With more than 30 ski resorts and numerous opportunities for downhill, cross-country, and backcountry adventures, California offers a wide range of skiing and snowboarding options. As Mike Reitzell, President of Ski California, discussed in a recent skiing-focused episode of the California Now Podcast, the Golden State boasts a “variety that’s really unique to the entire country, starting up in Shasta and extending 700 miles down to Southern California.”
Whether you want to try skiing or snowboarding for the first time or you're in search of the most challenging double blacks, Reitzell offers ideas for where to go.
“If you’re looking for that California vibe,” Reitzell noted, “the surfing culture, you’re going to find it at Big Bear—but you’re going to get it on skis and snowboards.” Terrain parks at Sierra-at-Tahoe and Boreal also attract snow-surfing slopestyle enthusiasts.
For the perfect family getaway, smaller mountains like Tahoe Donner and Dodge Ridge provide gentle terrain, quality ski schools, and good deals (they offer lessons for kids as young as 3 and 2 years old, respectively). Larger resorts such as Mammoth Mountain, Northstar, Heavenly, and Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows also offer kids’ and private family lessons plus more specialized classes in bumps, steeps, and racing for your future Olympic hopeful.
Incredible ski runs often come with incredible views. “Lake Tahoe is definitely the crown jewel of California when it comes to skiing,” says Reitzell. And there’s nowhere better to enjoy a view of Tahoe than from Homewood, where it feels like you can ski right into the lake’s bright blue waters. Heavenly also provides expansive Lake Tahoe views, while Badger Pass offers skiing within the spectacular Yosemite National Park, and the Mt. Shasta Ski Area gives you the chance to ski on one of California’s biggest and most majestic mountains.
Many Olympic skiers and snowboarders hail from the Golden State—including Jonny Moseley, Chloe Kim, Shaun White, and many others—and they have taken advantage of California's challenging terrain for training. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has hosted competitions from the 1960 Winter Olympics to the 2017 Skiing World Cup on its many black diamond runs, and 90 minutes south, Kirkwood is renowned for its extreme chutes. Mammoth Mountain’s upper bowl is an advanced skiers’ playground: “The best way I can describe [Mammoth’s snow] is that it skis like butter,” Reitzell says. “It’s smooth, soft, and it feels like you’re just sliding right on top of it.”
At the end of a day on the mountain, you'll probably want to unwind with your preferred version of après-skiing. For those seeking a luxury experience, Northstar California Resort has on-mountain champagne toasts, upscale restaurants in the village, and the slope-side The Ritz Carlton-Lake Tahoe. Heavenly has a glitzy après-ski scene both on the mountain and at its base in South Lake Tahoe, and spirited villages at Mammoth and Squaw keep the party going.
Before you arrive at any of California's mountain resorts, check out Ski California's safety tips to learn about skier responsibilities, etiquette, how to prepare for deep snow conditions, and more.