Lake Tahoe is home to some of the best skiing in the United States. As a 10+ year resident of the San Francisco Bay Area, I appreciate having such great skiing so close to home. Without traffic, the drive is about 3.5 hours from the city, but “without traffic” is mostly a myth these days, unless you leave super early in the morning or after dinner.
California has gotten pounded with storms this year, and I wanted to go catch the snow while it was fresh. We recently sold one of our cars and became a single car family. My wife needs the car to get to work and take our son to the nanny. As I didn’t have a car available, enter the Bay Area Ski Bus! Bay Area Ski Bus is, as the title implies, a bus service to pick you up and take you back from Tahoe in the same day. If you do it on the weekends, it will drive you up early on Saturday, include lodging, and bring you home on Sunday.
I was planning on using the Bay Area Ski Bus on a Wednesday trip to go to Squaw Valley. The only type of ticket you can purchase is round-trip (you can pick to have your lift ticket included or go bus only), but I was planning on not taking the ride home, instead taking a free shuttle from Squaw Valley to Incline Village to meet up with my brother the next day on the slopes.
The Bay Area Ski Bus runs a schedule that goes about two weeks out, and they keep their website very regularly updated. They change up the resort they go to daily, and some days are categorized as singles only, families only, 21+, etc. There’s an itinerary listed for each trip, and you’ll have to make plans to get to a bus pickup point. A bus will typically make a few pickup stops in the Bay Area before going non-stop to Tahoe. Note that the bus does leave EARLY. My original pick-up time was 4:00AM for the trip I chose, but it ended up getting changed to 5AM.
The best way to do the bus is to arrive sleepy. Hop on the bus and plan to sleep. Then wake up when you’re close to the mountains, and get ready for a fun day on the slopes!
The seats were comfortable enough, but there isn’t a huge amount of leg room. I’m 5’10”, and I was able to get comfy, but I felt bad for my 6’3″ friend. Almost every seat had 120V power plugs, and there was a tray table as well.
Luggage, skis, and snowboards go in the bus storage underneath. It’s inaccessible during the drive, but there are some overheard storage bins that can fit backpacks.
After getting on the bus at 5AM, I was ready to go back to sleep. I had a tough time falling asleep at first. I just closed my eyes and forced it, though, and before I knew it, I was out. My eyes opened up, and the next thing I saw was the following scene outside my bus window.
Sweet, sweet snow! Around the time that I woke up, the TVs on the bus turned on, and we were watching ski videos. Meal service began. The hosts come down the aisles offering a choice of juice or water, a bagel with cream cheese, and yogurt. It’s not exactly first class dining, but if I were driving myself to Tahoe, not only would I not be able to sleep in the car, I’d also have to stop someplace to use the restroom and eat. Speaking of restrooms, I forgot to mention that there’s one in the back of the bus.
It was smooth sailing up to this point, but then literally right after I began to wonder whether or not the road to Squaw Valley would be open, the tour operators came on the intercom and announced that it was closed. They let us know that the Bay Area Ski Bus is always committed to doing their best to find some skiing, though, so we would redirect to Sugar Bowl, which was closer and easier to reach. They apologized to anyone who paid for only the bus ride and was planning on using a season pass at Squaw Valley. They also let us know that they would take care of the lift tickets for those who bought the full package (myself included) and issue a refund for the difference in lift ticket prices. I thought that was a very professional way to handle the change. This did pose a logistical problem for me, though. I was supposed to take the free shuttle from Squaw Valley to Incline Village that night. If I couldn’t get to Squaw and the storm was so bad that no Uber drivers were operating, I wouldn’t be able to get into Tahoe. I’d have to go back home to San Francisco on the bus. To make matters more interesting, my brother was already booked on the Bay Area Ski Bus the next day, which was scheduled to go to Kirkwood. After going through all my options, the only reasonable plan was to go back to San Francisco and take the same bus with him the next day back up. I called up the Bay Area Ski Bus and made a booking for the next day.
Unrelated to the Bay Area Ski Bus operation, our conditions on the mountain that day were pretty miserable. It was a windy blizzard with zero visibility. Only one small lift was open, and it didn’t take us too many runs before we decided to just bag it and go the bar at the base area and put back as many beers as we could before our ride home.
When we were done with our day, the bus had snacks and beers for everyone in the parking lot. That was great. And once on the bus, they put on two movies (Sully and Suicide Squad) for us to watch on the ride home. The only thing that irked me about the ride home was that the bus doesn’t stop for dinner anywhere. If you’re going to take the bus round trip, I’d recommend packing a few granola bars and a couple water bottles for your ride home.
Normally this would be the end of the trip report, but I was booked to do this thing again the next day! I got home at 9PM, picked up my brother at the airport, and then we crashed before getting on the bus again the next day at 4AM. This time the bus was scheduled to go to Kirkwood. Just like the day before, I passed out on the bus, and I awoke when we were in snow country. Haha and just like yesterday, it was dumping snow, and the road to Kirkwood was closed. AWESOME. Just like the previous day, we re-routed. We were able to go to Sierra at Tahoe instead, and it turned out to be more than fine. This time my brother and I were for sure not going to take the bus home. The snow was supposed to let up, and then we would take the free shuttle from Sierra to South Lake Tahoe to stay there. Breakfast service was the same as the day before, and we pulled up to Sierra ready to go.
Unlike the previous day, this day turned out to be amazing on the mountain. The snow stopped falling by 10AM, and there were feet upon feet of fresh snow on the mountain. Even though we opted not to take the ski bus home, we stopped by the bus to get our bags and enjoy a bit of aprés ski refreshments before taking our shuttle to South Lake Tahoe. They were grilling up hot dogs, icing beers, and had a variety of other snacks for us. It was a nice little party.
I mean call me a beer snob, but Budweiser? Bud Heavy? Who drinks that? Sigh… Fiiiiine. Give me one.
All in all, I really recommend the Bay Area Ski Bus for those in the Bay Area who want to get a day in at Tahoe. It’s nice to not have to drive your own car and be able to catch up on sleep. The company is really well run, and if there are any changes in schedule, they do a great job of informing their guests. Let me know if you have any questions, and I’ll do my best to answer them!