Photo: Shelly Strazis

At the Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe the action doesn’t stop when the chairlifts do.

The Horizon is located at the end of South Lake Tahoe’s casino row, the strip of high-rise hotels, neon lights, and barely believable bling that juts suddenly skyward at the Nevada border. In a B-list casino town, the Horizon is a C-lister, the type of place you end up when you’re too drunk to notice or, like me, looking for a raunchy good time. I settle into my seat in the back of the showroom, order a blended scotch, and prepare for the start of Carnival Cabaret.

Tahoe Todd — more on him later — had suggested the show to me when we last spoke, and now I see why. The stage is a spectacle of sequins and disco mirrors, the music is pumping, and a rainbow of high-heeled dancers struts and kicks across the stage. One leggy performer walks past my table in a revealing bustier, feather headdress, and thigh-high stiletto boots. She’s a big girl, with glitter on her buttocks and Lindsey Vonn-size thighs that seem to indicate some expertise on the slopes. Perhaps she’s my first interview.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

“Ralph,” she responds, Adam’s apple bobbing, and smiles a “Welcome to South Lake Tahoe” smile.
It’s just another night in a ski town like no other. Outside, it’s powder-covered steeps, a bottomless lake of pure blue, and a shining moon in a cloudless sky. Inside, it’s pulsing techno, incessantly dinging slot machines, and the slurred cursings of bleary-eyed high-rollers. It is part Vegas, part Vail.

“I love the seedy side of South Lake Tahoe. It’s so unpretentious,” says Todd Offenbacher, aka “Tahoe Todd,” an energetic local TV personality and man-about-town. “The casinos attract a different element. You can see people here who don’t give a rat’s ass about skiing. That’s pretty unique for a ski town.”

The next morning dawns bright and blue, with six new inches of snow. I take the elevator down from the umpteenth floor of the MontBleu Resort casino and spa, laboring under my skis and Carnival Cabaret hangover. At lobby level, I must navigate through the maze of slot machines to the doors, weaving between gamblers clutching cigarettes and morning cocktails. Despite the unsettling morning juxtaposition, the hotel’s location is unbeatable: Gondola Square is just a 10-minute walk away, over the state line in California.

With 30 lifts, 94 runs and 4,800 acres of terrain spread out over two states, Heavenly is the South Shore’s megaresort. California Side, as locals call it, has the main base area and draws the crowds. Nevada Side is where the best terrain and steepest lines are found. For my money, Nevada side is the reason to ski Heavenly.