Seven New Lifts Approved for Expanded Northstar California Resort

Northstar California has expanded rapidly over the past two decades with nine new lifts since 2000, including the Highlands Gondola serving a new Ritz-Carlton hotel.  More lifts are coming with this week’s approval of the Northstar master plan by Placer County.

Vail Resorts got welcome news yesterday that went largely unnoticed with the big Stowe buy. The Placer County Board of Supervisors finally and unanimously approved a new master plan for the 3,200-acre Northstar Resort on the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe.  Booth Creek Ski Holdings started working on this plan way back in 1990 before eventually selling the mountain to Vail in October of 2010.  Today’s approval includes seven new lifts: a gondola, two detachable chairlifts, one surface tow and three additional fixed-grip chairs.  Two of those lifts would have mid-stations and three will serve an exciting 550-acre expansion called Sawtooth Ridge.

Master plan map showing 14 existing lifts and seven new ones.

“The plan is designed to help lengthen current guest stays and solidify Northstar as a premiere destination resort,” Vail Resorts said in a statement.  “It provides guests with a wider, more diverse array of terrain offerings and recreational activities, facilitating an improved and extended vacation experience for the destination and day-use guest.”  Northstar’s current fleet stands at 14 lifts, nine of which are detachable.  The proposed additions are:

  • Castle Peak Gondola: A six-passenger gondola to Northstar Village that wouldn’t serve any ski trails but would reduce traffic on Northstar Drive by diverting more vehicles to the offsite Castle Peak parking lots.  The gondola alignment would require two stages and an angle station to the east of Northstar Village.  It would serve a similar function to the Vail-owned BreckConnect Gondola.  Upon completion of Castle Peak, Northstar will operate a whopping four gondolas.
  • Lift C: A fixed-grip or detachable chairlift east of the existing Vista Express serving three new intermediate trails above Sawmill Lake.
  • Lift J (Lookout Mountain Access): A long new detachable quad or six-place chairlift starting near the bottom station of the Highlands pulse gondola and ending near the Lookout Vista surface lift providing increased out-of-base capacity.  A mid-load station would serve new trails to the north of the Tahoe Zephyr Express pod.
  • Lift V: A bottom drive fixed-grip lift starting near the Backside Express/Promised Land Express rising into the new Sawtooth Ridge expansion area.
  • Lift W: A second fixed-grip chairlift serving Sawtooth Ridge.  No trails would be cut in this pod; it would be dedicated to serving natural tree skiing.
  • Lift Z: Surface tow similar to Lookout Vista providing access to “backcountry-style” terrain beyond lifts V and W.
  • Lift Q: A second lift on Lookout Mountain to the west of the Martis Camp Express.  This one would be fixed-grip and top drive.

Build out of the ambitious plan is expected to take two decades and Doppelmayr stands to gain, having built every lift at Northstar since 1985.  I’m guessing we might see the Lookout Mountain access lift and Sawtooth Ridge lifts first.

14 thoughts on “Seven New Lifts Approved for Expanded Northstar California Resort

  1. Cameron Halmrast February 23, 2017 / 12:01 am

    It will be interesting to see if Vail tries and buys Northstar’s assets EPR Properties after the recent sale from CNL.


  2. julestheshiba February 23, 2017 / 12:04 pm

    Vail needs to buy Squaw because KSL has plans to make traffic worse. Squaw and Alpine are due for an expansion.


    • Peter Landsman February 23, 2017 / 2:32 pm

      They are seeking approval to build a base-to-base gondola, not sure how that would make traffic worse.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michael February 23, 2017 / 7:31 pm

        They also have plans for a waterpark and hotel, which is not good for the area. Squaw is supported by the San Francisco, Sacramento and Reno weekend skiers, and adding more bed-space will drastically increase traffic.


      • Mike February 23, 2017 / 11:26 pm

        The growth is going to happen anyway if the market is there, so why not concentrate it in a more dense base village where the guests are far LESS likely to add to the traffic in the area but for the way in and the way home? And what % increase in beds within 30 minutes does this represent? Increase traffic “dramatically”? Not so much.


      • bryansouthBryan April 10, 2017 / 4:43 pm

        I think they were referring to traffic on the highway 89. I’ve actually seen morning traffic to Squaw backed up onto the freeway, which is just nuts.


    • Cameron Halmrast March 7, 2017 / 2:08 pm

      After skiing at both Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar this past week, I think Vail would ruin Squaw from a customer service stand point. Northstar and Heavenly were both jokes in regards to operations. Multiple lifts were closed due to so called ‘high winds’ when it was blowing about 20 mph. Northstar only had one ticket center open out of its three with twenty minutes lines. The line to get on Canyon was 45 – 60 minutes long. While at Squaw, KT-22 was operating in hurricane force winds while upper mountain was closed. So yea, not a fan of how Vail is currently running things to maximize profits to the fullest.


  3. bryansouth April 10, 2017 / 4:51 pm

    The gondola needs to come first. The bus situation can be an absolute nightmare on crowded days. They have continually taken away parking spaces from the Village lot, and even buses at that lot are horrible.

    On very crowded days, traffic can be really heavy and then the buses get stuck in traffic as well. Then leaving, there really is no space for lines for the buses to form, and lines end up blocking traffic into some of the other employee/service etc. parking lots.

    The gondola should help out a lot, but a concern about that is how far some people might need to walk to reach the gondola. I’m not sure where the gondola station would be exactly, but it might require some people to walk up or down a fairly significant hill.


    • bryansouth April 10, 2017 / 5:00 pm

      Last time I parked in the village lot, the bus actually got stuck because it couldn’t fit between the parked cars, and the incoming flow of traffic.

      Also when people get on or off the bus at the village lot it pulls right up to parked vehicles, and quite a lot of people end up hitting parked cars with their equipment getting off the bus.


  4. Myles Svec September 24, 2021 / 1:01 pm

    Could Vail relocate the Creekside Gondola when it gets removed next year and use it for the Castle Peak Gondola? Or is the Creekside gondola too old/ mechanically unfit for it?


  5. Danny January 23, 2022 / 5:39 pm

    But no plans to fix the road access to Northstar. Disgusting.


    • David Engel April 11, 2022 / 4:32 pm

      It appears that their idea is to have live music in the village to keep people around after skiing and reduce the impact on the road at 4:30 pm. It would be helpful if the stores in the village remained open for several hours after the lifts closed. Visitors could shop, skate, listen to the music, get their skis tuned… instead of being in a big rush to wait in the bumper to bumper traffic.


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