BY BEKAH WRIGHT

UPON ARRIVAL IN LAKE TAHOE, the olfactory senses come alive. The trigger-the intoxicating scent of Sugar and Jeffrey pines. The heady aroma may have you wondering, is it possible to inhale Lake Tahoe? Here’s a better suggestion. Activate all the senses by embracing Tahoe as a whole. Welcome to the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Lake Tahoe.

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FROM THE MOUNTAINS TO THE LAKE

During winter months, you’ll see skis and snowboards strapped to the top of every local’s car-only to be replaced in the summer with surfboards and kayaks. As for where these vehicles are headed, that’s simple-either the mountains or the lake.

Tahoe boasts more than 20 downhill and cross-country ski centers to satiate avid snow hounds. But none are as expansive as Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley which, now that they’ve consolidated, have a combined total of 6,000 acres, making it the largest ski resort in the country. Other ski hot spots include Diamond Peak, Mt. Rose, Heavenly and Homewood Ski Resorts. But these resorts hardly limit the activities to skiing and snowboarding; there’s tubing, sledding, cross-country skiing and more.

Families will want to check out Granlibakken Conference Center and Lodge’s Ski and Snowplay Center for its sledding, snowshoeing and beginner runs. Another great place for canoodling, the ice-skating rink at Squaw Valley USA, was home to the 1960 Winter Olympics.

Warmer months come with equally scenic activities, from glider flights and horseback rides to prime golfing at one of the area’s more than 50 courses. Hiking trails abound (don’t miss the waterfalls of Eagle Falls and Shirley Canyon), while adrenaline seekers mountain bike down otherwise snow-covered hillsides. Flatland cyclists can embark upon a path that stretches from Commons Beach in Tahoe City along the Truckee River into Squaw Valley. Before taking off, spend time at Commons Beach’s playground and climbing wall or checking out historic Watson Cabin.

Of course, no trip to Tahoe should exclude time spent on the lake. With 72-miles of shoreline, kayakers paddle along Emerald Bay to Fannette Island for a hike to its stone teahouse. Parasailing gives participants a perspective of the lake as seen by the region’s osprey and bald eagles. Stand Up Paddleboarders (SUP) stay busy with competitions like the two-day O’Neill Tahoe Cup Series ot the Quiksilver Waterman Collection Ta-Hoe Nalu Paddle Festival on King’s Beach.

A bit of history takes to the lake each August with the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance Wooden Boat Show (which celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2012). Restored boats from around the world can be seen dotting Carnelian Bay at that time.

LANDMARKS READY FOR THEIR CLOSE-UP

Lake Tahoe has made its mark in numerous television shows and films, from The Bodyguard to City of Angels. A classic among the mix is Godfather II. Offering views of the house where we last saw Fredo before he swam with the fishes is the Mississippi paddlewheel boat, “Tahoe Gal,” which offers several different river tours. To see the notorious Old Kaiser Estate and its boathouse of Godfather fame, the tour to book is the West Shore Shoreline Brunch Cruise.

The Rat Pack, Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra brought their own sense of intrigue, as well as glamour, to Lake Tahoe. The Cal Neva Resort, Spa & Casino gives a veritable behind-the-scenes look at a getaway of these icons through their Frank Sinatra’s Secret Tunnel Tours. Underground intrigue comes by way of the tour with its passageway from Sinatra’s personal suite to the stage where he performed.

Celebrities might not have resided in them, but the summer homes of Lake Tahoe’s elite are famous in their own right. Built at Sugar Pine Point by I.W. Hellman in 1903 is the Hellman-Erhman Mansion. Formerly known as the Pine Lodge, the property served as the vacation getaway for the Hellman family until it was acquired by the California State Park system in 1965.

Vikingsholm Castle in Emerald Bay State Park was built as a summer home in 1929 by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight, and still is considered one of the finest examples of Scandinavian architecture in the United States. Though tours of the castle are seasonal, the grounds are open year-round.

Encompassing land and water is Thunderbird Lodge National Historic Site. Tours of the lodge (a.k.a. the Whittell Estate) take visitors through the Lighthouse Room, kitchen, servant’s quarters and an underground tunnel that leads to the Card House and Boathouse. Keepin g residence in the Boathouse is Thunderbird, Whittell’s 55-foot yacht built in 1939.

