View of Lake Tahoe from the slopes of Heavenly, photo courtesy Memphis Joe.
Alpine Meadows, Tahoe City • 2000 skiable acres on 1802′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8637′; Base elevation: 6835′. 14 Lifts: 1 sixpack, 1 quad, 4 triples, 5 doubles, 3 poma lifts. Uphill capacity: 16,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 25-40-35. Longest Run: 13,000′. Season: usually November to May. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 495″. Snowmaking: 7%.
The SKInny: Overshadowed by nearby Squaw, Alpine Meadows is a little less developed, a little less refined, and a lot more mellow. Think of it as a family-oriented alternative, the place you go when you need a break from the hustle and bustle of Squaw. It isn’t as big, and it will never have the world-class reputation of its larger neighbor. But liftlines are short or non-existent, and many of the runs are more appealling and varied. A two-sided affair, Alpine Meadows has plenty of options for wanderers and hotshots alike. Scott’s Peak has all the variety an intermediate could ask for, while the bowls off Ward Peak will keep the diamond skier busy. The only real knock on this ski area is that the true novice is a bit limited in quantity of terrain, but just a slight increase in skills and experience will open up a lot of this mountain to the emerging skier.
Signature Trail: High Yellow, Sherwood Face.
Alta Sierra Ski Resort & Terrain Park, Lake Isabella or Kernville • 80 skiable acres on 400′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 7100′; Base elevation: 6700′. 3 Lifts: 2 doubles, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 2500/hr. Terrain Mix: 30-40-30. Longest Run: 3500′. Season: usually December to March, Fri-Sun plus holidays. Rentals (20% discount for active military ID) & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 80″.
The SKInny: Formerly known as Shirley Meadows. A small, comfortable, friendly beginners mountain. With a cheap ticket price, it’s hard not to like Alta Sierra. Located on Forest Service land near Bakersfield. Small hills like this are the foundation upon which the U.S. ski industry was built. Unfortunately most of the old time community hills are gone…but you can still ski here…and you ought to spend a day here, no matter how good or jaded you are.
Signature Trail: Main Run.
Badger Pass, Yosemite National Park • 100 skiable acres on 800′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8000′; Base elevation: 7200′. 5 Lifts: 1 triples, 3 doubles, 1 rope tow. Uphill capacity: 6800/hr. Terrain Mix: 35-50-15. Longest Run: 1600′. Season: usually December to March. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 300″.
The SKInny: Fun, uncrowded little ski area operated by a concessionaire within Yosemite National Park. Nothing too difficult, except getting there. Popular family ski area with trails named for various creatures: “Chipmunk” and “Rabbit” etc.
Signature Trail: Eagle.
Mt. Baldy, San Gabriel Mountains • 400 skiable acres on 2100′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8600′; Base elevation: 6500′. 4 Lifts: 4 doubles. Uphill capacity: 5,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-40-40. Longest Run: 12,500′. Season: usually late November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 150″. Snowmaking: 20%.
The SKInny: Hard to believe a 2100′ vertical this close to downtown LA is a throwback ski area, but that’s basically what Baldy is. Minimal grooming, minimal snowmaking, minimal lifts. As a result, Baldy takes a backseat to the Big Bear resorts. The backside of the mountain is the focal point of an endless tug-of-war between environmental interests and Baldy developers. Baldy also suffers from a lack of mild intermediate cruisers. That’s good if you’re an expert, bad if you’re a developing intermediate. On the other hand, the beginner area is quite sizable, and serviced by a full-blown chairlift. In all honesty, skiing Baldy is a bit like skiing in 1975. Crowds usually avoid this place, but when a combination of big snow meets big weekend, the lift capacity can get strained. Wanderers will enjoy Baldy as long as there is plenty of snow cover, and hotshots will be seriously tested by the steeps. The lifts form a sort of giant “Y” with the long easy chair forming the base of the Y, then the “intermediate” area splitting off to the left, and the expert area on the right. The Notch restaurant lodge is in the middle of all this, a great mid-mountain lunch spot. A lot of easterners compare Baldy to Mad River Glen, but I think Magic Mountain is a more appropriate cousin. So much potential…
Signature Trail: Nightmare.
Bear Valley Mountain Resort, Arnold (near Yosemite NP) • 1280 skiable acres on 1900′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8500′; Base elevation: 6600′. 11 Lifts: 2 triples, 7 doubles, 2 surface lifts. Uphill capacity: 12,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 30-40-30. Longest Run: 15,840′. Season: usually late November to mid April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 350″. Snowmaking: 15%.
