High Sierra peaks, deep drifts on a Mammoth volcano, family-friendly resorts, snowy escapes on the edge of Yosemite and more—California has enough alpine destinations to keep any skier or boarder grinning as wide as a happy snowman. Find the resort that suits your style—from big-mountain/big village resort-style settings to under-the-radar treasures.
On the shore of South Lake Tahoe, Heavenly—one of the world’s biggest ski resorts—offers jaw-dropping lake views from runs as wide and bump-free as freeways. This enormous resort has absolutely everything—not just those big groomers with head-swiveling views, but also a wide range of terrain parks, mogul runs with names like Gunbarrel, and peaceful, untracked glades where the world seems to slip away into snowy bliss.
Heavenly has also bumped up the fun even if you don’t ski or board, with on-mountain zip lines, tube runs, scenic gondola rides, and a party-like atmosphere on and off the mountain, making it especially popular with international travelers who might be new to snow sports. And then there are the après-ski offerings: Join the fun at the Après at the Base gatherings, held at all three of the resort’s lodges, California, Stagecoach, and lastly Tamarack, home of the legendary late-afternoon Unbuckle parties. Each lodge creates its own distinct atmosphere—visit them all to find your favorite. Or head straight to LAT 38, a rooftop bar at the California lodge, for a posh happy hour scene complete with live acoustic bands and cozy fire pits.
For after-dark, off-the-slopes fun, Heavenly’s base village is another star attraction, with an ice-skating rink, outdoor fire pits, and a wide array of restaurants. And thanks to its location that straddles the California-Nevada border, the adjacent Stateline area offers top entertainment and gaming in high-rise casinos and splashy hotels.
Insider tip: Consider getting an Epic Pass for access to Heavenly, Northstar California, and Kirkwood; there are various options and pricings, so check to see which one could work for your vacation plans.
Scan the crowd around the ice rink at the handsome Village at Northstar and you can see this place is all about families—happy families—sliding around on the ice, sprawled on comfy outdoor sofas, sipping cocktails and frothy hot chocolate. They just had a great day on the mountain, a place with some of the region’s best terrain parks for all abilities (including a massive half-pipe designed specifically for gold-medalist Shaun White). Experts love Northstar’s snowy acres of endless trees off legendary Lookout Mountain and access to miles of piney backcountry. Intermediate and beginner skiers cruise on wide groomers, enjoying Instagram-worthy views of nearby Lake Tahoe. And every day at 2 p.m., skiers and riders can kick off après-ski at mid-mountain with Northstar’s daily “tōst.” Guests are invited to raise a glass and sip bubbly, then zip through a dozen more laps before the lifts close for the day.
And of course there’s that village, where kids test their balance on the ice rink, then take breaks at the rink-side firepits with mom and dad. End-of-day fatigue is easily abated with roasted marshmallow treats—ready-made s’mores kits, complete with toasting sticks and all the sweet ingredients, are sold at rink-side. Parents take turns hitting up the Village shops or chaperoning the kids at the Village “Hike and Tube” tubing hill.
Solo travelers and romantic couples have options, too. Après-ski doesn’t get much classier than at The Ritz-Carlton at Lake Tahoe, where soaring windows offer views of the snowy runs, and you can choose from an innovative list of artisan cocktails. After a day in ski boots, try the 80-minute “Après Recovery” treatment at the Ritz-Carlton’s swanky spa. Rehydrate with cucumber water, then steam, soak, or swim in a heated lap pool (included with all treatments), before showing up for your reservation at the lodge’s signature restaurant, Manzanita.
Insider tip: If you ski more than a few days per year, consider getting an Epic Pass for all-season access to Northstar California, Heavenly, and Kirkwood.
With ski-tan smiles and serious gear propped in the racks, Lake Tahoe’s Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows attracts elite skiers and their families, with all ages welcome on and off the slopes. Long-time fans, many of whom have skied here since they were tiny, think of Squaw as “their” mountain, a perfect club for top skiers such as Olympian Jonny Moseley.
Squaw’s sister resort, Alpine Meadows, is just down the road, tucked between Truckee and Tahoe City. Families and savvy powder-seekers will appreciate this approachable mountain, which features more than 100 trails on its 2,400 acres of terrain, ranging from easy groomed runs to wide open bowls that offer views of Lake Tahoe below.
In addition to its famous terrain, Squaw boasts a few other differentiators. The resort was the host of the 1960 Winter Olympics—take an Aerial Tram ride to see memorabilia at the free Olympic museum—and often holds elite competitions throughout the season. It’s not uncommon to see past and future Olympians training on the mountain.
Squaw Alpine has also set itself apart with a focus on sustainability. In the near future, the resort plans to run 100 percent on renewable energy sources, making it the first major ski mountain in the U.S. to do so. As a visitor, you can spot signs of the sustainable efforts, from the electric car chargers at the base to the lack of single-use water bottles.
