Best Ski Resorts In California

Best Ski Resorts In California

California is world-famous for its gorgeous beaches, a great surfing scene, and, of course, Hollywood films.

But besides the glitz and glamour, the Golden State has a geographically diverse bounty of interior mountains. These mountains offer some of the best skiing and snowboarding opportunities in North America, rivaling those in Colorado and Switzerland.

You can look forward to over 1,200 kilometers of slopes, with 273 modern and high-speed lifts giving access to the gorgeous pistes.

To guide you in your California powder quest, we’ve compiled a list of top ski resorts in the state. 

From mammoth resorts to small single-run snow fields, discover the Golden state with some of the best powder-laden slopes for you to rip, carve, and shred.

Kirkwood Resort

This resort is perched atop the beautiful Sierra Crest Peak.

Skiers and snowboarders love Kirkwood for its pristine alpine terrain with plenty of off-piste and backcountry opportunities. 

The resort has a remote feel as it is further from the hustle and bustle of Tahoe City or Lake Tahoe. It is endowed with a serene mountain atmosphere and rustic alpine architecture. This makes it a perfect getaway for nature-loving thrill-seekers.

How To Get to The Kirkwood Resort

This resort is located within the Eldorado National Forest, about 45 minutes away from South Lake Tahoe and two hours away from Sacramento. It lies about 136 kilometers southwest of Reno (through the I-580 highway) or 305 kilometers on the northeastern end of San Francisco (through the CA-88).

If you wish to drive to the resort, it is recommended you avoid the Mormon Emigrant Trail, Fiddletown Road, or Shake Ridge Road. This is because the Mormon Emigrant Trail usually closes during the winter while Fiddletown Road and Shake Ridge Road are steep, narrow, and winding.

The closest airport is Reno-Tahoe International Airport which is a 1.5-hour drive from the resort. Transfer options include rental cars and shuttle services.

Why Skiers and Snowboarders Love Kirkwood Resort

At a height of about 2,400 meters, the resort has some of the best snowfalls in California. It receives an impressive average seasonal snowfall of about 15 meters. In addition, the snow is drier and therefore better in quality than in the neighboring resorts around Lake Tahoe.

Kirkwood resort features 2,300 acres of skiable terrain, with 87 marked trails. It is served by 15 lifts that transport revelers up its 610-meter vertical. Advanced thrill-seekers love its cornices, rock features, diverse gullies, and tree-lined backcountry glades.

Its varied terrain is classified as follows:

  • 12% beginner
  • 20% intermediate
  • 38% advanced
  • 30% expert

Even though the Kirkwood resort’s village is small, you’ll find many privately-owned and resort-managed condos. Many of these accommodation options offer ski-in/ski-out access but many require a short walk to the lifts and slopes. The crown jewel of Kirkwood resort is the Mountain Club which has great dining and lodging options and offers a true on-mountain experience.

Palisades Tahoe

Aside from this resort’s former name that embroiled it in controversy, Palisades Tahoe is one of the most popular ski fields in California. The premier resort is home to some of the longest runs in North America.

The 1960 Olympic Winter Games put the resort on the world map and it has remained popular since then. And with 300 sunny days a year, the ski field remains one of the best winter sports destinations.

How To Get to The Palisades Tahoe Resort

The resort is located in Tahoe City, about 12 kilometers inland. The town lies northwest of the shores of Lake Tahoe in California. Palisades Tahoe also lies about 19 kilometers south of Truckee town.

The snow area is adjacent to the Alpine Meadows Ski Resort. While the two are not interconnected, you can ski at both resorts using the same lift ticket. There are also many shuttle busses that ferry revelers between the two resorts.

Visitors access the resort through the airport in Reno Nevada, about 78 kilometers away (about an hour’s drive). There are many connecting flights to San Francisco International Airport which has access to major local and international cities.

If weather and traffic conditions are favorable, it takes 3.5 hours to drive from San Francisco.

