While the road-snack offerings on the way to Tahoe are some of the best around (Ikeda's and In-n-Out, I'm looking at you), sometimes the whole traffic, ice, and chains situation tips the scales into the "not worth it" zone. Such was the case over New Years, which is why I opted to venture up there by train.
West-coasters aren't conditioned to think of the rails when planning their expeditions, but I'll champion train travel as one of the best modes around, especially when it's THE POLAR EXPRESS. The Zephryr train leaves from Emeryville Amtrak station and drops you off in Truckee, winding through some pristine snow-swept Sierra terrain. It'll set you back $68-85 and takes around five and a half hours (can take a bit longer if there's a ton of snow), but here's what's awesome: you can just sit there and read or have a drink while you stare smugly across the valley at all those cars lined up over the pass.
Having someone already there to pick you up is the easiest route (I waited for my ride while sipping a Bloody Mary at the Bar of America across the street from the Truckee station), but you can also call a cab or brave the TART (Tahoe Area Rapid Transit), which comes about every hour and will drop you at Northstar and at other spots around the lake. Check the TART schedule here.
Of course, driving up there on a weather and traffic-free day is more cost and time effective, but for those instances that threaten a seven-hour car ride (a guy I sat next to on the chairlift suffered such a fate), the train's the way to go. Book Friday train rides a few weeks in advance though, people with the same idea snatch seats up for the weekend quickly. Book tickets at amtrak.com.