Kirkwood Lifts & Terrain

Kirkwood Lifts & Terrain

Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded

Our Terrain Ratings

Powderhound rating = advanced/expert terrain + powder + freshies + uncrowded
Kirkwood Trail Map
  • Vertical (ft)
    7,800– 9,800 (2,000)
  • Average Snow Fall
  • Lifts (15)
    2 high speed quads
    1 slow quad
  • Ski Season
    mid Nov to mid April
  • Terrain Summary
    Runs – 86
    Size – 2,300 acres (931ha)
    Beginner - 12%
    Intermediate - 30%
    Advanced - 38%
    Expert - 20%

Ski Kirkwood

The Kirkwood ski area has some fabulous terrain packed into its 2,300 skiable acres, particularly for advanced to expert skiers and snowboarders. Kirkwood has plenty of variety with powder bowls, tree skiing, gullies, cornices, chutes and interesting terrain features. Squaw Valley probably has better expert to extreme terrain and more of it, but not the same variety, and the Kirkwood ski area has elevation over Squaw (and other Tahoe resorts); an extra 750 feet (229m) at the top and an additional 1,600 feet (490m) at the base. Would you rather be skiing in the rain or the snow?

There are only a few chair lifts at the Kirkwood Ski Resort that make it to the top, so there can be a lot of traversing to get to the goods (or a little hiking), and it might take a couple of chairs to do laps. The Pallisades Bowl and the backside in particular feel rather spread out. Some snowboarders also don’t like the many flat spots near the base of the Kirkwood ski area, which become more annoying with fresh snow.

Kirkwood California is no longer a secret ski area and only for those in the know, so the freshies disappear reasonably quickly. The upside is that because of the friendly local vibe, no one elbows you to get to the powder, and at least the lift openings are sequenced on a powder day to give you a few stabs at fresh lines. And relative to Heavenly Ski Resort and other high profile Tahoe ski resorts, Kirkwood CA is very uncrowded.

Kirkwood Lifts

The lifts at Kirkwood CA are not really a highlight, unless you’re an avid powder hound who loves it when the crowds stay away. Various lifts are pretty short to access the more mellow terrain lower down. Two of the 15 lifts are express chairs, but the rest are fixed grip and reaaaaally slow (even though they seem really fast when you’re trying to get on and off them!), so you might want to dress warmly.

Lift Tickets

Kirkwood is a Vail Resort and on the Epic Pass system, so lift tickets are rather expensive if you rock up to the ticket window to purchase them, but very affordable if you pre-purchase a multi-day pass which comes in various configurations. An Epic Pass can be used at the other Vail Resorts including Heavenly and Northstar in Lake Tahoe, Park City Mountain Resort in Utah, and various Colorado ski resorts (such as Breckenridge, Keystone, Beaver Creek etc). You can even use it in Perisher Australia.

Kirkwood Snow

Kirkwood is uniquely located on top of the Sierra Crest to capture the full brunt of snowstorms that pass from the Pacific. Like other California ski resorts, the storms typically drop a lot of moisture and the snow tends to be rather heavy. It’s super fun to ride when it’s fresh, but it can set pretty hard, particularly if that Californian sun comes out (which it often does!).

The front-side is sort of horse-shoe shaped so there are lots of aspects to the Kirkwood ski area, with the best snow being found off the Wall lift which has north facing slopes. Of course the snow quality tends to be a little better than most Tahoe ski resorts, thanks to being a little closer to heaven.

And when it comes to snow volumes and the 600” of snow on average per season… well I’ve raved on about that already! The Kirkwood Resort also has a little of the man-made stuff to top up the cover and ensure a long season.

Ski Kirkwood - for the Beginner

Kirkwood probably isn’t the best for beginners, particularly if the powder is really deep (!!), but it’s OK. There isn’t a lot of green terrain, but then most beginners are probably very happy just doing the same few mellow runs over and over until that pizza is perfect.

The main beginners’ area is at the Timber Creek base where novices can learn in peace without the distraction of experts zooming past. Other green runs are accessed from the village, with the lower parts being very very flat (it’s a bit of a joke that they have slow signs around this area – no one can go fast!).

Kirkwood Skiing for the Intermediate

There isn’t loads of terrain for intermediates at Kirkwood with only 20% of the trails rated as blue. With the exception of the backside, the blue runs are in the lower parts of the mountain and they’re very short, which is great if you get fatigued easily. Typically the blue trails are very wide and uncrowded.

Terrain Parks

If you’re a hard-core park rider, you don’t come to Kirkwood. There are a couple of terrain “parks”, more akin to groupings of small and medium features.

Advanced Skiing Kirkwood

Kirkwood Ski Resort has rather amazing terrain for upper advanced skiers (and it’s excellent for snowboarders who don’t mind traversing). There are fun little gullies that you can pipe on, small groupings of trees, reasonably tight trees that offer some nice challenges (e.g. Pallisades Bowl), alpine bowls, and an abundance of rock features. There are tasty treats galore!

Expert Ski and Snowboard Terrain

The top of Kirkwood is a long ridge line and dropping off it are chutes and cornices, cliff-ettes, and rocks for launching off. Generally the resort doesn’t label actual cliffs but rather “cliff areas” so most of the time it’s fine to slowly navigate your way down.

For extreme riders there are some cliffs as well as a few crazy chutes for ballsy riders where you’ve generally got little choice but to straight line it.


Kirkwood has some good backcountry opportunities that are not too far away from the resort boundaries, and Expedition:Kirkwood provides the support to explore it.

Kirkwood cat skiing is provided post-storms on Martin Point. The snowcat skiing tours are 3.5 to 4.5 hours long, cover 4 runs, and are open to advanced to expert skiers and snowboarders.

Expedition:Kirkwood also offers private backcountry guiding and backcountry awareness programs.