For spring skiing, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is one of the most popular places to be, snow permitting. The heated pool and hot tub complex at Squaw’s High Camp lets you soak surrounded by 9,000-foot peaks (non-skiers can access via the Aerial Tram). Down at the base, get a massage at Resort at Squaw Creek’s posh spa; treatments include access to swirling outdoor whirlpools.
Throughout the resort, there’s an easy, relaxed feel at the end of the day, and the après ski offerings on the Squaw Valley side include the outside deck at the Village at the KT Base Bar, with tilt-your-head-back views of legendary KT-22. On the Alpine Meadows side, another great après-ski destination is The Chalet at Alpine Meadows, a Bavarian-style beer garden that specializes in not just delicious brews but that ultimate of winter dishes, raclette (melted Swiss cheese).
Squaw’s base village is engaging and family-friendly, buzzing with live music, a bungee-jump tramp for the kids, and countless tail-wagging dogs. Let your pint-size racers play in Squaw’s SnoVentures zone, where kids ages 6 to 12 can tube, roast marshmallows, and steer mini snowmobiles on a groomed track. SnowVentures also gets pumping with a live DJ and glittering LED lights to host the all-ages Disco Tubing party on select weekend evenings. Another local favorite is the ultra-low-key Le Chamois (“The Chammy”), a nearly half-century base-village institution that serves pizza and beer in a lively après atmosphere. Locals also love to stop by Wildflour Baking Company for warm-from-the-oven cookies.
In winter, Mother Nature is good to Mammoth Lakes. Very, very good. The mountain town’s signature peak, Mammoth Mountain, gets, on average, more than 30 feet/9 metres of snow, and lifts and gondolas continue to zoom up the mountain longer than any resort in the state. The nice twist is that even though it’s a winter wonderland here, you’ll still need to layer on the sunscreen. Mammoth boasts some 300 days of sunshine a year, so those après ski chairs out on the sundeck of Mammoth’s mid-mountain complex see plenty of action. The base village hops too, with shops, restaurants, and nightlife. Mix things up with a day on the slopes at nearby June Mountain, a local favourite that’s ultra-relaxed and friendly. Even if you’re not a skier, you can take advantage of Mammoth Mountain’s gondola, which climbs to the mountain’s summit at 11,053 feet/3,369 metres for jawdropper views of surrounding high-altitude peaks.
For quieter wintry pursuits, head over to Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center, with breathtaking vistas from trails groomed for Nordic skiing and snowshoeing. Even if you’re not staying the night at the nearby Tamarack Lodge, you can unwind in the great room with a mug of hot mulled wine by the fire, then stay for supper (ski clothes are fine) at cozy Lakefront Restaurant.
Wintry splurges abound—choose from motorized Snowcat tours to guided full-moon snowshoe treks. Go tubing with the kids. Glide through the wilderness on a dogsled. Get an après-ski massage at area resorts, such as Sierra Nevada Resort & Spa or Snowcreek Athletic Club. Or just enjoy the biggest splurge—free time—and watch the alpenglow blush the mountains at sunset.
This fun, accessible ski resort on the way to Lake Tahoe has every right to crow, yet it’s something of a local’s secret. Accolades are showered on Sierra-at-Tahoe by a flurry of gold-medal-winning snowboarders and freestyle skiers, including Hannah Teter, Jamie Anderson, and Maddie Bowman, who’ve carved up these slopes. Yet you won’t find any big banners or flashy signs trumpeting the mountain’s top-notch fans. That might be one reason they love this resort—at “Sierra,” as it’s known, it’s all about the snow and the mountains.
Super-sweet groomers, plus a few surprisingly long runs like the 2.5-mile/4-kilometer Sugar ’N Spice, make beginners and intermediates happy. Fourteen chairlifts access 2,000 skiable acres, and five backcountry gates lead to Huckleberry Canyon’s expert’s-only paradise of trees, glades, cliffs, and big fat pillows of puffy snow—everything a big-mountain diehard dreams of.
Another big draw is Sierra’s collection of six hand-sculpted terrain parks and pipes. Those features make this resort a fun day-trip even if you don’t ski or board: you’ll get a slope-side view of the world-class athletes who train here. That tangle-haired young woman clomping around in her boots in the lodge might have a closet full of gold back at her ski cabin.
Parents looking to introduce their kids to snow fare well at Sierra, too. The Blizzard Mountain snow-play area delivers snow-tubing thrills and plenty of space to build snowmen and nosh on s’mores around a roaring fire pit.
