How I Skied for Free at Lake Tahoe

View from the top of Emigrant at Squaw Valley

Lake Tahoe is one of the top ski and snowboard destinations in the United States. With several resorts to choose from and gorgeous scenery featuring the sparkling blue lake, it’s easy to see why skiing enthusiasts flock here every winter. However, due to its immense popularity and high quality, lift tickets in the Lake Tahoe area are not cheap. (I looked into a few of the resorts in the area and they’ll run approximately 3x what we paid when we skied in the Alps.) What if I told you that there was a way to ski for free at Lake Tahoe? Gather ’round and I’ll tell you the little-known deal that will get you on the slopes at one of three premiere resorts for $0.

Four ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area offer free or discounted lift tickets for travelers with same-day boarding passes. Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, and Sierra-at-Tahoe all provide free lift tickets, and Mt. Rose offers a big discount. All you have to do to get one of these is present your boarding pass and photo ID. This was the perfect deal for someone like me who only had an afternoon to ski anyway (I had to spend the rest of my week at work), but it’s also great if you’ve booked a resort stay but didn’t want to pay for a full day of skiing on your travel day. You could also use it as a way to sample another ski resort if you’ve booked one for most of your stay but want to check out a different one before settling in.

My free lift ticket to Squaw Valley at Lake Tahoe

My free lift ticket for Squaw Valley

I chose Squaw Valley as my ski destination due to its history as the site of the 1960 Olympics and I was not disappointed. If you want to ski at either Squaw or nearby Alpine Meadows – they’re located 50-60 minutes from the Reno airport – you can get your free lift ticket right at the airport. Head to the Mountain Concierge store located right next to the entrance to security and show them your boarding pass from that day and photo ID. A ski pass will be printed for you right then and there and you’re ready to hit the slopes. Upon arrival, you can head straight to the nearest lift without having to visit any ticket counters. If you forget to grab your lift ticket at the airport, you can also get this deal by showing your boarding pass and ID a t the Guest Services and Sales Center at the resorts themselves. For tickets to Sierra-at Tahoe and Mt. Rose, you can present your boarding pass at the resorts themselves.

I had brought my own skis (so my adventure was truly free since my airline status affords me free checked bags), so after I collected them from the baggage area, I backtracked to the store and met a super friendly guy behind the counter. He took my boarding pass and license and entered my info into the computer. Within a minute or two, I had my free lift ticket and headed out to grab my rental car for the week.

Olympic rings at Squaw Valley

The drive to Squaw Valley took a little less than an hour, and getting there in mid-afternoon meant that I was driving opposite a steady flow of traffic. When I got close to Squaw Valley, there were signs saying that the parking lot was closed, but the massive amount of cars that appeared to be leaving made me think that I’d have a decent chance of finding a spot. I went ahead and turned down the road for parking and found plenty of spaces. By the time I got all of my ski gear on in the parking lot (putting your snow pants on before your ski boots is a good start) and lugged my skis and poles up to the lift area, I was down to about two hours until closing time.

Runs for intermediate skiers at Squaw Valley

Riding up the funitel at Squaw Valley

As I described in my tale of our time skiing in the Alps, I’m not the greatest skier in the world. Where I come from in southeastern Michigan, we ski on landfills because we don’t even have mountains. Knowing that I was heading to one of the premier ski areas near Lake Tahoe had me a bit intimidated because I was slightly concerned that I wouldn’t find many runs that I could comfortably do. Those fears were completely unfounded though, because I found Squaw Valley to have lots of fun runs for both beginners and intermediate level skiers.

Ski runs at Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe

My first stop was the Gold Coast area because that’s where most of the green runs were located and I wanted to get a couple of easy ones in to get a feel for my skis. The Gold Coast Funitel is the main lift at the bottom of the mountain and took me up to the building where there’s a ski-in/ski-out Starbucks. A short run took me down to another lift, the Big Blue Express, that feeds most of the green runs for beginners at Squaw Valley. A couple quick runs down Mules Ear and Snow Flower told me that I was ready to hit something a little more challenging. I’d already scouted out the Emigrant peak while on the chairlift, so I caught the lift to the very top.

View from the top of Emigrant.

The view from the top of Emigrant was incredible. Lake Tahoe was a perfect blue gem sparkling in the afternoon sun in the distance. Two huge snowstorms had blown through in the two weeks prior to my visit, so there was plenty of powder and almost no ice anywhere on the runs. From the top of Emigrant, I wound my way all the way down to the base area on blue runs that were perfectly suited to my average ski skills. While I found that the signs labeling ski runs weren’t super easy to find on a lot of the runs, there were lots of signs indicating the easiest way down, which is incredibly helpful for people at my level.

Riding up Red Dog at Squaw Valley.

My last lift of the day was Red Dog, which took me to the top of Snow King – a slightly lower elevation than Emigrant. I took a gradual, winding path down the Champs Elysses before dropping back down to the base area. I was about five minutes too late to catch another lift, so I settled for hanging out at the base area and watching all of the incredibly well-behaved dogs hanging out. I also enjoyed a marshmallow and chocolate chip crepe with some hot chocolate by the fire.

Crepe at Squaw Valley base area

The walk back to my rental car with my skis was hard on my tired legs, but my two-hour free skiing adventure was so worth it. My constant business travel isn’t always easy, but moments like this remind me of how very lucky I am to have opportunities like this.

You can find out more about the free lift ticket offer at the Reno-Tahoe airport here.

Skiing for free at Squaw Valley at Lake Tahoe

Planning a summer trip to Lake Tahoe? Check out this scenic hike instead. Or check out some of my other business trip adventures here:

Don’t forget to save this post for later on Pinterest!