CREATURE COMFORTS

Where better to stay during a visit than accommodations that make the most of the landscape? Lake Tahoe has plenty of options to choose from. When it comes to luxe lodging, two properties offer their own distinct personalities-The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe with its idyllic, mountain setting and the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe Resort, Spa and Casino with lakefront romance.

THE RITZ-CARLTON, LAKE TAHOE

Another way to take in the mountain panoramas is a ride on the inter-mountain gondola that both connects guests to Village at Northstar as well as delivers snow aficionados to the slopes for downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. Concierges can make arrangements for dog sled tours, biathlons, heli-skiing and geocaching.

The Ritz Carlton Spa is a Tahoe destination unto itself-as are the dishes from award-winning chef Traci Des Jardins at her Manzanita restaurant. Those looking to go more casual should head to Mountainblue or The Living Room for hot toddies and frosty cocktails.

HYATT REGENCY LAKE TAHOE RESORT, SPA AND CASINO

Though a lot of people equate Lake Tahoe with snow, others know about the area’s “beachy” side. A great resort for sinking toes into the sand is the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe. Getting guests especially close to the 500-foot private lakefront beach are the property’s Lakeside Cottages. Time can be spent on the floating pier, succumbing to an outdoor massage or heading out on a 55-foot Sierra Cloud catamaran. Another worthwhile endeavor-taking in the view while warmed by a firepit.

Just right for foodies are the Hyatt’s five dining venues and equal number of lounges and bars. Two not to miss-Lone Eagle Grille for Chef Mark May’s High Sierra Cuisine, as well as Pier 111, a bar suspended right over the lake.

For a warm dip in different waters, the lagoon pool and oversized hot tubs are ideal. Treatments at the Stillwater Spa are inspired by the elements of air, fire, earth and, of course, water.

Those who prefer their outdoor time on the fairways versus the lake have over 14 courses to choose from. Two in nearby Incline Village include the Robert Trent Jones, Sr.-designed Championship Course and, keeping it in the family, the Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed Mountain Course. Not to be left out, ski enthusiasts will find the Hyatt strategically located near Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, Diamond Peak Ski Resort, Northstar-at-Tahoe Ski Resort, Squaw Valley Ski Resort, Mt. Rose Ski Resort and Heavenly Ski Resort.

Back at the Hyatt, kids (to 12) will enjoy the Camp Hyatt experience while adults relish in the casino’s 249 slots, video poker machines, blackjack, craps, poker, roulette and full-service sportsbook.

On the same 40-acre swath of North Tahoe beachfront land as the Hyatt is the High Sierra Lodge residential club, which gives lake-lovers the opportunity to own a piece of this wooded paradise. The 60 two-bedroom/two-bath units each have walk-out access to hiking and biking, as well as the 24-hour casino at nearby sister property the Hyatt Regency. Guests here can sign away excursion offerings from either property, like skiing, snowmobiling, fishing boat charters and so on.

DINING TAHOE-STYLE

A getaway to Lake Tahoe is not complete without dining at some of the area’s outstanding restaurants. A pastime for many is brunch on the lakefront. Two places to make reservations include Sunnyside and Jake’s on the Lake. A favorite breakfast spot for locals is the west shore’s Firesign Café. Go early to procure a table right away or while away the morning on the lawn of this historic Tahoe home with a cup of coffee.

For romantic candlelight dinners, two venues not to be missed are Wolfdale’s Cuisine Unique Restaurant in Tahoe City for Asian-influenced fare, or Soule Domain’s quaint log cabin setting for Mediterranean and Asian Pacific Rim-influenced cuisine. Each provide the necessary vim and vigor to insure visitors to Tahoe have energy to take in all the region has to offer.

Fifteen minutes outside of Lake Tahoe and historic Truckee is The Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe. Ski buffs will already be familiar with this ski-in, skiout property that sits mid-mountain on Northstar Resort. Accommodations here call for snuggling up fireside underneath goose down comforters that prompt sleeping in and floor-to-ceiling windows and balconies that offer up views of Martis Valley.