Hit the Slopes: 8 Incredible Ski Destinations in California

With winter right around the corner, it’s time to dust off your skis and prepare to hit the slopes. And there’s no better place than California. Home to world-renowned ski resorts featuring snow-capped peaks, scenic views and a variety of runs from beginner to advanced, the state attracts outdoor adventurers from around the world.

Here are 8 of the best ski destinations in California.

Palisades Tahoe

The official host of the 1960 Olympic Games, the Palisades Tahoe is a top-tier resort featuring 34 lifts and 6,000 acres of slopes overlooking sparkling Lake Tahoe. Nestled in California’s Olympic Valley, the resort is home to the nearby Alpine Meadows Ski Resort, more than 100 hiking trails, cozy lodges and unique events such as the Alpine Snow Golf Tournament and the WinterWonderGrass music festival. 

The Palisades Tahoe in California. Photo Courtesy of EQRoy.

Beginners will feel at home thanks to experienced instructors and learning zones, while advanced skiers can feel the thrill of plunging chutes and wide-open bowls. At The Village, explore the shops, wine bars, and gear outfitters or ride on the Aerial Tram to the mountain-top overlook – the views are simply spectacular.

Heavenly Ski Resort

The Heavenly Ski Resort gondola with views of South Lake Tahoe.

If you’re seeking the ultimate challenge, Heavenly Ski Resort on the border of California and Nevada delivers double-black diamond slopes and off-the-beaten-path backcountry skiing at Mott Canyon. With views of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and Lake Tahoe, paired with 97 runs and 28 lifts, this resort should be on the top of anyone’s list for sensational skiing and snowboarding. 

Ski or snowboard 4,800 acres of snow-covered terrain, take a gondola ride from the Heavenly Village to the observation deck or explore nearby South Lake Tahoe – home to gear rentals, craft breweries and lakefront dining at Riva Grill or Boathouse on the Pier.

Mammoth Mountain Ski Area

The Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains of California.

From cross-country skiing to family-friendly tubing, the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area offers adventures for all ages in the Eastern Sierra region. Located five hours north of Los Angeles in Mammoth Lakes, the resort is home to 175 named skiing and snowboarding trails, gondola rides to the 11,053-foot summit, and guided snowmobile adventures through expansive meadows. Planning an extended stay? The area offers multiple lodging options, from luxury home rentals to the rustic Mammoth Mountain Inn. 

Of course, no trip to Mammoth Mountain is complete without exploring The Village at Mammoth. Rent ski and snowboarding gear, schedule lessons with the pros or enjoy a cocktail at the Whitebark Restaurant, Bar & Lounge.

Northstar California Resort

An aerial view of Northstar California Resort in North Lake Tahoe. Photo Courtesy of Lance Huntress.

A hidden gem tucked away in the Martis Valley in North Lake Tahoe, Northstar California Resort is an unforgettable family-friendly mountain getaway. What’s unique about Northstar is its mountain – Mount Pluto, an extinct volcano. There are 100 trails, from beginning to advanced, with the longest run being Logger’s Loop at 1.4 miles. You’ll also find adventure zones for the kids.

Excursions on the mountain are not limited to snowboarding and skiing. The resort offers snowshoeing, fat-tire snow biking and ice skating. In the nearby village, get warm by the fire pit at Rink Bar, sip on hot cocoa at The Overlook with views of the ice rink, or browse charming boutiques selling handmade candles, pottery, and paintings.

Kirkwood Ski Resort

Skiers on a ski lift at the Kirkwood Ski Resort. Photo Courtesy of Larry Zhou.

Featuring untouched alpine forests, high elevations, cliff-drops and backcountry terrain, Kirkwood Ski Resort is the ideal choice for advanced skiers looking for a no-frills sports-focused holiday.

Experience the thrill of skiing double black diamond trails such as Hell’s Delight and Bogie’s Slide in the Devil’s Corral. Then, challenge yourself at the Wagon Wheel Bowl, where you can experience panoramic views of the Mountain Village below as you speed down Dick’s Drop or the Notch Chute. Of course, the resort also features trails for beginners. Test your skill at Hay’s Flat or Snowkirk before upping your game on the Whiskey Slide. Ski lessons are also available with professional instructors.

Beyond skiing and snowboarding, Kirkwood offers cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, as well as fat bike and tow sled rentals. Need a break from the mountain? Stop by The General Store in the Red Cliffs Lodge for sandwiches and a craft beer.

Sugar Bowl Resort

A snow day on the ski lifts at Sugar Bowl in California. Photo Courtesy of Trevor Fairbank.

Rustic charm meets European elegance at the iconic Sugar Bowl, one of the oldest ski resorts in California and home to the West Coast’s first ski gondola. Located northwest of Lake Tahoe, the resort opened in 1939 and paved the way for California’s dynamic ski culture. Featuring 103 trails, 12 lifts and 1,650 acres of slopes, the resort offers a variety of snow activities, from skiing and snowboarding to backcountry and cross-country skiing. First-timers should book a lesson with one of Sugar Bowl’s experienced instructors to learn the ins and outs of the mountain. Of course, a visit to the Sugar Bowl’s ski village is a must. Keep warm at the Village Lodge, where you’ll dine on elk tenderloin or seared salmon, or grab a drink at the Summit Haus Biergarten before exploring the Austrian-inspired lodges and spectacular mountain views.

Big Bear Mountain Resort

One of the only ski resorts outside of the Sierra Nevada range is the impressive Big Bear Mountain Resort. Just two hours outside Los Angeles, this snowy southern California paradise holds some of the best terrain parks in the country between two peaks – Bear Mountain and Snow Summit.

The snow-covered ski slopes of Big Bear, California. Photo Courtesy of Steve Minkler.

Feel the thrill of snowboarding and skiing the powdery tree-line slopes. Spend a high-speed afternoon tubing at Snow Summit’s Grizzly Ridge Tube Park. Or, enjoy a picturesque hike through the San Bernadino Mountains. The resort is home to 400 acres of skiable terrain with 55 runs and 26 lifts between Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Avid skiers and snowboarders should splurge on a season for unlimited skiing and discounts.

When you’re not hitting the slopes, explore The Village at Big Bear Lake. Tour the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, sample locally brewed beer at Big Bear Lake Brewing Co., or grab a bite at one of the many restaurants featuring cuisine from classic Italian to pub staples.

Mountain High Resorts

Imagine being able to experience a winter playground in sunny California with views of the Mojave Desert in the distance. At Mountain High Resorts, winter sports and natural beauty collide at one of the most popular ski destinations in the state.

A spectacular sunset at Mountain High Resorts in Wrightwood, California.

Just a 90-minute drive from Los Angeles, this trio of resorts offers skiing, snowboarding and tubing adventures for beginner and advanced skiers. The West Resort is the only Southern California resort that features night skiing, while the East Resort offers gorgeous views of the Grand View Lodge, tree-lined slopes and scenic chair rides. Skiers seeking more accessible slopes will want to head to the North Resort, thanks to the lower-level terrain. For the kids, Yeti’s Snow Play brings the fun with sledding, tubing and costumed characters such as the iconic Yeti.

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