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Though I love hiking mountains in the spring and summer, the snow has
always made me feel like Ariel of "The Little Mermaid" — pre-legs. Watching
skiers from afar, I've dreamt of being a part of their world.
My first attempt at skiing as an adult ended with me stuck in a ditch,
requiring assistance to get out. That traumatic episode failed to make a
skier out of me.
Fast-forward four years, and my partner — a longtime snowboarder — finally
convinced me that we needed to take a snow trip.
As a compromise, we agreed to learn how to ski together and chose a spot
where I'd have a fighting chance. The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe in
northeastern California is a place where people know your name, snow falls
generously from the heavens, and creature comforts reign supreme.
Indeed, one could be content bouncing from one dining establishment to
another, indulging in a massage or soaking in one of the heated outdoor
pools. But the sight of the slopes — visible from my guestroom window -
filled me with yearning and hope. On the day of our lesson, a Monday, I
noticed there was barely a soul with which to collide — surely a good omen.
Our guide, Jake Jakubowski, pointed out the stairs that clients usually
descend to reach the slopes. I could barely see them as I climbed the
groomed snow, a sign of the year's epic snowfall and record season, which
won't end until July 4 this year.
On a patch of slightly steep snow, Jakubowski balanced my inexperience with
my partner's natural athleticism. It didn't take long for us to go from
carving bow ties on one ski to testing out green runs.
Facilitating our accelerated learning were the hotel's subtle advantages,
made clearer to me after follow-up days at a rental in adjacent Northstar
Village. Unlike all other Northstar properties, The Ritz is located
mid-mountain. In order to get to the slopes, those in the village must take
a gondola to the property, which requires a walk, then schlep to the runs.
Guests staying at The Ritz, on the other hand, glide directly from the
hotel's True North rental shop or adjacent Mountain Concierge boot storage
to the slopes. Plus, clients can leave their equipment with staffers
positioned at the end of the trail, where they'll find their gear waiting
the next day.
In other words, the hotel has designed a system that conserves a beginner's
most precious and fast-burning resource: energy.
Nonetheless, learning a new sport can make one ravenous and sore, two
symptoms the hotel treats with gusto. At signature restaurant Manzanita, my
partner and I enjoyed live music and a hearty meal, including cauliflower
soup topped with shaved truffle and a premier cru wine. And for apres-ski,
we never missed daily s'mores around the fire pit.
As for aches and pains, the spacious fitness center and spa — equipped with
a sauna, a steam room and a whirlpool — are unparalleled havens. Like our
guide Jakowski, my massage therapist, Dawn, was actively engaged and
offered helpful advice.
But perhaps most crucial to our R&R was our cozy Deluxe Guest Room, one
of 170 guestrooms, including 16 suites and The Ritz-Carlton Suite. No
crusty cabin design here — spacious rooms feature marble, wood and lovely
details such as closet handles in the shape of tree branches. Plus, they
come stocked with a minibar and complimentary espresso.
On our last morning, I called the front desk for four mini water bottles
and received eight, plus a humidifier — what I really needed to battle the
The attendant's over-delivering reminded me of when Jakubowski told me that
staff is taught to provide "an experience of a lifetime." I was skeptical
then. But by the end of our day, I had gotten off three chairlifts without
falling. Best of all, I liked skiing enough to go again, unguided — after a
massage, of course.