For a quirky travel experience, you can't beat crossing he border of California and Nevada on skis. Spectacular views of the dark, icy waters of Lake Tahoe stretch out on one side, while the other state seems to be an endless expanse of vast plains. It is a trip made several times a day in one of Lake Tahoe's largest alpine areas, Heavenly. The ease of traversing state-to-state contrasts acutely with the irritating process of crossing United States national borders. But the long airport queues and unfriendly interrogations by immigration officials are soon forgotten as you hit the Heavenly slopes and weave down long, wide runs flanked by snow-topped trees. An ample covering of powder at the resort this season, and a surprising lack of crowds, enabled it to live up to its name. It is just one of about a dozen resorts that surround California's Lake Tahoe area, the journey from San Francisco by car - in our case a Dodge Durango SUV with seemingly the same dimensions as a bus - taking three to four hours, depending on traffic leaving the city. The south end of the lake is home to Heavenly, Kirkwood and Sierra at Tahoe, three resorts in the Sierra Nevada mountains that offer mixed skiing terrain. The most popular is Heavenly, with its 34 chair-lifts and 91 runs. From the bottom it looks to be a steep, daunting resort. But a gentler start to the day can be reached with a few chair-lift rides, and even from the highest point of 3,060 metres it is possible to ski to the bottom down a leisurely incline. The most difficult areas are the black runs, notable not so much for their white-knuckle steepness as for large, bumpy moguls. The slopes are wide, but characterless 'motorways' they are not, twisting enough to make each run feel like a journey through winterland. They also sweep through a large forest of pines, giving the more adventurous skier the chance to try his or her luck off piste, cutting through trees in deeper snow. Take heed, however, of the more macabre side to Heavenly. This is where Sonny Bono met his maker, Cher's long-time partner suffering a fatal head-on crash into a tree, and it is perhaps no coincidence that helmets are popular. For cardio junkies there is the Olympic Downhill 8.8km run, and for families with children there are a number of beginners' areas, notably the six-hectare Mountain Meadows. Kirkwood, a 45-minute drive from the south lake shore, is short on rookie skiers, its slopes being more challenging and demanding. It is marked out by its steep cliffs, one of the hardest to ski being the Wall - a slope not for the faint-hearted and signposted with a skull and crossbones, much to the trepidation of chair-lift passengers - although Kirkwood does offer a number of runs for intermediate skiers. It also lays claim to the deepest snow of any resort in the US, with average annual fall of 11.4 metres. The only downside to a fresh covering of snow is resorts become busier afterwards, although queueing for lifts, mercifully, never became a problem. Visitors descend on Heavenly at weekends, with a skiing-gambling combo available: the southern lake shore has attracted a cluster of large casinos, with Caesar's Palace, Hurrah and Harvey's brushing the border on the Nevada side. South Lake town is schizophrenic: beautiful, expensive log cabins are hidden among the trees beside the lake, while garish motels and chapels line the strip leading up to the casinos - a new Marriott complex, however, lends the area a little more glamour. Eating out is challenging for the health-conscious, the food tending to be fast and artery-clogging, although there are cosier alternatives to the myriad chain restaurants. The Fresh Ketch, by the marina, was a good find, but the main restaurant was closed, leaving a more limited menu at the bar. Caesar's Palace offers an upmarket steak restaurant, worth a trip for the people-watching and a post-dinner flutter if you can't stomach a 400-gram slab of meat. Self-catering is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the accommodation of choice and there is no shortage of options, South Lake standing just a five-minute drive from Heavenly. Places with lake views are the more expensive and the majority of affordable places tend to be by the main road - as was our choice, Lakeland Village - giving a slightly noisy edge to the idyllic setting. It is a 40-minute drive to North Lake, although the mountain pass is unpredictable, meaning a 90-minute journey the long way round if it is snow-clogged, which it was. However, we chose to ignore the warning signs and ended up adding another hour to our trip. The north end of the lake offers a wider choice of resorts - about eight, including Sugar Bowl, renowned as a favourite of the 1940s Hollywood glamour set - but the largest is Squaw Valley USA, home to the 1960 Winter Olympics. The resort is big on variety, although the runs tend towards the shorter side. It is heaven for beginners, with large, gentle bowls and a few side attractions for part-timers, including dog sledding and ice skating on a large rink. Apres-ski is also available at the base of Squaw Valley, one of the few resorts in the Tahoe area to have a cluster of hotels, apartments and restaurants around it. We chose to stay on the periphery, at the Resort at Squaw Creek. Although not in the hub, it is at the bottom of the Squaw Creek chair-lift, giving easy access to the slopes. It also enjoys the benefits of an enormous log fire with stone surround in the main lobby area, perfect for unwinding in the evening after a long day on the piste. The hotel is a favourite with large groups, although not of the party-animal variety. On this particular weekend the resort was hosting the Silverado Self-Storage Association of America's annual ski convention. Outside, large burners keep diners from freezing during the day. The only thing missing was a warm, alcoholic tonic. Unlike Europe and New Zealand, the US hasn't quite embraced this concept, which is a must for weary skiers; mulled wine was nowhere to be found and the hot cider alternative was decidedly un-alcoholic. The slopes are by no means dry, however, with alcohol surprisingly - for an accident- and litigation-paranoid country - prominent on the menu. Mishaps on the piste were rare and the snowboarders lacked the kamikaze edge often seen at other resorts. They were also easily outnumbered. The only other irritants were the cost of taking skiing lessons - a one-on-one session will set you back US$95 an hour, although group classes are more affordable - and the occasional bout of nerves going up some of the older chair-lifts. The infrastructure is unexpectedly basic, with just one large, covered gondola ride amid scores of chair-lifts that can be frustratingly slow. After a day spent speeding down the slopes, and before heading off for the long drive and 15-hour flight home to Hong Kong, it is worth trying one of Squaw's less popular runs, in a tranquil corner of the resort, which weaves gently in and out of the trees. Aptly called Solitude, it will not disappoint. Getting there: Cathay Pacific, United Airlines and Singapore Airlines all fly direct from Hong Kong to San Francisco. A double room at the Resort at Squaw Creek (tel: 1 800 327 3353; www.squawcreek.com ) costs US$300 a night, including breakfast and ski passes. A night in a self-catering, two-bedroom townhouse at Lakeland Village (tel: 1 800 822 5969; www.lakeland-village.com ) costs approximately US$270 a night for four people, including basic continental breakfast.