Several smaller resorts around Truckee offer access to the Sierra's slopes for less than half the price of the big resorts. Though you'll sacrifice vertical rise, acreage, and high-speed lifts, you can ski or ride and still have money left over for room and board. These are great places for first-timers and families with kids learning to ski.
Boreal Mountain Resort. These slopes have 380 skiable acres and 500 vertical feet of terrain visible from the freeway. Lift-served snow-tubing and night skiing go until 9. 19749 Boreal Ridge Rd., at I–80, Boreal/Castle Peak exit, Soda Springs, CA, 95728. 530/426–3666. www.rideboreal.com.
Donner Ski Ranch. This ski park has 505 acres and 750 vertical feet. A popular area with kids in this small, family-friendly park is the Tubing Hill. Riders whisk down the slope in a huge inflated inner tube and then go back to the top on a moving carpet. 19320 Donner Pass Rd., Norden, CA, 95724. 530/426–3635. www.donnerskiranch.com.
Northstar California. With two tree-lined, northeast-facing, wind-protected bowls, this park is the ideal place in a storm, and just may be the best all-around family ski resort at Tahoe. Hotshot experts unfairly call the mountain "Flatstar," but the meticulous grooming and long cruisers make it an intermediate skier's paradise. Boarders are especially welcome, with awesome terrain parks, including a 420-foot-long super-pipe, a half-pipe, rails and boxes, and lots of kickers. Experts can ski the steeps and bumps off Lookout Mountain, where there's rarely a line for the high-speed quad. Northstar's cross-country center has 35 km (22 miles) of groomed trails, including double-set tracks and skating lanes. The school has programs for skiers ages three and up, and day care is available for tots two and older. The mountain gets packed on busy weekends, but when there's room on the slopes, Northstar is loads of fun. 5001 Northstar Dr., Truckee, CA, 96161. 530/562–1010 information; 800/466–6784 lodging; 530/562–1330 snow phone. www.northstarcalifornia.com. 97 trails on 3,170 acres, rated 13% beginner, 60% intermediate, 27% advanced. Longest run 1.4 miles, base 6,330 feet, summit 8,610 feet. Lifts: 20, including 2 gondolas and 7 high-speed quads.
Royal Gorge. If you love to cross-country, don't miss Royal Gorge, which serves up 200 km (124 miles) of track for all abilities, 75 trails on a whopping 6,000 acres, a ski school, and eight warming huts. Two trailside cafés and a lodge round out the facilities. Because the complex sits right on the Sierra Crest, the views are drop-dead gorgeous. 9411 Pahatsi Dr., off I–80, Soda Springs/Norden exit, Soda Springs, CA, 95728. 530/426–3871 or 800/500–3871. www.royalgorge.com.
Soda Springs. Along with 200 acres and 500 vertical feet, this ski park also has lift-served snow-tubing. 10244 Soda Springs Rd., I–80 Soda Springs exit, Soda Springs, CA, 95728. 530/426–3901. www.skisodasprings.com.
Sugar Bowl Ski Resort. Opened in 1939 by Walt Disney, this is the oldest—and one of the best—resorts at Tahoe. Atop Donner Summit, it receives an incredible 500 inches of snowfall annually. Four peaks are connected by 1,650 acres of skiable terrain, with everything from gentle groomed corduroy to wide-open bowls to vertical rocky chutes and outstanding tree skiing. Snowboarders can hit two terrain parks with numerous boxes, rails, and jumps. Because it's more compact than some of the area's megaresorts, there's a gentility here that distinguishes Sugar Bowl from its competitors, making this a great place for families and a low-pressure, low-key place to learn to ski. It's not huge, but there's some very challenging terrain (experts: head to the Palisades). There's limited lodging at the base area. 629 Sugar Bowl Rd., off Donner Pass Rd., 3 miles east of I–80 Soda Springs/Norden exit, 10 miles west of Truckee, Norden, CA, 95724. 530/426–9000 information and lodging reservations; 530/426–1111 snow phone; 866/843–2695 lodging referral. www.sugarbowl.com. 102 trails on 1,650 acres, rated 17% beginner, 45% intermediate, 38% advanced. Longest run 3 miles, base 6,883 feet, summit 8,383 feet. Lifts: 13, including 5 high-speed quads.
Tahoe Dave's. You can save money by renting skis and boards at this shop, which has the area's best selection and also repairs and tunes equipment. 10200 Donner Pass Rd., near Spring St., Truckee, CA, 96161. 530/582–0900. www.tahoedaves.com.
Tahoe Donner. Just north of Truckee, this park covers 120 acres and 600 vertical feet; the cross-country center includes 51 trails on 100 km (62 miles) of groomed tracks on 4,800 acres, with night skiing on Wednesday in January and February. 11603 Snowpeak Way, Truckee, CA, 96161. 530/587–9444. www.tahoedonner.com.