Skip to main content

$250 for lift tickets?! Here are 5 cheaper ways to explore Tahoe

Three people snowshoe in Tahoe holding poles with the snowy Sierra mountains behind them.
Snowshoe Tahoe owner Pauly Miltner, left, leads a half-day snowshoeing tour with sweeping views of the Sierra crest for $95 a person. | Source: Sophie Bearman/The Standard

I weighed my options: Spend $300 on a lift ticket and ski rentals for a second day of skiing at Palisades Tahoe on one of the busiest ski weekends of the year? Or spend $95 on a half-day snowshoeing tour promising solitude and stunning mountain views. I opted for snowshoeing—and didn’t regret it.

The Lake Tahoe region, with its 14 ski resorts and more than 160 ski lifts, is renowned for its downhill skiing. But not everyone is looking to shred all day, every day. Some folks don’t know how to ski. Others have injuries that prohibit them from hitting the slopes. And some love skiing but are turned off by sky-high prices or are keen to avoid the crowds.

The good news is that Tahoe has a number of winter activities to choose from outside of downhill skiing. So if you’ve been lured to the region for a long weekend, here are five reasons to say “yes” to the snow—even if you don’t plan on skiing down it.

Find Tranquility While Snowshoeing

If it’s peace and serenity you’re seeking, look no further than a guided snowshoeing tour, where you’ll get beautiful mountain views without the ski resort crowds. “There can be thousands of people just down the road skiing, but we likely won’t encounter anyone out here,” said Pauly Miltner, owner of Snowshoe Tahoe.

Three people and a dog snowshoe up a slight hill with trees in the background.
Snowshoe Tahoe owner Pauly Miltner, right, leads San Francisco residents Leah Seay Anise and Olabode Anise on a half-day backcountry tour. The Anises, who don’t ski, booked a snowshoeing hike to celebrate their wedding anniversary. | Source: Sophie Bearman/The Standard

Miltner grew up in Tahoe City and was inspired to start his company after years of snowshoeing around the forest behind his family home. His half-day Palisades Point tour weaves through Tahoe National Forest before culminating at a stunning vista that Miltner discovered as a kid.

Snowshoe Tahoe clients can expect instruction on snowshoeing technique, a local’s perspective on the region, tasty snacks and great company, including from two of Miltner’s family dogs that frequently tag along. Guided trips cost between $75 and $95, depending on the length of the hike.

A person is adjusting snowshoes on their feet over patchy snow.
Olabode Anise puts on his snowshoes in preparation for a half-day hike in Tahoe National Forest. | Source: Sophie Bearman/SF Standard

Visitors to the region can also check out tours offered by Tahoe Snowshoe Tours (from $65) or consider renting snowshoes and exploring the terrain—just be sure to download a GPS map so you don’t get lost in the snow.

Master Cross-Country Skiing

There are a number of spots in Tahoe for cross-country skiing, but my favorite is Royal Gorge, North America’s largest cross-country ski resort spanning 6,000 acres. With six distinct trail systems, eight warming huts and options for both classic skiing and skate skiing, it’s a fantastic place to spend a day working up a sweat while enjoying some majestic views.

A man in a red jacket cross-country skis with a smile on his face
A cross-country skier pushes along a trail near the western edge of the Royal Gorge Cross Country Ski Resort. | Source: SF Chronicle via Getty Images

Adults can snag a day pass for $50; rentals cost an additional $40. Other cross-country ski options include Tahoe XC ($81 for a day pass and rentals) in Tahoe City and Tahoe Donner’s Cross Country Ski Center ($95 for a day pass and rentals).

Have a Blast Snowmobiling

“You’re not having fun unless you’re snowmobiling,” said Larry Hahn, president of the Truckee-based snowmobile company Coldstream Adventures. Based on hundreds of five-star reviews calling the activity “epic” and “fun ass,” he may have a point.

The back of a man on a snowmobile in a snowy, winter landscape with lots of powder on the ground and on his jacket.
A Coldstream Adventures employee carves a trail through fresh powder following an early season storm. | Source: Courtesy Coldstream Adventures

For over 30 years, Hahn has been leading adventure-seekers on snowmobiling escapades that scale 2,000 vertical feet. His tours into the Tahoe backcountry offer sweeping views of Donner Summit, Sugar Bowl, Mount Rose and the ski lifts at Northstar. 

Those interested can book a two-hour guided experience at either 9 a.m. or 1 p.m., seven days a week, while the snow lasts. A single snowmobile rental costs $235 while a double costs $265, with a weight maximum of 360 pounds. If you’re on a budget, Hahn recommends booking the double; there’s ample time on the tour for both you and your snowmobiling partner to get behind the wheel.

Other snowmobile tour companies to consider include Lake Tahoe Snowmobile Tours (from $230) and Lake Tahoe Adventures (from $220), or check out snowmobile tours offered by ski resorts, including Zephyr Cove Resort (from $240). 

Skate on Thin Ice

Your best bet for ice skating is at Heavenly Village in South Lake Tahoe, where restaurants and shops are only a few steps away. A nearby fire pit keeps you warm during skate breaks, while those on the rink can twirl to music under twinkling lights. 

The rink is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, and skating costs $20 for adults and $15 for children, including rentals. If you happen to have your own skates, the cost drops by $5. 

Skaters can also hit the rinks at Edgewood Tahoe Resort ($25) and at the Tahoe Ice Arena ($20).

See Tahoe From On High

Even if you’re not planning on skiing, you can still visit a few of Tahoe’s resorts for impressive aerial rides with views of the Sierras and Lake Tahoe.

An aerial tram hangs from cables amidst a snowy winter scene with Lake Tahoe in the background.
Palisade Tahoe’s Aerial Tram goes to High Camp, where visitors can check out a free museum on the 1960 Winter Olympics or dine at Granite Bistro. | Source: Courtesy Palisades Tahoe

For $72 on weekends and holidays, and a bit less on weekdays, you can buy a pass to all three of Palisade Tahoe’s aerial rides—the Base to Base Gondola, the Aerial Tram and the Funitel.

The 16-minute Base to Base ride goes between the Alpine Lodge and The Village at Palisades Tahoe, where you can snow tube by day ($54) or disco tube by night ($74) under flashing lights and lasers. The 10-minute Aerial Tram ends at High Camp, 8,200 feet above sea level, where visitors can explore a free museum on the 1960 Winter Olympics (held at Palisades), and the Funitel carries riders to the Gold Coast Lodge, where visitors can grab lunch at the Arc.

Heavenly also offers a scenic and popular 2.4-mile gondola ride (from $92).

Sophie Bearman can be reached at