The 7 Best California Ski Resorts for All Ski Levels

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Skiing in California? Yes it is true, California does have a pretty decent ski community even though it’s not quite as grand as some of the Rocky Mountain states. Up and down the state there are many great California ski resorts that are worth checking out. Below are 7 tried and tested California ski resorts that you should make a visit to!  Travel bloggers share their tips on what makes each of these resorts great,where to stay and more.

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The 7 Best California Ski Resorts for All Ski Levels

Kirkwood – The Best Hidden Gem Ski Resort in California

While other Tahoe ski resorts are packed with crowds seeking a luxury experience, Kirkwood is a simplified and more rustic spot where adventurous winter sports enthusiasts rule the day! Tucked away from the main highway about 35 miles southwest of Lake Tahoe, it’s impossible not to notice the ample amount of pristine open space. Peacefully breathe in that mountain air! Then go out and have an adventure that’s about you and the mountain because this is the place where every athletic level and member of the family can experience that magic. 

The avid adventurer in your crew should explore the backcountry with Expedition Kirkwood.  This amazing guided experience takes skiers to places where there’s no evident sign of civilization in sight. Skills will be tested and the spirits of colorful historic Sierra characters who once explored these parts will likely be felt. The Kirkwood Cross Country and Snowshoe Center is a great place to learn more about one of those heroes of local lore, “Snowshoe Thompson,” as you hone your skills on the center’s history trail. Kids will love the Kirkwood Ski School!  Well run and staffed by enthusiastic instructors, it offers group and private lessons for kids ages 3 to 12. Some instructors are even trained in adaptive therapy skiing, which is a great thing if you have a special needs athlete in your brood like I do. 

Where to Stay Near Kirkwood

If you stay at the Mountain Club, you can enjoy a ski in and out experience. If  you want a little distance between you and the slopes, The Kirkwood Inn will have you feeling as you’ve stumbled onto some backcountry fur trapping time portal. Built in 1864, the food is hearty, and the family style options will leave you fueled and ready for whatever activity you have planned. — Contribution by: Kristine Dworkin – a Trekaroo Travel Expert

Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort

With a peak elevation just over 11,000 feet, the highest of all mountains in California, and over 4,000 acres of skiable area, Mammoth Mountain, located in the Eastern Sierra Mountains, is a winter adventure lovers dream trip and one of the best California ski resorts. Now with direct flights from LA, you could go from airport to ski lift in less than 3 hours. Plus, with over 300 days of sunshine a year, you’re bound to have bluebird snow days. But forgetting all of that, the reason Mammoth Mountain is one of the best places to ski in California is that the entire Mammoth Lakes community is centered around the mountain activities. The people who live in Mammoth cherish the natural beauty and love to help you discover why it’s so precious. 

Don’t ski, don’t worry. There are plenty of alpine snowshoe hikes, snowmobile trails, ice-climbing, ice skating, and other winter adventures to fill every minute of your trip. Or, if relaxing and dining are high on your list, there are plenty of spas, yoga and high-end restaurant options that will leave you refreshed. Mammoth Mountain is part of the IKON pass, so you can buy one pass and ski at over 40 resorts all season long. 

Where to Stay at Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth Mountain has tons of different lodging options no matter your budget, party size or adventure level. From the luxury Westin Monache Resort to snowshoe-in minimal cabins or 10-bedroom private chalets with ski-in, ski-out, book early for the best selection, especially over holiday weekends. Contribution by: Jade Broadus from Vagabond 3

Heavenly Ski Resort is a Classic California Ski Resort

Photo by: Brennan Pang

Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe is California’s largest – spanning the border of California and Nevada and one of the best ski resorts in state. With 4,800 skiable acres, 28 chair lifts, there is terrain for every type of skier and snowboarder. A ride up the Gondola to Adventure Peak rewards you with dramatic views of Lake Tahoe. Deep blue waters are surrounded by snow-capped peaks. You’ll want to look up often instead of staring down your skis.

If you have children taking lessons, there are two areas where you can drop your kids off for ski school – at the base of the Gondola and at the California Base. I prefer the California base because you can drive your car right up to the entrance of the ski school. The instructors at Heavenly are always friendly and helpful. The drop off process is the most seamless and stress free I’ve experienced at any ski resort. Instructors help kids get fitted and into their ski gear so mom and dad can hit the slopes as soon as lifts open. Service is a big priority at Heavenly and it shows. This is one of the best ski schools for families in California. — Contribution by: Liling Pang from Trekaroo

Northstar – A Luxurious & Family Friendly California Ski Resort

Northstar is one of the best California ski resorts for luxury and family travelers.Northstar California Resort near Lake Tahoe is one of the largest and most luxurious ski resorts in California. Located near Truckee on the northern end of the lake, the resort has undergone a massive transformation since Vail Resorts began operating it in 2010. The resort has high end lodges, meticulously maintained slopes with the most snowmaking capacity in Tahoe, and amenities and services that cater to the most discerning travelers.
Northstar serves two key ski demographics incredibly well – luxury travelers and families. The resort offers slopeside luxury accommodations at the Ritz-Carlton Lake Tahoe as well as an enormous village with multiple restaurants and activities like ice skating, tubing, and a movie theater. The resort’s ski school for children is top notch, with Vail’s innovative “Ultimate 4” ski lessons available to give kids a lower instructor-student ratio so they improve more quickly. The resort is one of a very few in California to offer on-site childcare so parents with kids too young to ski can get time on the slopes too.
A ski vacation at Northstar isn’t cheap, but skiers and snowboarders certainly get what they pay for at Northstar. It’s possible to visit Northstar at a more moderate price with some planning. Many Northern California locals save money with an Epic season pass, also good at nearby Heavenly and Kirkwood. More budget accommodations are also available in the town of Truckee nearby, with easy public transit to the slopes. — Contribution by: Leslie Harvey from Trips with Tykes

