11 Top-Rated Ski Resorts in California, 2023
To tourists, California is most famous for its beaches, surfers, and Hollywood movie stars. But to skiers, the appeal of California lies far from the coastline, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which form the eastern border of the state.
The ski resorts of California offer majestic alpine scenery, relatively mild and sunny winter weather, and luxuriant powder-covered slopes. In fact, many of California's ski resorts are on par with the top resorts in Colorado and even in Europe.
This list ranks the best ski resorts, based on overall skiing terrain and facilities. The resorts are found throughout the state, with the majority in Northern California's Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes, and Yosemite. Other notable mentions are in Southern California, in the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains, which are surprisingly close to Los Angeles.
California is one of the best places to visit in North America for exhilarating mountain scenery and downhill skiing. Before planning your winter vacation, weekend getaway, or day trip on the slopes, use our list to discover the top ski resorts in California.
1. Palisades Tahoe
In Northern California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, overlooking the glistening emerald-blue Lake Tahoe, this premier resort boasts some of the longest ski runs in North America. Palisades Tahoe hosted the 1960 Olympic Winter Games and since then has been known for its advanced terrain and excellent ski conditions.
With an average of more than 300 sunny days a year, Lake Tahoe is one of the best places in California for a ski vacation. Plus plenty of powder snow blankets the expansive slopes, usually at least 450 inches in the winter season.
A ticket to Palisades Tahoe also includes entry to the neighboring Alpine Meadows ski resort, which is just a 15-minute shuttle bus ride away. Together, these two ski areas include more than 6,000 acres of skiable terrain and 270 runs accessed by 42 lifts.
Skiers of all abilities will find enough runs to suit their skills without having to repeat any trails. Intermediate trails represent the majority of runs, with 43 percent of slopes at both resorts rated as blue runs, while 25 percent of the runs are green (ideal for beginners), and 32 percent of the runs are black diamonds that only experts can handle.
Another highlight is The Village at Palisades Tahoe, with its first-rate restaurants and lodging options. Steps away from the ski lifts, the Squaw Valley Lodge provides a convenient location for overnight stays. This three-star hotel offers ski-in/ski-out accommodations at the base of Palisades Tahoe, along with great amenities: a fitness center, hot tubs, sauna, and steam room.
The Resort at Squaw Creek is a good choice for those seeking luxurious ski-in/ski-out accommodations at Palisades Tahoe. Nestled in a peaceful meadow with majestic mountain views, this four-star resort is part of the Hyatt hotel group. Amenities include five restaurants, a full-service spa, fitness center, outdoor ice skating rink, and a pedestrian shopping corridor with a variety of ski gear outfitters and sporting apparel boutiques.
The drive to Palisades Tahoe takes about three hours and 30 minutes from San Francisco if weather and traffic conditions are favorable.
Official site: www.palisadestahoe.com
2. Heavenly Ski Resort
As breathtakingly beautiful as the name suggests, Heavenly is one of the most scenic ski areas in California. About a three- to four-hour drive from San Francisco, Heavenly features 34 miles of groomed trails covering 4,800 skiable acres, making it the largest ski resort in the Lake Tahoe area.
Located at the border of California and Nevada, at elevations reaching up to 10,067 feet (with seasonal snowfall averaging 360 inches), the resort overlooks the crystalline waters of Lake Tahoe surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Heavenly's magnificent views are as much an attraction as the fantastic powder-coated slopes.
It's possible to take a Scenic Gondola Ride at Heavenly ski resort without purchasing a ski lift ticket, day pass, or season pass. The 2.4-mile gondola ride stops at the Observation Deck, which has a café and a shop that sells souvenirs and sporting goods. The Scenic Gondola Ride gives non-skiers a chance to admire Lake Tahoe's mesmerizing expanse of sapphire-blue waters from the amazing vantage point of Heavenly Mountain.
Surrounded by refreshing pine forests, the extensive, wide-open ski slopes include 97 runs accessed by 28 chairlifts. Many of the trails are lengthy runs extending as much as 3,500 vertical feet in descent. The lengthiest trail extends for five miles, which is the longest run on the West Coast.
Heavenly has runs for skiers of all abilities, including a good variety of intermediate slopes, and also features classes for those learning how to ski.
Expert skiers head to the resort's epic double-black diamonds that feature impressive 1,600-foot chutes. For adventurous freestyle skiers, Heavenly's terrain park is a big draw.
Official site: https://www.skiheavenly.com
3. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area
About a five-hour and 30-minute drive from Los Angeles, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in the Eastern Sierra boasts outstanding skiing and snowboarding opportunities. The gorgeous setting in the Sierra National Forest, plentiful sunshine, and perfect powdery conditions make Mammoth a desirable ski destination.
With a peak more than 11,000 feet in elevation and abundant annual snowfall (averaging 400 inches per year), Mammoth is one of the first ski areas to open every year. The season often extends at least until May and sometimes all the way until the 4th of July. Another bonus for visitors, the Mammoth Lakes area has many lodging options and top-notch restaurants.
