If you’ve chosen Kirkwood Mountain Resort for your ski vacation, you’re in for one of the most authentic, adrenaline-filled ski experiences in the state of California. With an average snowfall of around 600 inches every season and 86 trails to choose from—more than half of which are comprised of steep, powdery glades, chutes, and bowls—there’s no question that your turns are going to be stellar.
But how to make the most of a day or weekend? From our favorite runs to the best place to refuel, here are a few ways to start and finish your day at Kirkwood.
Recommended ski routes
Don’t be intimidated by the talk of steep walls and chutes. While half of Kirkwood’s terrain is indeed best-suited for expert skiers and riders, almost the entire lower portion of the resort is built for skiers and riders who love wide open groomers.
The Bunny Chairlift (#9) serves the expansive learning area of short green runs, including the Gold Rush Kids Adventure Zone, and is an ideal place to start the day and wake up your ski legs. From there, a paradise of blue cruisers can be found at the top of Timber Creek Express (#7). Try the aptly named Free N’ Easy, followed by Hole N’ Wall. And don’t let names like Trench of Terror or Ditch of Doom scare you – they are merely narrow valleys through the trees with relatively mild (but not steep) slope angles.
Make your way to the Mountain Village base area via Jane’s and Jambi’s Jaunts. From here, the Solitude chairlift (#5) serves a trifecta of long, broad blues: Lower Zachary, Monte Wolfe, and Mokelumne.
There are lots of cruising runs lining the east side of the resort as well. Snowkirk chairlift (#1) takes you to an oasis of easy green runs among wide pine tree glades. From here, Caple’s Crest chair (#2) will take you to the ridgeline where you can cross over to the sunny side of the mountain, which is ideal in the morning. The Sunrise chair (#4) takes you to the highest lift-served point of the resort for a long, swift trail called Happiness.
Arguably, the best combo of blue runs on the mountain for your afternoon finale is Juniper to Low Whiskey, which conveniently takes you down to 7800 Bar and Grill for a post-skiing pint.
If you love making tight turns and picking quick mogul lines, you’re in for a treat at Kirkwood. Plenty of trails here feature rhythmic fields of symmetrical bumps formed by skiers as well as natural “bumps” of tree stumps, gullies, and rocks. As far as that perfectly-sculpted moguls field, Lookout Janek is a long bump run that will challenge you to maintain your turning beat from top to bottom.
You might want to work up to this and the other super steep trails off of Cornice Express (#6) by first venturing to Kirkwood’s backside and trying the lower slope angle of The Wave and Devil’s Draw off of the Sunrise lift. If you’re not quite ready to navigate the extreme terrain off of The Wall chair, The Reut lift (#11) takes you to shorter steeps, including Wagon Trail to Shotgun, Conestoga, or Short Spoke, all of which give your quads a run for their money at the end of the day.
You have come to the right place, you devils. Anyone who feels they’re not really hitting it big until they’re launching off of rock bands, negotiating cliff chutes, and hiking to untracked powder stashes will be overwhelmed with the sensation that they’ve hit the jackpot at Kirkwood.
The short steeps off of The Reut chair are a solid warm-up before you move to the jumping-off-of-things portion of your day (aka the rest of the day). Cornice Express is an ideal launch point. The thinnest wedge of cornice is over Lost Cabin while the thickest is over Zachary and Olympic. Replace that pillow of cornice with sheer cliffs as you take a right off the top of Cornice Express and hit Chamoix, Jim’s, and Fireball. Take a hard right at the bottom of these runs to return to Chair 6 (Cornice Express) for the quickest trip back to the top.
Trek over to Sentinel Bowl and Palisades Bowl for fresh lines, and don’t miss The Wall, known as Kirkwood’s extreme area (and for good reason). If you’re not peering between your tips down the vertical wall of snow before plunging 10 to 20 feet to make your first turn, you’re throwing down jump turns every step of the way through the rocks at the summit of Wagon Wheel Bowl.
All of these trails spit you into a gulley of “nature’s terrain park, full of large boulders and natural halfpipes. Short but often snow-loaded, you’ll also want to ski the vertical chutes of Devil’s Corral.
Where to Eat
The General Store is located in Red Cliffs Day Lodge near Chairs 1 and 8 (the same building as the post office) and serves up made-to-order, mouth-watering egg sandwiches and breakfast burritos. Build your own Free Style Burrito with your choice of cheese, meat, and veggies, and pair it with a double espresso. You’ll be ready to hit the slopes in no time.
Grab a sandwich to go at the General Store so you’re all set for lunch, or try 7800 Bar and Grill when you’re ready for a midday break.
Situated near the base of High Whiskey with dizzying views of The Wall and ridgelines that surround the resort, 7800 Bar and Grill is a convenient lunch stop and a long-time locals favorite. The clam chowder is hearty, the chili fries are decadent, and the fish & chips are served steaming and classically on newspaper. Oh, and there’s a fantastic patio.
The après scene is hoppin’ here, too, with live music on the weekends and generous beer pours.
There are a few different dining options at Kirkwood, but the Kirkwood Inn and Saloon (built by Zachary Kirkwood himself in 1864) is housed in one of the area’s most historic buildings. Back then, it served as a drinking hole, post office, and crossroads stop for cow folk traveling through from the three surrounding counties. Even during Prohibition, the bar grew wheels and took to the road, where it strategically paused and poured in areas off of the law enforcement grid. Today, the Saloon serves what is considered by many the best burger in the Sierra as well as grilled salmon, sirloin, and a daily Chef’s special.
Now that you know where to find the best runs and the best food, all that’s left is to figure out where to stay. With vacation packages and a variety of townhouses, condos, and slopeside options, you will find everything you need to plan your trip on Kirkwood’s website.
Originally written by RootsRated for Rent Skis.
Featured image provided by © Vail Resorts