Hometown Mountain Shoutout: Kirkwood, CA – The K-Factor

Anton Lengyel |


Early morning at Kirkwood, looking up at Chair 6 (Credit: Author)

I knew Kirkwood was special since my first run. The “K-Factor” was running on full steam that day, with an overnight storm blessing the valley with an unexpected 7 inches overnight. The lift lines were full of stoke and excitement, with the thunder of avalanche control adding to the mix of an already epic April pow day. After waiting what seemed forever, I was lucky enough to score some first tracks down the Wall. I was entranced.

Often overlooked due to its larger and more commercialized neighbors in Lake Tahoe, Kirkwood is just a few miles south of the lake and offers a unique local feel and world-class terrain. With a base elevation of 7,800 feet, one of the highest in Tahoe, and its southern position, it generally sees lighter, drier snow than the typical Sierra Cement of Lake Tahoe. And while officially there may be 86 runs, Kirkwood’s versatility of terrain gives infinite opportunities for a line down the mountain. Whether it’s a hair-raising line down one of the chutes off the Sisters, a tight run through Kirkwood’s own Fingers, or even a long groomer, there’s always a playground of jumps and drops on every line for all levels to enjoy. 

Once is Enough at Kirkwood. The Skull and Crossbones sign at Kirkwood.
Left: The Skull and Crossbones sign that marks all expert terrain at Kirkwood
Right: The view from the top of Once is Enough, a classic line off of The Sisters
(Credit: Author)

The mountain is serviced by 13 lifts that give access to 2,300 acres of terrain. The most iconic out of these chairs is my personal favorite, Chair 10, a fixed-grip triple that provides access to many of Kirkwood’s iconic runs, including the Wall. Chair 6, one of the two express lifts on the mountain, services part of Wagon Wheel Bowl and Sentinel Bowl, two high-alpine bowls with endless cornices and chutes. The variety of terrain that these lifts service can occupy your entire day, but if you have some extra time, Kirkwood’s Backside, serviced by Chair 4, also has some of the best high-alpine terrain in Lake Tahoe.

The Cirque, Kirkwood
The Cirque, a permanently closed face, and Devil’s Corral, my personal favorite area directly under the Cirque. (Credit: Author)

Although Kirkwood may seem suited for the more advanced group of skiers, its beginner area does not disappoint. The Timber Creek area, served by Chair 7 and 9, offers a range of beginner terrain suited for newer skiers to quickly progress to the advanced terrain Kirkwood offers. Mellow green and blue groomers, progression terrain parks, and small gullies coupled with a generally uncrowded express lift make it a great progression zone for beginners. Don’t take it from me though—my 8-year-old sister’s favorite runs are The Trench of Terror and Ditch of Doom, two small gullies with tons of small jumps, and she was able to progress to skiing her first double black diamonds this year. 

Ski School Chute
My sister graduating to now-filled-in Ski School Chute (Credit: Author)

Kirkwood has a magical ability to pull you into its wildness. There’s a special kind of peace with nature that Kirkwood creates that pulls you in and doesn’t let go, an excitement and appreciation that never dies. In no other resort have I really been able to escape civilization and enjoy the beauty of the mountains like I have at Kirkwood. Surrounded by towers of volcanic rock, it’s just you, the mountain, and the spirits of all those who ride Kirkwood—and that’s why it’s unique.

Kirkwood Trail Map
Kirkwood Trail Map (Credit: Kirkwood)

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