This winter, be sure to check out some of the best ski resorts that California has to offer. Whether your heart is set on riding lifts with view of Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes, or perhaps a setting that’s off the beaten path; we’ve got you covered with where you should be buying lift tickets for the top ski resorts west of the Sierra Nevada.
Heavenly Ski Resort
Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe is truly a gem, offering an unforgettable experience for winter sports enthusiasts and the best snow that South Lake Tahoe has to offer. As you ascend the slopes, you’ll be treated to panoramic vistas of the clear blue waters of Lake Tahoe below. When the clouds part and the sun shines, it feels like you’re skiing in the heavens themselves. Heavenly straddles the state line between California and Nevada. It boasts approximately 4,800 skiable acres, making it the largest and highest ski resort in the Tahoe region. The terrain reaches an elevation of just over 10,000 feet, providing thrilling descents for skiers and snowboarders. Whether you’re an intermediate rider seeking blue cruisers or an advanced mountain shredder craving more challenging terrain, Heavenly caters to all. The resort offers well-spaced trees, easy-going cut ski runs, challenging chutes (like Mott and Killebrew), and even an alpine bowl called Milky Way. There’s something for everyone, ensuring that Heavenly is never a dull place to ski. Heavenly is equipped with high-speed lifts, whisking skiers and snowboarders to the mountaintop efficiently. Spend less time waiting and more time enjoying this great California ski resort.
Kirkwood Mountain Resort
Kirkwood is the least-crowded Tahoe resorts to visit for your ski vacation, making it an ideal choice for those seeking a more secluded and adventurous experience. What truly sets Kirkwood apart is its majority of advanced and expert-level terrain. If you’re an experienced rider, this is the place to be. Imagine tackling super steep and deep chutes—the kind that gets adrenaline pumping and heart racing. This mountain boasts a unique microclimate known as “the K Factor.” This weather phenomenon results in an average of 354 inches of snow dumping on Kirkwood each winter. Yes, you read that right—more snow than any other location in the Lake Tahoe Basin! So, if you’re a powder hound, Kirkwood’s abundant snowfall will leave you grinning from ear to ear. For thrill-seekers, Kirkwood offers highlights like “The Wall,” a double-black-diamond slope that challenges even the most seasoned skiers. But that’s not all—there are around a dozen more double-black-diamond routes waiting to be conquered. Plus, if you’re up for it, you can access backcountry terrain for even more expansive advanced options. This resort combines the best of both worlds: big mountain riding and a small town attitude. It’s about adventure, challenge, and personal satisfaction. Whether you’re carving down the slopes or exploring untouched powder, Kirkwood invites you to discover the magic of its raw and expansive landscape located in the Golden State.
Northstar California Resort
Tucked away in Lake Tahoe’s north shore, is the ever popular resort, Northstar California; this resort offers 3,170 acres to ski in one of the most unique settings in North Lake Tahoe. The resort is located on Mt. Pluto, an extinct volcano that last erupted 2 million years ago and shows no signs of recurrence. This geological history adds to the resort’s distinctive character. When storms hit Tahoe, this resort becomes a hidden gem. Unlike other higher-elevation resorts where chairlifts get shut down due to wind, Northstar’s sheltered backside and Lookout Mountain tend to stay open. This makes it an excellent choice for skiers seeking consistent skiing conditions. This mountain caters to beginners and intermediates, and its groomed trails are well-maintained. What sets it apart is that few skiers venture off-trail, allowing you to find powder stashes days after a snowfall. If you’re looking for untouched snow, Northstar delivers. The base village is designed with families in mind. Fire pits, gazebos, and restaurants encircle a skating rink where you can enjoy s’mores and cocktails. The resort also offers ice skating and marshmallow roasting, creating a warm and welcoming environment for all ages. Northstar boasts ski-in/ski-out dining options and upscale hotels. Notably, the mid-mountain Ritz-Carlton even has its own ski-up barbecue joint. While it may not have the gnarliest terrain, Northstar’s blend of luxury, well-groomed slopes, and family-friendly features make it a unique and enjoyable ski destination.
It has two distinct mountains, Palisades and Alpine Meadows, that are connected by a gondola and offer different terrain and views. It has the only funitel in the United States, which is a type of cable car that can operate in high winds and steep slopes. It has a rich Olympic heritage, as it hosted the 1960 Winter Games and produced many Olympic champions and ski movie stars. It has a vibrant ski culture, with signature events like Merry Days & Holly Nights, Winter Wonder Grass, and the Cushing Crossing pondskimming. It has one of the longest ski seasons in the country, thanks to its consistent snowfall and sunny spring weather. It has stunning scenery, with views of Lake Tahoe, Tram Face, and the surrounding peaks. This is one of the best California ski resorts with a bustling mountain that is sure to provide an excellent variety of entertainment and thrills.