The SKInny: If ever a ski resort captures the essence of skiing in 1979, Bear Valley is it. No, that’s not quite right. Most 1979 ski resorts were a lot more crowded. But at least the equipment is vintage…you get the idea. The lifts are slow, and the resort has none of the glitz of Tahoe. So…it doesn’t get the crowds. Long known as Mt. Reba, it gets roughly the same snow, and has comparable vertical to much of Tahoe, but again: No crowds. Caters to beginners and intermediates, but the hotshot will find some stuff to keep busy. One really big plus to Bear Valley is that the high-level intermediate can basically ski most of the mountain. Other than the aging infrastructure, the only knock on this mountain is the nastiest runs are short pitches with long lazy runouts. Wanderers will love this place; it is really four areas in one, with Upper Mountain, Snow Valley, Grizzly Bowl, and Backside each having a distinct look and feel. Bear Valley also has an unusual “Lunch Run” section, with a couple of trails that go to the village, whereupon a free shuttle bus returns you to the mid-mountain lodge. Worth the experience as long as you take the steep route to town.
Signature Trail: Freefall, Mokelumne, Grizzly Bowl.
Big Bear Mountain Resorts, Big Bear Lake • 198 skiable acres on 1665′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8805′; Base elevation: 7140′. 12 Lifts: 3 quads, 2 triples, 4 doubles, 2 surface, 1 magic carpet. Uphill capacity: 16,590/hr. Terrain Mix: 25-50-25. Longest Run: 9980′. Season: usually mid-November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 75″. Snowmaking: 100%.
The SKInny: Formerly Bear Mountain; recently acquired by neighboring Snow Summit and merged. Devotees hope that it will just be more of a good thing, but of course we know that in the ski trade, “more” is usually followed by “money.” Combination of proximity to L.A., moderate terrain, and name popularity results in high percentage of unskilled snowboarders wreaking havoc. But considering this is big time skiing in Southern California, we have no right to complain. Good place to learn and be introduced to the sport. It’s a metropolitan area ski area (say that five times fast) so on some days the pros outweigh the cons, some days they don’t. The area is a bit odd…considering the amount of terrain it covers, not much is developed as trails.
Signature Trail: Geronimo
Boreal Mountain Resort, Truckee • 380 skiable acres on 600′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 7800′; Base elevation: 7200′. 9 Lifts: 2 quads, 3 triples, 4 doubles. Uphill capacity: 13,200/hr. Terrain Mix: 30-55-15. Longest Run: 5280′. Season: usually mid November to mid April. Night Skiing. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 400″. Snowmaking: 80%.
The SKInny: Boreal is a beginner thru intermediate ski area, laid back, comfortable, not too much of a challenge. Sometimes seems to have a lot of school groups, youth, etc. Also scores big as one of the few California ski areas to offer night skiing. Hotshots will find steep headwalls, but these are short and mostly funnel into the main area. Ski Boreal for a relaxing day; all in all a fun ski area that provides a nice break from the bigger resorts.
Signature Trail: Quicksilver area
Buckhorn Ski & Snowboard Club, Angeles National Forest, San Gabriel Mountains • 40+ skiable acres on 680′ vertical
Specs: Gripper lift (lifts?)
The SKInny: Requires an annual membership; this modest little area has a sleep-in lodge and is simply a terrific place for Southern Californians who enjoy snowsports. It’s part ski house, part family, part party house, 100% good times. The skiing is terrific (when conditions permit) with no shortage of fresh tracks. Best for experienced skiers. Serves up a mix of XC & snowshoeing as well. Good people…check it out.
Cedar Pass Snowpark, Modoc National Forest • 100 skiable acres on 400′ vertical
Specs: One surface lift
The SKInny: operated under license from the Forest Service, this is a real throw-back operation that is an absolute joy to ski. If you live anywhere near it, you’ve got to support it now and then.
China Peak, Lakeshore • 430 skiable acres on 1679′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8709′; Base elevation: 7030′. 9 Lifts: 2 triples, 3 doubles, 1 t-bar, 2 handle tows. Uphill capacity: 9200/hr. Terrain Mix: 11-28-61. Longest Run: 11,880′. Season: usually mid November to April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 150″. Snowmaking: 50%.
The SKInny: Formerly Sierra Summit; new owners are upgrading lifts and doing all sorts of neat things…Don’t let the stated terrain mix fool you; this is really a solid intermediate mountain with a few hot drops here and there. Much of the hill is now dedicated to terrain parks, skiers will prefer Waterfall Bowl and runs to skier’s right off the 1 and 3 lift. Skiers of almost any ability above pure beginner can go top down on a long, circuitous route similar to those found at many eastern resorts. Uncrowded, inexpensive, plenty of fun; an outstanding mid-sized ski resort.
