Spending our days in one of the most beautiful places in the
world, Santa Barbarans don’t impress easily. Fortunately we live in
California, where awe-inspiring destinations are never far away.
Maybe eight hours isn’t exactly short, but considering the reward,
Lake Tahoe might as well be around the corner. Deciding to turn
Valentine’s Day into a weeklong celebration, my fiancée and I
embarked for the mystical mountain lake. Aside from romance,
thoughts of snowboarding and spas danced in our heads. Little could
we imagine the slice of heaven waiting for us.
Shifting our attitudes along with the altitude, we felt elevated
immediately upon arriving in South Lake Tahoe. Ravena and I, along
with our two dogs, stayed with an old friend for the first four
nights. Scott, a notorious foodie, took us to what he called “the
nicest restaurant in town.” In the heart of South Lake Tahoe’s
Heavenly Village, Kalani’s has a hip Polynesian elegance. My
high-priced dish was a knockout: Pan-caramelized miso-yaki seabass
with Thai basil mash, balsamic kula greens, and ponzu beurre blanc.
The 2003 Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir hammered it home.
Cruising for lunch on Valentine’s Day, the sign for the Blue
Water Bistro led us to a two-story building attached to a long
dock. Gazing across the mountain-nestled lake, we giggled at the
perfection of our discovery. The view only got sweeter as we
indulged in crab and shrimp cocktail, a bountiful mound of fresh
shellfish drizzled with basil oil. Later we visited another friend
whose backyard opens up to endless wilderness. Feeling like figures
in a Robert Frost poem, we ventured through the winter wonderland
with our furry friends. Emerging upon a frozen pond deep in the
woods, we reveled in the magic of Tahoe’s secluded splendor. After
marinating in Scott’s hot tub, we finished a relaxing Valentine’s
Day by braving the masses at the Thai Orchid restaurant. Their
delicious curry was worth the wait.
The timing couldn’t have been better for me to break a 10-year
absence from the slopes. Atop Heavenly, the largest mountain on the
West Coast, my pleas of “Let it snow” turned into “Good God, it’s
snowing!” I yelled with ecstasy as I tapped into the forgotten
source of adrenaline. Once my goggles fogged up, things got tricky.
I made the mistake of taking a glove off to fix them and narrowly
avoided frostbite. Blindly bombing down empty runs, it wasn’t long
before I was stranded on the Nevada side of the mountain. The lifts
closed, forcing me to take two shuttles back to the California
While I was freezing my tail off in the whiteout conditions,
Ravena soaked up the benefits of the Body Essentials Spa in the
Marriott Grand Residence. Accustomed as she is to a high standard
of spas, Body Essentials came up a little short. The steam room
didn’t work and the sauna wasn’t hot enough. The overall amenities
reflected a lack of attention to detail. Redemption came in the
form of the $110 Pamper Package. Administered by a wonderful
therapist named Gina Fox, the treatment included a salt scrub,
mini-facial, and aromatherapy massage. Winding down in the outdoor
hot tub overlooking the slopes, Ravena realized nothing could
detract from Tahoe’s state of unfettered bliss.
The next day I returned to Heavenly, this time with my friend
Adam. Snow had fallen through the night, so hopes were high for a
“bluebird powder day.” Our first run on the tree-filled “Orion” was
revelational, but apparently not enough for the jaded Adam, who
quickly lost interest in the “dust on crust.” He pried me away from
a mountain full of powder and my free lift ticket (a $70 value) to
go on a mysterious snowmobiling mission. A lot of the hardcore
Tahoe locals employ auxiliary methods to have their fun away from
the crowds. Adam and his buddy Mike purchased high-performance
snowmobiles specifically to access pristine snowboarding zones.
Ravena and I hopped on the back of the powerful machines with
boards strapped to our packs. I had no idea I was about to have one
of the peak experiences of my life.
Full-throttling it to the summit was quite a rush in itself. The
wind cascaded across the barren tundra, accentuating the rugged
elements. Appearing like a mirage, the secret powder bowl beckoned
us to play. Mike, Adam, and I took turns descending the untracked
face like something out of a dream. Drawing huge S-turns across the
marshmallow surface made me feel like a pro shooting a video in
Alaska. At the bottom we all laughed at our good fortune while
sipping glasses of Navarro Rosé. Why would I be surprised Adam had
just so happened to bring a bottle from our favorite Mendocino
Friday came and we reluctantly started out of town. Giant
snowflakes poured from the sky, adding to already-treacherous road
conditions. Lacking chains or four-wheel drive, we deemed ourselves
snowed-in. As fate would have it, we landed at a cute little chalet
called the Heavenly Lodge. The place was loaded with local charm
and was dog-friendly to boot. We came to find out that the
unsuspecting lodge was a spa of sorts, too.
We’ve always found that extending trips by a day creates the
space for some essential activities that would have been missed.
Our enchanting Heavenly Lodge experience was capped off with an
evening stroll to the casinos. Starting at Harrah’s, we crossed
over to Harvey’s, where we humored ourselves with a $10 victory at
the slots. Over Hurricanes and piña coladas at the Hard Rock Café,
we reflected on what a dynamic vacation it had been. Whatever your
desire, Lake Tahoe offers something for everyone. Beware, though:
Scoring fresh powder can be addictive.
4·1·1Kalani’s, 1001 Heavenly Village Way #26,
South Lake Tahoe, (530) 544-6100, kalanis.com. Blue Water
Bistro, 3411 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake Tahoe,
(530) 541-0113. Thai Orchid, 2180 Lake Tahoe Blvd., South Lake
Tahoe, (530) 544-5541. Heavenly, (775) 586-7000 or
(800) HEAVENLY, skiheavenly.com. Body Essentials Spa, Marriott
Grand Residence Club, 1001 Heavenly Village Way, South Lake Tahoe,
(866) 545-4SPA or (530) 541-3791, tahoespa.com. Heavenly
Lodge, 930 Park Ave., South Lake Tahoe, (800) 884-4920,
heavenlylodgetahoe.com, email@example.com. Harrah’s,
(800) HARRAHS, www.harrahs.com. Harvey’s, (775) 588-2411,
harrahs.com/our_casinos/hlt. Hard Rock Café, in
Harvey’s Casino, Stateline Ave., Stateline, NV,
(775) 588‑6200, hardrock.com.