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11 Top-Rated Ski Resorts in California

Written by Lisa Alexander
Nov 17, 2020

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.

Changes for the 2020 - 2021 Ski Season: Due to health and safety concerns, guests are required to wear face coverings to access the mountains, as well as on chairlifts and gondolas. Most resorts also require tickets purchased in advance and/or reservations. Check resort websites regularly for unscheduled closures and policy changes.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows

Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows

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. Squaw Valley 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 Squaw Valley 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 Squaw Valley with its first-rate restaurants and lodging options. Steps away from the ski lifts, the Squaw Valley Lodge is the place for a luxurious overnight stay.

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

2020 - 2021 Ski Season: Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is limiting the number of guests allowed to access the slopes each day. For social distancing purposes, the resort has eliminated "walk-up" tickets. Lift tickets must be purchased in advance; availability is based on resort capacity. Season passes (sold online) will provide the same resort access as usual.

Official site: http://squawalpine.com

2. Heavenly Ski Resort

Heavenly Ski Resort
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.

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.

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 two challenging terrain parks are a big draw.

2020 - 2021 Ski Season: To manage crowds at the resort, Heavenly is limiting the number of lift tickets sold each day. Lift tickets must be purchased online or by phone. (It is recommended to buy tickets ahead of arrival.) Season pass holders are required to make reservations and are given priority access.

Official site: https://www.skiheavenly.com

3. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area

Mammoth Mountain Ski Area
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 150 trails.

Mammoth Mountain is a great choice for advanced skiers, since more than 30 percent of the runs are considered expert and advanced. However, intermediate skiers will find plenty of suitable runs (40 percent of the trails). Beginners can take advantage of Mammoth's private or group ski lessons.

Daring freestyle skiers appreciate Mammoth Mountain for its Unbound Terrain Parks. The resort boasts seven terrain parks spread out over 100 acres, featuring challenging halfpipes, as well as dozens of jib lines and opportunities for over 50 different jumps.

2020 - 2021 Ski Season: To manage crowds, Mammoth Mountain is reducing its overall resort capacity. Lift tickets must be purchased online or by phone and then retrieved at a resort ticket office; same-day purchase is possible, space permitting. Season passes may be purchased in advance online.

Official site: https://www.mammothmountain.com/winter

4. Northstar California

Northstar California
Northstar California

Northstar California is the most family-friendly ski resort in Lake Tahoe, thanks to its kids' activities, ski school, and a wide offering 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.

2020 - 2021 Ski Season: Only a limited number of guests will be allowed access to the Northstar California resort each day. Lift tickets must be purchased in advance (online or by phone) and then retrieved at a ticket window; daily quantities of lift tickets will be limited and may sell out. Season pass holders must make reservations and are given priority access.

Official site: https://www.northstarcalifornia.com

5. Kirkwood Ski Resort

Kirkwood Ski Resort
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.

2020 - 2021 Ski Season: Kirkwood is reducing its overall resort capacity on a daily basis. Lift tickets must be purchased in advance (online or by phone) and will be limited on days of high demand. Season pass holders are given priority access, however reservations are required to access the mountain.

Official site: https://www.kirkwood.com

6. Sugar Bowl Resort

Sugar Bowl Resort
Sugar Bowl Resort

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.

Those staying overnight will feel pampered at Sugar Bowl's old-fashioned European-style lodge that 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 100 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.

2020 - 2021 Ski Season: Sugar Bowl is limiting the number of lift tickets sold on a daily basis. Lift tickets must be purchased in advance online. The resort is also reducing the number of season passes made available for sale.

Season pass holders will have unlimited access, unless the resort implements a reservation system if crowd management becomes an issue. The situation will be assessed as the season progresses.

Official site: http://www.sugarbowl.com/

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, Bear Mountain resort has 15 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 (14 in total), 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 27 trails are blue runs rated for mid-level skiing ability. The resort has six terrain parks, which 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.

2020 - 2021 Ski Season: Big Bear Mountain Resort is offering a 20 percent discount on advance-purchased lift tickets. The discount applies when tickets are purchased at least 72 hours in advance for non-holiday dates or 14 days in advance for holiday dates. Season passes are also available.

Official site: https://www.bigbearmountainresort.com/winter

8. Badger Pass Ski Area

Badger Pass Ski Area
Badger Pass Ski Area

2020 - 2021 Ski Season: Badger Pass Ski Area will be closed for the 2020 - 2021 season. The closure applies to both downhill and cross-country ski operations. Refunds will be provided to season pass holders.

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.

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 425 acres of skiable terrain with 32 downhill ski trails. Most of the runs are intermediate (55 percent) with the remaining 20 percent beginner and 25 percent advanced level. The longest run extends for 1.75 miles.

Cross-country skiers will also enjoy the many scenic trails. Adventurous snowboarders love the terrain parks: Silvertip Terrain Park for beginners and intermediate-level riders, and the more advanced Revolution Terrain Park.

For seasoned skiers, one of the most interesting things to do at Mt. Shasta Ski Park is backcountry skiing in the off-trail area (hiring a guide is recommended). Skiers may book overnight accommodations in the off-trail area at one of the Backcountry Cabins, rustic accommodations with basic amenities, including bunk beds and a wood-burning stove.

2020 - 2021 Ski Season: Mt. Shasta Ski Park is offering discounts on advance-purchased lift tickets and season passes as usual. This year, the resort has expanded its "Pass Protection Program" for season passes, in case of limited operations. Passholders will be given rollover credits if they are unable to ski the guaranteed minimum of 60 days in a season.

Official site: https://www.skipark.com

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 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.

2020 - 2021 Ski Season: Mt Baldy Resort season passes may be purchased in advance online. A season pass allows for unlimited access to the mountain, from the start of alpine conditions (snowy slopes) until April 30th, 2021.

Official site: https://mtbaldyresort.com/

11. Mountain High

Mountain High
Mountain High | stephane333 / photo modified

About a 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 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.

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.

2020 - 2021 Ski Season: Mountain High is reducing its overall resort capacity by 50 percent and therefore is limiting the number of season passes and lift tickets made available. Guests must purchase lift tickets and season passes in advance online.

Official site: http://www.mthigh.com/

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