Signature Trails: The Face.
Coppervale, Lassen Community College • 80 skiable acres on 740′ vertical
Specs & SKInny: Rope tow, poma lift. Delightful college-operated ski hill about 15 miles from Susanville. Offers up an excellent value, great place to learn but also has some serious pitch & a surprising number of powder days. 24hr Snow Phone at 530.257.9965 for current information.
Above, Coppervale Ski Area, operated by Lassen Community College. Get schooled!
Cottage Springs Ski & Play, Avery CA • 50 skiable acres on 500′ vertical
No longer operational; site is for sale. Will update when status changes. UPDATE 2016: New owners plan to re-open as a sledding/tubing area with surface tows.
Dodge Ridge, Pinecrest • 815 skiable acres on 1600′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8200′; Base elevation: 6600′. 11 Lifts: 1 quad, 2 triples, 5 doubles, 3 surface. Uphill capacity: 15,700/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-40-40. Longest Run: 10,560′. Season: usually late December to mid April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 400″.
The SKInny: Nice mid-sized family resort, targets emerging blues and developing novices. With the opening a few years ago of Boulder Creek Canyon on the “backside” of the resort, Dodge Ridge became a sizable ski area. Although Boulder Creek Canyon is only 1200′ vertical, it offers much longer continuous drops than the front section. The terrain is somewhat tame as diamonds go, but the trails offer plenty of interest and variety. The original area — Ego Alley, Comstock, etc. are all pleasant greens and blues. Fact is, all “summits” have an easiest route down that can be managed by high end novice skiers. Again, this is an ideal area for developing skiers. A mid-mountain restaurant, The Waystation, is another big plus. The downside is that the area caters to snowboarders.
Signature Trail: Exhibition, Comstock.
Donner Ski Ranch, Truckee • 400 skiable acres on 750′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 7781′; Base elevation: 7031′. 6 Lifts: 1 triple, 5 doubles. Uphill capacity: 7800/hr. Terrain Mix: 25-50-25. Longest Run: 5280′. Season: usually late November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 240″. Snowmaking: 15%
The SKInny: Ideal place to learn; nothing overly challenging, prices are excellent. Can get crowded on weekends, but rarely too much. Good small ski area with lots of novice/intermediate terrain. Hotshots and wanderers will be nonplussed. Area separated by “frontside” and “backside” which wrap virtually around the entire mountain. A big little ski area, pleasant atmosphere & a nice “off” day for pros looking for some variety.
Eureka Ski Bowl see Plumas-Eureka Ski Bowl
Granlibakken Resort, Lake Tahoe • 10 skiable acres on 300′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 6610′; Base elevation: 6310′. 2 Lifts: 1 rope tow, 1 p-bar. Uphill capacity: 500/hr. Terrain Mix: 50-50-0. Longest Run: 1200′. Season: usually mid December to early April; Fri-Sun plus Holidays. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 200″.
The SKInny: Old-timey ski area built by famed ski jumper Rusty Rustad. The classic lodge is the main attraction; top-notch service, quality second to none. The skiing is a throwback…before the mega resorts, people skied on nasty long planks down a few hundred feet of vertical. Today you can enjoy this classic hill on much safer equipment of course. It is an ideal place to learn, or to take a first-time skiing date or spouse, etc. Wanderers and hotshots will not be found at Granlibakken, and that’s just fine.
Heavenly, South Lake Tahoe • 4800 skiable acres on 3500′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 10,040′; Base elevation: 6540′. 29 Lifts: 1 tram, 1 gondie, 1 sixpack, 5 quads, 8 triples, 5 doubles, 6 surface, magic carpets. Uphill capacity: 29,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-45-35. Longest Run: 29,040′. Season: usually late November to late April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 350″. Snowmaking.
The SKInny: In a word: Huge. Heavenly covers so much terrain, with so many lifts, it can be quite daunting to newbies or anyone unfamiliar with the area. One of the most frequent complaints about Heavenly is the abundance of flat areas, which is actually advantageous in that it keeps snowboarders off many of the runs. Basically, if you can’t find what you’re after at Heavenly, you won’t find it. It really is all things to all people, with 5+ mile long novice trails to the precipitous steeps of Gunbarrel and Motts Canyon. Heavenly has a reputation for being poorly designed…too many lifts, traverses, etc. to go from side to side. In reality, this is undeserved. If people fully comprehended the size of the area — and not just how it looks on the trailmap — they would try to travel less and enjoy more. Heavenly should be approached as two or perhaps even four ski areas. Ski the California side today; Nevada tomorrow. Even then the mountains should be further chopped up on your itinerary. Do that, and you’ll love Heavenly. Stay on the less crowded lifts, work those areas, then move on. Trying to ski from border to border will be tiring or frustrating or both. This ski area really does have something for everyone; hotshot, wanderer, family man, beginner and so on. Just don’t expect a ski town at the base…it’s sort of a hodge-podge of apres-ski, gambling, celebrity impersonators and ticky-tacky glitzy gew gaw. Did we mention that the skiing is great? Compartmentalize the mountains, and you’ll love it.
