California Ski Resorts: Discover the Golden State StandardSo Many Great Hills to Choose from
There are over thirty major and minor California ski resorts, mostly defined by Lake Tahoe to the north and extending south through the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range. California offers a mix of great verticals, glade skiing, and huge resorts. The recent droughts have put a hamper on the snow-making ability of the resorts, but forecasts for the 2015-2016 indicate a strong El Nino effect, which should make for great snow across the central and inland parts of the state.
California Ski Resorts
The following is a list of some of the top California ski resorts along with a brief description of each one.
- Alpine Meadows
- Squaw Valley
- Sugar Bowl
- Bear Valley
- Sierra at Tahoe
- Bear Mountain
- Dodge Ridge
- China Peak
- Mount Baldy
- June Mountain
- Donner Ski Ranch
- Tahoe Donner
- Alta Sierra Ski Resort
- Badger Pass
- Mountain High
- Snow Summit
- Mt Shasta
Heavenly Lake Tahoe Ski Resort straddles the border between California and Nevada. Although the majority of the runs and lifts are located in Nevada, California still lays claim to this resort as their own. This enormous resort has a stunning vertical of 3812 feet with over 4800 acres of skiable territory. There are 97 runs, with the longest run stretching out over 5.5 miles. Heavenly has 30 total lifts servicing the resort, and are currently in renovations to replace all of the lifts with high-speed detachable or fixed-grip quad lifts. The gondola that connects the resort to Stateline is also going to be replaced with a high-speed lift that will end at the Powderbowl Lodge.
Of all the California ski resorts, Mammoth Mountain has the highest peak elevation at 11,053 feet. This resort also features a 3100-foot vertical drop and is spread out over 3500 skiable acres. Because of Mammoth’s altitude, the ski season lasts longer than almost anywhere in North America. The resort features 28 lifts, including three gondolas and 9-high speed quad chairs with a total capacity of 50,000 skiers per hour. There are 151 trails and 11 terrain parks in the resort with a difficulty mix of 25 percent beginner, 40 percent intermediate, 20 percent expert and 15 percent double black diamond.
Kirkwood is located about a half hour’s drive south of Lake Tahoe. With a resort that spreads out over 2300 acres and five separate peaks, Kirkwood has a little something to offer everyone. 72 trails dot the resort, with terrain parks, glades, and open bowl skiing available. There are 15 lifts with 2 high-speed quads and six triple chair lifts moving about 20,000 skiers per hour up the mountain. There are two base areas, each with their own learning slopes, so even if you’re just learning to ski, you won’t be stuck at the same slope over and over again. Thimble Peak provides the highest starting point, with a vertical of just over 2000 feet and a double black diamond steep to let you race down.
Located on the northern shore of Lake Tahoe, Northstar offers amazing glade skiing and 22-foot super pipe, designed by Olympic gold medalist Shaun White. The resort covers 3170 skiable acres with 97 trails. There are also 7 terrain parks centered around Big Springs Lodge. For those looking to California ski resorts for glade skiing, the north face of Mt. Pluto and the slope down Lookout Mountain have what you are looking for. The total vertical for Northstar is 2280 feet, and the park has 2 trams and 1 six-person lift in addition to 8 quad lifts and 7 surface lifts to move skiers around the mountain.
Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley
These California ski resorts are located right next to each other and operated by the same group. Located in North Lake Tahoe, these resorts together span over 6000 skiable acres. There are 42 lifts with the ability to ferry over 16,000 skiers per hour to the 270 trails across the resort. The resorts have a total vertical of 2850 feet. This spot is unique in that there is a beginner’s ski area at the mountaintop instead of at the base. The two resorts feature open bowls, chutes and long groomed cruisers that are suitable for skiers of all skill levels.
The Sugar Bowl resort is located on Donner Summit and has a 1500-foot vertical. The resort spreads out over 1500 acres with 103 total trails, the longest of which stretches out over three miles. There are three terrain parks and night skiing over 50 acres. Thirteen lifts service the ski resort, including one tram and five high speed quad chairs that are capable of moving over 21,000 skiers per hour.
Bear Valley is a relaxed family-friendly resort that has a great beginners’ area at the mid-mountain level. There are 9 lifts that service the ski park, leading visitors to 75 trails that wander over 1680 acres of skiable terrain. There are three terrain parks on the west face serviced by their own lift. The resort features several double black diamond chutes as well as several expert rated glades. The longest trail in the resort is an intermediate rated cruiser that stretches from the highest peak to Oak Lodge over a mile’s distance.
