The Tahoe High Life

The Ritz-Carlton Highlands: Luxe Meets Leed

Ten seconds. It took at least 10 mind-racing seconds to figure out where I was. The room was dark; an open window revealed a mountainside bathed in moonlight.

As synapses connected, it all came back. My disorientation came from being on the mountain instead of looking at it from afar. I lay there adjusting to the perspective shift, slowly recollecting the events of the past 24 hours.

“Cool,” my brother Brad had whispered in reverence as we ascended the stone steps of the new Ritz-Carlton Highlands in Northstar billed as the first LEED certified Ski Resort. He approved.

Brad was celebrating a milestone birthday and Tahoe was a fitting setting. We’d spent decades together there: growing up with a vacation cabin, working odd jobs in the summers, even attending a family wedding or two. Wherever we’ve lived, we’ve always come back to the lake to reconnect.

“He’ll love it; it’s LEED designed,” my girlfriend had said. “There’s a bar at the pool, there’s a fitness center and Traci des Jardin’s newest restaurant, Manzanita, is there. Brad loves green and Brad loves food. Splurge—he’s your only brother.”

The entrance set the tone. The substantial staircase wrapped around a 55-foot (think Sequoia trunk) central column faced with locally sourced granite. We passed a couple enjoying a pilsner and fries in front of one of the four fireplaces. As we reached the top of the stairs the brilliant blue sky and front-and-center view of the mountainside streamed through the 25-foot windows. The building, which earned the first-ever LEED certification for a ski resort, was thoughtfully positioned to take advantage of the contour of the slope, so the varying levels of the lobby feel natural, a bit like a spacious tree house. Details like huge cedar buttresses and etchings of branches on the wall help heighten the effect.

As a green development pioneer, this place is in good company. It’s surrounded by other eco-friendly East West Partners (EWP) properties, including the private mid-mountain LEED Silver–certified restaurant Schaffer’s Camp and the Village at Northstar, the first LEED-certified multi-building resort development in the country. Nearby golf courses Old Greenwood and Gray’s Crossing have both earned the coveted Audubon Gold Signature certification for their environmental protection programs, and Old Greenwood’s natural resource management center is LEED Silver certified.

Our plan was simple: two brothers celebrate life–by charging it. I used my American Express card for both our rooms for a great deal: we each got a room upgrade, breakfast and a daily $100 dining credit. The first night we had dinner in the spacious lobby restaurant called the Living Room. A few friends planned to join us the next night at Manzanita for the official celebration, but otherwise Brad wanted a low-key getaway.

At the insistence of my girlfriend, I booked both of us treatments in the spa; she had  raved about the signature organic facial. I went for massages; it felt manlier. We swam in the adult lap pool, soaked in the views and eventually made it into the dry sauna, wrapped in towels. The memory of our late dad bringing us along to his club in San Francisco, where he and his cronies ended the day wrapped in white towels, was as thick as the hot air.

Artwork throughout the property was evocative as well. Three colorful paintings of tents in the hallway leading to the gym prompted a deluge of family camping memories, which we recounted as we lifted weights in the sizable, light-filled room. Other pieces were remarkable in their own right: I found myself walking up to a painting near the elevator, of a cross section of a tree trunk, to see if it was a photo. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.

The meal at Manzanita was beyond expectations. We wore suits, although three guys at the bar were drinking martinis in white bathrobes, so I guess the dress code is what you make it. We toasted life, friendship and the fact that we were enjoying Napa County wine and Marin County oysters on the side of our favorite mountain.

The property will be closed from April 19 to May 10 to prepare for summer.

Getting to Green

Some of the items on the Ritz-Carlton’s LEED certification checklist:

• Recycling/reuse of construction waste: 16,000 tons to date, or 88 percent of all expected for the project.
• Reduced building footprint—66 percent of site is open space. 
• Natural light and views for 75 percent of the building.
• On-site reuse of rock for retaining walls.
• On-site reuse of trees for mulch.
• 9 percent of building materials were from recycled content, equal to $5 million in value.
• 63 percent of materials were extracted locally; 31 percent were manufactured locally. 
• “Green cleaning” program. 
• Minimized heat island effect by using shade and light-colored paving. 
• Water-efficient landscaping resulted in 50 percent less water use than typical development. 
• Reduced CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) in HVAC equipment. 
• Carbon dioxide monitoring for improved air quality. 
• Low-VOC (volatile organic compound) materials. 
• Operable windows for reduced. energy consumption and increased user comfort. 

This Summer in the Sierra

Incline Village
Catch the ultimate in all-in-one entertainment at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. Directed by Charles Fee, the Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is a compilation of 37 of the Bard’s plays. July 10–August 22,

Also at Sand Harbor, enjoy live music every Monday and Friday night—from blues and jazz to ’70s rock. July 12–August 20.

Take Dad to Concours d’Elegance for Father’s Day weekend at the Sierra Boat Company on Carnelian Bay. Note: Hyatt Lake Tahoe is offering a special rate of $199.

Tahoe Donner
Sing along to “A Horse with No Name” during America’s 40th anniversary concert tour. Hosted at the West End Beach at Donner Lake, the show features Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell. July 22,

Save the date(s) for the Lake Tahoe Music Festival: three concerts at mid-mountain, on July 31 , August 5 (Natalie Cole) and August 7 (Michael McDonald). Go online for more details

Three bluegrass bands perform all day while more than 20 breweries pour tastes at the Beerfest & Bluegrass Festival. This event has become extremely popular over the last few years, so get your tickets early. July 11,

Squaw Valley
Stroll the Village at Squaw Valley during the Pacific Fine Arts Festival and peruse paintings, photographs, ceramics, jewelry and other works of art. July 2–4,

The ninth annual Art, Wine & Music Festival, with fine artists, craftspeople, performers and musicians, will have two performance stages and walkways lined with art booths and exhibits. July 17-18,

Zephyr Cove Resort
Mark Twain Western Days Practice your prose and pose at the Mark Twain liars contest or help yourself to a bowl of chili at the cook-off. June 12–13,

South Shore
The lineup is set for Harveys Outdoor Arena concert series, with Tim McGraw on May 30; Chicago and the Doobie Brothers, June 19; Sugarland, July 10; Rascal Flatts, July 16 and 17. Elton John (performing at Lake Tahoe for the first time) July 25,

Peppermill Reno lineup includes Elvis Costello, May 15; Tih He, May 30 Arnel Pineda with Rachel Ann Go, July 3.
Silver Legacy Resort has Johnny Mathis June 5. For information on these and other Reno events, go to