Signature Trail: Milky Way Bowl, Gunbarrel.
Homewood Mountain Resort, Tahoe City • 1260 skiable acres on 1650′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 7880′; Base elevation: 6230′. 8 Lifts: 1 quad, 2 triples, 1 double, 4 surface. Uphill capacity: 8500/hr. Terrain Mix: 15-50-35. Longest Run: 10,560′. Season: usually late November to mid April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 350″. Snowmaking: 10%.
The SKInny: Homewood is one of those ski areas where beginners feel good, intermediates feel like experts, and experts feel like the king of the world. Groomed, gentle, snowy, nice. Family atmosphere, definitely not for hotshots. Non-skiers or part-timers who visit Tahoe ought to consider the Wood over most of the others. Plans are in the works to lease adjoining land and add another 1000′ vertical; hard to say whether Homewood will retain its charm if that happens. Great area for families, OK for wanderers, not good for hotshots. Good variety of terrain.
Signature Trail: Hobbit Land.
June Mountain, June Lake • 500 skiable acres on 2590′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 10,135′; Base elevation: 7545′. 7 Lifts: 2 quads, 4 doubles, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 10,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 35-45-20. Longest Run: 13,200′. Season: usually mid December to April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 250″. Snowmaking: 20%.
The SKInny: Not many people who ski June think of it as anything less than the best skiing in the state. Excellent snow, tremendous variety, no liftlines. Long runs, a couple of lodges & mid mountain restaurants, (June is unusual in that the mid mountain lodge is really the main lodge) and did we mention no liftlines? There’s something at June for everyone, from flat-out first-timer to full-blown expert…and some “hidden” caches that offer tremendous tree skiing and powder. Wanderers and hotshots may prefer Mammoth or Heavenly or Squaw, but you’d be hard-pressed to find too many family type ski groups that wouldn’t pick June first. June is but a few miles from Mammoth, so it fills a niche for resort-goers who need a “break” from the big resort. Only real drawback to June is lack of superhotshot terrain, and some quirks in the layout. Beginner slopes are excellent. An emerging intermediate can pretty much ski most of June.
Signature Trail: Slalom.
Kirkwood, Lake Tahoe • 2300 skiable acres on 2000′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 9800′; Base elevation: 7800′. 12 Lifts: 2 quads, 7 triples, 1 double, 2 handle tows. Uphill capacity: 17,900/hr. Terrain Mix: 15-50-35. Longest Run: 13,200′. Season: usually late November to April/May. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 500″. Snowmaking: 2%.
The SKInny: “Little” brother to Heavenly, Kirkwood ratchets it up a notch in terms of tough terrain. It really caters to intermediates and experts, not a great ski area for novices at all. For the emerging blue and black diamond level skier, however, Kirkwood is usually a favorite. No liftlines, no crowds, no hubbub of the bigger resorts. Using the word “bigger” is a bit of a misnomer here…yes, Heavenly and Squaw are bigger, but make no mistake: Kirkwood ranks as a very big ski area where wanderer and hotshot alike will keep busy for a day and then some. Were it not for the two noisy neighbors, Kirkwood would be a household name. Because of the reputation it has, it’s well on its way. Fact is a lot of people ski Kirkwood, a lot of people like Kirkwood. But because it doesn’t offer much for the novice — and since many novices mistakenly ride the lift to The Wall once — they tend to stay away and the crowd stays thin.
Signature Trail: The Wall.
Snarky Nickname: Kirkweed
Kratka Ridge, San Bernardino Mountains • 58 skiable acres on 850′ vertical • Operational Status Undetermined
Specs & SKInny: The Kratka Ridge operation was by special permit with the Angeles NF. It was closed, and then purchased by the same “angel” who rescued Mt Waterman (see below). Waterman has resumed operations, but the situation at Kratka isn’t quite so clear. Right now it’s sort of an open snow play park with no lifts or amenities. Summit elevation: 7650′; Base elevation: 6800′. Terrain Mix: 30-30-40.
