El Niño’s rainy effect on California’s weather has been welcomed at ski resorts—places where more precipitation means more snow. Take advantage of the skiing season and think about spending time in one of these charming towns, mostly within the boundaries of national forests. Always check your chosen ski resort’s website beforehand for trail and run closures as well as discounts in advance!
California's Top 5 Ski Destinations
1. Wrightwood, CA (Peak: 10,000 ft)
The closest ski area from Los Angeles on this list is a real treat, as long as you can tolerate a remote drive east on the Angeles Crest Highway (CA-2), which gets choppy and unpredictable during the winter. Wrightwood sits between arid San Bernadino and Mt. San Antonio, making Mountain High Resort and the Wrightwood-Big Pines area a nice midpoint for residents and visitors in Southern California. Up at Mountain High, choose from one of their three “resorts” in town: West has the most trails and places to snowboard, East offers longer ski runs and North has a handful of shorter, intermediate trails and the kid-friendly North Pole Tubing Park. Out of geographic convenience, these slopes do get very crowded, so avoid this getaway if you hate waiting in line. Pricing-wise, flex tickets last 4 or 8 hours and decrease in price on weekdays and after 5 p.m.; however, if you can prove it’s your birthday, you may ski for 8 hours free of charge. After enjoying the snow, stop by Wrightwood’s Grizzly Cafe for breakfast, lunch or dinner, which boasts a stacked menu with beer and cocktails.
2. South Lake Tahoe, CA (Peak 10,000 ft)
Enjoy Lake Tahoe in cold weather by trekking its mountain peaks just south of town—atop the Heavenly Mountain Gondola Ride, you’ll observe a stunning view of both the lake and the Sierra Nevada range. Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort manages the trails and runs at the top of the Gondola and other ski lifts, some of which extend over the California-Nevada border. Beginners can test the powder in an introductory lesson or try out the small hills near the California Lodge and up by Groove Park, while expert skiers and snowboarders can cruise down double black diamond runs on and near Mott Canyon. With 30 lifts (the most out of any South Lake Tahoe ski resorts), the steep price of a $125 adult ticket for one day makes sense, but check the website for specific pricing. For a magic show and a three-course dinner, reserve a table at The Loft Theatre, which serves authentic Italian food and G-rated entertainment. A more casual food option is Sprouts Cafe; the outwardly healthy menu offers smoothies and dishes like tempeh burgers, hummus melts and homemade vegan soup—but don’t worry: Sprouts serves meat as well.
3. Lake Arrowhead, CA (Snow Valley peak 7,800 ft)
45 minutes north of Highland and 5,100 ft high in the San Bernadino Mountains, the tourist-friendly town of Lake Arrowhead is a neat “base camp” for those planning on taking a multi-day ski trip to nearby Snow Valley Mountain Resort. This 14-lift cascade of slopes, culminating in Slide Peak, is mostly intermediate to difficult runs (the most extreme nearly begs for an avalanche). Individual, day-long lift tickets (for adults 22-64) max out at $69 during holiday season and a Family Fun Pack deal offers a two parent, two kids package for $129. Cross-country skiers and snowshoers should go across the street to Rim Nordic Ski Area, Southern California’s only groomed collection of cross-country ski trails and untouched snowshoe paths. More similar to a regular hike than a fast-paced voyage down a mountain, the staff at Rim Nordic’s office are more than happy to give you tips on technique, specifically if you purchase a Learn-To-Ski package: a one hour lesson, trail pass and equipment rental at $45 per adult. Back in Lake Arrowhead, grab dinner at Bin 189, the quirky yet stylish restaurant at waterfront-facing Lake Arrowhead Resort, for tasteful wine flights, apricot pork tenderloin and crunchy fish and chips—anything one might crave after exerting energy outdoors.
4. North Fork, CA (China Peak: 8,700 ft)
Located at the exact geographical center of California and on the edge of the Sierra National Forest, North Fork Ranchería is a place of importance and gathering for the Mono Indians. Known for its pow wows and language preservation, the Sierra Mono Museum is a must-see exhibition if staying in the gorgeous Bass Lake area. After absorbing some culture, proceed to your principal winter destination at China Peak Mountain Resort about an hour and a half away in Lakeshore; this 1,200 acre tangle of lifts and enticing runs is less crowded than many resorts and has a beginner’s trail that takes you from nearly the top of Chinese Peak back down to the base area. Visitors often note the silky nature of the snow that tends to fall here. Even better news for beginners: tickets limited to just the easy slopes cost far less than regular price. Back in North Fork—there are very few places to eat near China Peak—opt for La Cabaña, a traditional Mexican restaurant where guests may order wine by the glass…or bring their own.
5. Big Bear Lake, CA (Snow Summit 8,200 ft, Bear Mountain 8,805 ft)
Arguably the most well-known and popular ski area in Southern California, beautiful Big Bear sees thousands of guests every day, especially during the winter. To access the myriad slopes made famous by pro skiers and cultural relevancy, visitors must pass through the Bear Mountain/Snow Summit resort system, which offers deals on both locations but require advanced booking (with terms and conditions!). Children taller than 42 inches will demand to visit Grizzly Ridge Tubing Park at Snow Summit under the East Mountain Xpress ski lift and can definitely handle the tame “Easy Street” ski run on Bear Mountain. Of course, if you want to really shred, Bear Mountain’s “Geronimo” scales down a peak a mile off the ground. Check out Big Bear Alpine Zoo if time permits, for its local owls, foxes, mountain lions and bears are a must-see; the beloved zoo rehabilitates injured wild animals year-round. Hungry? Take your party to Grizzly’s Bear Belly Deli for a top-notch pastrami sandwich or bratwurst dog; it’s right down the street from the zoo.See Big Bear Lake Rentals Now!
This article was written by Juliana Cohen.