Squaw Valley & Alpine Ski Resorts in Lake TahoeAlpine Meadows is full of snow as one of the best California Ski resorts

Lake Tahoe in California is the home to many ski fanatics, and it welcomes thousands of ski-lovers from all over the world annually. Among the many resorts that Lake Tahoe offers, Squaw Valley may be the most world-renowned. It held the famous 1960 Olympics Winter Games, and harbors the best views of the beautiful Shirley Lake and the Pacific Crest Bowl. Wide powdery slopes traverse the mountainside, lined by pine forests.

What truly sets Squaw Valley is the fact that the skiing is suitable for all levels. About 25 percent of the runs are for beginners, 43 percent for intermediate level skiers, and 32 percent for advanced skiers. At an elevation of 6,200 feet to 9,050 feet, the Squaw Valley ski resort has the best snow coverage compared to its peers in California, throughout all seasons.

When visiting Squaw Valley, the Squaw Valley Lodge is the perfect place for a luxurious stay. This ski in- ski out resort is great for those who want to stay near the heart of ski lanes, restaurants and other amenities.  — Contribution by: Andrew Kim with Road Goat

Alpine Meadows Resort

Alpine Meadows, recently acquired by Squaw Valley, is the “locals” mountain. If you love an old-school, wide-open, no-frills ski experience, Alpine is the place to be. We love Alpine Meadows because it’s not too crowded and the multi-faced mountain offers varied, challenging terrain. With steep chutes, excellent back-country and tree skiing, and incredible bowls with stunning views of Lake Tahoe, Alpine is the preferred mountain for advanced skiers and riders.

Located next to Squaw Valley, about 6 miles west of Tahoe City, CA, Alpine Meadows is one of the more underdeveloped mountains in the Lake Tahoe area. There is no slopeside lodging. There is no village with restaurants and bars. And the atmosphere is super low-key.

It’s unclear how this much-loved locals mountain will be affected by Squaw Valley’s acquisition. Some skiers are worried Alpine will become too commercialized and lose its simple, relaxed vibe. But with plans for many upgrades, including an 8-passenger gondola to connect the two resorts, it looks like visitors will have a lot more options. And you can be sure the skiing will still remain stellar!

For lodging and apres-ski, check out nearby Tahoe City. You’ll find accommodations ranging from motels to condos to luxury home rentals. And there are tons of great places to eat and drink in North Lake Tahoe. The River Grill offers a varied, American menu with great views of the Truckee River. Rosie’s Cafe has delicious comfort food, great character, and reasonable prices. And Fireside Pizza Company at Squaw Village is one of my family’s go-to favorites! Tahoe City also has a town beach that’s great to visit even in the winter with walking trails, a playground, and views of beautiful Lake Tahoe. — Contribution by: Shannon Entin from the TV Traveler

Big Bear & Snow Summit Ski ResortsBig Bear Mountain is perfect for Southern California Ski fans

Southern California residents do not have as many options for fantastic ski resorts as those in northern California. However don’t tell that to the locals who flock to Big Bear when the first snow is reported. Big Bear the town offers several options for skiers looking to hit the slopes. This small mountain town offers two great resorts for those looking to get in some snow time – Big Bear Mountain Resort and Snow Summit.

Both are great spots for those looking to learn or just get in some fun with varying terrain options. However, for families, we suggest sticking with Snow Summit as it has plenty of park features that are all life accessible. 

The great thing about both of these resorts is the price. Lift tickets are still quite reasonable which makes for a great change compared to the larger California ski resorts. The biggest negative to skiing in Big Bear is the snow conditions are not as reliable as they are at higher elevations near Lake Tahoe. But for those of us in Southern California, the convenience and price make up for some of the manufactured snow!

Accomodation options in Big Bear range from chain hotels to cabin rentals, with most people opting to rent a place through Airbnb or other home rental services.

June Mountain Ski Resort – California’s Family Mountain

June Lake Ski Resort is one of the best California ski resorts for familiesJune Mountain, located in the Eastern Sierras is often overshadowed by the bigger and fancier Mammoth Mountain. However it is a great place for skiers from Southern California looking for a little quiet on the slopes. Additionally, June Lake is a great place for kids to try their hand at skiing for the first time. A big enough mountain to provide a challenge, but not as overwhelming as some of the resorts in Lake Tahoe. 

June Lake Ski Resort brands itself as California’s family mountain because they offer free ski lift tickets for kids 12 and under with an adult ticket. Owned by Mammoth Mountain, June Lake is an economical choice for families looking for weekend fun.

The biggest negative (for me) about June Lake is that all visitors must take a long lift up the mountain to the lodge and start of the ski lifts. For families with small kids this can be quite intimidating, but overall we have found the staff to be helpful and patient with scaredy cats like me!

June Lake is similar to Big Bear in that if you want to stay near the mountain itself, you will be best finding an Airbnb or cabin to rent. For the bigger hotels and more options, you would need to drive to Mammoth town which can be long during heavy snow.

Don’t ski, but want a great winter destination in California? Think about warm weather destinations like Palm Springs, San Diego and more.

What’s your favorite ski resort in California? Share your favorites and tips below!

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