Lift Tickets at Discount: This is a “clearinghouse” of sorts that many ski areas use to raise cash by selling discount tickets in advance, called Liftopia. If you haven’t used this service, it is important to knowfor certain that you are going on a specific date. The deeply discounted tickets must be purchased in advance; generally up to two days out. The sticking point is that some ski resorts only make a limited number of tickets available to Liftopia for any given day, so they might be sold out if you wait too long…so, as soon as you are absolutely, positively sure that you will be skiing on a certain day, click this link to get deeply discounted tickets. I’ve used this service many times, but again, ONLY when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. You need to have access to a printer to print out your receipt, and you have to take identification with you to the mountain. I’ve knocked a third off the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it’s well worth checking if you’ve got a date nailed down.
Mammoth Mountain, Mammoth Lakes • 3500 skiable acres on 3100′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 11,053′; Base elevation: 7953′. 27 Lifts: 3 gondies, 1 sixpack, 9 quads, 7 triples, 5 doubles, 2 poma lifts. Uphill capacity: 50,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 25-40-35. Longest Run: 15,840′. Season: usually early November to late April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 384″. Snowmaking.
The SKInny:Another California monster. Mammoth isn’t quite as huge as Heavenly, but at these numbers, who can tell? The mountain sort of runs in stages; beginners at the bottom and middle, intermediates middle and up, and experts at the top. But really, when all is said and done, Mammoth is intermediate paradise. Yes, there are hot drops for King Kong hotshots, but this is really a developing skier’s mountain. The lower reaches (and they do reach) are wonderfully rolling groomers carved through the woods. Tree skiing abounds; “secret stashes” are everywhere. Moving up (and we do mean up), Mammoth opens into big bowls. Like Heavenly and Squaw, Mammoth is best approached as a collection of ski areas…divide the place into four or five mini areas, then spend a day at each. If you do decide to wander all over the place, Mammoth is unparalleled for moving people around efficiently, and the lifts are much better laid out than a Heavenly or Vail. Beginners, wanderers, family skiers…everybody will love Mammoth except for the true hotshot. It can get crowded, but you can always find a lift with little or no wait if you look around a bit.
Signature Trail: Stump Alley; also Grizzly, Shaft & Viva.
Mountain High, Wrightwood • 220 skiable acres on 1600′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8200′; Base elevation: 6600′. 13 Lifts: 3 quads, 2 triples, 5 doubles, 1 handle tow, 2 magic carpets. Uphill capacity: 16,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 25-35-40. Longest Run: 8448′. Season: usually early November to April. Night Skiing. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 200″. Snowmaking: 95%.
The SKInny: Rapidly building a reputation as a haven for obnoxious snowboarders (redundant, I realize that). About an hour or two from L.A.; you can see how this might happen. Slopes are generally easy, and generally crowded. Considering how close it is to the city, the snowmaking crew get kudos for doing an awesome job. Mountain High opens in November and stays open into the spring. Used to be two separate resorts (one called “Holiday”) now merged; kind of a megasnowplex for Los Angelenos. Unfortunately the two mountains don’t connect. Pick Mountain High West (Big Pines Lodge) if it’s open. If not, keep driving: the East resort has very little elbow room and not many trails. All in all, considering the problematic snowboarders and the crowds, Mountain High does a decent job. Good for a tune-up or a quick trip, but otherwise you’re better off getting up early and driving all the way to Big Bear.
Signature Trail: Vertigo.
Northstar-at-Tahoe, Truckee • 2420 skiable acres on 2280′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8610′; Base elevation: 6330′. 17 Lifts: 1 gondie, 6 quads, 7 triples, 2 doubles, 6 surface lifts. Uphill capacity: 21,800/hr. Terrain Mix: 25-50-25. Longest Run: 7845′. Season: usually late November to mid April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 350″. snowmaking.
The SKInny: Once known as Flatstar, Northstar still has the reputation of catering to families and skiers of moderate skills. And that’s fine; it is a great ski area for families and developing skiers. Very nice terrain, and plenty of opportunities for experts to mix it up as well, but all in all the hotshot will want to head elsewhere. The rest of us, however, just love Northstar…except for the lines. Without the uphill capacity of some of its neighbors, lines can get long. But the average Northstar devotee just views that as an opportunity to rest up prior to the next rolling groomed run. (come on, we’re kidding a bit) “Backside” presents a little more for the expert; wanderers will enjoy it here. Know that Northstar doesn’t have quite the variety of terrain — bowl skiing, etc. — and you’ll find it to be a great ski area.