Why Skiers and Snowboarders Love Palisades Tahoe Resort

At an elevation of between 1,800 and 2,700 meters above sea level, Palisades Tahoe has some of the best snowfalls in California. It receives an average seasonal snowfall of 11 meters, blanketing the expansive terrain with great quality powder.

In 2011, Palisades Tahoe and Alpine Meadows combined to form a massive skiable area of about 6,000 acres. It has 200 kilometers of pistes served by 42 lifts. The resort is famous for its ample advanced terrain that expert and intermediate skiers and snowboarders love. 

The terrain is classified as follows:

  • 25% (50 km) beginner
  • 42% (85 km) Intermediate
  • 33% (65 km) Advanced

The resort has great accommodation options at the Palisades Tahoe Village. Visitors love the luxurious lodges at the iconic Squaw Valley Village. The village features the Squaw Creek resort which has great ski-in/ski-out access.

Mammoth Mountain Ski Area

This is a mammoth ski area that boasts superb skiing and snowboarding terrain.

The resort was founded by Dave McCoy in the 40s and 50s. It has retained some of its historical allure but features modern facilities such as its classy lift systems.

The resort is popular with locals from Los Angeles, Southern California, and Las Vegas. This is because it is much closer to the major cities than the other resorts around Lake Tahoe. This also makes it potentially crowded during holidays and weekends.

How To Get to The Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort

The resort towers above Mammoth Lakes town in Eastern California. It lies about 500 kilometers north of Los Angeles (about a 5.5-hour drive) and 580 kilometers to the west of San Francisco by road. It takes about a 6-hour drive from LA depending on traffic and weather conditions.

The closest airport is the Mammoth Yosemite Airport, about 12.5 kilometers from Mammoth Lakes town. From this airport, you’ll find many connecting flights from bespoke airports such as LAX and San Francisco International Airport. 

Mammoth Mountain Resort has a number of shuttle bus services that connect the various parts of the snow field. They also provide transport to and from the resort, the Mammoth Village, and Mammoth Lakes town.

Why Skiers and Snowboarders Love Mammoth Mountain Resort

At an elevation of about 3,300 meters above sea level, the resort receives an abundant seasonal snowfall of 10 to 12 meters annually. This provides a blanket of deep snow on the snowfield’s terrain.

It features over 3,500 acres of skiable terrain, with 25 lifts providing access to its 175 trails. The lifts traverse the entire resort and consist of gondolas, chairlifts, and high-speed quads. The terrain is ideal for advanced and intermediate snow lovers. 

Mammoth Mountain’s 89.8 kilometers of pistes are classified as:

  • 20% (18.4 km) beginner
  • 54% (48.5) intermediate
  • 26% (22.9 km) advanced

Expert skiers and snowboarders love Mammoth Mountain for its unbound terrain parks. The resort has nine of these parks that cover over 1,500 acres, including challenging halfpipes, jibs lines, and jumps.

The magnificent Mammoth village has many amenities that include hotels, condos, lodges, and apartments. It’s a pedestrian village that can be accessed via a free gondola that provides access to the Canyon Lodge.

Other key attractions at the Mammoth Mountain resort include a beginner ski and snowboard school, which offers individual, private, and group lessons. There’s also a Mammoth Kids school which offers snow sports lessons to kids.

Heavenly Ski Resort

This is the largest ski resort in the lake Tahoe area.

As its name suggests, it has some of the most scenic views in California. It is surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains and overlooks the crystalline surface of Lake Tahoe. Skiers and snowboarders schuss down refreshing pine-lined pistes and runs.

The resort is a popular bachelor party destination, with numerous casinos and thrilling nightlife. In addition, its après ski is unapparelled and is one of the few resorts that open all year round. 

How To Get to The Heavenly Ski Resort

Heavenly ski resort lies on the border between California and Nevada. With favorable traffic conditions, the resort is about a three-hour drive from San Francisco (via the I-80) and about an hour away from Reno.

If you’re arriving by air, the nearest airport is the Reno-Tahoe International Airport. There are various transfer options available at the airport including rental cars and shuttle buses. 

