Rumors flew thicker than Sierra cement when San Francisco developer JMA Ventures bought modest Alpine Meadows. Would JMA try to turn it into another Squaw? Alpine's skiers are a protective bunch, with reason: In a region known for glitz, Alpine has always been the un-Tahoe of Tahoe ski areas.
Developing a skier's hill, rather than a resort, was what Alpine's founders had in mind in 1961, and the 2,400-acre hill is still a local favorite. The new owners have ingratiated themselves by putting up a high-speed quad - cutting ride times on the backside Sherwood terrain - and amping up grooming to cater to families.
Alpine is just right for a Tahoe ski weekend. The only thing missing, lodging, can be found 20 minutes up the road in Truckee, whose historic downtown offers upscale restaurants, burger joints, saloons, clothing boutiques and a friendly buzz. Old-timers grumble about gentrification; it wasn't too long ago that fistfights spilled out of the Bar of America. No more. These days, skiers save their energy for fighting the hill.
Drive the three and a half hours from San Francisco early enough on Friday to beat the afternoon rush. Check into the Cedar House Sport Hotel, a European-style inn with 42 rooms and eco-design at its heart: All of the exterior cedar came from a nearby reforestation project, and tankless water heaters conserve energy. Yet the German linens, modernist bathroom fixtures and designer furniture will make you feel like you've splurged on a trip to the Alps (from $180; www.cedarhouse-sporthotel.com; 866-582-5655). Enjoy appetizers and drinks in the chic lobby with its exposed steel beams. For clean, convenient digs within walking distance to downtown, try the Best Western Truckee Tahoe Inn (from $109; bestwesterntahoe.com; 530-587-4525).
Head into Truckee and enjoy a brew at the iconic Bar of America before tucking into dinner at the adjoining Pacific Crest Grill. The salmon with merlot reduction is a whole different kind of fresh (pacificcrestgrill.com; 530-587-2626). Then walk over to Moody's, Truckee's premier jazz spot (moodysbistro.com; 530-587-8688).
Load up on fresh breads and cold cuts at the Cedar House's complimentary European buffet, then drive to Alpine. Terrain is the mountain's selling point. Shaped like a horseshoe, the area allows skiers to follow the sun and locate soft snow just about any time of day. From the ridgeline, skiers can drop into wide blue bowls or dip into "adventure zones" - ungroomed steeps and glades that offer a lift-served off-piste-like experience. For hikers, Alpine provides access to enough backcountry bowls to build another ski area. The wild surroundings mean views of big nature rather than monster homes, so soak it in.
South-facing Sherwood terrain gets the first sun, so head there early. Ride the Summit Six Chair to the ridge, traverse skier's right, and drop down the wide-open Sun Bowl or CB Chute before spilling into South Face and cruising to the Sherwood Express. Do laps on Sherwood, riding gladed blues Robin Hood and Sherwood Run or tackling black-diamond Sherwood Face. When liftlines grow, head for Lakeview Chair, where all the trails are as blue as Lake Tahoe.
After a few runs, head to the Scott Chair, where experts should eyeball the double-black Scott Chute. If conditions are good, venture into the trees and test your skills in the Chute that Seldom Slides. Warm up with lunch at the midmountain Chalet Restaurant at the base of the Scott Chair. Afterward, board the Yellow Chair and ski down to the Roundhouse Chair, a high-speed quad carrying skiers to a series of blues - Rock Garden, Blue Trail, Greeen Trail, Banana Chute - that are local faves because the trees collect snow. After a few laps, ski Rock Garden to the Alpine Bowl Chair for some double-blacks and wide-open blue Alpine Bowl.
By now your legs will be shot, so clean up and join the après crowd at Fifty Fifty Brewing Company, a new microbrewery in town (fiftyfiftybrewing.com; 530-587-2337). Save your appetite for sushi at Dragonfly, where the menu blends Japanese, Thai and Indian influences (dragonflycuisine.com; 530-587-0557). Try the plantain-and-panko-encrusted basa fish with a little sake, and say sayonara to Saturday.
Rise early and snag a booth and a stack of pancakes at the Truckee Diner (775-582-6295). It's time to dig into the mountain's expert stash, so take the Summit chair and warm up on the blacks beneath it before heading skier's left to the double-black bowls. This is where you'll find the steep and deep on a powder day. When there's no fresh stuff, mine the shaded areas for firm granular snow that's great for soft jump turns. Check out Beaver Bowl, Estelle Bowl and Bernie's Bowl. Only the locals make the effort, which means plenty of untracked lines. Drop down to the base area and warm up with an espresso and chocolate-chip cookie at Treats.
Refueled, ride to the ridge and traverse to Big Bend Bowl, enjoying easy turns down to the Sherwood Express. If it's sunny, check out the Ice Bar - an outdoor grill with beer and sizzling bratwursts. Then, from the top of Sherwood, ski back toward the base area along blue Return Road or the double-black adventure zone, where the trees protect new snow.
The San Francisco crowds clog I-80 for the drive home, so ski until the lifts close at 4, then stop in Truckee for a casual dinner at Smokey's Kitchen, where they pile plates high with great barbecue and cornbread (smokeyskitchen.com). After tackling this skier's hill, you're sure to clean your plate.
More Info: Alpine Meadows
2,400 skiable acres; 1,802 vertical feet; summit elevation 8,637 feet; 365 annual inches; 100–plus runs; 13 lifts. Lift tickets: $58; teen 13–18 $49; youth 5–12 $10; 4 and under ski free.
Getting There: From San Francisco, take I-80 east 200 miles to Truckee, then 89 south 10 miles to Alpine Meadows Road.
Info: skialpine.com; 530-583-4232. Snow phone: 530-581-8374