Classics
8 min

Palisades Tahoe

The Cradle of Freeskiing
Words by
Megan Michelson
Photos by
Scott Gaffney and Jeff Engerbretson
November 30, 2023

People don’t picture snow-covered mountains when they think of California. It’s all sunny beaches, right? Wrong! The Sierra Nevada Mountains, which form the spine of California, literally means “snowy mountains” in Spanish. As a result, ski resorts around Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border report the most significant snowfall in the Western U.S. The most famous of these is the legendary Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley), the site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games. This area is where ski stars from past to present have been raised, and many iconic ski movies have been filmed.

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The legendary chair KT-22 on the right, leading up to the Eagle’s Nest – one of the iconic zones at Palisades Tahoe. Photo by Scott Gaffney

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The legendary chair KT-22 on the right, leading up to the Eagle’s Nest – one of the iconic zones at Palisades Tahoe. Photo by Scott Gaffney

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In recent years, Eagle’s Nest got an alternative name – McConkey’s – paying tribute to the G.O.A.T of freeskiing, the late Shane McConkey. Photo by Jeff Engerbretson/Palisades Tahoe

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In recent years, Eagle’s Nest got an alternative name – McConkey’s – paying tribute to the G.O.A.T of freeskiing, the late Shane McConkey. Photo by Jeff Engerbretson/Palisades Tahoe

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Local ripper Connery Lundin finds the good stuff in Siberia Bowl, with spectacular views towards Lake Tahoe. Photo by Jeff Engerbretson/Palisades Tahoe

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Local ripper Connery Lundin finds the good stuff in Siberia Bowl, with spectacular views towards Lake Tahoe. Photo by Jeff Engerbretson/Palisades Tahoe

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The back-to-back Slot Extreme Champion Trevor Semmens has his backflips dialled. Filmed by Scott Gaffney

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The back-to-back Slot Extreme Champion Trevor Semmens has his backflips dialled. Filmed by Scott Gaffney

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Local Knowledge

Palisades Tahoe is the kind of big, sprawling mountain where you should have a game plan before you go, especially on a powder day. Here’s insider info on how to ski the mountain like a local:

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Tahoe local Amie Engerbretson captured by the Broken Arrow chair on a pow day. Photo by her dad, Jeff Engerbretson, for Palisades Tahoe.

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Tahoe local Amie Engerbretson captured by the Broken Arrow chair on a pow day. Photo by her dad, Jeff Engerbretson, for Palisades Tahoe.

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The Palisades Tahoe Aerial Tram opened in 1968; at the time, it was the most extensive tramway in the world.

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The Palisades Tahoe Aerial Tram opened in 1968; at the time, it was the most extensive tramway in the world.

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Many Tahoe skiers and tourists long for Palisades Tahoe’s Silverado area when conditions allow, but unfortunately, it’s not often it looks this good. Photo by Jeff Engerbretson/Palisades Tahoe

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Many Tahoe skiers and tourists long for Palisades Tahoe’s Silverado area when conditions allow, but unfortunately, it’s not often it looks this good. Photo by Jeff Engerbretson/Palisades Tahoe

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Filmed by Scott Gaffney

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Filmed by Scott Gaffney

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Eat, Drink and be Merry

 Sleep 

The condos at the Village at Palisades Tahoe have fireplaces and eight hot tubs and are just steps from the slopes — so they can be pricey; the village itself has comfy hotel rooms at Plumpjack Inn and condos at Red Wolf Lodge. Tahoe City is a short drive away with more affordable hotel rooms, including rustic hip decor at Base Camp Tahoe City.

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The Village at Palisades Tahoe is in the heart of all activities and a perfect location to be based.

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The Village at Palisades Tahoe is in the heart of all activities and a perfect location to be based.

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Pain McShlonkey is an annual event at Palisades Tahoe in honour of Shane McConkey to celebrate camaraderie and fun times. Dress out and get weird. The 2024 Pain McShlonkey is on March 23rd.

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Pain McShlonkey is an annual event at Palisades Tahoe in honour of Shane McConkey to celebrate camaraderie and fun times. Dress out and get weird. The 2024 Pain McShlonkey is on March 23rd.

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 Other Stuff 

Your kids — or your inner child — will love the disco tubing on selected Saturday nights in the SnoVentures Activity Zone at the base of Palisades Tahoe. There’s a DJ spinning tracks and laser lights as you zoom down on an inflated tube.

Ride the tram up to High Camp — skiers and non-skiers alike are welcome — for a scenic tour and stellar views of Lake Tahoe. The Olympic Museum at the top is worth browsing for 1960 Winter Olympic history, and there’s a new Washoe Display to learn about the Washoe tribe — the indigenous people that first inhabited the valley.

Off the mountain, there’s Nordic skiing at Tahoe XC, ice skating at the Tahoe City Winter Sports Park, and a new indoor climbing gym in Truckee called High Altitude Fitness.

 Don’t Miss 

At the top of KT-22, look to your left, atop the rocky spire known as McConkey’s or Eagle’s Nest. You’ll see a sculpture of an eagle, put there in memory of the late legendary freeskier Shane McConkey.

A must-do (for those capable) is the bootpack up to Palisades, the iconic set of north-facing chutes that gave the resort its new name. There’s no easy way down from here, but the mellowest descent is National Chute — a wide but still very steep and expert-only ramp that drops off the summit’s farthest skier’s right side.

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Sage Gaffney captured just below Eagle’s Nest. Photo by Scott Gaffney

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Sage Gaffney captured just below Eagle’s Nest. Photo by Scott Gaffney

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The anticipation while riding the Red Dog chair on a pow morning. Photo by Scott Gaffney

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The anticipation while riding the Red Dog chair on a pow morning. Photo by Scott Gaffney

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 Just the Facts 

Palisades Tahoe is a magnet for storms coming in from the Pacific, given its location atop the Pacific Crest in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Even with 10 metres of snow/year, the resort also gets 300 days of sunshine annually. Plus, there’s a whopping 2,428 hectares to explore … so the numbers add up nicely.

→ Skiable area: Olympic Valley: 3,600 acres (1,456 hectares) & 170 trails; Alpine
→ Parks: 5 terrain parks
→ Longest run: Mountain Run at 5.15 km
→ Terrain mix: 25%/45%/30%
→ Lifts: 42 total; capacity 53,500 skiers/hr
→ Average annual snowfall: 10.16 m
→ Snowmaking coverage: 11/29 lifts at Olympic Valley; 9/11 lifts at Alpine Meadows
→ Olympic Valley: vertical 869 m; top elevation 2,758 m
→ Alpine Meadows: vertical 549 m; top elevation 2,758 m

Getting there: From the airport in Reno, Nevada, it’s about an hour by car or shuttle via Interstate 80, or 154 kilometres from Sacramento and 315 kilometres from San Francisco) but you’ll drive over the snowy Donner Summit, where chains or four-wheel-drive are often required.

Megan Michelson is a freelance writer and editor based in Tahoe City, California. A regular contributor to Outside, Backcountry, and SKI magazines and the former freeskiing editor for ESPN.com, she's traveled to report on skiing all over the world. Megan is proficient at ballet skiing and always carries pocket PBJs on the hill.
Palisades Tahoe
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