Signature Trails: West Ridge trails.
Plumas Eureka Ski Bowl, currently non-operational
The ski area is shuttered for now, but the club is working hard to preserve, modernize and rebuild. It’s in the planning stages and will require a significant community effort. If you’re part of the community, you better make sure you’re part of the effort. Click the link.
Mt. Shasta Ski Park, Mt. Shasta City• 425 skiable acres on 1400′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 6900′; Base elevation: 5500′. 4 Lifts: 3 triples, 1 poma. Uphill capacity: 4,500/hr. Terrain Mix: 20-55-25. Longest Run: 6600′. Season: usually December to April, 7 days. Night skiing Wed-Sat. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 250″. Snowmaking: 65%.
The SKInny: Nice mid-sized ski area, although smallish by California standards. A bit different from the other resorts in the Golden State — farthest north — more like skiing in Oregon than what most expect from Cal skiing. Snow can be powdery, can also be the bonafide Sierra Cement. Shasta is a dormant volcano; skiing here is much like skiing at Mt. Hood or even Mt. Rainier…beautiful scenery, and the skiing is hardly the main attraction. Ski area feels like three small ski areas in one; tree runs on Marmot Ridge, bowl/snowfield skiing on Douglas Butte, and the high Sierra feel of Coyote Butte. Locals in the know go off the mapped trails, and they don’t want you to know where they go…it’s empty, it’s pristine, and they like it that way. Seldom crowded, occasionally icy, otherwise hard to find anything we don’t like about Shasta Ski Park.
Signature Trail: West Face.
Shirley Meadows • See “Alta Sierra”, above.
Sierra-at-Tahoe, South Lake Tahoe • 2000 skiable acres on 2212′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8852′; Base elevation: 6640′. 11 Lifts: 3 quads, 1 triple, 5 doubles, 2 surface lifts. Uphill capacity: 14,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 25-50-25. Longest Run: 13,200′. Season: usually mid November to late April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 480″. Snowmaking.
The SKInny: An intermediate mountain, but does have a few bump runs, steeps, trees, even a cliff or boulder here and there. Because of its intermediate terrain it attracts a lot of snowboarders, which of course means a crowd of rude youths. On the other hand, there are enough mellow blue cruisers here that a strong novice/emerging blue can roam virtually all over the various faces of this ski area, as long as they stick to the blues on their trail map…when the entire mountain is open, it’s big enough that you can escape the crowded trails. Liftlines are seldom a problem, even in the base area. The most beloved trail at Sierra, Sugar & Spice, is a rolling novice cruiser that presents a number of exciting views. Unfortunately it can be like a crowded freeway. West Bowl area is often a way to avoid the crowds, and offers some fun drops. Backside is a great opportunity for emerging blacks to step up and try tree skiing.
Signature Trails: Upper & Lower Dynamite; also Sugar & Spice.
Sierra Summit Mountain Resort: See China Peak, Above
Snow Summit see Big Bear Mountain Resorts
Snow Valley, Lakeshore • 240 skiable acres on 1041′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 7841′; Base elevation: 6800′. 11 Lifts: 5 triples, 6 doubles. Uphill capacity: 18,500/hr. Terrain Mix: 30-35-35. Longest Run: 6600′. Season: usually late November to mid April. Night Skiing Thu-Sat. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 135″. Snowmaking: 85%.
The SKInny: Nice mountain, ski area on the smaller end of the “mid-sized” scale. Close to L.A. but surprisingly seldom crowded. But like, a LOT of snowboarders, dude. Nothing wrong with that, just be aware that some of those on the hill will take some rather unusual lines. Despite a lack of detachable sixpacks and whatnot, Snow Valley moves people up the mountain nicely — lines are rarely long. Positively caters to beginners and has a nice mix of terrain for developing skiers. The hotshot will prefer more challenging terrain. Wanderers may first be put off by the somewhat smaller size, but the interesting layout of various canyons and ridges makes this a very stimulating place to ski.
Signature Trails: Slides Peak.
Soda Springs, Truckee • 200 skiable acres on 652′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 7352′; Base elevation: 6700′. 3 Lifts: 1 triple, 1 double, 1 surface. Uphill capacity: 1800/hr. Terrain Mix: 30-50-20. Longest Run: 5280′. Season: usually late November to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 400″.
The SKInny: Big little ski area in the shadow of Boreal and some other larger neighbors. This is where you’ll go to learn, relax, etc. Take your little niece and nephew, etc. Low prices, short lines. Dad can ride the lift to the top for steeper terrain, while junior bails out at mid-station. And when you’re tired of skiing, bring your sled for the special sledding hill. That, and the tubing, make this an ideal place for young families with a mix of skiers and non-skiers. And I’ll go just for an easy, relaxing day.
