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An Expansive Epic Pairing Awaits At Lake Tahoe

Epic-Tahoe-Covere Lake Tahoe forms the backdrop for skiing and riding at Northstar California and Heavenly Mountain. (Heavenly/Facebook)

A half-dozen ski and snowboard resorts encircle Lake Tahoe, and two of the largest -- Heavenly Mountain and Northstar California -- belong to the Epic Pass network.

Northstar and Heavenly bracket the lake on its north and south ends, with lake views from all angles. Epic Pass, Tahoe Value and Local, and Epic Day Pass holders can jump right on the lifts. Their collective size -- more than 7,000 acres -- helps spread out weekend crowds that surge up from the cities below.

Heavenly opened in 1957 with the Gunbarrel chair and two rope tows. In 2002, it became the fifth purchase in Vail Resorts' spending spree and, a few years later, went on Epic Pass.

Heavenly's terrain begins in earnest after a cliffy gondola ride, or if you find a space in Stagecoach or California Lodge base areas. It's one of the largest, at 4,800 acres, has both a gondola and a tram, embraces two states, and has one of the best snowmaking networks around.

It would take several days to cover the entire trail map and its 26 chairs. The best advice is to chunk it down, or you'll be traversing a bit.

Six base areas have all the close-in parking, shuttles, rentals, retail -- and most of the easy runs on the hill. Only 14% are rated green, so the blues and blacks have the rest of the hill to themselves. About 60% of those are intermediate. Experts head to Milkwood Bowl-to-Mott Canyon steeps.

Distractions abound in casino-laden South Lake Tahoe and Stateline. Reno airport is 70 miles' drive or Sacramento at 116 miles.

On the north end of the lake, Northstar California and its miles of blue groomers beckon. The mountain opened in 1972 and joined the Epic family a decade ago. It's 3,100 acres with 2,200 total vertical drop, and most runs are intermediate. "Advanced" rating for 27% of the hill is most difficult, so it's perfect for families and developing skiers and riders.

Location up north and east produces different snow, and snowmaking is extensive. The self-contained terrain park is served by a four-seat detachable Vista Express. Steeps concentrated on backside glades, or cruisers off Martis Camp Lodge express down below.

Base village packed with condos, eateries, retail, and an ice rink. A quick gondola ride gets to the busy mid-mountain with expansive Lodge at Big Springs, ski school headquarters, tubing and plush Ritz-Carlton. Other lodgings in nearby north shore or Truckee.

Parking is tight, but lots of shuttles, Uber, limos and private car services in the area. Regional air flights land at Truckee airport, only four miles away. Reno terminals are a 40-minute drive, and Sacramento is two hours on I-80.

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