Big Bear Mountain Resort
Big Bear Mountain Resort comprises three distinct mountains: Snow Valley, Snow Summit, and Bear Mountain. Each mountain caters to different skill levels and preferences, making it an all-season destination for alpine adventure. Ideal for beginners and families, Snow Valley offers a welcoming environment with ski and snowboard lessons, equipment rentals, a snow tube park, and night sessions. It’s a great place to learn and enjoy the snow. Positioned for intermediate skiers and families, Snow Summit features upgrades for the 2023/2024 season, including ski and snowboard lessons, equipment rentals, a snow tube park, and night sessions. The mountaintop view dining options provide a scenic backdrop of Big Bear Lake. Bear Mountain caters to both beginners and advanced skiers. With significant upgrades for the 2023/2024 season, it boasts Southern California’s only halfpipes and the highest lift-served peak in the region. Feature parks, equipment rentals, and mid-mountain dining options add to the unique experience. Plus, visitors can enjoy views of the San Gorgonio Mountains. Big Bear Mountain Resort prioritizes safety on the slopes. It boasts the most extensive learning area, making it an excellent choice for beginners.
With over 3,500 skiable acres, Mammoth Mountain provides ample space for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. The majority of runs are ideal for intermediate and advanced skiers, making it a haven for those seeking thrilling descents. Mammoth’s Unbound Terrain Parks have been at the forefront of innovation, quality, and design for over 20 years. Featuring 10 unique parks, 2 halfpipes, 100+ jibs, and up to 40 jumps on any given day, Unbound is a mecca for fun and progression. Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, these parks offer endless excitement. Mammoth is home to the state’s highest ski peak and highest base elevation of 11,053 feet. The combination of high altitude and abundant snowfall ensures excellent skiing and snowboarding conditions throughout the season. Plus, you can even shred into July, making it one of the few resorts with such a long season. Take an aerial ride on the scenic gondola and snap a selfie at the breathtaking 11,053 ft summit. The panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and Big Bear Lake are unforgettable. The Mammoth Lodging Collection offers a wide selection of accommodations, from cozy rooms to luxury homes. Whether you stay in the heart of The Village, near the Lakes Basin, or slopeside, you’ll have a comfortable home base for your adventures.
Shasta Ski Park
Unlike gaudy major ski resorts, Mt. Shasta Ski Park maintains a local vibe that caters to all abilities. It’s a place where you can feel at home, whether you’re a beginner on their first ski or an expert . The resort boasts 425 acres of skiable terrain with 32 trails that drop 1,435 vertical feet. The longest run stretches an impressive 1.75 miles. While lines move swiftly and crowds are manageable, consider visiting midweek for a quieter mountain experience. Aim for early mornings or late afternoons to avoid peak hours. The resort even offers twilight skiing on Fridays and Saturdays for extended slope time. Some of our favorite trails to ride are the Blue Grouse trail, which is perfect for beginners which descends nearly 700 feet and introduces skiers to Shasta’s gentle terrain; Telemark Trail is perfect for a slightly bumpier ride; Eagle’s Flight offers wide-open views and a moderately steep descent; and black-diamond West Face challenges riders with bowl skiing, open terrain, bumps, and drops. Don’t forget to try Silvertip and Revolution terrain parks if you want to attempt rails, boxes gaps and other exciting features.
Badger Pass Ski Area
Badger Pass is one of only three lift-serviced ski areas operating within a US National Park. The fact that it exists within the pristine wilderness of Yosemite National Park adds to its allure. As the oldest ski area in California, Badger Pass has a rich history dating back decades. Its legacy and connection to Yosemite’s natural beauty make it a special place for winter enthusiasts. The other two national park ski areas are Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area in Olympic National Park and Boston Mills/Brandywine Ski Resort in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Badger Pass’s inclusion in this exclusive group highlights its unique status. Badger Pass offers a blend of activities. It features groomed trails perfect for cross-country skiers, allowing visitors to explore the park’s winter wonderland at a more leisurely pace. At the same time, chairlifts take Alpine riders to the top of the runs in minutes, providing access to downhill adventures. For snowboarders and skiers seeking thrills, Badger Pass boasts a challenging feature park. Here, riders can test their limits, hit jumps, and enjoy features designed to enhance their skills. Families can experience the thrills together at Badger Pass’s tubing area. It’s a fun-filled activity where everyone can slide down the snow and create lasting memories in the Sierra Nevada mountains.