Signature Trails: Crystal Bowl.
Squaw Valley, Lakeshore • 4000 skiable acres on 2850′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 9050′; Base elevation: 6200′. 33 Lifts: 1 tram, 1 gondie, 1 sixpack, 5 quads, 8 triples, 9 doubles, 3 pony lifts, 1 pulse lift, 1 magic carpet. Uphill capacity: 49,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 25-45-30. Longest Run: 16,896′. Season: usually late November to early May. Night skiing. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 450″. Snowmaking: 10%.
The SKInny: Heavenly may be bigger, Mammoth may have the cachet, but Squaw Valley is the unquestioned king of California skiing. It has the runs, it has the lifts, it has the reputation, it is the legend. Site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, Squaw is the location of many well-known runs. Most notable is KT-22, which isn’t a run per se but an entire mountain. It’s neither the steepest nor most difficult ski run on the planet, but it is KT-22 — and if you can ski it proficiently, you need not prove anything else to anybody. As for the downside: Squaw costs. Bring your credit cards, and your cash, and a co-signer. It also doesn’t have a heck of a lot for the pure beginner — although that is mainly just perception — although it’s just a small part of a huge complex that is available to beginners, it is certainly adequate. The odd thing is that the best novice/beginner skiing requires a ride on the tram, 2/3 up the mountain, to the High Camp area. So for families with young skiers, this isn’t the usual “stay on this chair” novice area. (you won’t feel comfortable parking junior on Bailey’s Beach while you work your way over to Granite Chief — and you ought to be arrested if you do) Be aware that the night skiing is a hit-or-miss proposition, with limited (tram) lift service. Also note that the season seems to get underway a little slowly at Squaw…March is usually better than January. Beyond that, not much needs to be said. Emerging black diamond skiers are humbled at Squaw. Hotshots are in heaven. Some wanderers have too much of a good thing at Squaw — kind of like those crazies who run around Disneyworld according to some “See it all” guidebook — and slump in exhaustion by early afternoon. One other thing about Squaw that takes some getting used to is that individual runs and trails are seldom referenced; most of the skiing is wide open, and the lifts or areas are used to name a particular face, peak, bowl, gulch or section of the resort. It’s beautiful, it’s incredible, and it’s one of the finest ski areas in the nation.
Signature Trails: KT-22/Olympic Lady trails.
Stover Mountain, Chester • 13 skiable acres on 500′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 5600′; Base elevation: 5100′. 1 rope tow. Uphill capacity: 1000/hr. Terrain Mix: 40-40-20. Longest Run: 1400′.
The SKInny: A throwback, sort of like the original ski areas that popped up all over country during the 1930s and 40s…Stover has survived. Excellent for young skiers, and a great way to spend a day. Complete with vintage warming hut! Located in Lassen National Forest, it is run by volunteers (Stover Mountain Recreational Facility is a non profit organization 501C)and positively deserves the support of the skiing community. It would be purely a coincidence if you ever had to wait in line here. Stover Mountain is located in Lassen National Forest about 3.5 miles from the junction of Hwy. 89 and Hwy. 36 and is operated under a special use permit. There is no equipment rental on-site. Open on weekends and some holidays from 9 am to 3 pm…NOTE: we are presently trying to verify whether or not Stover Mt. is still operational
Sugar Bowl, Norden • 1500 skiable acres on 1500′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8383′; Base elevation: 6883′. 12 Lifts: 1 gondie, 7 quads, 2 doubles, 1 surface lift, 1 base chair. Uphill capacity: 15,000/hr. Terrain Mix: 17-43-40. Longest Run: 15,840′. Season: usually late November to late April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 500″. Snowmaking: 27%.
The SKInny: Just as Montana has a resort Chet Huntley built and Utah has a resort Robert Redford built, Sugar Bowl will forever be associated with no less than Walt Disney. Originally a high brow resort — dinner jackets required — Sugar Bowl has loosened up a bit. Just as Disneyworld requires you to park your car then take a ride to the entrance, Sugar Bowl once had no vehicular access to the base area. Although they’ve recently added slopeside parking, skiers are still encouraged to park at a special lot and ride a gondola to the base lodge. While the exclusivity has diminished over time, the pricey aspect has not. On the other hand, you get what you pay for: Short liftlines, well groomed terrain, lots of snow, few snowboarders, and perhaps less riff-raff than the more popular mega resorts. Sugar Bowl is a terrific mid-sized ski area, ideal for families (with money) and even hotshots willing to move around a little. The runs are not generally overly difficult; most of the black diamonds were rated as intermediate runs back in the day. In fact, almost all of the single black diamonds could be skied by a solid intermediate — some even tackled by a confident novice. Wanderers will love Sugar Bowl. In fact everyone enjoys Sugar Bowl
Signature Trails: Silver Belt, Donald Duck.
