The 5 Best California Ski Resorts

The 5 Best California Ski Resorts - UPDATED 2020/21
Karl Sander
Written by Karl Sander / Photos by Greg Burke
Last updated May 15, 2020
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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!

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Known for

Entertaining base village with Tahoe Casinos nearby

Highlights

  • Fun party atmosphere at base
  • Spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and the desert
  • Tons of lodging options keep prices competitive
  • Crowds can be a problem here

Closest airports

Reno-Tahoe Intl. Airport - 56 mi (1 hour drive)
views of lake tahoe from heavenly ski resort
Heavenly is home to some of the best views of Lake Tahoe

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.

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Known for

Wide variety of extreme terrain, vibrant ski culture and Olympic heritage

Highlights

  • Largest ski resort in California
  • Legendary reputation for high snowfall and notorious steeps
  • High standard of grooming on steep trails
  • Crowds and long lines on powder days

Closest airports

Reno-Tahoe Intl. Airport - 47 mi (50 minute drive)
alpine meadows ski resort
Alpine Meadows is quite an underrated for such an epic mountain

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!

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Known for

Huge size, long seasons, and all the amenities you’d expect from a high-end resort.

Highlights

  • One of the longest seasons in the US
  • Large area and terrain for all ability levels
  • Tons of snow
  • Far from major cities

Closest airports

Mammoth Yosemite Airport - 14 mi (25 minute drive)
Los Angeles Intl. Airport - 318 mi (5.5 hour drive)
view from Mammoth Mountain
Taking a spot in this list, Mammoth!

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.

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Known for

Local-vibe mountain with arguably Lake Tahoe's most challenging terrain

Highlights

  • Deepest snow in all of Tahoe
  • Adventurous in-bound terrain
  • Fewer crowds
  • 45-minute drive south of Lake Tahoe, crossing over two passes

Closest airports

Reno-Tahoe Intl. Airport - 80 mi (1.5 hour drive)
thimble peak kirkwood
Love a good challenge? Check out Thimble Peak at Kirkwood

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.

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Known for

Upscale family-friendly ski resort

Highlights

  • Luxurious and vibrant base village with plenty of dining options
  • Family-friendly
  • Some of the best intermediate terrain in Tahoe
  • Shuttle bus required from most parking lots to base area

Closest airports

Reno-Tahoe Intl. Airport - 42 mi (45 minute drive)
Northstar ski resort California
Northstar is California's family-friendly resort and offers exceptional intermediate terrain

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.

The 5 Best California Ski Resorts
Heavenly Mountain Resort
Squaw Valley - Alpine Meadows
Mammoth Mountain
Kirkwood
Northstar California
Heavenly Mountain Resort