The Ritz-Carlton Highlands takes Tahoe luxury to a new level
By Bonnie Wach
Everyone’s got a favorite season in Lake Tahoe. Summer, when the lake shimmers like an indigo sapphire. Fall, when the air is so crisp you can almost take a bite out of it.
But around this time, I start longing for Tahoe in the snow, and it has nothing to do with the air, the trees or the water. It’s because I have fallen for the boot concierge at the new Ritz-Carlton. Now, I’m as hardy as the next veteran Sierra skier. I have marched miles through resort parking lots laden with more gear than a Sherpa on Everest, endured bouts with chronic frozen buckle fingers and elbowed kids in line for storage lockers. But when the boot concierge at the Lake Tahoe Ritz kneeled at my feet and slipped me into a pre-warmed pair of ski boots, snapped them shut with the deftness of a Tupperware salesman and escorted me out to where my skis lay waiting in the fresh powder—my icy core melted as fast as snow in July.
Chocolates on your pillow are one thing. A guy whose sole job it is to put on and pull off ski boots takes you to a whole other level of mountain resort experience, which is likely why, despite rooms that go for upward of $400 a night, the Ritz-Carlton Highlands has been doing brisk business since it opened on the slopes above Northstar village last winter.
In the Sierra, where many lodges still specialize in the chili-in-a-bread-bowl brand of hospitality, the Ritz feels like the dawn of a new era. The $300 million property, which includes 170 guest rooms, 23 private residences and 25 fractional ownership units (where owners buy into the resort property), is Lake Tahoe’s first five-star resort, the first from-scratch luxury hotel to be built in the area in decades and the first in the Ritz-Carlton chain to incorporate eco-conscious LEED-designed features.
Here, the wild boar and white bean chili is served on an expansive stone sundeck with panoramic views of the mountains and a side of live acoustic guitar. If the breeze is too brisk, you can opt for a leather armchair in the comfort of the enormous tree trunk-shaped “living room,” anchored by a six-story four-sided granite fireplace and flanked by 25-foot-high windows that look out to the forest. Or if you have something a little more formal in mind, there’s Manzanita restaurant, where red wine-braised short ribs and house-made gnocchi with foraged mushrooms put a hearty mountain-resort spin on celeb-chef Traci Des Jardin’s French-California cuisine.
After a day of skiing, hiking, biking or golfing (guests get preferred tee-times at the Jack Nicklaus-designed course in nearby Truckee), you can soothe your tired torso in the spa, a 17,000-square-foot palace of pampering featuring three pools, hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms, a fitness center and 16 treatment rooms offering everything from massage and manicures to a hydrating therapy involving organic espresso and wild orchid extract.
The opulence continues upstairs in the guestrooms, where gas fireplaces, plush terry robes, deep soaking tubs, 400-thread count linens and flat-screen TVs are all standard issue. Splurge for accommodations on the exclusive club floor and you may never venture farther than your hallway—five different food-and-beverage presentations are offered daily in the club-level lounge, which comes with its own concierge and snacks ranging from goat cheese frittatas to dark-chocolate fondue.
Over-the-top amenities aside, it’s the attention to detail and service that truly separates the Ritz from the rest — the thick wool blankets in the private gondolas that ferry guests between the hotel and the European-style ski village at Northstar below; the separate spa elevator so that you don’t have to parade through the lobby in your bathrobe after your pinyon pine nut warm-stone massage; the kids’ arcade loaded with free PlayStation video games so that adults can enjoy a grown-up cocktail at the bar; the regiment of valets who magically whisk away your bags, your skis, your golf clubs and your car, and then instantly reappear with them at the appropriate time and place.
And of course, let’s not forget the boot concierge. Call me a Sierra sissy, but I think I’ve just discovered a new Tahoe luxury I can’t live without.
If you go
The Ritz-Carlton Highlands,