Thursday Jan 22 2009
Northstar adds new meaning to its stay and play philosophy
By: Jeffrey Weidel, Special to Gold Country News Service
In this European-inspired ski village, a recent sunny Monday morning arrives with considerable activity. Coffee-seeking people of all ages wander into Starbucks for a wakeup call, while the more ambitious are already heading for the gondola, a good 15 minutes before the modernized transporter begins dropping off skiers and snowboarders for a day on this expansive hill. Welcome to another day at Northstar-at-Tahoe, which has been transformed into a destination village over the past four years. Gone is the landmark clocktower building, once the hub of the village. That designation now belongs to the spacious 9,000-square-foot skating rink, which is surrounded by an impressive array of condominiums, shops and restaurants, much of it built with natural stone, heavy timber, squared logs and numerous wood accents to help represent the traditionally rugged Tahoe appearance. The village is the creation of Colorado-based East West Partners, which spent $55 million for the Northstar project. For folks seeking a ski-in, ski-out experience, Northstar now offers 193 village condominiums, ranging from a studio ($139 per night) to a spacious four-bedroom, four-bath option that goes for $519 a night. Lodging at Northstar, which is located off Highway 267 near Truckee, starts at $108 for a studio condo and many deals arrive with complimentary lift tickets. There are more than 230 on-site lodging units for rent (with a pillow count of 5,500) through Northstar Central Reservations. And coming next year is a mid-mountain Ritz-Carlton project (173 hotel rooms, 75 whole ownership units, 39 fractional ownership units), plus a Hyatt timeshare with 100 additional units. Following a four-hour morning drive from San Jose that required a sleep-deprived 4 a.m. wakeup, Steve and Wendy Sheppard took a moment to check out the now completed village prior to heading up the hill with their son, Kyle, 4. “The village is beautiful, staying here would be pretty cool,” Wendy said. “We love Northstar, it’s a real family-friendly place. There are a lot of different runs, the parking is convenient and now they have the village. I would consider staying here, but it depends on the available pricing. On a visit to the resort of their childhood days, Brian and Theresa Stenhouse were pleased with Northstar’s many new amenities. But the couple was also concerned about how a family like theirs with two small children could afford many Northstar vacations. Staying in the village was not an option for this San Jose family, who rented one of the older Northstar condos for $150 a night. “It’s high end and ritzy, staying here might price out some of the family market,” remarked Theresa. “I’m not sure a family like ours is their niche.” But there is added value that comes with lodging. Oftentimes lift tickets are free or discounted. The package also provides free access to the recreation center, which includes heated swimming pools, spas, fitness and teen center. Other free amenities are skating and rental equipment, on-site shuttle transportation, priority lift lines, high-speed Internet access, and storage for skis and snowboards. The village is virtually an on-site mini-mall that includes 35 unique shops and restaurants, a conference center and the skating rink. There is considerable seating around the rink and the most coveted locations are where the five gas fire pits are located, which become ideal to ward off the late afternoon and early evening chill. “The village is very cool, there is so much stuff, a children’s store, different restaurants, a bead shop,” said Naomi Burns, 18, who lives in Placerville. “I’m up here right now staying in a condo and snowboarding, but it would be a good road trip to do with a couple of friends, just come here and hang out in the village.” Overlooked by the new village bling are a sizable mountain and all its winter wonderland appeal. Besides skiing and snowboarding on its 18 lifts and 89 runs, other options include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and tubing. Historically an accommodating hill for beginners and intermediates, Northstar has added more advanced terrain and beefed up its terrain park amenities over the past decade. That includes the challenging, steep runs on the less crowded Backside and the Lookout Mountain area, which increased its vertical this year from 1,247 to 1,727 feet. The Lookout Mountain trails were extended this summer and trees were removed to provide a much-improved “gladed” experience. “I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid and this is absolutely still a mountain I like to ski,” Brian Stenhouse said. “I can go hard in the morning on the more advanced runs, then I can coast in the afternoon on all the intermediate terrain.” For more information, visit the Northstar website at skinorthstar.com or call (530) 562-1010. Jeffrey Weidel is a Sacramento free-lance writer with more than 20 years of skiing experience.