11 Top-Rated Ski Resorts in California, 2023/24

Written by Lisa Alexander
Updated Nov 7, 2023

There's more to California than just beaches, surfers, and Hollywood movie stars. If you love mountains and winter sports, the appeal of California lies far from the coastline, in the Sierra Nevadas, 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.

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

Palisades Tahoe
Palisades Tahoe
  • Home to some of the longest runs in North America

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 39 lifts.

Whatever your ski ability, you will find enough runs that you never need to repeat a trail. 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.

Lodging:

Another highlight is The Village at Palisades Tahoe, with its first-rate restaurants and lodging options. Steps away from the ski lifts, the Palisades Tahoe 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.

Presiding over a peaceful meadow, the Everline Resort & Spa offers luxurious ski-in/ski-out accommodations at Palisades Tahoe. The four-star resort has five restaurants, a full-service spa, an outdoor ice skating rink, and a corridor of shops that sell ski gear and apparel.

The drive to Palisades Tahoe takes about three hours and 30 minutes from San Francisco if weather and traffic conditions are favorable.

2. Heavenly Ski Resort

Heavenly Ski Resort
Heavenly Ski Resort
  • The largest ski resort around Lake Tahoe

As the name suggests, Heavenly Ski Resort is breathtakingly beautiful. Located at the border of California and Nevada, at elevations reaching up to 10,067 feet, 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.

Heavenly Ski Resort features 34 miles of groomed trails covering 4,800 skiable acres, making it the largest ski resort in the Lake Tahoe area. Another bonus: The resort gets seasonal snowfall averaging 360 inches.

Tucked away between pine groves, 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.

It takes about three to four hours to drive from San Francisco to Heavenly Ski Resort.

3. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area

Mammoth Mountain Ski Area
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area
  • Abundant snowfall and a long season

Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in the Eastern Sierra boasts outstanding skiing and snowboarding opportunities. The plentiful sunshine and perfect powdery conditions make Mammoth a desirable ski destination.

Thanks to an elevation of over 11,000 feet, Mammoth gets abundant annual snowfall (averaging 400 inches per year). The ski season begins early and often extends at least until May and sometimes all the way until the 4th of July. During the epic 2022 - 2023 ski season, Mammoth received so much snow that the resort stayed open through August!

Mammoth Mountain Ski Area 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.

If you're an advanced skier, this resort is a great choice. 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.

It is about a five-hour and 30-minute drive from Los Angeles to Mammoth Mountain. The Mammoth Lakes area has many hotels and top-notch restaurants. The most centrally located lodging options are at the Village at Mammoth (next to the ski resort). Here you'll find The Village Lodge, which offers condos with direct access to the ski slopes, and The Westin Monache Resort, just five miles away from the ski resort.

4. Northstar California

Northstar California
Northstar California
  • Best family ski resort in Lake Tahoe

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 astounding mountain views or traverse snowy pine forests.

The Northstar California 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.

If you are looking for an enjoyable and easy-to-plan ski vacation, Northstar is a great choice. You'll love the alpine-style village, at the base of the slopes, which has ski gear shops and cafes. There's also an extensive selection of restaurants and hotels ranging from casual to upscale.

5. Kirkwood Ski Resort

Kirkwood Ski Resort
Kirkwood Ski Resort
  • More than half of the runs are for advanced skiers

Kirkwood has a secluded wilderness feel, as 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.

If you're an experienced skier, then you will love the legendary black diamonds. Most of the resort's 86 runs (accessible by 15 lifts) are for experienced skiers: advanced (38 percent) and expert (20 percent). 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.

Lodging:

Ideal for an escape to nature, the Kirkwood area is less developed than other Lake Tahoe resorts. There are a few hotels and condo rentals, but the lodging options are more limited than the areas around Palisades Tahoe, Northstar, and Heavenly.

The Mountain Club is located right in the Kirkwood village near the ski lifts. This modern resort hotel offers ski-in and ski-out accommodations with a wide range of amenities.

There are also vacation rentals in and around the Kirkwood village. You can choose from townhouses, condos, and cabins for short stays.

6. Sugar Bowl

Sugar Bowl Resort
Sugar Bowl

This historic ski resort has an old-fashioned alpine ambiance and picturesque 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 resort, which makes it an easy day trip.

Sugar Bowl's Lodge was inspired by the accommodations found in European ski villages. The three-star hotel features recently refurbished guest rooms 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.

Nordic Skiing:

If you are a cross-country skier, check out the adjacent Royal Gorge ski area offers 140 kilometers of Nordic trails. 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.

7. Big Bear Mountain Resort

Big Bear Mountain Resort
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, the 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 a large area dedicated to ski and snowboarding classes.

Accommodation: Best Resorts in Big Bear, CA

8. Badger Pass Ski Area

Badger Pass Ski Area
Badger Pass Ski Area

You can admire some of California's most stunning scenery when you ski at Badger Pass, in the Central Sierra Mountain Range. This historic ski area opened in 1935 and is near the world-famous attractions of Yosemite National Park.

About a four-hour drive from San Francisco, the Badger Pass Ski Area is less crowded and more affordable than many of the Tahoe ski resorts. Families with kids appreciate the laid-back atmosphere.

This ski area includes downhill (alpine) ski slopes, as well as terrain reserved for cross-country skiing, snow tubing, and snowshoeing.

9. Mt. Shasta Ski Park

Mt. Shasta Ski Park
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 2 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 terrain to explore at Mt. Shasta Ski Park. 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.

10. Mt Baldy Resort

Mt. Baldy Resort
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 Resort 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.

11. Mountain High

Mountain High at Sunset
Mountain High at Sunset
  • The most popular ski area in Southern California

This award-winning resort is the most popular ski area in Southern California and is just a 1.5-hour drive (80 miles) from Los Angeles. 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. Each area has great amenities including mid-mountain restaurants. At the East Resort, the Grand View Bistro offers spectacular mountain vistas.

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. Ideal for anyone learning how to ski, the 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.

Map of Ski Resorts in California

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