Ski Sunrise, Wrightwood • see Mountain High, above
Tahoe Donner, Truckee • 120 skiable acres on 600′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 7350′; Base elevation: 6750′. 4 Lifts: 1 quad, 1 double, 1 rope tow, 1 magic carpet. Uphill capacity: 2500/hr. Terrain Mix: 40-60-0. Longest Run: 5200′. Season: usually mid December to early April. Rentals & Lessons. Annual Snowfall: 360″.
The SKInny: Good, affordable ski area for families, beginners, and developing skiers. Nothing here for the expert, but you’ll certainly see a few experts enjoying an easy day while the kids are grinding out their lessons. Kids start on the surface lifts, graduate to the quad and wander their way down, then move up to the adventure of the “backside.” Now how can you beat that? An all-around fun ski area.
Signature Trails: The Bowl, Backside runs.
Mt. Waterman, San Bernardino Mountains • 150 skiable acres on 1030′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 8030′; Base elevation: 7000′. 3 fixed-grip chairlifts. Terrain Mix: 20-20-60. Season: As conditions permit.
The SKInny: Mount Waterman is leased under a special use permit from the Forest Service. It’s got a long and storied past, was allowed to dwindle down to a pseudo-private operation by a past owner, then shut down for about 7 years. In the mid 2000s a local businessman and Waterman fan bought the sagging operation just before the Forest Service was set to dismantle the lifts. It’s been resurrected, and is now just a fun, quirky operation that either has lots of snow, or doesn’t. Simple, fun, affordable…one of the few uncontrived operations you’ll find in Southern California.
Yosemite’s Badger Pass see Badger Pass, above.
Mom has a pretty raw deal on the average ski trip. They’re expected to make sure every child is geared up and ready to go…settle the arguments, feed the family, prepare the snacks, pack the chapstick, and so on…and then ski the black diamonds with dad after the second lesson.
The book, Skiing: A Woman’s Guide by Maggie Loring and Molly Mulhern Gross ought to be mandatory reading for every ski mom. It not only provides the basics for managing the gang, it also gives a step-by-step instructional guide from a woman’s point-of-view. This link is to amazon.com, where you can usually pick up a used copy for about two bucks. Mom, it’s the best two bucks you’ll spend all winter.
Hotshots are skiers who can ski anywhere, anytime, in any conditions, and generally enjoy showing off those skills. Wanderers are skiers who like to go exploring, to essentially get “lost” and move from face to face, seldom skiing the same trail twice. Newbies are the girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband who has never skied before, but gamely insists on going along. Obviously, Blues represents intermediate skiers, while Blacks refers to experts.
A note about ski area statistics: Although it’s hard to believe, some ski areas are (gasp!) less than truthful with their numbers. Like the guy who lies about his, uh, shoe size, some ski areas believe that inflated numbers make their resort sound more appealling. When these numbers are obviously questionable, we put a note: (?!) and will attempt to verify the legitimacy of the claim.
A Signature Trail Is mostly subjective. Whether it’s history, reputation, the view, or degree of difficulty…it’s the run you have to do, even if it isn’t necessarily the best the resort has to offer. If a ski area calls a trail by two names (one at the top, and another at the bottom) in an effort to claim more trails, we go by the upper name. If a trail is called “Upper Whatever” and “Lower Whatever,” we simply list it as “Whatever” in this index.
Lift Tickets at Discount: This is a “clearinghouse” of sorts that many ski areas use to raise cash by selling discount tickets in advance, called Liftopia. If you haven’t used this service, it is important to knowfor certain that you are going on a specific date. The deeply discounted tickets must be purchased in advance; generally up to two days out. The sticking point is that some ski resorts only make a limited number of tickets available to Liftopia for any given day, so they might be sold out if you wait too long…so, as soon as you are absolutely, positively sure that you will be skiing on a certain day, click this link to get deeply discounted tickets. I’ve used this service many times, but again, ONLY when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. You need to have access to a printer to print out your receipt, and you have to take identification with you to the mountain. I’ve knocked a third off the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it’s well worth checking if you’ve got a date nailed down. Note that sometimes they offer deals in which you can pay a slightly higher fee that gives you the option to change dates.