Between the falling flakes and the après-ski party atmosphere, a vacation in the California snow is festive from the get-go. Around the Golden State ski resorts also throw parties all season long for any number of reasons: the holidays, music festivals, world-class competitions—even skidding across a slushy pond as winter turns to spring. Here are 12 events at California ski resorts—from the Sierra Nevadas down to the San Bernardino Mountains—with parties that make a great excuse to plan a California ski trip.
South Lake Tahoe
This three-day annual music fest at Lake Tahoe Community College—with an emphasis on electronic dance music—boasts of being the biggest New Year’s Eve party in the Golden State. Headliners this year include The Chainsmokers, Flume, and Odesza. At nearby Heavenly Mountain Resort, ring in the new year with a live band, fireworks, and a midnight “ball drop” along the brightly lit gondola.
Other Tahoe-area resorts throw their own NYE parties too. The Northstar Village party offers ice-skating, s’mores-roasting, and fireworks at 9 p.m. Kirkwood, meanwhile, holds its annual Torchlight Parade, with a big fireworks show at the base of the mountain.
The challenging Huckleberry Canyon, which encompasses 320 acress of backcountry terrain at Sierra-at-Tahoe, plays host to a two-star Free World Qualifier event that showcases top snowboard and freeskiing athletes. Athletes will display their most creative and difficult tricks in order to advance to the finals, which will make for a thrilling weekend for spectators. Grab a snack or beer at 360 Smokehouse before heading to the viewing point a short walk away.
If you’re inexperienced on the slopes and find reassurance in numbers, join this group lesson that, in 2016, hosted a record number of skiers and snowboarders for one single class. Mountain High plans to maintain its world-record status this year, and will continue to support newbies all month. During January, this family-friendly resort in the San Gabriel Mountains—90 minutes from Los Angeles or Orange County—welcomes beginners with discounted lessons for its Learn to Ski & Snowboard Month (and midweek visits mean discounts for the all-important Learn to Turn Tuesdays, which run all the way through March). The resort even has a virtual ski lesson area where you can master the basics indoors.
This four-day halfpipe and slopestyle competition carries a lot more than just a $400,000 prize money purse: It will serve as the first qualifying event for the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, and the 2018 U.S. Olympic Snowboarding Team will be named shortly afterward. Keep an eye out, at Unbound’s Main Park and its 22-foot halfpipe, for Mammoth Team athletes Kelly Clark, Chloe Kim, Greg Bretz, Brandon Davis, Judd Henkes, Brock Crouch, and Maddie Mastro. For good views, stand on the Main Lodge sundeck, the base of the Super Duper Pipe (look for the snow stairs), or along the Main Park’s fence line.
Extend your family’s Presidents’ Day weekend into a full week at Squaw, which makes the most of the “ski week” that many kids get off from school. Kids will freak, for instance, over the Big Truck Event that showcases snowplows, grooming machines, and fire trucks. The week also features kid-friendly street parties, concerts, and an all-kid game and craft room. It’s a great time, too, to enjoy the resort’s aerial tram rides, snow tubing, ice-skating, and mini-snowmobiles, which kids age 6–12 can drive on the groomed oval at the resort’s SnoVentures Activity Zone.
For serious fans of snow sports, the World Cup—a cumulative competition over several events around the globe—can carry as much (if not more) prestige as the Olympics. And while it has been nearly 20 years since California hosted a World Cup event, this four-day FIS World Cup competition brings it back to the Golden State, with a spotlight on Olympic champions (like Squaw Valley local Julia Mancuso) as well as the legendary Red Dog run, site of both the 1969 World Cup and the 1960 Winter Olympics. Buy a two-day, VIP pass and you’ll get a spot near the finish line, as well as lunches with beer or wine, and exclusive access to intermediate/advanced terrain at Squaw Valley before races. But otherwise, there are free standing-room areas near the finish arena, as well as along one side of Red Dog Face.
Even without the competition, this is a festive time to be at Squaw: The World Cup coincides with the Tahoe City Snowfest, which runs from March 3–12 with live music and festivities going on at Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Homewood, and Northstar. Highlights include the crowning of the SnowFest! Queen and a fabulous pet costume contest.
March 31–April 2
Snow, sunshine, and good music combine for this pretty irresistible spring festival. Come for three days of world-class bluegrass and acoustic roots music on three stages, complemented by craft brew tastings at the Beer Hall. Past headliners have included the Greensky Bluegrass, Leftover Salmon, and the Travelin’ McCourys. Kids are welcome too: age 12 and under get in free and can participate in kids’ zones with their own music, crafts, and hula-hooping.
While the warmer temperatures of spring might put a damper on some winter sports, the thawing bodies of water at ski resorts create new opportunities for daredevils, show-offs, or fun-loving masochists. This classic “pond skim” on the north side of Lake Tahoe is free to anyone who wants to try crossing chilly water on skis or snowboards, while also rocking an appropriately weird costume. (One catch: Only the first 75 people who arrive can compete.) Watch the messy fun from the bottom of the neighboring halfpipe, or enjoy the live music at the Gondola Deck, then check out the big Tug-o-War contest afterward.
Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area
The national park’s winter-sports area celebrates the coming thaw with live music and a range of activities like a costume contest, an obstacle course race, and a freestyle competition for older skiers. Don’t miss the World Cup Dummy Race, in which participants create “dummies” (at least three feet high and under 100 pounds) and then set them off in a race down Red Fox Run.
This beloved annual event offers another creative spin to the wacky spring skiing season. Tee up on the unique nine-hole golf course that will span the mountain, beginning at the Summit Express Chair and ending at the bottom of Alpine Bowl Chair. Give your usual snow outfit a layer of Caddyshack-inspired color: Whether you manage to birdie or bogie your way through the snow, you can enter the costume contest at the end.
The Kamikaze bike trail extends down the back side of Mammoth Mountain, from the peak to the Main Lodge. Spell “kamikaze” backwards—and travel the trail backwards too—and you get the Winter Ezakimak race, which invites participants to use snowshoes, cross-country skis, fat bikes, or just go by foot and do a 5K up the mountain. Spectators, meanwhile, can just ride the gondola to the top for the music, family-friendly activities, and beer or hot cocoa.
The folks at Squaw Valley boast that, back in 1989, they launched the first “pond skim,” in which participants traversed icy-cold Cushing Pond on any contraption based on skis or snowboards. Today, the same festivities are overseen by a celebrity panel of judges who score the participants on both their skills and moxie, and the results are fabulous, even when they’re a little sloppy.
Snow-covered peaks in winter, gushing waterfalls in spring, wildflower meadows and glistening lakes in summer, vibrant colors in fall—this is a land of dramatic and wild beauty. World-class mountain resorts circling turquoise-blue Lake Tahoe, and at Mammoth Lakes cater to all, with scenic ski trails in winter and trails and vistas in summer.
Yosemite Valley…is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and gold and wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” --photographer Ansel Adams
Yosemite National Park, a World Heritage Site, is here, roughly 3½ hours east of San Francisco. Whether you hike a mountain, ski the steeps, or lounge in a hot tub beneath a canopy of stars, you’ll find your perfect getaway.
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