Sierra at Tahoe
Sierra at Tahoe is located 12 miles southwest of Lake Tahoe. The ski resort has a vertical rise of 2212 feet and spreads out over 2000 acres. There are 14 lifts that service the 46 trails in the resort. The longest run on the resort stretches out over 2.5 miles from the top of the mountain. There are six terrain parks with a half-pipe that was rated among the top 10 in the United States. The resort also features off-piste skiing in Huckleberry Canyon with five access gates from the main resort.
Bear Mountain is located in the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California. The resort has a 1665-foot vertical rise over a 200-acre playground. The majority of Bear Mountain has terrain park and freestyle additions with 4 half-pipes. It’s also the only one of the California ski resorts that boasts a Superpipe. There are 29 runs in the park with a difficulty mix of 24% beginner, 52% intermediate, 14% expert, and 10% double black diamond.
Dodge Ridge has 862 acres of skiable terrain located in the middle of the Stanislaus National Forest just east of San Francisco. The vertical rise for Dodge Ridge is 1600 feet, with 67 trails and 12 total lifts. This resort is a family favorite because it has three progression terrain parks. Lifts are open from 9 to 4 daily and the season for Dodge typically runs from December to April. The longest run at Dodge Ridge is Stagecoach, an intermediate cruiser that runs over 2 miles in length.
Homewood is located on the western edge of Lake Tahoe just off SR-89 with an amazing view of the lake and surrounding area. The resort peak is situated at 7880 feet above sea level and the ski area features a 1650-foot vertical drop. There are 60 trails spread out over 1260 acres. The peak is accessible via Snowcat for some of the best off-piste skiing you’ll find at California ski resorts. There are two separate lodges, each with their own learning area. Homewood also features some quick chutes, two terrain parks, and several glades to give skiers of all ability level something to do.
China Peak is a ski area that remains one of central California’s best-kept secrets. Located about an hour’s drive northeast of Fresno, this ski area has some big resort chops cloaked in local atmosphere and flavor. The resort is located on Chinese Peak, which has a peak elevation of 8709 feet. Base facilities are located at 7030 feet, giving the area a total vertical of 1679 feet. There are 49 named trails spread out over 1200 acres, with an 11-lift system ferrying skiers over the mountain. The ski area also has three terrain parks for those who love rails, moguls, and jumps. On average, China Peak gets 300 inches of snow per year, and because of the resort’s elevation, it’s mainly good powder.
Mount Baldy is located in San Bernardino County in Southern California, not the place you’d think of when it comes to a ski resort. The mountain, only a short drive from downtown Los Angeles, is in the Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains. A smaller resort when compared to its larger cousins to the north, Mount Baldy still hosts an impressive 26 named trails spread out over 400 acres. The difficulty spread consists of 20 percent novice, 40 percent intermediate, 20 percent advanced, and 20 percent expert. Base elevation is at 6500 feet and the summit is at 8600 feet. This gives Baldy a respectable vertical of 2100 feet.
June Mountain is located just down the road from Mammoth Mountain and offers a small resort alternative to the crowded slopes of their sister resort. June has 1500 acres of skiable terrain spread out over two peaks, Rainbow Summit and June Mountain Summit. June has 35 named trails and is serviced by six chairlifts and one surface lift. The lifts are capable of ferrying 10,000 skiers per hour up the mountain. The chairs are numbered J1 to J4, J6, and J7 instead of named, keeping with the tradition started by Mammoth. The official difficulty mix of the trails comes in at 35 percent novice, 45 percent intermediate, and 20 percent expert.
Donner Ski Ranch
Donner Ski Ranch is a small ski area that is located near the Tahoe resort area in Northern California. Donner is located on its namesake, Donner Summit, with a peak elevation of 7781 feet. The ski area’s base camp is located at 7031 feet, giving the area an overall vertical of 750 feet. Annual snowfall on the mountain averages out at 396 inches (10.1 meters). The mountain has two sides, with lifts operating on both of them. In total, there are eight lifts at Donner, five doubles, one triple and two surface lifts. The front side of Donner has 26 trails, accessed by a triple and two double chair lifts. The backside contains another 26 trails, accessed by three double lifts.
