Ski California

For most travellers, California evokes images of sand, sun and plenty of surf.

So many people are surprised to discover that the US’s Golden State has world-class ski resorts that offer record-breaking snowfall, exciting après-ski activities and a variety of lodging options to please all wallet sizes, from the budget traveller to those with a bit of cash to splash. 

There is no doubt that California is home to some of the country’s best ski slopes. And Lake Tahoe’s winter wonderland has the largest concentration of ski resorts anywhere in the US. 

The varied terrain of California’s spectacular Sierra Nevada mountain range offers fun for all levels of skier and snowboarder, from gentle slopes for beginner to thrilling backcountry skiing, as well as terrain parks with steep, chutes and mogul fields. 

Because a small portion of Sierra Nevada, near Lake Tahoe, overlaps into Nevada, there’s also the novelty of skiing in both California and Nevada on the same day. 

The slopes have breathtaking views of Lake Tahoe’s stunning alpine lake framed by snow-capped peaks. And to top it off, the area enjoys 300 days of sunshine and an average annual snowfall of 10.67 metres, which just about guarantees a fantastic time on the snow. 

Heavenly Lake Tahoe

California’s largest ski resort straddles the Nevada-California border, and it is here that skiers have the unique opportunity of skiing in both states on the same day. The slopes at Heavenly Lake Tahoe are ideal for intermediate skies but they also offer several challenging black runs, plenty of steep areas, moguls and lots of terrain parks for advanced skiers and snowboarders to run amok in. 

On the Californian side, the blue waters of Lake Tahoe, which are surrounded by snow-capped peaks, are picture-perfect. Head to the Nevada side and enjoy great skiing, weaving through the trees in giant snow-covered pine forests while sunburnt desert lies in the valley below – the contrast of wintery alpine and harsh desert vistas is a sight to remember. 

When your legs get too tired, take in the views from the Heavenly Gondola or zip down the mountain at a rate of 80km/h on the exhilarating Heavenly Flyer ZipRider. At a kilometre long, it is the longest zip line (or flying fox) in the continental US. And if you’re feeling lucky, when the sun starts to set, cross over the border into Nevada to hit the poker tables. Gambling is available any time or day or night at Harrah’s, Harveys or at any of the other abundant casinos in the state. 

Northstar-at-Tahoe 

Northstar-at-Tahoe offers 89 ski trails, as well as terrain parks and snow sports such as alpine and telemark (free heel) skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and tubing. It also offers high-tech geocaching treasure hunts, where guests can use handheld GPS devices to search for treasure boxes. 

But when the sun goes down, Northstar’s village is vibrant, with live bands, festivals and loads of parties. Head straight for Butterbox, where the DJ booth has two limited-edition 24-carat-gold Technics turntables and a busy calendar of parties throughout the winter. 

The picturesque village is centred around a year-round skating rink, with luxury condominiums, stylish boutiques, art galleries, cafes and restaurants all nearby. The resort’s new one-, two-, and three-bedroom luxury villas are located in the heart of the village and are only a few steps away from the ski lifts. 

The cosy fire pits beside the skating rink are also the perfect spot to roast moth-watering s’mores – a popular campfire treat in the US that consists of creamy melted marshmallows sandwiched between chocolate squares and graham crackers. An indulgent post-slopes treat that’s simply delicious. 

Squaw Valley USA 

Famous for its role as the host of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games, Squaw Valley offers steep scenic skiing plus plenty of winter activities for non-skiers. 

You can swap your skis for a pair of ice skates and glide around the Olympic Ice Pavilion or, alternatively, pay tribute to past champions at High Camp’s Olympic Museum. During the games, Jean Vuarent became the first Olympian to compete on metal skies – a pair of Allais 60s – winning the gold medal for France in the men’s downhill discipline. 

Squaw Valley’s 33 lifts, including the US’s only funitel (a state-of-the-art European lift that can carry 15 seated passengers and moves at up to six metres per second), and an aerial cable can offer access to six peaks and 1,618 hectares of terrain suitable for all abilities, as well as the option of night skiing. And there’s a new high-tech ticketing system using SmartCard technology to shorten the queues. If you’re staying at Squaw Creek’s resort, you can make good use of the on-property triple chairlift, with convenient ski-in, ski-out access to Squaw Valley’s slopes. 

Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort 

There are no fancy villages or luxury amenities at Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort. Instead, here you’ll find an authentic, old-fashioned family holiday vibe. 

The resort’s lift ticket packages are competitively priced for families and the special offers make it easy for you and your brood to stay and play. 

There are also meal deals and private lessons created especially for families. The 3-Pal lift ticket allows you all to ski together at reasonable prices and the Parent Predicament Lift Ticket is great for grown-ups who want to take turns to babysit the kids and then ski on the same ticket. The Parent Zone at Thunder Gulch allows you to watch while your children learn to ski at the ski and snowboarding school. 

Most runs, including the intermediate, advanced and kids’ zones, lead down to the base lodge, making the layout of the mountain convenient for family members of various abilities to meet up for lunch and those all-important hot chocolate breaks. 

The kids will love checking out weather patterns and following storms in real time with Sierra’s interactive online applications. And the new mobile website caters for iPhone and smartphone users, with touchscreen design, live feeds reporting daily condition, weather, news and events. 

Kirkwood Mountain Resort 

Black diamond skiers take note. At 2,377 metres, Kirkwood Mountain Resort is the highest base in California and enjoys an annual snowfall of 13 metres. The snow here is light and dry, making it a top spot for those who love deep-powder skiing. There are plenty of chutes, cliff drops and high-pitch bowls, offering some of the best terrain in the country. 

The resort offers a popular backcountry education program, which includes courses on snow safety, avalanche terrain awareness, and transmitter and transceiver use. Those who want to experience the thrill – and chill – of camping out overnight in the mountains can join a new snow-camping class to learn about gear and site selection, useful packing strategies and cold-weather cooking. 

Kirkwood is California’s only resort with a Cat-skiing operation, offering you the chance to seek out fresh powder on the Powder Cat Tour to nearby Martin Point and Red Cliffs. Recent upgrades to the resort include two new lifts and a new Wonder Carpet lift in the Timber Creek beginner’s area. 

Alpine Meadows 

From backcountry guided tours to children’s day camps, Alpine Meadows ski resort has lessons and tours for skiers and boarders of every skill level. And with 971 hectares of terrain serviced by 14 lifts and more than 100 trails and three terrain parks to explore, there’s plenty of skiing for everyone 

Last season saw the introduction of new multi-day Sleep Camps for advanced skier plus a new partnership with Burton Snowboards, using the Burton Learn To Ride snowboard beginner-specific equipment and instructional technique, which is appropriate for both children and adults. There’s also a new series of the very popular women’s multi-day ski and snowboard camps as well as a new telemark ski camp. 

First-timers can sign up for a comprehensive guide to the basics, and there’s an adaptive ski school for disabled skiers. For Women by Women campers are also popular at Alpine Meadows, offering skiing with female instructors, video analysis, advice, après-ski and lunch. 

There are more than seven lodging options around the mountain, from value-conscious lodgings to condos and townhouses plus the lakeside luxury of the five-star Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe. 

Mount Rose Ski Tahoe

Just over the  border in neighbouring Nevada, Mount Rose offers fun fir the budget-conscious traveller. With Reno only 25 minutes away by road, skiers have access to a huge choice of city accommodation option that are conveniently served by a twice-daily shuttle bus.

The resort offers ski packages and various other competitive weekend passes and package deals.

Even though it’s so close to a major city, Mount Rose has the highest base elevation of all of Lake Tahoe’s resorts and the views are out of this world. 

You’ll find good powder skiing and chutes add a new dimension for serious skiers. There are also three beginners’ areas, so it’s a good sport to learn. 

Words by Christina Pfeiffer - Published in Voyeur May 2009
Quick Facts 
Population Approx. 7.0033 million
Time Zone UTC -5
Languages English (official), Spanish, Native American
Currency American Dollar ($USD)
Electricity 110v - 60Hz
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