During the winter and into the spring (weather permitting), there’s Village Tubing, dog-sledding and snowshoeing. There is also an ice-skating rink set up in the middle of the Village for everyone to enjoy (either watching or participating). And if the temperatures does get too warm, all is not lost—the resort quickly swaps ice skates for roller skates. Feeling crafty? Head over to The Villager Candle Shop, where you can pour candles, make soap or paint pottery.

Good to Remember: Spring skiing at ski resorts does require a little flexibility and an open mind when it comes to the weather. Warmer temperatures mean activities, shops, some amenities and restaurants may close early or for the season. Look online or call ahead to confirm what’s open and if any of the hours have been modified.

What’s New at Northstar This Year

While the spring skiing season may officially be over for 2022 (we recommend making your reservations now to experience next year’s shoulder season spectacular), there’s a lot to look forward to next year. Vail Resorts are planning lots of upgrades and initiatives for the next ski season—investing in their employees and upgrading and adding lifts across their properties, including Northstar’s Comstock Lift that will become a high-speed lift, reducing wait times.

What You Need to Know About Epic Pass Whether You’re Skiing Once or All Season Long

There are a variety of Epic Pass options to choose from, which provide great value for skiers and riders. For those who only plan to be on the mountain a few times over the season, you can build your own pass. Choose from one-to-seven days and whether or not to you’ll need to include holiday access.

1. For those who will be regularly skiing or snowboarding at Vail Resort properties, the Epic Pass provides unlimited, unrestricted access to all 40 North American and Australian resorts, plus access to partner resorts, for $841.

2. New this year, Epic FlexPay offers Pass Holders a flexible monthly payment option with zero down payment, zero interest, no fees, and, for a limited time no payments until Sept.

3. Guests can now also pick from three levels of resort access. For those who only want access to local resorts like Seven Springs, Mount Sunapee and Afton Alps, prices start as low as $44 for an Epic 1-Day Pass.

4. Epic Pass Holders get 20% off on-mountain food, lodging, group lessons, rentals and more with Epic Mountain Rewards.

Good to Know: If you have summer in mind, Northstar has a summer suite of activities that you can experience, like a world-class Bike Park and Bike Academy; an 18-hole Golf Course; bocce ball, gem mining, bungee trampolines and mini-golf in the Village.

The Best Way to Get to Northstar California Resort from Los Angeles

While you can drive from Los Angeles—it will take about 8 hours from DTLA (barring traffic, accidents or surprise snowfalls), Northstar is conveniently located 50 minutes from the Reno/Tahoe International Airport. Alaska Airlines depart from LAX daily at 9 a.m., and the flight itself is under an hour (and at the time of publishing, some flights were as cheap as $49 one way)—which means you and your crew can be at the resort by lunchtime. You can rent a car or take a car service to the resort, which costs, on average, $85 per day or you can take a car service from the airport, which costs around $115 one way.

Northstar California Resort
5001 Northstar Dr.
Truckee, CA
Online: northstarcalifornia.com

Photos by Andie Huber unless otherwise noted.

This trip was paid for by Northstar California Resorts, but all the opinions belong to the writer. 

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