There’s much more to the Golden State than beaches and surfing! Head east where the winter storms dump the powder and you’ll see that California’s best ski resorts hold up well compared to Utah and Colorado. We’ve teamed up with local experts up and down the Sierra to bring you the top 5!
Due to COVID-19, safety measures were put in place by the State of California which impacted the 20/21 ski season. These included physical distancing, mask-wearing and limited capacity for indoor dining. California’s strict stay-at-home order in December and January resulted in the temporary closure of many hotels. In Mono County which is home to Mammoth Resort, masks were required in all indoor public spaces, lift lines and in chairlifts. Such restrictions are not anticipated to continue into the 21/22 winter season.
Heavenly is by far the most popular resort in Lake Tahoe and it's not hard to see why. Aside from the massive 4,800 ac of terrain and the spectacular views of Lake Tahoe, the resort has a real party atmosphere at the base with endless entertainment off the slopes and casinos nearby. Above all, given its size and for a Vail-owned resort, Heavenly offers one of the best value ski vacations thanks to the wide variety of accommodation that keeps prices competitive. Combine this with some of the best snow quality and groomers in Tahoe, it's a no brainer why Heavenly deserves a spot on our list.
Although Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are technically separate ski areas, they are covered by the same lift ticket which means a massive 6,000 ac of terrain for you to explore and can be accessed by shuttle. Squaw Valley is notorious for its incredible snowfall and immense blue and black runs. The base village is a lot of fun and easy to walk around with a great selection of restaurants and bars. But with such a reputation comes crowds. Alpine Meadows on the other hand is often overlooked which means far fewer skiers and quieter slopes than Squaw. Both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows have lower elevation compared to other Tahoe resorts which can be a problem when it warms up and rain becomes more common. Despite this, Squaw Valley remains an iconic ski resort and Alpine Meadows is fantastic if you’re looking for great terrain without the crowds!
Boasting the highest peak of any Californian ski resort and over 3,500 ac of terrain, Mammoth Mountain is, well, Mammoth! Combining rustic charm with a modern resort village along with tons of snow and a nice selection of terrain that offers something for everyone, Mammoth is an excellent choice for families and groups. It's the closest good skiing to Las Vegas and all the people in Southern California but holidays and big powder weekends can bring large crowds.The demand also makes it a relatively expensive place to ski. Luckily, the town of Mammoth Lakes nearby provides an even wider variety of lodging, including budget-friendly options, in a friendly small-town atmosphere.
If you want the steepest slopes and the deepest powder, Kirkwood is the place for you. This 2,300 ac ski area draws in flocks of diehard skiers and snowboarders who come for the extreme terrain. With 65 different trails to try out, you’ll have plenty of exploring to do. There are fewer crowds but that also means there are less parking spaces so get there early or else you might be refused entry! One little thing that brings Kirkwood down is the cost of eating as prices have gone up since Vail took over, so it’s best to dine elsewhere.
Northstar has one of the best base villages in the area so if your budget allows, you’ll definitely enjoy being pampered here with upscale dining, lodging and shopping options and plenty of fun activities to do. The resort is also great for families because you can easily pop that little ones into a kids ski school program. All that being said, Northstar’s limited parking spots can be a nightmare, especially on weekends but during the week, you’ll find that the efficient lift system gets everyone moving around the mountain in no time. The trick with Northstar is to time it right.