Mammoth Mountain is one of the largest ski areas in California, with three base lodges, over 3,500 acres of skiable terrain, and 25 lifts that provide access to 175 trails.
Mammoth Mountain is a great choice for advanced skiers, since more than 50 percent of the runs are considered expert and advanced.
Beginners can take advantage of Mammoth's Ski & Snowboard School (available at each base lodge), which offers private and group ski lessons. Each base lodge also has a Mammoth Kids school, which provides ski lessons designed for youngsters.
Daring freestyle skiers appreciate Mammoth Mountain for its Unbound Terrain Parks. The resort boasts nine terrain parks spread out over more than 100 acres, featuring challenging halfpipes, as well as dozens of jib lines and opportunities for over 40 different jumps.
Official site: https://www.mammothmountain.com/winter
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mammoth Lakes
4. Northstar California
Northstar California is the most family-friendly ski resort in Lake Tahoe, thanks to its kids' activities, ski school, and extensive network of well-groomed trails. Adding to the enjoyment, many of the runs have lovely views and traverse pristine pine forests.
The ski resort covers 3,170 acres, with 100 runs that are accessed by 20 chairlifts. The majority (60 percent) of the runs are intermediate, 13 percent are beginner runs, and 27 percent are advanced. The longest run stretches for 1.4 miles.
Blessed with sunny weather and abundant seasonal snowfall, the ski slopes at Northstar are usually blanketed with fluffy powder snow. At times when snowfall is light, the resort uses snowmaking machines to improve the conditions.
A major attraction of Northstar is its alpine-style village at the base of the slopes. The village is convenient for shopping, dining, and lodging, with its extensive selection of restaurants and hotels ranging from casual to upscale.
Official site: https://www.northstarcalifornia.com
5. Kirkwood Ski Resort
Kirkwood has a different, more remote feel since it's farther away from the hubbub of Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe than the other Tahoe resorts. Perched on the Sierra Crest peak, this picturesque 2,300-acre resort is appreciated for its peaceful, unspoiled alpine scenery and challenging, diverse terrain.
Among the Lake Tahoe ski resorts, Kirkwood has some of the finest powder-snow conditions. Because of the high elevation (7,800 to 9,800 feet), the snowfall here is more plentiful and drier, which allows for better control while skiing even on the steepest runs.
Kirkwood is best suited for experienced skiers, who are able to take on the resort's legendary black diamonds. More than half of the resort's 86 runs (accessible by 15 lifts) are advanced (38 percent) and expert (20 percent), and even the intermediate runs (30 percent) are slightly more difficult here than other resorts' typical intermediate runs.
Only 12 percent of the runs at Kirkwood are rated beginning level. The longest run extends for 2.5 miles along tranquil forest-clad glades.
Ideal for an escape to nature, the Kirkwood area is less developed than other Lake Tahoe resorts. Many visitors appreciate the peaceful mountain atmosphere and rustic alpine architecture, although the lodging options are more limited than at the Palisades Tahoe, Northstar, and Heavenly resorts.
An excellent choice of accommodation, The Mountain Club is located right in the Kirkwood village near the ski lifts. This modern resort hotel offers ski-in, ski-out accommodations with a wide range of amenities, including a concierge, coffee shop, convenience store, parking, hot tub, sauna, steam room, and fitness center.
There are also vacation rentals in and around Kirkwood village. Visitors can choose from townhouses, condos, and cabins for short stays.
Official site: https://www.kirkwood.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Kirkwood
6. Sugar Bowl
Quaint and small-scale in feel, this historic ski resort is loved for its charming ambience and wonderful powdery slopes. True to its name, Sugar Bowl holds the claim to the most snowfall (an annual average of 500 inches) of any resort in the Lake Tahoe area.
The resort is also the closest Tahoe ski area to San Francisco, only a three-hour drive away if traffic and weather permit. Plus there's parking right near the slopes, which makes it an easy day trip.
Established in 1939, Sugar Bowl is one of California's most legendary ski resorts: the first ski area in the state to install a chairlift and the first in the West to install a gondola. Walt Disney was one of the original investors in the Sugar Bowl ski resort and one of the resort's mountain peaks is named after him. "The Art of Skiing," a Disney cartoon made in 1941, depicts Goofy learning how to ski at Sugar Bowl.
Sugar Bowl's historic lodge, the Inn at Sugar Bowl, reveals the old-fashioned charm of an alpine ski village. (The resort was modeled after European ski villages.) The three-star Inn at Sugar Bowl features ski-in, ski-out accommodations and a fine-dining restaurant that serves gourmet cuisine in an elegant setting.
Steps away from the lodge are the ski slopes, nestled into the side of the mountain. The 1,650-acre ski area is sheltered from the wind, which makes for a pleasant ski experience. The runs cover four mountain peaks of Donner Summit, winding through spacious glades that are surrounded by dense pine forests, with spectacular mountain views at every turn.
With 12 lifts that provide access to 103 trails, Sugar Bowl has slopes for all ability levels. Most (45 percent) of the runs are intermediate level, while 38 percent are advanced runs and 17 percent are beginner "bunny hills."
