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Friday, April 23rd, 2010
On April 7th we finally made it to Kirkwood after many failed attempts. A few attempts failed just because we were tired and couldn’t muster the energy for the 1.5 hour drive south, and then the other two times Chair 10 was either closed due to repairs or over half the mountain closed due to wind.
The terrain at Kirkwood never ceases to amaze me. I don’t know what they have done to the place for beginners but I remember using chair 1 a lot (slow and mild) as a kid. It is also my understanding that there is a whole area of the mountain with more beginner friendly terrain back towards the entrance of the ski resort.
The main attraction to Kirkwood is the off-piste you can get yourself into. Chair 6 introduces you to some steeps and allows you to traverse along the ridges into bowls of your preference. Chair 10 is famous for its skull and crossbones signs at the bottom and ominous wind barriers at the top. From there you can drop into a bowl or cross around the big boulder at the top of the mountain to one of the backside bowls. Moving up Chair 2 you now have access via the T-bar (Chair 14) to the bowl which is where the freestyle competitions used to be held (so yes, if you want to jump off a cliff you can!). Up Chair 4 and to the left is also new Poma 15 which gives access for the average Joe into the backcountry – pretty cool if I must say so myself!!! I’ve also completely forgotten to mention that on top of the bowls you also have lots of good tree skiing and fun gullies for kids to drag their parents into!
The wind barriers at the top of Chair 10
View from Chair 3 on the backside. The top right corner barely shows Chair 10 on the front. The top left is accessed by the new T-bar.
Kirkwood has a reputation for getting tons of snowfall which is solidified by the fact that Hwy 88 closes often due to Avalanche danger. Unfortunately while we were there it was quite late in the season so the snow was very slushy. By 10:30 all intermediate terrain had been bumped over even though the groomers had done a good job. The best snow we had access to was on the Wall (Chair 10) which was actually quite pleasant. Usually this resort has awesome snow though. I was a Mighty Mountain kid from about 3 – 12 and had my yearly vacations here and never remember being disappointed by the mountain.
The view from Chair 10 across the front bowl towards Chair 6 on the right.
The lifts at Kirkwood are slow. They are the same lifts I used back in the day fifteen years ago. There are no safety bars and the lifties do an excellent job holding the chair as it comes around so you don’t get slammed by it. As I mentioned earlier, they have added chairs 14 (T-bar) and 15 (poma) which now provide exceptional access to terrain that you otherwise had to hike to – a truly worthwhile improvement!
Poma 13 lets you go along a ridge you would have otherwise needed to hike in order to access the far territory of the resort.
We sat inside in the Village and ordered regular burgers which turned out to be really really good. They were decently priced and very tasty. From a stay with my Dad I have also experienced the restaurant which was good as well as numerous barbeques which are what I remember the most as a kid. I don’t remember the food so much as the employees being chatty, happy and embodying the Tahoe lifestyle.
The Village is small. It consists of a ticket room, locker room, 2 restaurants (1 cafeteria and 1 sit-down), store and condominiums. The resort also offers the demo center, grocery store and pub across the road.
This resort is not very accessible which is probably why it is never that crowded. It is about half an hour from South Shore and and hour and a half from us in Truckee. On top of that, the day we decided to go we had to turn around on our route via Tahoe City because Emerald Bay was closed due to Avalanche danger. The drive over is quite stunning though. I would say unless you are die hard about getting the best powder after a storm, this is the place you would want to go to for a few days and not just as a day trip.
The drive on Hwy 88
As mentioned above, Kirkwood is not that convenient. It is in the middle of nowhere and doesn’t offer shopping or lots of dining options. I think because of this a lot of mainstream vacationers will shy away from the resort to go somewhere more inclusive and entertaining for a variety of different tastes and needs. For Kirkwood, usually the only time you spend waiting in the lift line is if it has stopped for some reason.
Top of Chair 10 – It was a childhood dream of mine to make it up here!