After a morning of ripping up the slopes, stop in to the mountaintop 360 Smokehouse BBQ for a pulled pork lunch with a Lake Tahoe view. Or relax at the mountain’s base in Solstice Plaza, a 30,000-square-foot sun deck, and tuck into a meal at Solstice Eatery for a relaxed après-ski experience. The menu is geared toward healthy eating, and you can sip on a cocktail from the indoor/outdoor Corkscrew Bar.
Insider tip: During ski season, a free shuttle runs between Sierra-at-Tahoe and South Lake Tahoe.
This is the kind of place where parents take their kids to ski for the first time, just like parents did the generation before, and maybe the one before that too. The Badger Pass Ski Area, on the south side of Yosemite National Park, is a relaxed charmer, and well worth adding to a wintertime visit to Yosemite, or making a destination in its own right.
It doesn’t get much more friendly and unpretentious than this. Here, you can lean back in a chair on the broad sundeck and look up the slopes to watch your little ones learn to ski or board. Of course, you can ski too—10 runs access beginner, intermediate, and advanced runs. If you’ve never tried cross-country skier or snowshoeing, start now--there are more than 90 miles/145 kilometres of marked trails and 25 miles/40 kilometres of machine-groomed track heading into Yosemite’s wintry wonderland. Cross-country track and skating lanes are groomed from the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area to Glacier Point—a spectacular 21-mile/34-km round trip.
Ask powder hounds for their favourite California destination, and chances are they’ll say Kirkwood—if they’re willing to share the secret. This stunning resort, roughly 35 miles/56 kilometres south of Lake Tahoe, often gets the steep-and-deep creds for the region. Its jagged granite peaks tend to snag heavy dumps of snow, making it the go-to spot for in-the-snow locals. Head out early for unforgettable first tracks, particularly on the pristine backside runs. For a real heart-pumper, take on the notorious The Wall, with a dramatic steep start that opens up into a whoop-it-up big-turning dream. Kirkwood also offers an array of build-your-skills experiences with its Expedition: Kirkwood program. Choose from private backcountry guides, Snowcat tours, specialty ski and board clinics, avalanche certification courses, and women’s-only adventures.
It’s not all chutes and off-piste at Kirkwood; the Timber Creek area caters to beginners and families, with an excellent ski- and boarding school and a relaxed base lodge.
Insider tip: Consider getting an Epic Pass for access to Kirkwood, Heavenly, and Northstar California; there are various options and pricings, so check to see which one could work for your vacation plans.
Snow Summit and Bear Mountain make up the resorts of Big Bear Mountain Resorts, an appealing alpine region in the wintry, pine-and-snow San Bernardino Range, often referred to as a place to ski and board that’s “less than a tank of gas away, round-trip” from Southern California cities.
A little more than two miles/3.2 kilometres apart, the two resorts, connected by a free Inter-Resort express shuttle, let you choose from more than 50 runs slicing through the snow. Natural features and terrain parks are big here, so if you’re into tricks (or just watching them) you’ll have plenty of opportunities to let loose or be entertained.
Skiing and boarding aren’t the only ways to get your kicks on the slopes though: At the Alpine Slide at Bear Lake’s Magic Mountain, you can whoosh down a winding flume on your own true bobsled with Teflon runners. And tubing is another huge draw here, especially for snow newbies, young and old. For after-dark fun on weeknights, try the Grizzly Ridge Tube Park, at Snow Summit ski resort, which has lighted runs and tubes labeled as “high-speed.” (Children must be at least 42” tall to ride a snow tube by themselves.)
Wind down after your snowy tromp with some choice libations and “high-altitude Mediterranean” at the indoor and sundeck dining at Skyline Taphouse, located at the top of chair 1. For some comfort food and a beer or Bloody Mary, head to Slopeside Speakeasy at the base of chair 2. Or warm up with a meal at Bighorn Smokehouse, also located right next to the slopes. The town of Big Bear Lake has a friendly alpine feel, with lots of places to kick back for some low-key après ski relaxation.
One of the more invigorating ways to unwind, though, is to kick off your skis or snowboard and step into a pair of snowshoes. After all that downhill and terrain park fun, there’s something especially alluring about escaping into the wintry beauty of the San Bernardino Mountains.
This low-key resort on the western side of the Sierra is a local favourite for Central Valley skiers and boarders. Some 70 miles/109 kilometres northeast of Fresno in the uncrowded Sierra National Forest, China Peak offers nearly 1,700 feet/518 metres of vertical, and sweeping views from its highest point at 8,700 feet/2,652 metres.
The goal is to be a place that’s easy to get to, and that has something for everyone. Kids can build their skills on a Burton Progression Park in Ullmann’s Alley. More advanced boarders and skiers ride the rails, boxes, hips, and spines of popular—and challenging—Tollhouse Park. Canyonlands gives skiers and boarders a place to play on bank turns, rollers, and jumps.
