When it comes to mountain conveyance, there is the gondola – and everything else.
Long after the snow melts and most chair lifts are inert, the glass-walled gondola continues to reveal amazing views of the crisp blue lake and a world of recreation for thousands of Lake Tahoe-area residents and guests.
The Tahoe region features two gondola lifts, also called cable cars or aerial trams, which allow passengers access to higher portions of mountain without dedicating several hours for a steep hike.
On the north side of the lake, the aerial cable car at Squaw Valley ($44 for adults) rises from the valley floor to take passengers 2,000 feet up to High Camp, the launching point for summer skiing – Squaw recently announced plans to keep skiing all summer as snow permits – and a bevy of more traditional summer activities.
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To the south, in a short 16 minutes, the gondola at Heavenly Mountain Resort ($48 for adults) takes riders from lake-level shopping to an adventure 2.4 miles up the mountain.
“It’s just a gorgeous view,” said Rachelle Atherton, a spokeswoman for Vail Resorts.
Through winter, the mountain floor is concealed by a blanket of white. By summer, a full array high Sierra landscaping can be viewed.
On the way up, Heavenly gondola passengers can stop at the 14,000-square-foot observation platform.
“The observation deck is a great place to take photos,” Atherton said. A 20-foot-wide deck wraps around a souvenir shop and Cafe Blue. Passengers can then return to the gondola and finish the ride to base camp, anchored by Tamarack Lodge.
From the Tamarack base camp area, guests can take part in many recreation activities including a mountain roller coaster, zip line courses and a climbing wall, or more passive activities like hiking or enjoying the fresh air.
“There is no recommendation on what to do first – it’s a choose your own adventure,” Atherton said.
Whether it’s the 25-foot-high climbing wall or the ropes challenge course, customers can choose the level of difficulty that suits them. But, as Atherton points out, the “harder” option doesn’t always require a higher level of physical fitness.
“It challenges you more mentally than physically,” she said.
The mountain roller coaster gives riders control via a manual handbrake as they loop around trees and boulders in individual carts.
“It’s just super fun,” Atherton said.
A future gondola aims to take North Shore skiers and riders between the jointly owned and operated Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. The proposed gondola would require approval by Placer County and the United States Forest Service.
The existing Squaw Valley cable car terminates at the resort’s High Camp at 8,200 feet.
“In addition to summer skiing and riding, Squaw Valley offers a number of other activities and cool experiences for the whole family,” said Sam Kieckhefer, a resort spokesman.
Earlier this month, resort officials announced they will allow skiing and snowboarding on a small portion of the mountain through the summer (while snow lasts). Accessing that run will require guests to ride the tram to High Camp then walk a short distance, officials said.
The High Camp lodge provides access to the Olympic Museum, dining, poolside fun, roller skating and is a launching point for mountaintop hikes, disc golf or general exploration.
Squaw Valley High Camp
Tram operations: Daily until Sept. 4, Sept. 9-10, Sept. 16-17
Tram hours: 10:40 a.m.-4:20 p.m.
▪ High Camp pool and roller rink operational June 14-Sept 4
Heavenly Mountain Adventure
Gondola operations: Daily June 16-Sept. 4; Friday through Sunday through Sept. 24
Gondola hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
▪ Packages include $94 “ultimate adventure pass”