Skiing at Lake Tahoe can be expensive, but there's a way to hit the slopes for free. Find out how I used this secret deal to get a free lift ticket to ski at Squaw Valley. | #LakeTahoe | #California | #Nevada | #USA | Lake Tahoe skiing deals | Cheap lift tickets | Squaw Valley deals | Alpine Meadows | Sierra-at-Tahoe | lift ticket deals

Skiing at Lake Tahoe can be expensive, but there's a way to hit the slopes for free. Find out how I used this secret deal to get a free lift ticket to ski at Squaw Valley. | #LakeTahoe | #California | #Nevada | #USA | Lake Tahoe skiing deals | Cheap lift tickets | Squaw Valley deals | Alpine Meadows | Sierra-at-Tahoe | lift ticket deals Skiing at Lake Tahoe can be expensive, but there's a way to hit the slopes for free. Find out how I used this secret deal to get a free lift ticket to ski at Squaw Valley. | #LakeTahoe | #California | #Nevada | #USA | Lake Tahoe skiing deals | Cheap lift tickets | Squaw Valley deals | Alpine Meadows | Sierra-at-Tahoe | lift ticket deals Skiing at Lake Tahoe can be expensive, but there's a way to hit the slopes for free. Find out how I used this secret deal to get a free lift ticket to ski at Squaw Valley. | #LakeTahoe | #California | #Nevada | #USA | Lake Tahoe skiing deals | Cheap lift tickets | Squaw Valley deals | Alpine Meadows | Sierra-at-Tahoe | lift ticket deals Skiing at Lake Tahoe can be expensive, but there's a way to hit the slopes for free. Find out how I used this secret deal to get a free lift ticket to ski at Squaw Valley. | #LakeTahoe | #California | #Nevada | #USA | Lake Tahoe skiing deals | Cheap lift tickets | Squaw Valley deals | Alpine Meadows | Sierra-at-Tahoe | lift ticket deals Skiing at Lake Tahoe can be expensive, but there's a way to hit the slopes for free. Find out how I used this secret deal to get a free lift ticket to ski at Squaw Valley. | #LakeTahoe | #California | #Nevada | #USA | Lake Tahoe skiing deals | Cheap lift tickets | Squaw Valley deals | Alpine Meadows | Sierra-at-Tahoe | lift ticket deals
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About

Kris's suitcase never rests. She's either traveling the United States for business or exploring somewhere exciting and new for vacation. She's a former Disney World Cast Member and loves writing about Disney parks almost as much as visiting them.

14 Comments

  • Marya March 22, 2018 at 10:24 am Reply

    wow, it’s really great to get it for free! and only boarding pass and photo id in return? i’ve never been to america before but heard a lot about this lake tahoe from the movies. it looks really fantastic, i suppose i’ll have to put it in my bucket list since i’ve never seen any snow before! *tropical girl problem lol 😛

  • Rosie March 22, 2018 at 5:38 pm Reply

    What a super scheme! How did you find out about this one? It is always worth looking out for stuff like this when you fly (free stopover tours etc) but free skiing definitely sounds like the best one I’ve heard of. I think I’ll need a few lessons before I even attempt the Gold Coast runs (I’ve never skiied). Maybe I’ll just have to stick to one of those yummy crepes!

  • Lena March 22, 2018 at 7:12 pm Reply

    That marshmallow and chocolate chip crepe looks so delicious! I thought it was a kebab or something at first. 😀

  • Lyne March 22, 2018 at 8:58 pm Reply

    It is such a great tip, save a lot of money! I had no idea such thing was possible and so simply. Lake Tahoe looks like a stunning place, it makes me want to go skiing now ahah.

  • Megan March 22, 2018 at 9:55 pm Reply

    Oh my gosh, what a great tip! I’m not a skier, but my family enjoys it, so I’m all for getting a break on the cost. I’ll just sit at the bottom with one of those marshmallow and chocolate crepes! 😀

  • Candice March 23, 2018 at 12:55 am Reply

    I’m not a huge skier but I’ve wanted to visit Lake Tahoe! Your photos are gorgeous and I think I’ll need to check out your post about the hike, more my style 🙂 Such a great tip for fellow skiers!

  • Maggie March 23, 2018 at 6:08 am Reply

    Admittedly, I’m not a skier. But this is wonderful information for anyone who is! And who knows, maybe one day I’ll become one. And then I’ll be really happy that I know how to ski for free 😂

  • Tami March 23, 2018 at 10:11 am Reply

    That’s a great tip for free skiing — I’ve taken advantage of discounted passes before, but never found anything like this. And skiing for two hours is still so worth it; in fact, it would be great to leave the ski slopes not completely exhausted!

  • Lindsey mitchell March 23, 2018 at 4:31 pm Reply

    My husbands been talking about a ski trip! Thanks for the tip about the free lift tickets!

  • brigitte minks March 23, 2018 at 5:41 pm Reply

    I always immediately look at the food, damn that looked so good hahaha! But I love the content of this article and the tip about the free lift tickets is also a really good one!

  • Mikayla March 24, 2018 at 12:45 am Reply

    These travel hacks are great! Most people wouldn’t know the boarding pass trick so thank you for sharing this info! 🙂

  • Kelly March 24, 2018 at 1:00 am Reply

    This is so awesome! Does it work the other way around? Like can you get a free lift ticket for the day if you fly out that night?

  • Addie March 24, 2018 at 10:27 pm Reply

    I had NO idea you could do this! I want to book a flight over just to be able to do this. This is awesome! Sounds like an amazing slope

  • Erica March 24, 2018 at 10:33 pm Reply

    This is great information!! I would never have guessed mountains would offer something like that, considering the price of lift tickets these days! Thanks for sharing.

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