California is known for its sunshine, beaches, and wine country, but it’s also a winter wonderland for skiing enthusiasts. With diverse terrain ranging from the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the forested slopes of the San Bernardino Mountains, California offers some of the best skiing experiences in the country. Here’s a guide to the top ski resorts in the Golden State, catering to everyone from novice skiers to seasoned powder hounds.

1. Mammoth Mountain

Overview

  • Location: Eastern Sierra Nevada
  • Elevation: 11,053 feet
  • Skiable Terrain: 3,500 acres

Why Ski Here?

Mammoth Mountain is renowned for its long season, often extending from November to late June or even July. It boasts 150 named trails and a diverse terrain that includes open bowls, tree runs, and perfectly groomed slopes. The summit offers breathtaking views of the surrounding High Sierra.

Highlights

  • Terrain Parks: Eight different parks, including the famous Unbound Main Park.
  • Snowfall: Annual average of 400 inches.
  • Apres-Ski: Mammoth Lakes village offers a variety of dining, shopping, and nightlife options.

2. Lake Tahoe: Heavenly Mountain Resort

Overview

  • Location: South Lake Tahoe
  • Elevation: 10,067 feet
  • Skiable Terrain: 4,800 acres

Why Ski Here?

Heavenly Mountain Resort is one of the most expansive ski resorts in the U.S., offering stunning views of Lake Tahoe and the Carson Valley. The resort straddles the California-Nevada border, providing a unique skiing experience across two states.

Highlights

  • Varied Terrain: Everything from wide-open groomers to challenging tree skiing and moguls.
  • Apres-Ski: South Lake Tahoe’s vibrant nightlife with casinos, bars, and restaurants.
  • Scenic Gondola: The Heavenly Gondola offers panoramic views and a mid-station observation deck.

3. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows

Overview

  • Location: North Lake Tahoe
  • Elevation: 9,050 feet
  • Skiable Terrain: 6,000 acres combined (Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows)

Why Ski Here?

Squaw Valley, site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, and Alpine Meadows offer some of the most varied and challenging terrains in California. Together, they provide access to a vast network of trails and lifts, including expert-level chutes and bowls.

Highlights

  • Iconic Runs: KT-22 and The Palisades are must-ski runs for experts.
  • Snowfall: Averaging 450 inches annually.
  • Mountain Village: Squaw Valley village features high-end dining, shopping, and après-ski activities.

4. Northstar California Resort

Overview

  • Location: North Lake Tahoe
  • Elevation: 8,610 feet
  • Skiable Terrain: 3,170 acres

Why Ski Here?

Northstar is known for its family-friendly atmosphere and top-notch grooming. The resort offers a variety of terrain parks, tree skiing, and a luxurious village experience.

Highlights

  • Family Fun: Activities like ice skating and tubing complement the skiing.
  • Terrain Parks: Extensive parks for all skill levels.
  • Village: The Northstar Village offers a cozy alpine experience with fire pits, shops, and gourmet dining.

5. Bear Mountain and Snow Summit

Overview

  • Location: Big Bear Lake, San Bernardino Mountains
  • Elevation: 8,805 feet (Bear Mountain)
  • Skiable Terrain: 438 acres combined

Why Ski Here?

Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, known collectively as Big Bear Mountain Resort, provide a great option for Southern Californians looking for a quick ski getaway. Bear Mountain is a haven for snowboarders, while Snow Summit offers more traditional alpine skiing.

Highlights

  • Proximity: Just a few hours’ drive from Los Angeles and San Diego.
  • Terrain Parks: Bear Mountain has one of the largest terrain park complexes in Southern California.
  • Night Skiing: Available at Snow Summit.

6. Kirkwood Mountain Resort

Overview

  • Location: South Lake Tahoe
  • Elevation: 9,800 feet
  • Skiable Terrain: 2,300 acres

Why Ski Here?

Kirkwood is a gem for those seeking challenging terrain and fewer crowds. Known for its deep powder and steep runs, Kirkwood provides a more rugged and natural skiing experience.

Highlights

  • Expert Terrain: Some of the best advanced and expert runs in California.
  • Snowfall: Receives over 600 inches annually.
  • Backcountry Access: Offers access to some incredible backcountry skiing.

7. June Mountain

Overview

  • Location: Eastern Sierra Nevada, near Mammoth
  • Elevation: 10,090 feet
  • Skiable Terrain: 1,500 acres

Why Ski Here?

June Mountain is a quieter alternative to Mammoth, perfect for families and those looking to escape the hustle and bustle. It offers scenic views and a relaxed atmosphere with plenty of beginner and intermediate terrain.

Highlights

  • Family-Friendly: Kids under 12 ski for free.
  • Scenic Views: Panoramic views of the Eastern Sierra.
  • Varied Terrain: Suitable for all levels with wide, gentle slopes and more challenging runs.

Tips for Planning Your Ski Trip

  1. Check Snow Conditions: Ensure that there is ample snow cover for the best experience.
  2. Book Early: Popular resorts can fill up quickly, so make reservations well in advance.
  3. Consider Multi-Resort Passes: Passes like the Ikon Pass or Epic Pass can offer great value if you plan to visit multiple resorts.
  4. Gear Up: Rent or buy your ski gear ahead of time to avoid long lines at the resort.

Conclusion

Whether you’re a thrill-seeking skier or a family looking for winter fun, California’s ski resorts offer something for everyone. From the world-class slopes of Mammoth Mountain to the scenic beauty of Lake Tahoe and the accessible terrain of Big Bear, there’s no shortage of options for a memorable skiing adventure. Pack your gear and hit the slopes in the Golden State this winter!


Have you visited any of these resorts? Share your experiences and tips in the comments below!