Chances are you already know about California’s great downhill skiing and snowboarding options, so we've dug deeper to find surprising ways to play in the snow. From snowshoeing under a full moon to riding a bike on snow, these winter adventures are a great alternative—or addition to—a day at the resort. And don’t miss the nachos, cookies, and cocktails that locals love.
1. Sightsee by Snowshoe
Snowshoeing differs from skiing in one major way: It’s all grip and no glide. That means you have time to take in your surroundings—by day or night. Gaze up at the towering trees in Yosemite’s Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias. Sign up for one of Tahoe Adventure Company’s full-moon treks through a snow-kissed alpine forest, or see the Mammoth Lakes Basin lit up by moonlight on an after-hours trek with Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center.
2. Carve a Figure Eight
Even if you fall down occasionally, ice-skating is a joyful throwback to the ankle-wobbling winters of childhood. Practice your camel spins on outdoor rinks at or near ski resorts—Heavenly, Northstar, Mammoth, and Mount Shasta—or at unexpected locations like Sacramento, Glendale, Palo Alto, Turlock, and even San Diego’s Hotel del Coronado. No matter where you lace up, the best part comes afterward: a steaming mug of hot chocolate.
3. Create Your Own Snowmobile Tour
Zip through the snow on a “mountain sled” near Bear Valley’s snowmobile-only winter village on Highway 4. Bear Valley Snowmobile will stage your machine at the trailhead, so all you have to do is bundle up and don your helmet. There’s no need to join a guided tour—with a few brief instructions, even first-time snowmobilers can hop on a sled, rev the engine, and safely cruise through snow-cloaked meadows and pine forests. If you’d be more comfortable with a guide showing the way, check out Snowmobile Adventures in Mammoth to enjoy mountain views while you cruise along tree-lined trails.
4. Ski to an Off-the-Grid Treehouse
Immerse yourself in West Siskiyou County’s backcountry with a remote overnight adventure. Guide Jen Bray—a 22-year Forest Service veteran—owns the rustic “Treehouse at Taylor,” located at the gateway to the Marble Mountain and Russian Wilderness areas. Strap on snowshoes or skis for the 1.7-mile trek to the cabin, where Bray can prepare meals and show you where to explore. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
5. Pedal a Bike on Snow
Instead of tackling knee-grinding moguls, pamper your joints with a snowy cruise on a fat-tire bike. These burly two-wheelers are like mountain bikes on steroids, their chubby snow tires made to carve turns on hard-packed sugar. Give the sport a spin at Northstar California’s Cross Country Center, or rent a battery-assisted e-bike from Truckee Winter Sports and pedal the locals-favorite Emigrant Trail.
6. Cross-Country Ski to an Amazing Vista
For the solitude seeker, Royal Gorge Ski Resort is your spot. Kick and glide uphill to Point Mariah, an overlook that offers jaw-dropping views of the 4,000-foot-deep American River gorge. This 12-mile trek is a challenging workout even for experienced XC skiers, so newbies should try easier trails first—Royal Gorge offers 86 miles of choices.
7. Build a Snowman
Ranging across the Sierra Nevada from Lake Tahoe to Shaver Lake, California Sno-Parks are plowed parking lots adjacent to snow-covered parklands. Buy a $15 day permit and bring your own gear for do-it-yourself winter fun at one of the 18 park locations.
8. Take a Nostalgic Gondola Ride
While the mad-dash crowd packs onto the Mt. Judah Express quad and zips up to Sugar Bowl’s main entrance in four minutes, true ski buffs ride to Sugar Bowl Village in leisurely, old-school style: Park off Old Highway 40, then glide uphill in one of the Magic Carpet Gondola’s vintage cars. Built in 1953, this was the West Coast’s first aerial tramway. Skim above the treetops, then cozy up at the rustic-elegant Hotel at Sugar Bowl.
9. Eat Like a Local at California Ski Resorts
Heading to one of California’s popular mountains? Take advice from locals and eat where the resort regulars eat—stop at these great spots for lunch, dinner, and après-ski treats.
- Get the cookie pass for discounts on gooey chocolate-chip treats at Wildflour Baking Company at Palisades Tahoe.
- At Mt. Shasta Ski Park, ride the chairlift to Black Diamond Grill for beers, burgers, and awesome views.
- Whoosh down Northstar’s East Ridge Trail at 2 p.m. to clink glasses at Tost, a ski-up bar that doles out free sparkling wine or cider.
- Grab free s’mores and discounted cocktails at West Shore Café’s outdoor fire pits at Homewood.
- Ski to the base of Chair 2 at Mammoth Mountain for smoked tri-tip sandwiches and pulled-pork nachos on The Mill’s sundeck.
- Cap off a day at June Mountain with melted cheese, smoky tomato sauce, and New York–style crust baked in June Pie Pizza’s stone-deck oven.
- Savor tiki vibes and tropical flavors—ahi poke bowls, jerk chicken, and barbacoa beef—at Big Bear’s island-themed Tropicali.
If you plan to spend time on the slopes—skiing, boarding, or even sledding—check out this new Mountain Safety Guide created by Ski California before your first trip. The guide is a comprehensive tool to educate downhill skiers and riders of all ability and experience levels about on-mountain safety.