While the sweeping coastlines, pristine sands, and turquoise waters of California’s beaches garner a lot of attention during the summer months, the powdered slopes, snow-dusted forests, and cozy, rustic lodges of the landlocked regions reign supreme when winter rolls around. Admiring the picturesque mountains while cuddled up beneath a blanket with hot cocoa in hand before a full day of skiing is the epitome of perfection when the days of lounging in the sun are long gone. Whether you find yourself around Northern California’s Heavenly, Squaw Valley, or Lake Tahoe, pick up some outdoor gear, rent some skis, and book that resort—because the mountains are calling.
With dozens of top-rated ski resorts to choose from, you may need to plan a few snow trips throughout the season to get the full Northern California winter experience. But start at Mammoth Mountain for the ultimate adventure. With the highest peak of any ski resort in the state, thousands of acres of terrain, and 100-plus runs accessible to enthusiasts of all ability levels, Mammoth is the ideal place to learn how to ski and to perfect your talents. The resort town is filled with eateries, quaint lodging options, home rentals, and spas to elevate your getaway in the most luxurious way.
After getting a few days of skiing under your belt, head up to the Lake Tahoe resorts nestled in the Sierra Nevada. Considered one of the most famed destinations in the world and known for its snowy mountain peaks, Tahoe boasts a dozen different resorts providing scenic views of the mountains, the lake, and the forests that encapsulate the region.
Continue the ski tour with Northstar in Truckee, where there is a great combination of beginner and intermediate slopes. This mixture of runs helps skiers work up confidence for the more difficult ones that can be found at the nearby destinations. Owned by Vail Resorts, the runs at Northstar are well groomed, family friendly, and close to high-quality lodging, shopping, and dining establishments. Stock up on warmer clothing at Patagonia, and grab any other gear you may need in the charming village just outside the resorts.
Once fully equipped, travel southwest until you get to Squaw Valley Resort. One of the birthplaces of modern skiing, this destination is known as the crown jewel of the area and has been integral in launching the careers of professional skiers. Get your bearings at the High Camp area before trying the bolder terrains accessed by the Siberia and Gold lifts. After a full day of exploring the mountain faces, rest and recover in the lodging at the base of the mountain, or in the hot tub of an Airbnb in the nearby town of Truckee.
Complete your tour of Northern California’s slopes at a South Lake Tahoe classic: Heavenly. This is the largest resort in the Tahoe area, with nearly 5,000 acres along the California-Nevada border. Heavenly makes for an ideal final stop due to its plethora of intermediate and advanced terrain. While it may take some time for beginners to feel comfortable heading down the more complicated, advanced slopes, about 45 percent of the resort’s massive ski area is perfect for intermediate-level skiers. The wide range of runs allows somewhat skilled skiers to have a variety of experiences without needing to try out the challenging, nerve-wracking hills. Book a vacation home or stay in a resort, and make yourself comfortable; the views of the lake and surrounding white mountains will make you want to stay forever.