Northstar California: Where I Learned to Ski with Papou

Alex Mangels |
Northstar Ski
Northstar-at-Tahoe was my proving ground as a young skier. Credit:

I began learning how to ski at the ripe young age of four. Every generation in my family skis, and it was so fun growing up and getting out on the mountain with them all. Some of my fondest memories are of the trips I used to take with my grandfather, or Papou, as he was known in Greek.

Papou brought the love of skiing to our family. He was getting on the mountain any chance he could and was a part of a heli-skiing club that called themselves the Powder Pigs. His technique was unmatched; his skis perfectly together turn for turn. I learned at ski school at first, but I spent most of my time learning how to turn in “Papou School.” If there was a storm on the way, he would have my mom call me out of school so we could drive to Northstar and spend the day skiing together. We made it a tradition to stay at the Rainbow Lodge off Highway 80, where we would fish for dinner.

Papou ski
Papou brought skiing into our family and loved every chance he could get out on the mountain.

The Northstar that we skied back then was nowhere near the grandiose resort that it is today. Before Vail Resorts purchased the ski area and well before the Ritz Carlton was built at mid-mountain. The village was just a basic mountain base with a cafeteria, lockers, and rentals. But none of that mattered to us; we were there for the mountain. We kept coming back to the mountain because of runs like Burnout, Tonini’s, and Sodergren’s and even had some fun in the terrain parks. The old Northstar felt like home, and we knew that mountain better than most.

Papou skied well into his 80s before passing away in 2013. Though he slowed down a bit, he still made it out for a run or two to get his fix. I hope that I’ll still be getting my share of lines in as I age. Either way, I’ll always think of Papou and the memories we made skiing together.

What are some of your fondest skiing memories? Is there someone in particular that you owe your love of skiing to? Share your stories in the comments and let us know.

Northstar Trail Map
A trail map of Northstar. Credit:

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3 thoughts on “Northstar California: Where I Learned to Ski with Papou

  1. I love stories like this! My dad put me on skis at 3 at Dodge Ridge, Ca, but I “grew up” skiing The Ranch (Sierra at Tahoe). When we started there in 1958, there were two rope tows and a 1/2 mile long Poma life. My parents belonged to the Montclair Ski Club in the Bay Area and there were about 12 families who rented a cabin close to the summit of Hwy 50. At any one time, there were a dozen kids skiing every weekend.
    We put our son on skis at 3 and now their 3 daughters ski, too. It’s a family affair!

  2. Really great article. I really like Northstar, and, that’s in the face of my ski snob friends who call it “Flat Star”. The truth is, that the expansion of North Star with Lookout Mountain has given it some steeps, but… Northstar has some of the finest, maybe *the* finest, *tree* skiing in the nation. I have had the finest times in the trees that I have had *anywhere*. And these are long, top-to-bottom trees.

    Another fun thing you can do at Northstar, something that those self-anointed ski experts don’t know, it that you can ski across the mountain in the trees. You cross various trails, then head back into the trees. You’ll end up somewhere, and down to a lift. The great thing about this is that you won’t see anyone in the trees. You’re alone. Everyone else is off skiing Squaw.

    Yeah, there is a lot of family skiing at Northstar, but, the real skiers know about the terrain. It’s all about the terrain. Northstar has the terrain.

  3. Great piece. May we all be Papou!!

    Northstar! Cool 1970s condos and architecture, the smell of ski wax that still rings today, a $1.00 Northstar logo patch I got my sister to sew onto my blue puffy down jacket, and crying like a baby during my first lessons, think it was 1978!

    Plus people kept it real: skiing in garbage bags and jeans during the rain. Holes cut for head, arms, worked so well I still sometimes carry one LOL!

    Yacht rock classics on the car radio all the time…

    Ritz Carlton wuuuuut???

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