Peak winter for non-skiers: Where to snowshoe, sled, skate—and pick up some backcountry skills

We get it—Tahoe is an epic destination for skiers and snowboarders to rip down long groomers and blast through powder-covered terrain while enjoying unparalleled views.  

But what about the majority of people who don’t ski and have no interest in flying down slopes at high speeds? Fear not, friends, for there are boundless opportunities to appreciate the beauty of our winters without joining the lift line. 

For starters, it’s hard to go wrong with sledding. Whether you’re looking for a fun date night or an outing with the kids, spots to sled are everywhere. A quick blast of snow across town turns every city park with a small hill into a sledding mecca. 

My personal favorite sledding hill is Shadow Mountain Sports Complex, at 3300 Sparks Blvd., in Sparks, just down the road from my house. With rocky trails leading up every side of this oversized mound, sledding runs form organically, as my neighbors and I shriek and laugh our way down on coated-foam toboggans and thin plastic saucers. 

No snow in the valley? No problem—Tahoe Meadows, just over the crest of Mount Rose Highway heading down toward Incline Village, is another popular spot for sledding, with a wide expanse just begging to be covered by the flattened tracks of plastic-protected bums. 

While many of the ski resorts, including Heavenly and Palisades, sell snow-tube tickets, there’s plenty of excellent sledding to be had all around Lake Tahoe; just look for slopes with reasonable angles, and pay attention to the parking (and other) regulations. Just remember that if your sled breaks from having too much fun, take all the pieces with you to throw in the trash. 

For something a little more active, cross-country skiing is a great way to stay warm outside and can be tailored to your desired adrenaline rush. Rent a pair of skis, and zoom around groomed tracks at Tahoe City Cross-Country Ski Area (Tahoe XC), Sugar Pine Point State Park near Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe Community College in South Lake Tahoe, or Donner Memorial State Park in Truckee. For a slower approach with more solitude, check out the official U.S. Forest Service list of XC areas, and glide among the trees just about anywhere around the lake. 

Slow things down a bit further by strapping on a pair of snowshoes. Bobos in Reno rents them for just $25 a day, and with snow blanketing the forest and mountains, you can truly go anywhere. Check out your favorite summer trail in a new season, or wander through a nearby section of woods above the bushy undergrowth that confines you to paths in warmer weather. Just be sure not to get lost along the way! 

For a more curated experience, there are tons of opportunities for tours and guided outings in the area. The Tahoe Rim Trail Association (TRTA) and Sugar Pine Foundation have teamed up to offer a guided Tree Trivia Snowshoe Trek to Castle Rock on Tahoe’s eastern shore at 10 a.m., Monday, Feb. 5, and one around Spooner Lake on Sunday, March 10. Every Saturday, park officials at Sugar Pine Point lead a late-morning, two-mile trek through the towering coniferous forest that defines this stunning area.  

The morning of Tuesday, Feb. 13, the TRTA and Tahoe Institute for Natural Science are hosting the Winter Wildlife Survival Nordic Tour to Chickadee Ridge, just above Incline Village. 

If you’d like to learn more about enjoying and appreciating winter, the Tahoe Rim Trail Association is an excellent educational resource. Their winter events calendar is full of great (and sometimes free!) opportunities. You can learn about snow camping and snowshoeing from TRTA guides at the Patagonia store in Heavenly Village on Thursday, Feb. 15, or take an in-depth winter navigation workshop at the TRTA office in Stateline on Saturday, Feb. 24. 

Stay out longer by taking the TRTA’s overnight Snow Camping 101 course on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 17 and 18. You’ll learn the basics of staying warm in the winter, and smart, safe camping in the snow—and put those skills immediately to the test on an overnight out in the field with a snow survival expert and certified TRTA guide. 

If you’d prefer a more front-country winter camping experience, Sugar Pine State Park in Tahoma has several year-round campsites available with open bathrooms nearby, and Camp Richardson in South Lake Tahoe rents cabins in the woods for an easier, cozier outing. 

Did you know you don’t have to go to Alaska to try dog sledding? Sierra Adventures, operating out of Reno, designs and leads custom, kid-friendly dog-sledding adventures through the mountains.  

For something fun without needing so much snow gear, ice skating opportunities abound. Reno’s Grand Sierra Resort is open for evening skating sessions, with rental equipment available on-site. Glide across the frozen surface indoors at Reno Ice on the south end of town.  

Of course, Tahoe has a plethora of ice-skating opportunities in spots like Heavenly Village, North Star Village and Tahoe City Winter Sports Park. For a fresh experience, head east to the brand-new Fallon on Ice, a uniquely Nevadan seasonal rink with charming small-town appeal. 

Though the holiday season is well behind us, there are still plenty of things to look forward to through the rest of this winter. With a warm jacket and an adventurous spirit, these cold months can be filled with heartwarming experiences—creating fond memories.