The convenience of a mid-mountain resort of course is that, aided by the hospitality and efficiency of a well-trained hotel staff and on-site ski valet crew (worth its weight in gold, by the way), you can be on the slopes in less time than it takes to load the car up for the morning school run. Once breakfasted, it takes only moments for us to walk from our fifth floor clubroom loungewhere all of our meals are splendidly catered, and exclusive to the intentionally managed number of club-level gueststo the on-site ski valet on the hotel's slope-side terrace. With staff well-educated in the workings of the newest ski equipment, we were each fitted for gear with nothing left to chance. Once satisfied with our equipment, skis and poles were taken slope-side for us and we were on our way to a day in these spectacular mountains.
Having skied in Colorado, the Alps, and the United States' east coast resorts, I can say the grade of skiing at Tahoe's Northstar Resort is up there with the best of them. Most of the runs were well groomed and the well planned-out lift system made getting around the mountain's various sections a breeze. Match these with the aforementioned panoramic views of the Sierras, and you have all you want from a day in nature's back yard.
At the end of each day of skiing, our daily migratory pattern would take us first to the hotel's fabulous multi-story, octagonal Head House lounge area complete with a 55-foot high weathered granite fireplace column, and 25-foot high windows. Over a drink (or two) and a roaring log fire, we would discuss the day's finest runs, take a stab at deciding what was on our dinner menu for the evening, and come to a decision on which of the two outdoor-heated pools we would be slinking into to soften our well worked limbs (it was always the pool that had the accompanying hot tubs, of course).
When it came to culinary affairs, the hotel, again, did not disappoint mostly thanks to Traci Des Jardins, California native and chef/partner at the hotel's Manzanita restaurant (and also named "Best Chef: Pacific" by the James Beard Foundation in 2007). Jardin's signature French-inspired California cuisine, with a regional mountain resort influence was complemented by an impressive collection of wines from noted regions around the world. The author was particularly grateful to the in-house sommelier, who managed to pair a very impressive half-bottle of Barolo with my warm bread salad and house-made gnocchi. The Apple Tarte Tatin dessert provided the proverbial cherry on the cake, so to speak. Magnifique!
The opportunity to venture out of the hotel provides one of the most charming rides on the mountain. The 15-minute gondola ride taken from the hotel's lobby to the Northstar village at the foot of the mountain provides, especially of an evening, impressive views and a convenient, quick, and cozy trip. The village has a variety of restaurants, coffee shops, bars, and shopping, as well as a performance stage. We found it particularly enjoyable to relax one evening in one of the many furnished cabanas that surround the area around the outdoor skating rink, listening to a bluegrass and roots music performance.
As well as skiing (downhill and cross country), snowboarding, snowshoeing, and tubing (if you have children, this is a must!), the resort caters to spring and summer activities including mountain biking, golfing, hiking, kayaking on the nearby Lake Tahoe, and trail running. For the true athlete, there are also regular morning yoga and spin classes offered, and the well-stacked gym is open 24-7.
Built to internationally-recognized green building LEED-certification specifications, the Ritz-Carlton Highlands ticks all of the boxes that the conscientious traveler would hope a building as modern and impressive as this should. The Highlands provides a unique luxury experience at the Northstar Resort, and if the image of skiing, hiking, or mountain-biking with the sun at your back amid stunning views of the Sierra Nevada excites you, I recommend the new hotel in Northern California's Sierra Nevada as the destination for your next outdoor adventure.
Hotel Profile: The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe
More information: Ritz-Carlton Hotels & Resorts