By Roger Cox, Editor
With a large and almost entirely new base village, an on-mountain Ritz-Carlton, a Hyatt Residence Club, and new owners in Vail Resorts, Northstar has undergone the most sweeping changes of any resort in Northern California. I scarcely recognized it. Brand-new three-to-six-story wood, shingle, and stone structures line three broad pedestrian-only streets, with lodging above and shops and restaurants on the main level. The centerpiece is a 9,000-square-foot skating rink (ice in winter, roller rink in summer) that attracted mostly kids on mini scooters or roller skates when I was there but doubles as a performance space for concerts during select times in summer. Mountain bikers, most fully outfitted in helmets, knee and elbow guards, came and went, taking advantage of the option to ride the lift to the mountain park higher on the mountain. There was also a bungee trampoline. A gondola takes mountain bikers, hikers, and sightseers up onto the mountain, while a separate gondola connects the village with the Ritz-Carlton. The village is quieter in summer than winter, with fewer of the restaurants open—on my visit the choices were a popular Mikuna—a sushi and Japanese restaurant—a pizza parlor, and a Chocolate Bar that also served sandwiches and salads, a Starbucks, and a deli/mini market. On the other hand, you won't have much competition for seats in the new first-run movie theater.
Pro Shop: 530-562-0321
Unchanged are the enthusiastically-run tennis camps, clinics, and social round robins under longtime director Zeke Straw. His programs and events are open to anyone, regardless of where they stay. The calendar of weekly tennis activities reflects the social and very friendly atmosphere. Besides midweek and weekend clinics for adults and juniors, there is some kind of themed tennis event almost daily, whether it's a pro exhibition with ice cream, a men's or ladies' day, a Brickyard classic with car races, or the popular margarita mixer, when the club supplies the tequila-laced drinks and appetizers. The resort also hosts the largest tournament on the lake, the Northstar Open, which takes place the weekend after Labor Day and typically gets 400-plus entries in its 12 divisions.
Tennis Staff. Tennis director Zeke Straw grew up in New Hampshire, played his junior tennis there, and spent his summers at a junior tennis camp, where he later became instructor and director. He originally came to Northstar to teach skiing, taking over as tennis director in 1990. After years of running the operation himself, he's taken on a business partner, Guillaume Tonelli, who played his junior tennis in France and has a degree in business. As needed he has other pros available locally.
Tennis Programs. Apart from private lessons and a few clinics, the major tennis draw at Northstar is its adult and junior tennis camps. Adults have a choice of two-day weekend packages or five-day midweek packages, each with 3 hours of group instruction each morning. Student:pro ratios may go as high as 6:1, but the instruction is solid and the altitude—6,000 feet above sea level—makes even half a day of drills more demanding than it would be at sea level. Straw is passionate and engaged, and deeply committed to helping people improve. To help campers evaluate where they are in their games and what they need to move to the next level, he has them fill out goal sheets that touch on every stroke, as well as match play, coachability, and mental toughness, and then a second sheet devoted to competition, with a self assessment of theirs and their opponents performance.
Afternoons are then left free for more tennis (court time is free for those on packages) or for other recreation in the area. There are also several different programs for various age groups of children, including camps (which typically last 1½-2 hours each day), drill sessions, peewee clinics, and a 4-hour-a-day advanced camp for intermediate/advanced players. "I hire young, energetic and charismatic pros," says Straw. "that's crucial for kids." To further encourage tennis-playing families, Northstar adds twice weekly social round robins, several parent-child events each summer, and occasional junior mixers. For a complete list and prices, check out the Northstar Tennis website.
In the past, I've also raved about the rec center located just below the courts. But access to its pools, whirlpools, fitness equipment, and game rooms is now restricted to those who rent through the Northstar Resort™ (see Lodging below). The same is true of the courts unless you've booked lessons, clinics, camps, or events through Straw.
Courts & Fees. Northstar has 10 hard courts on several terraces in the forest above the swim club and resurfaced with Novacushion in 2011. The area smells of pine and you can hear the sound of a creek which runs along one side when it is not being drowned out by the excited cries of kids playing in and around the pool. The courts are anchored by a tennis pavilion with a pro shop (which carries a limited supply of shoes, clothing, and gear), a large shaded deck, gas grills, and some umbrella tables.
Altitude Caveat: The Northstar courts stands at just over 6,000 feet above sea level, which means you need to pay extra attention of hydration and the use of sunscreen. Expect to tire more quickly as well.
Golf Courses. Robert Muir Graves designed Northstar's 18-hole golf course. Its Meadow nine has an open, links-style layout that and lulls golfers into complacency only to devastate them on the Mountain nine with tight, tree-lined fairways and small greens. Par: 72.
Fitness Center. Options vary depending on which property management group you book through. If you book through Northstar Resort™, you'll have access to the Swim & Racquet Club, a large complex of swimming pools, whirlpools, games room, and a workout room outfitted with cardio workout equipment, free weights, and strength-training stations. Massages can be arranged. On the other hand, if you book through Tahoe Mountain Resort Rentals, you'll have access to one of two smaller fitness centers in the village as well as to a small swimming pool.
And ... Northstar also has a full mountain bike park, with some 100 miles of trail for every level of cyclist. Rentals are available in the village. The centerpiece of the village has become its ice skating rink, whose artificial ice accommodates rollerskates and Razors as easily as ice skates. There are bungee trampolines on a viewing area above and to one side. Otherwise, there is lift-access hiking, fly fishing on 10-acre Sawmill Lake, and horseback rides.
Many of the same staff who take excellent care of children in winter remain through the summer to run Northstar's licensed Kids' Adventure camp. Available Thursday-Monday, from early June through Labor Day, this program takes children ages 4-12 for full-day sessions of organized adventure, arts and crafts, field trips, and lunch.
Lodging at Northstar, which with the exception of the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, is individually owned and varies in quality and size. The two major rental agencies are Tahoe Mountain Resort Lodging, which handles much of the new kitchen-equipped condominium lodging in the village as well as a Northstar Lodge™—Hyatt Residence Club, and Northstar Resort™, which has units in the village and numerous condos and homes in various locations on the mountain. Between them they offer a broad range of options, from rooms and lofts to five-bedroom homes. Meanwhile, the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe provides a luxury hotel alternative, though it is removed from the village. Fortunately, the Northstar California does an excellent job of presenting the various options.
Because summers are quieter than winters, not all the restaurants remain open. In the village, the choices range from pizza and pub grub to sushi. Breakfast and lunch are also served at Martis Valley Grille & Bar in the golf clubhouse.
If Northstar's family-friendly atmosphere, setting, and multiple dimensions appeal to you, also check out:
- Callaway Gardens, Georgia
- Grand View Lodge, Minnesota
- Sunriver, Oregon
- Waterville Valley Resort, New Hampshire
Rates and Reservations
Lodging ranges from studios 1-to-3-bedroom condos or 3-to-5-bedroom homes in clusters in various parts of the resort. For details about the tennis program, visit North Star Tennis.
P.O. Box 129
Truckee, CA 96160
Web Link: Northstar California
Seasons. The tennis season runs from early June into September.
Travel Instructions. By Air: The closest commercial airport is Reno, 40 miles to the east. By Car: Northstar is 40 miles from Reno and 196 miles from San Francisco. Take I-80 to the Truckee exit and then follow Hwy. 267 south 6 miles. The resort entrance is on the right.
General Tourist Information. Visit the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association website or contact them at P.O. Box 1757, Tahoe City, CA 96145 or phone them toll-free at 888-434-1262.