Northstar Ski Area (northern Lake Tahoe)
OTE Ratings: O7/T6-8/E4-7
Distance: variable (there are many miles of trails to choose from)
Time: variable (but the lift lines can be long)
The Northstar Ski Area is open to mountain biking daily from mid-June to
Labor Day, and weekends-only thereafter until early October (weather
permitting). (Their phone number is (916) 562-1010.) Two of the chair
lifts - "Echo" and "Lookout" - run during the summer months, and will
take you and your bike from the base village (~6350') up to the ~7750'
level. As of summer 1994, an all-day lift pass costs $17 (adult) and
$13 (child). Once at the top of the lifts, you have a lot of trails to
choose from: There's some fun single-track (including the very technical
"Woods training course"), a short slalom course, and (mostly) lots of
scenic (but bumpy) fire roads. On the fire roads you have the option of
doing some climbing (up to the "Mt. Pluto" summit at 8610'), doing some
leisurely (and mostly flat) scenic riding around the mountain (including
to a nearby small lake), or just riding back down the hill.
Directions to the start
Northstar is located just off CA state highway 267, halfway between
Truckee (I-80) and Kings Beach (Lake Tahoe north shore).
Some of the things I liked
- Lots of variety (see above).
- No climbing necessary. If you wanted to, you could spend the
whole day here without doing any climbing whatsoever. Even the
ride up to the summit is quite moderate (although the altitude
makes it seem a bit tougher).
- Some challenging single-track. Parts of the "Woods" trail are
very challenging: comparable to some of the more insane
sections of "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride". The
other major single-track trail - "Boondocks" - is tamer (&
reminiscent of the Soquel Demo
- Great "mountain biking atmosphere". Almost everyone you see
here is a mountain biker. I saw only a handful of hikers, and
no equestrians (although I think at least some parts of the area
allow horseback riding).
- Great scenery (including some nice views of Lake Tahoe).
- No radar guns! (at least not yet)
Some of the things I didn't like
- Long lift lines. Each bike rider takes up 1/Nth of a chair
(where N=2 or 3), plus an additional chair for their bike (which
is hung on hooks at the back of the chair). Also, only about
half of the chairs on each lift have been set up with the hooks
to hold bikes. Consequently, it sometimes takes a long time to
get on the lift - I encountered waits of up to half an hour. (I
was there on what was probably one of the worst days - a
Saturday in August - so it's probably not always this bad.)
- Dust. This area is very dry in the summertime. (From the
summit, I could see a huge forest fire raging out of control
less than 50 miles away.) Expect to get a lot of dust on your
bike (& in your lungs). Next time I'll bring something to cover
- Rough fire roads (often with big pieces of loose gravel). It's
hard to go very fast down many of the fire roads (& I certainly
couldn't imagine doing so without shocks).
- The vast majority of trails here are fire roads; I'd prefer to
see more single-track.
(firstname.lastname@example.org) adds (2000.09.08):
noticed your page is way out
First - and foremost - Northstar has been actively building more singletrack
are now quite a few advanced-level ones, like Competition, and some serious
downhillers, like Karpiel. So there's even more variety than before, and
that to cover it all in one day would keep you busy. (The online map is
quite good; unfortunately
the paper map they give you up there sucks).
Second, of course, the prices have gone up; one ride (which isn't enough for
reading your pages) is $16, a normal unlimited day pass is $23. If you stay
at a Northstar
condo, you get a free pass (but only if you ask!). It's worth noting that
the first day of the
season is free, and the last day is very cheap.
As to crowds, I've seldom seen it crowded (except on the free opening day);
but then I usually
go during the week. On at least one day I've been the only real rider (as
opposed to families with
kids) out there.
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©1995-2015 Ross Finlayson