For an old-time end to your day, put up your boots and relax at JW’s Original Bar, in the unpretentious base lodge.
This snow-snagging resort is rightly named. Sugary drifts often pile up here, make it a favorite destination for skiers and riders, especially after a big Sierra storm rolls through. A few miles from Truckee and less than two hours northeast of Sacramento, Sugar Bowl is an easy win for snow-lovers seeking a close-to-home ski getaway.
This resort has a tucked-away, off-the-grid feel—the road in off Interstate 80 is lined mostly with snowy forests, not condos and hotels, and when it snows, the little base village looks like a snow globe sprung to life. Sugar Bowl oozes history: In 1939, entrepreneur and animator Walt Disney was an early investor who pitched in needed cash to make Sugar Bowl one of the first in California to have a chairlift (and it was named the Disney Lift).
And then there’s the snowpack, which averages 500 inches/1,270 centimeters of snow per season, the most snow at Lake Tahoe. Thirteen lifts serve a huge variety of terrain on four peaks, and there’s plenty of pristine backcountry, too. If some members of your tribe want to cross-country ski while the rest go vertical, right next door is Royal Gorge, North America’s largest cross-country resort, with 6,000 acres and more than 140 kilometers of groomed trails. You can access Royal Gorge from Sugar Bowl’s Village Rentals shop—and pick up your snowshoe or cross-country rentals. Eight different trail systems give you plenty of room for classic cross-country striding, skate skiing, or even snowshoeing with your dog.
When the lifts close, many skiers head into Truckee for the lively après scene at FiftyFifty Brewing Co or Alibi Ale Works, but you could also just stay put. Some of Sugar Bowl’s drinking and dining options have been on the mountain for more than 70 years, including The Dining Room at Village Lodge (try the seared salmon or elk tenderloin) and The Belt Room Bar (nab a cocktail and head for the deck on warm afternoons). Either spot is a good place to refuel and relax before retreating to your slopeside room at the Bavarian-style Hotel at Sugar Bowl. Hotel guests have access to Sporthaus, a luxurious modern spa and fitness center with a lap pool, hot tub, sauna, steam rooms, and yoga studio. Yes, this might just be your Sierra sweet spot.
The quickest way to snow in the Los Angeles region—short of getting into an airplane and flying to the slopes—is to beeline to this popular mountain getaway on the east side of the San Bernardino Range. Three areas make up the ski resort, each with its own style and atmosphere. If you like the vibe of slope-side music, live performances, night skiing, and on-hill contests, head for West Resort. East Resort aims to deliver a true alpine experience, with a high-speed quad accessing the region’s longest trails, with moguls, glades, and Mojave Desert views. Mountain High North Resort, open Friday through Sunday during peak season, fills the niche as the family-friendly hangout, with 70 acres of beginner to intermediate terrain and a the largest snow-tubing park in Southern California.
The resort offers 290 acres/117 hectares of skiable terrain, with an average of more than 130 inches/330 centimetres of snowfall each season. There’s a nice mix of trails too, with 25% beginner, 40% intermediate, and 35% advanced.
This pleasantly off-the-grid winter destination feels—and looks—like a secret escape in the middle of rugged alpine wilderness. With its laid-back, family-friendly vibe, this low-key mountain town, roughly half way between Lake Tahoe to the north and Yosemite National Park to the south, has a comfortably retro feel, the kind of place that might make you reminisce about your own favorite childhood vacations. As for skiing and boarding, Bear Valley Mountain Resorts features 9 lifts access 75 trails with nearly 1,700 acres/688 hectares of skiable terrain. Trails range from easy groomers to the challenges of Grizzly Bowl, so everyone can find places to play. Snowmaking keeps things skiable in dryer years.
In snowy winters, Highway 4, also known as Ebbetts Pass and a designated National Scenic Byway, closes just east of Bear Valley. Though vehicles can’t cross the mountains here, the snow-covered highway turns into an easy-to-follow route for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Rent gear in town, then follow the road to views of craggy mountains and hushed forests. For more trails, visit Bear Valley Cross Country, with groomed trails for track and skate skiing, 4 trailside huts and the Meadow Café, plus picnic tables for when the weather obliges, all dotting some 3,000 acres/1214 hectares of varied terrain. There’s also a gentle slope where you can practice your downhill technique on Nordic gear. (Don’t worry—it gets easier with practice.) There are also sledding and tubing hills, and fat-tire snow bikes for a new twist on winter fun.
Snowmobiling is also popular in the region; Bear Valley Snowmobile offers rentals and 70 miles of groomed trails, with the Highland Lakes area a popular destination.
Insider’s tip: Come back in summer for the annual Bear Valley Music Festival, featuring a full orchestra and other top music under the pines.