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North Lake Tahoe Gets Ritzy

Tahoe goes five star with the opening of the new Ritz-Carlton at Northstar.


Images Courtesy of the Ritz-Carlton Highlands

Normally, I meet my friends at 8:30 a.m. when the lifts open so we can catch first tracks. But today, I don’t care that the whole gang is up without me, the snow is awesome, and the sun is shining. Or that I couldn’t be closer to the lifts because I’m staying on the mountain at Northstar in the new Ritz-Carlton.

“Get your booty out of the spa, and join us on the hill,” my friend Maureen texts.

“But, the spa is reeeaaaally nice,” I shoot back.

As much as I love to ski, this morning I’m all for luxurious relaxation. I soak in the huge hot tub, with jets like a fire hydrant blasting the knots out of my always-tight muscles. Next is the supersteamy steam room, with its strong eucalyptus scent. (I hope this will end my sniffles, which have lingered since October. And it does.) Finally, I’m in the “experience” shower, with an overhead deluge spout and jets in every direction. If I’m lucky, I’ll catch my friends in time for lunch.Soak at the spa

The Ritz opened in mid-December, and since my family skis at Northstar, I’m delighted to be one of the first journalists to check out the new hotel. We all know Tahoe has great skiing, but until now, it didn’t have a five-star luxury hotel.

I arrive wondering whether The Ritz will fit into Tahoe’s charming but relaxed vibe. In Tahoe, you rarely see people strutting around in fur coats and boots merely for the sake of fashion. And, while I usually enjoy friendly and efficient service at Tahoe resorts, I’ve never visited one that could live up to Ritz-Carlton’s famous credo: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.”
Yes, this Ritz is grand, with granite floors and dramatic architecture that includes a soaring five-story fireplace, and huge windows to show off the views of Martis Valley on one side and Northstar’s slopes on the other.

Dive in or ski—it’s a tough choiceBut, this 170-room resort hotel is also cozy and inviting. The developers didn’t clear-cut the mountain. They built the hotel among the pines so it seems as if it has been here forever. Lobby couches and chairs are set in groups, living room style, and there isn’t a tie or jacket, or even a fur coat, in sight. I feel right at home.

Plus, everyone is invited to The Ritz. Whether you are staying overnight or you ride the new gondola up from the Village at Northstar, or you ski down from Northstar’s busy slopes, the hotel is a destination for more than guests with suitcases.

You can grab a light and healthy meal at the hotel’s counter service eatery Mountain Blue Market. (This is definitely not the pepperoni pizzas and enchiladas at Northstar’s midmountain lodge.) Or you can head to Manzanita, the sophisticated formal dining room that is bathed in a golden, romantic light at night.

Manzanita’s menu was created by Traci Des Jardins, a James Beard Award–winning chef, who has wowed critics with her popular Jardinière restaurant in San Francisco. Every bite was delicious, fresh, and perfectly balanced, such as the steelhead salmon set among celery root puree, sweet Chioggia beets, and delicate mustard greens.

As for the cocktails, they could start a fight—and did. The margarita from Manzanita’s bar is worth the drive up from Danville. My husband and I fought over his TidaZitaRita, a margarita muddled with fresh orange and lime. After I kept stealing it, he finally let me hThe hotel at nightave it, and he ordered another.

As for the service, it’s not stuffy. It’s Tahoe friendly but with five-star attention to detail and pampering. Perhaps it strikes the right note because general manager Allen Highfield—a Danville native and Monte Vista alum—learned to ski at Northstar. In 2005, Highfield had just opened the Battery Park Ritz-Carlton in New York City, when he heard the company was opening a hotel in Tahoe. He went home that evening and told his wife they’d be moving to Tahoe. Now, he feels as if he has come home, and he wants you to feel that way, too. (Ask for Highfield and say hi, because, just like the crew he has hired, he couldn’t be nicer.)

And, definitRed wine–braised short ribs at Manzanitaely stay as long as you can. It’s worth the splurge to check in because what makes The Ritz the place to stay is its location on the mountain. Not only are there great views, but you are skiing right out onto a run, which leads down to the three main lifts that take you to the top of Northstar.

All you have to do is call the ski valet, who will set up your skis, tips pointing down mountain, with poles planted on either side. The valet will even help you put on and buckle those always-tough-to-get-on ski boots. (You might not want your kids to get too used to this.)

As for making first tracks, you’ll have a head start—if you can drag yourself away from the spa.

The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, (800) 241-333, ritzcarlton.com/laketahoe.


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