The 5 Best California Ski Resorts

From the slopes of Heavenly Mountain Resort, you can take in Lake Tahoe below
From the slopes of Heavenly Mountain Resort, you can take in Lake Tahoe below | © Yvette Cardozo / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Molly Codyre
9 September 2020

Trade palm trees and sand for towering pines and snow with a trip to one of California’s best ski resorts.

California might not be the first state you think of when it comes to skiing – what with its tropical temperatures and palm-fringed shorelines – but it in fact boasts some of the leading ski resorts in the United States. Ranging from the rustic and sprawling Mammoth Lakes to the LA local hotspot Big Bear, there are slopes to suit beginners, experts and every skill level in between. Luckily for those more accustomed to California’s sunnier climes, most of these resorts are within easy reach of the coast, so if things get too chilly you can be back on the beach in less than three hours.

Mammoth Lakes

Ski Resort, Natural Feature
Map View
Ski lift area at Mammoth Lakes, California
Ski lift area at Mammoth Lakes, California | © Alpha Stock / Alamy Stock Photo
Mammoth Lakes attracts visitors all year round, but the resort town really comes to life in winter, when skiers and snowboarders flock to its surrounding peaks. The town – once a sleepy mountain village – experienced something of a tourism boom in the early 2000s and there are now plenty of restaurants, chalet-style hotels and shops, all fringed by towering mountains and looming pine trees. Choose from one of a good selection of cabins and condos for a warming retreat at the end of a day’s skiing.

Big Bear

Forest, Hiking Trail, Ski Resort
Map View
Big Bear Valley
Big Bear Valley | © alpkhan / Alamy Stock Photo
Just over a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, but a world away from its tropical palm trees and sandy beaches, Big Bear is a sizable mountain town on the edge of Big Bear Lake. Popular with Angelenos due to its proximity to the city, the town becomes a focus for wintery fun in the cooler months; expect world-class slopes on the mountains above and buzzy streets with twinkling lights in the town. Many accommodation options and restaurants come with awe-inspiring views over the frosted lake – pick your favourite vantage point from the selection of incredible Airbnbs in the town.

Heavenly Mountain Resort

Natural Feature, Ski Resort
Map View
California Trail, Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort, South Lake Tahoe, California.
California Trail, Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort, South Lake Tahoe, California. | © Dan Leeth / Alamy Stock Photo
Sitting on the border of California and Nevada, Heavenly Mountain Resort is a multifaceted town on the edge of Lake Tahoe. The state line runs through an intersection in the town, with the bright lights and blinking casinos of Nevada on one side juxtaposed against the quaint California streets on the other. Up the mountains, you wouldn’t know the difference – both sides come with intermediate slopes, and incredible views of Lake Tahoe below. As one of the bigger ski towns, the accommodation options are varied – we recommend opting for one of the area’s best Airbnbs.

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows

Ski Resort, Natural Feature
Map View
Alpine Meadows ski area, Squaw Valley, California
Alpine Meadows ski area, Squaw Valley, California | © Russ Bishop / Alamy Stock Photo
Located in a similar area to Heavenly Mountain, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows also sit within the Lake Tahoe region, with Squaw Valley being the second largest ski resort in the area after Heavenly. Operating in conjunction with Alpine Meadows next door, you can’t ski or board between the two resorts, but a shuttle bus will take you to either quickly and tickets are interchangeable. You can stay right at the foot of Squaw Valley – giving you prime access to the slopes – and there are a number of Airbnbs to choose from.

Sugar Bowl

Ski Resort, Natural Feature
Map View
Sugar Bowl ski resort, Norden CA
Sugar Bowl ski resort, Norden CA | © Stars and Stripes / Alamy Stock Photo
Technically the first ski resort in California – it was even first to get a ski lift in 1939 – Sugar Bowl’s appeal is still unwavering. Having been set up by Austrian ski racer Hannes Schroll, the resort has a distinct European vibe and benefits from being the first to be hit by storms rolling in off the Pacific. The resort gets its fair share of snow, but being one of the smaller in the Lake Tahoe region it attracts fewer crowds – meaning more snow to go around for in-the-know skiers and snowboarders. The closest town is Truckee, where there are a number of stunning Airbnbs to complete your alpine experience.
These recommendations were updated on September 9, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.