The Ultimate Guide to Skiing and Snowboarding in California
Grab your gear and hop in the car.
If you want to find the best snow, terrain, and overall ski and snowboard experiences in California, these are the mountains you need to know about.
Every winter, Californians and tourists alike flock to this ski and snowboard paradise. Known for its unusually high snowfall – roughly 1,000 centimeters is the annual average – Mammoth Mountain is the highest ski resort in California, rising more than 3,300 meters above sea level. The mountain belongs to the stunning Sierra Nevada range in Eastern California and lies within the boundaries of the Inyo National Forest. Mammoth boasts one of the longest ski seasons in the country, typically running between October and June. From steep chutes to wide open bowls and trails, there’s a bit of something for everyone here. With over 1,400 hectares of accessible terrain, 150 trails, 28 lifts and two gondolas, Mammoth Mountain is deserving of its reputation as a world-class winter sports destination. Nearby June Mountain is also an option.
Mammoth also has its own airport about 10 minutes outside the town of Mammoth Lakes.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in the Sierra Nevada mountains
Stretching along the California-Nevada border, beautiful Lake Tahoe is home to 18 ski resorts and is the second deepest lake in the USA. West of the lake, Squaw Valley is a perennial favorite and one of the largest ski resorts in the country. Its 1,400-plus hectares of skiable terrain combined with nearby Alpine Meadows offers visitors 2,500 hectares, 270 trails and 43 lifts. Squaw Valley hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics and is preferred among experts for its steeps and cliffs. Covering six peaks and topping out at 2,750 meters (Granite Chief), Squaw Valley is also home to the only Funitel (a type of ski lift that runs on two cables) in the country. The European-styled Squaw Valley Village is considered by many to be the hottest spot for nightlife among California's ski resorts.
Driving Time: From Los Angeles, drive about eight hours to reach Lake Tahoe. From San Francisco drive time is just over three hours.
About one hour from Squaw Valley, the Reno-Tahoe International Airport offers daily flights nationwide and from Canada and Mexico.
Beautiful views and skiing in Lake Tahoe
A haven for snowboarders, Bear Mountain is home to Southern California's only Superpipe. Often called “The Park” for its variety of terrain features, this resort was the childhood stomping grounds of Olympic snowboard gold medalist Shaun White. Located in the San Bernadino Mountains, Bear Mountain has 13 lifts and roughly 300 hectares of terrain. Topping out at nearly 2,700 meters, it’s the highest lift-accessible peak in Southern California. Nearby Snow Summit is also an option for families who prefer skiing. A free shuttle bus runs between the two resorts. With its proximity to Los Angeles, Bear Mountain has been an Angeleno favorite for decades.
Driving Time: Roughly two hours from Los Angeles and three hours from San Diego.
Snowboarders ready to hit the slopes at Bear Mountain
It’s all about the views at Heavenly Mountain. Skiers and snowboarders are treated to panoramic vistas of South Lake Tahoe far below as they carve on some of the best slopes in the Sierra Nevada. Nearly 2,000 hectares, 30 lifts and 97 trails span the California-Nevada border, and visitors can choose between terrain parks, steep chutes or rolling glades. Heavenly is also home to the largest snow-making system on the West Coast, ensuring freshly groomed snow even during low years. With luxury accommodation minutes from the mountain, Heavenly is a favorite for those who enjoy the finer things.
Driving Time: Eight hours from Los Angeles and three and a half hours from San Francisco. The nearby Reno-Tahoe International Airport offers daily flights.
Snow sports on a mountain in Lake Tahoe
Receiving the most annual snowfall (1,200-plus centimeters) of any Lake Tahoe resort, Sugar Bowl is a sure bet. Family owned and operated since 1939, this classic wintertime escape has the largest cross-country network in North America with 200 kilometers of groomed trails. Crowning Donner Summit, the resort provides 13 lifts and 600-plus hectares spread across four peaks. Sugar Bowl Village is also the only snowbound village in the USA. This means no cars are allowed in the resort, providing a serene atmosphere and giving families freedom to roam about worry-free. Sugar Bowl is the closest major resort to San Francisco and Sacramento.
Driving Time: About seven hours from Los Angeles and three hours from San Francisco. From Reno-Tahoe International Airport, drive time is approximately one hour.
Mountain High is the prime spot for city folks seeking a quick snow fix. Mountain High has 14 lifts across 117 hectares of skiable terrain. The area is conveniently divided into three sections: North Resort (beginners and families), East Resort (glade runs and Mojave Desert views) and West Resort (advanced freestyle terrain). An ideal family destination, Mountain High is also home to Southern California's largest tubing area, North Pole Tubing Park.
Driving Time: From Los Angeles, Mountain High is roughly one and a half hours hours. From San Diego, it's two and a half hours.