Cruising down a groomerat Homewood Mountain Resort, I snap out of my daydream in time to save myself from a tumble, and realize that I've been ogling Lake Tahoe rather than paying attention to the trail. This is a common affliction at Homewood, so close to the water's edge that skiers feel as if they could schuss right off the mountain and into the lake.
Homewood, a little-known gem on Lake Tahoe's quiet West Shore, will never match the bigger resorts for terrain or amenities. But what it does offer is a front-row seat to the lake's colors and moods—radiant blue, dour gray, inky black.
"I've skied all around the lake, and the views at Homewood are the best," says Gary Chaney, a longtime West Shore bed-and-breakfast owner. "Sometimes it will be clear blue sky above, and the lake will be covered by fog. It's incredible."
Now Homewood is poised to get the infrastructure to match its priceless views. The Bay Area development firm JMA Ventures, which bought Homewood in 2006 (and has since purchased nearby Alpine Meadows and Montana's Red Lodge), wants to create Tahoe's first boutique ski resort. Plans include a new midmountain lodge served by a gondola, a 60-room designer hotel, 150 condos and residences and a redesigned base village with a grocery store, ice cream shop, restaurant and more.
JMA, best known for restoring San Francisco's Ghirardelli Square, hopes the base village will re-create the neighborhood feel that once existed on the West Shore, since eclipsed by the bustle of North and South Lake Tahoe. "We want to bring back that sense of community," says Art Chapman, JMA's president.
True to its name, Homewood has always been about family. "Grandpa thought it would be nice to have a place for the kids to go skiing," says Rick Brown, grandson of Don Huff, Sr., who founded the ski area in 1962 with one lift, an A-frame lodge with a potbelly stove and $5 lift tickets. Brown fondly recalls his childhood skiing here, so he jumped at the chance to become a partner in Homewood's revitalization.
JMA executives, newcomers to the ski industry, visited Beaver Creek, Colo., Deer Valley, Utah, and other resorts known for their customer service. New structures will be tasteful: The architect who designed the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch at Beaver Creek is behind the blueprints for Homewood's midmountain lodge, a stone-and-wood structure to be built in Old Tahoe style. Like Deer Valley, Homewood will limit the number of skiers on the hill, capping ticket sales at 3,300 daily. "That's all we want," Chapman says. "Bigger isn't always better."
While plans are still ramping up, JMA has already made its mark on Homewood, replacing a slow fixed-grip double with the high-speed Old Homewood Express quad, cutting the ride time from 19 minutes to less than five.
Unloading the Old Homewood, I follow a local into the trees along the Lake Louise trail, then work my way down Miner's Delight and Bonanza. It's here that I notice another upgrade: 350 acres of glading. The thinning has opened up areas that were impassable, vastly improving the treeskiing.
I find fresh snow in the glades of Hobbit Land and make powder turns along Second Creek and The Glades. Then I discover Quail Face, several steep drops through rock outcroppings—and Homewood's only double-black-diamond area.
But it's the resort's mellow terrain that makes it a family favorite. "You can take the kids here and know they won't ski off a cliff," says Chaney. "And Homewood doesn't get skied out like the big resorts."
It begins to snow, temporarily obscuring my view of Lake Tahoe. Without the lake, Homewood would be just another midsized ski area. And without its new owner's vision, Homewood's competition would swallow it up. "There are plenty of good resorts in the Tahoe basin," Chaapman says. "We want to create something unique." Looks like they're well on their way.
SIGNPOST: HOMEWOOD MOUNTAIN RESORT
1,260 acres; 1,650 vertical feet; base elevation 6,230 feet; summit elevation 7,880 feet; 450 annual inches; 60 runs; eight lifts. Tickets (weekends): adults $53, teens (13–18) and seniors (62–69) $35, kids (5–12) $10
Lodging: Chaney House B&B features four quaint rooms, a roaring fireplace and a private pier on Lake Tahoe; chaneyhouse.com; $165–$260. Tahoma Meadows Cottages offers 16 cabins amidst tall pines; tahomameadows.com; $95–$395.
Dining: West Shore Café offers fine dining and an extensive wine list in a waterfront setting; westshorecafe.com, 530-525-5200. Pisano's Pizza, minutes from Homewood's south lot, is a local favorite; 530-525-6464.
Getting There: From Reno, take I-80 west 35 miles, then Highway 89 for 13 miles to Tahoe City. Turn right at the stoplight and go six miles to Homewood.
Info:skihomewood.com, 530-525-2992 Snow phone: 530-525-2900