Group lessons and private lessons are available for adults and children learning how to ski.
For those who enjoy cross-country skiing, the adjacent Royal Gorge ski area offers 140 kilometers of Nordic trails spread out on 6,000 acres. Royal Gorge is the largest cross-country ski resort in North America, with six trail systems and eight warming huts. Combination season passes are available for Sugar Bowl and Royal Gorge.
Official site: http://www.sugarbowl.com/
7. Big Bear Mountain Resort
Big Bear Mountain Resort is in Southern California's San Bernardino Mountains, one of the few ski areas in California not found in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.
The San Bernardino Mountains reach higher than 8,000 feet in elevation, high enough to get outstanding snowfall so close to the Pacific Ocean, only a two-hour drive (100 miles) from Los Angeles if traffic allows.
Big Bear Mountain Resort at Big Bear Lake includes two major ski areas (one entry ticket is valid at both): Bear Mountain, with 748 acres of skiable terrain, and Snow Summit, with 240 skiable acres.
Known for its state-of-the-art facilities, Bear Mountain resort has 27 trails accessed by eight lifts. Most of the runs are intermediate (55 percent) and beginner (15 percent). Bear Mountain is also famous for its snowboarding terrain parks, which rank among the top 10 in North America.
The family-friendly Snow Summit resort has even more intermediate trails; more than 60 percent of the resort's 30 trails (accessed by 10 lifts) are blue runs rated for mid-level skiing ability. The resort's terrain parks are rated among the best in California.
Both Bear Mountain and Snow Summit offer ski lessons taught by certified professionals. Bear Mountain has the largest area in Southern California, dedicated to ski and snowboarding classes.
Official site: https://www.bigbearmountainresort.com/winter
Accommodation: Best Resorts in Big Bear, CA
8. Badger Pass Ski Area
California's oldest ski resort is surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery in the Central Sierra mountain range, near the world-famous attractions of Yosemite National Park.
About a four-hour drive from San Francisco, Badger Pass Ski Area is less crowded and more affordable than many of the Tahoe ski resorts. Families with kids will find this resort is easy to manage and stress-free.
This ski area includes downhill (alpine) ski slopes, as well as terrain reserved for cross-country skiing, snow tubing, and snowshoeing.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Yosemite National Park
9. Mt. Shasta Ski Park
A snow-capped volcanic peak that soars to 7,500 feet, Mount Shasta is a truly awe-inspiring sight in Northern California. The Mt. Shasta Ski Park is found at the foot of this legendary peak (with a base elevation of 5,500 feet), in between the cities of Mount Shasta and McCloud.
Most of the hotels, lodges, and restaurants are in the town of Mount Shasta, but the nearby towns of McCloud and Dunsmuir also have a good selection of lodging and dining options.
Mt. Shasta Ski Park encompasses 635 acres of skiable terrain with 38 downhill ski trails. Most of the runs are intermediate (45 percent), with the remaining 20 percent beginner and 35 percent advanced level. The longest run extends for over two miles.
Adventurous snowboarders love the terrain parks: Silvertip Terrain Park for beginners and intermediate-level riders, and the more advanced Revolution Terrain Park.
Cross-country skiers will find plenty of picturesque terrain to explore at Mt. Shasta Ski Park, along with ski rentals and lessons. The park has over 23 kilometers of Nordic trails as well as a 2.5-kilometer trail designed for snowshoeing. A warming hut at the trailhead offers hot beverages and snacks.
Official site: https://www.skipark.com
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Mount Shasta
10. Mt. Baldy Resort
Mt. Baldy is the closest ski resort to the Los Angeles metropolitan area (50 miles away), just a one-hour drive if traffic permits. A favorite among expert skiers, Mt. Baldy is predominantly covered with advanced-level black-diamond and double-black-diamond runs.
There are only a handful of beginner and intermediate trails at Mt Baldy Resort. However, the resort does have a Learning Center that provides ski lessons to children and adults.
Official site: https://mtbaldyresort.com/
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Mount Baldy
11. Mountain High
An easy 1.5-hour drive (80 miles) from Los Angeles, this award-winning resort is the most popular ski area in Southern California. Mountain High ski resort is tucked away in the Big Pines region of the San Gabriel Mountains, part of the Angeles National Forest.
Three ski resort areas are available to skiers, with the same entry ticket. The resorts offer great amenities including mid-mountain restaurants.
The West Resort offers a wide variety of runs, including technical trails used for contests.
The East Resort has the longest runs, jaw-dropping viewpoints of the Mojave Desert, and expert slopes with challenging moguls. A favorite spot for meal breaks at the East Resort is the Grand View Lodge, a mountaintop restaurant with spectacular vistas.
Well suited for families and anyone learning how to ski, North Resort features 70 acres of beginner-level runs.
The overall 290 acres of skiable terrain at Mountain High's three resorts is serviced by 11 lifts that lead to 60 trails, with 25 percent beginner runs, 40 percent intermediate runs, and 35 percent advanced runs.
Official site: http://www.mthigh.com/