The great thing about having Lake Tahoe in San Francisco’s backyard is that the winter mountain resorts are a little more than a three-hour drive from the city.
The bad thing is that it’s a three-hour drive to the lifts.
Day trips are easily doable to Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Northstar, Heavenly or any of the other half-dozen or so resorts that lie within Tahoe’s rather loose boundaries. But, day trips can also be drag, particularly if there are chain controls on the highways or it’s a busy weekend.
Weekend trips can be pricey considering how much resort hotels and motels charge per night during the prime winter snow months.
The best option for the avid skier or snowboarder is to rent a condo or a cabin in Tahoe for the season, either singly, as a family, or in a communal arrangement with like-minded folks. There are probably as many price ranges and lease arrangements as there are units in the area, and a wise shopper should look around and do some deep research – VRBO is one good resource, Craigslist to a lesser extent – before making a decision.
Although location and price are two important considerations in making a choice – and the more prime the site generally the higher the rental fees -- perhaps the most important factor is timing.
And time is growing short.
“Because we’re coming off a very, very big (snow) season, this year people started getting their ski leases for next winter very early,” said Cynthia Braga of Tahoe Getaways, a Tahoe resort property management company headquartered in Tahoe City. “Typically, people start getting their ski leases arranged by Labor Day; this year, lots of folks were renewing as they left (last spring). People were jumping the gun in June and July.”
“It’s amazing to me how early some people were booking (their winter rentals),” said Marni Coil of Buckingham Properties in South Lake Tahoe. “To be looking in July for January is unusual.”
Though supply is growing short – for instance, Braga said her company’s properties in Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows were sold out by late August – there are some hidden gems out in the woods.
“You just have to widen your search,” she said. “You may have to sacrifice the hot tub. You may have to leave your pet at home. You might not get a lake view. You might not get a ski-area home. But there still are good properties out there. If you’re diligent, you might luck out. You might find a gold mine.”
Braga said the best strategy for finding a suitable ski lease is “to start early and get organized. Figure what kind of amenities you want – hot tub, lake view, close ski area access – and how much you want to pay.”
But don’t strategize too long.
“If you wait until mid-December to get a seasonal lease that begins in January,” Coil said, “you’re kind of pushing it.”
“There’s a higher risk (of not finding the right place) involved the longer you wait,” Braga added.
And you could be singing that familiar San Francisco refrain: Wait ‘til next year.