Content Produced in Partnership with Visit California
There’s no winter vacation quite like a ski vacation. The thrill of exploring new terrain, flying down unfamiliar slopes and enjoying the local après scene is unlike anything else you can experience in the winter months. It heightens your sense of adventure, sharpens your mountain reflexes, and offers beautiful views of snow covered wilderness to help you escape reality.
Thirty-four of the 50 states have at least one ski resort. California is a bit different from most states though. The combination of coastline and high country creates extraordinary conditions for winter sports, so much so that the Golden State actually boasts 23 ski mountains. It's easy to see why alpine junkies just can't stay away. We've scoured the polls, snow reports, and visitation stats to give you California’s best ski resorts.
It’s hard to beat 400 inches of annual snowfall and 3,500 skiable acres. From top to bottom, the mountain is a towering 3,100 vertical feet with terrain for all experience levels. For those seeking steep chutes, wide open glades, and tight tree runs, there's plenty of backcountry to explore. For those trying to get air, there are six terrain parks that feature jumps, boxes, rails, jibs, half-pipes, and quarter-pipes galore. Meanwhile, the bottom part of the mountain has a surplus of blues and greens for anyone who prefers to cruise the groomers.
Ridges, bowls, chutes, glades, cornices, drops, corrals, parks, jaunts, gullies, and walls make up the diverse geography of Kirkwood’s 2,300 skiable acres. The resort was built on a huge crescent-shaped ridge line and enjoys massive amounts of snowfall each year, usually in the range of 600 inches. The area is renowned for its advanced and expert terrain, but that’s not to say there isn’t anything for beginners and intermediate boarders/skiers closer to the base.
If you're looking for a laid-back ski day, Northstar is where you'll want to go. 3,000 skiable acres of terrain are maintained by an elite team of groomer-cats. It is located on the northernmost portion of Lake Tahoe. The village is home to a variety of high-end shops, restaurants and bars so there's plenty of spots to warm up after a romp on the hill. Besides being well groomed, Northstar also offers more advanced skiers/boarders plenty of first rate tree skiing, and a 22-foot superpipe.
Heavenly Mountain Resort
Another one of Lake Tahoe’s most acclaimed mountains, Heavenly is owned by Vail Resorts and is one of the many mountains that Epic pass holders can visit free of charge. Known for its majestic, massive terrain, it also receives a whopping 360 inches of snowfall a year. The snow is generally fantastic (and when it isn’t they have a powerful snowmaking system to compensate), the terrain is exceptionally fun, and the natural beauty that surrounds you looks, well, heavenly.
Sierra-at-Tahoe is one of the region’s smaller resorts so it's a great option if you're looking to escape the crowds to practice your turns in peace. With 2,000 skiable acres and 2,212 vertical feet, there is a front side and a back side that is almost exclusively beginner and intermediate terrain. There are also five gates providing direct access to Huckleberry Canyon for backcountry bowls galore. When you've worked up a sweat, the village is full of fine dining and luxury lodging.
Squaw Valley Ski Resort
There is a lot to ski at Squaw Valley. 6,000 acres, 42 lifts, 270 runs, and 450 annual inches of snowfall, to be exact. While the main gondola takes visitors up and over nearly impossible terrain that's reserved strictly for serious adrenaline junkies and the world’s elite, there is plenty of accessible terrain for beginner and intermediate skiers and boarders. Advanced powder hounds will feel right at home on a number of hiking routes that offer access to secret-stashes of the finest snow on the hill. We promise the extra effort is worth it.
Sugar Bowl Ski Resort
Don’t be turned off by the relatively small size of Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, because while there is only 1,500 acres of skiable terrain, they get 500 inches of snowfall a year, the most of any Tahoe resorts. This small-time mountain can be the perfect place to play for powder heads and those in the making. Plus, it's been family owned and operated since 1939, which will have you feeling like you're skiing through the decades and honoring a Californian winter tradition.
Located between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, Bear Valley is a great family-friendly spot to enjoy the high Sierra landscape. There is terrain for all levels, and while they don’t offer the luxury amenities of a bigger resort, the crowds are never bad. The snow is great, the sun warm, and long lift lines are pretty much obsolete. It's simply California wintertime at its finest.
China Peak Mountain Resort
If you're in the central part of the state, China Peak Mountain Resort is only about 65 miles northeast of Fresno at scenic Huntington Lake in the Sierra National Forest. Comparable to many Lake Tahoe resorts in total acreage, elevations, vertical rise, and terrain, it's an easy day trip for those in the San Jose area. They've already gotten over 300 inches of snow this season so if you're craving a powder day, you know where to head.