The buses depart eleven times a day and connect the airport to South Lake Tahoe. If you’re driving to the resort, you can take the 395 or 580 highway to Carson City and turn at Exit 57B (Virginia City/Carson City/South Lake Tahoe). Then take exit 38 and head on to Lake Tahoe.

Why Skiers and Snowboarders Love Heavenly Resort

The ski field rises above 3,068 meters above sea level and gets an abundant 8 to 11 meters of snowfall every season. This guarantees a deep powder cover on the resort’s pistes. In addition, thrill seekers get to enjoy over 300 bluebird days.

The Heavenly Resort sprawls across 4,800 acres of varying terrain, with a good measure of intermediate and expert slopes. It has 40 kilometers of ski runs and 94 kilometers of pistes accessed by 28 chairlifts. 

The snow field’s 94 kilometers of slopes is further classified as:

  • 19% (18 km) beginner
  • 45% (42 km) intermediate
  • 36% (34 km) advanced

Expert skiers and snowboarders love the double-black diamond pistes that include challenging 1,600-foot chutes. There are also challenging terrain parks that freestylers can enjoy.

The resort’s town has many amenities for snow lovers including restaurants, lodges, and hotels. These range from deluxe services to budget-friendly options that suit all tastes and preferences.

NorthStar California Resort

Formerly called Northstar at Tahoe, this resort is one of the best skiing and snowboarding destinations in the US. After its acquisition by Vail Resorts in 2010, it has undergone a significant transformation from a simple day ski area to a go-to winter holiday destination with all the trappings of a mega resort.

The resort offers a more high-end experience to individuals, groups, and families. It has one of the best ski villages that features upscale dining, shopping options, and lodging.

How To Get to The NorthStar California Resort

The resort is located about 15 minutes from Truckee, California, and about 45 minutes from Nevada’s Reno by road.  

The nearest airport is the Reno-Lake Tahoe International Airport (RNO) which is about 45 minutes away. The airport has more than 140 flight services to major cities in the US and the world. Various transfer options are available from Reno and include:

  • A bus ride to North Star via the RTC Street Station on Bay T 4SS
  • A train ride from Santa Rosa to Northstar through the Airport Boulevard and Smart Station.
  • Rental cars
  • Luxury shuttles to the resort

Why Skiers and Snowboarders Love the NorthStar California Resort

The NorthStar resort has one of the best snowfalls in North America. It receives a seasonal average of about 8 to 10 meters. To compensate for low seasonal snowfalls, the resort has snowmaking infrastructure on 50% of the slopes. 

The ski resort features about 3,200 acres of varying skiable terrain, with 100 trails served by 20 lifts. These lifts transport thrill-seekers up the 695-meter vertical. The resort has great tree-lined cruisers and superb corduroy groomers.

The 97 kilometers of trails are classified as follows:

  • 26% (25 km) beginner
  • 46% (45 km) intermediate
  • 28% (27 km) advanced

From these stats, it is clear that the snow field has the most ideal terrain for beginners and intermediates. However, expert skiers and snowboarders enjoy the seven advanced glades on Mt. Pluto, which are serviced by the Promised Land Express and Backside Express lifts.

The NorthStar resort is a great destination for two key demographics: luxury travelers and families. It offers deluxe slope-side accommodations on the iconic Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe. Visitors also enjoy other thrilling activities including ice skating, a movie theater, and tubing.

While a trip to the resort is not cheap, visitors can save money with Vail’s Epic Season Pass. There are also many budget accommodations in the nearby Truckee towns, with easy access via public transport.

Final Thoughts and How Brealpa Can Help You Plan Your Next Skiing and Snowboarding Trip

For a fantastic alpine experience with great snow, head over to the resorts in California. It is one of the best places to ski and snowboard in North America, with great skiing and snowboarding conditions that rival those in Colorado and Europe.

If North America is on your winter destination bucket list, Brealpa can help you. You’ll find plenty of information on:

  • Accommodation options, both luxurious and budget-friendly
  • Inspiration for snow activities to keep your whole family engaged
  • Resort seasons, opening, and closing times

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Written by Brealpa

August 10, 2022

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