Boreal Mountain Resort is a great mountain for those looking to get more bang for their buck without sacrificing quality of skiing. Skiers and snowboarders can enjoy twelve hours of riding for those who find it hard to leave the hills. There are thirty-three trails that skiers and snowboarders can choose from that range from beginner to expert skill levels. With ten chairlifts on the mountain riders will also enjoy the luxury of not having to wait in line and can spend as much time as possible riding down the mountain. There is also a range of beginner, intermediate and expert trails so everyone can enjoy the mountain no matter what their skill level is.
Tahoe Donner Ski Resort is more than just a mountain, there are plenty of opportunities for adventure no matter the season. With fifteen runs across 120 acres, Tahoe Donner Ski Resort is a small mountain with big adventure. There are three terrain parks with forty percent being novice and the other sixty percent as intermediate.
Alta Sierra Ski Resort
Alta Sierra, or Shirley Meadows Ski Resort is a fun little ski hill that benefits from a small resort feel and a great family-friendly environment. This small ski area is located on Shirley Peak just northeast of Bakersfield, and is about a 3 hour drive up I5 and SR-178 from Los Angeles. The ski area features two double lifts and a single surface tow-bar for the learning area. There are 11 named trails, with 2 novice, 3 intermediate, and 6 expert; Alta Sierra also has a small progression terrain park located near the drop off of the Lakeview Chairlift. The vertical at Alta Sierra is 600 feet; it’s not a huge drop, but you aren’t headed here for the insane vert, you’re coming here because this is a great little family-friendly ski area that lets you and yours do what you love best without navigating the crowds of the pricier Sierra ski resorts.
Badger Pass is one of only three ski areas located inside the boundaries of a national park in the United States. As it rests inside Yosemite, everyone typically calls it Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area. Whatever you choose to call it, Badger is a smaller resort, with 88 acres of skiable territory. There are ten named runs and two progression terrain parks. Moving around the mountain is handled by five lifts: one triple, three doubles, and one surface. The vertical at Badger is 600 feet, which may not seem like much, but for a resort this size, it’s plenty.
Mountain High is located just northeast of Los Angeles, about an hour’s drive from downtown. It is frequently billed as “Southern California’s closest ski and snowboard resort,” and this is actually not completely true. Mountain High is actually Southern California’s closest three ski and snowboard resorts. Mountain High is divided into three resorts: East, West, and North Mountain, each with their own terrain and offerings. Between the three areas, there are 14 lifts: four quads, three triples, four doubles, and three surface carpets. There are also 59 named trails and one terrain park with a difficulty mix of 20 percent novice, 42 percent intermediate, 34 percent advanced, and two double blacks. The park sprawls out across 290 acres with 73 of them lit up for night skiing seven days per week. Annual snowfall averages out at 132 inches per year, but there is snowmaking coverage over 80 percent of the trails.
Snow Summit is the companion resort to Bear Mountain, located just outside of Big Bear and a quick two hour drive from downtown LA. Where Bear is about freestyle skiing and getting the best line down a series of rails, Snow Summit is pure alpine. Steeps, cruisers, chutes, and glades are all here (although the right hand of the mountain does have terrain park features for you to play on). The park is about average size for California, clocking in at 240 acres spread across three primary lift drop points. The maximum vertical comes from the top of the All Mountain Express quad, which reaches 8174 feet. With the base at 6965, the vert measures in at just over 1200 feet. There are 31 named runs at Snow Summit. Difficulty mix here comes in at 4 novice runs, 15 intermediate, 7 advanced, 3 expert trails, and 2 dedicated terrain parks.
Mt Shasta is a Northern California ski area, located about two hours south of Medford Oregon along SR-89. This park has 32 named trails spread out over 425 acres with a difficulty mix of 20/55/25 for novice, intermediate, and advanced trails respectively. Shasta also has three progression terrain parks which includes a 300-foot Superpipe. There is also night skiing offered on 14 trails for those who like skiing under the stars. Shasta receives about 280 inches of snow each year and supplements that with snowmaking over 65 percent of the resort. Moving around the mountain is covered by three triple chair lifts and one surface lift, capable of moving 6200 skiers per hour up the mountain. The vertical at Shasta is nice for a California resort, clocking in at 1390 feet.