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 15 events at California ski resorts—from the Sierra Nevada down to the San Bernardino Mountains—with parties that make a great excuse to plan a California ski trip.
Selective dates, December through March
Celebrate the holiday season and the starry nights of the winter solstice by skiing or snowboarding on select evenings from 3–8:30 p.m. at the Southern California resort’s Upper Miracle Mile, Summit Run, and Westridge Park. Westridge even gets a full evening groom during Night Sessions—a gift if you’ve never hit the fresh snow at dawn.
Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows)
Mid to late December
During the second half of December, Merry Days and Holly Nights will be the place to be for horse-drawn sleigh rides, Brunch with Santa, Disco Tubing, retro- and ugly-sweater après blowouts, Reindeer Games scavenger hunts, and more. On Christmas Eve, there’s a dinner and Sunset Happy Hour at High Camp, and on New Year’s Eve, the World’s Largest Torchlight Parade.
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. Past headliners have included Chainsmokers, Major Lazer, Travis Scott, and Zedd. 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. At Palisades Tahoe, NYE starts in the afternoon with a Ski & Ride with Jonny Moseley and ends with the World’s Largest Torchlight Parade. The Northstar Village party offers ice-skating, s’mores-roasting, and fireworks. Kirkwood, meanwhile, also puts on a big fireworks show at the base of the mountain.
New Year’s Eve
Witness the spectacle of more than 200 skiers and snowboarders as they light up the mountain with torches in hand. This annual event at Snow Summit is open to all ages and admission is free. Ski all day (lifts operate from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.) and then enjoy live music, face painting, stilt walkers, a photobooth, and more.
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. The resort even has a virtual ski lesson area where you can master the basics indoors.
This annual, four-day half-pipe and slopestyle competition will see the nation’s top skiers and snowboarders work their magic for those lucky enough to witness it in person as well as a national television audience. Keep an eye out, at Unbound’s Main Park and its 22-foot half-pipe, for Mammoth-bred athletes such as Chloe Kim, Josh Bowman, Maddie Mastro, Judd Henkes, and Brock Crouch.
Extend your family’s Presidents’ Day weekend into a full week at Palisades Tahoe, which makes the most of the “ski week” that many kids get off from school. Little 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.
Various Lake Tahoe Resorts
Late February/early March
This annual festival in the Lake Tahoe area includes live music and festivities—from polar swims to fireworks—at Palisades Tahoe, Homewood, and Northstar. Annual highlights include the crowning of the SnowFest! Queen and a fabulous pet costume contest.
See tomorrow’s stars in action at this five-day event at Unbound's Main Park and 22-foot half-pipe. Amateur junior athletes (ages 13–19) will compete for the chance to be a part of the U.S. Grand Prix, Junior Worlds, the U.S. Open, and USASA Nationals.
Spring Break at Bear Mountain has a freewheeling, SoCal-style flavor: tube racing, obstacle courses, a pond skim, and “big-kid” activities like cornhole, giant beer pong, and ladder golf. The week is also bookended by concerts, like past headliners Cypress Hill.
Snow, sunshine, and good music combine for this pretty irresistible spring festival. Come for three days of world-class bluegrass and acoustic roots music by nearly two dozen artists and bands 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.
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.
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 half-pipe, or enjoy the live music at the Gondola Deck, then check out the big tug-of-war contest afterward.
Spring, dates set depending on conditions (check site)
This beloved annual event at Palisades Tahoe 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 backside 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 even 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.