California is noted for its abundant sunshine. Hey, it's not called the Golden State for nothing, you know.
But its mountains get slammed every winter by copious amounts of snow; nearly a thousand inches of white gold has fallen on the Donner Pass area of the Sierra Nevada in previous years, and a typical winter will see about 600 inches of snow.
Given nature's largesse, it's no wonder that some of the world's great winter sports playgrounds are located in California. Such internationally renowned resorts as Squaw Valley USA, Heavenly, Northstar-at-Tahoe, and Mammoth Mountain reap the harvest of the winter storms.
Then there's the locals' secrets - places such as Alpine Meadows, Sugar Bowl, Kirkwood, Mountain High - that also are in on the bounty that enables riders of all abilities to take numerous laps on lifts that generally run from mid-November to early May. Sometimes longer.
But not everything is about skiing and snowboarding in California. Tubing, sledding, tobogganing, and other snow-play options are just right for the non-rider in your family, for children who have yet to master the single- or double-plank means of descent and for skiers and boarders who are looking for a day-off-the-lifts diversion.
After that, you can snuggle up around an outdoor fire, polish off a few s'mores, and bask in the afterglow of a day well-spent in mountain country.
The following is a short list of California resorts that also cater to the snow-angel maker in all of us. Most of the sledding hills provide some sort of uphill conveyance, and generally all mentioned have warming and refreshment facilities a snowball's throw away.
At the top of Heavenly's gondola is the Adventure Peak Snow Park, which features tubing, sledding, ski biking, and snowmobiling, all in a self-contained area away from the skiers and snowboarders. There's also a 3,300-foot long zip line known as the Heavenly Flyer that drops you 525 vertical feet from the top of the Tamarack lift back to the snow park. Wind up your day with ice skating in the Heavenly Village.
Boreal, at the top of Donner Summit, has a dedicated snow play area dubbed Playland, where you tube to your heart's delight on groomed lanes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily (there are mini-tubes for those under 42 inches tall). There's also a mini-snowmobile course designed for 6 to 12 year olds.
Nearby Soda Springs, which is owned by Boreal's parent company, has two tows for its large tubing hill and a snow-play area for kids eight and under dubbed Planet Kids that features two tubing carousels and a mini-snowmobile course.
Mountain High's North Pole high above the City of Angels is the largest tubing park in Southern California, with up to nine groomed lanes of sliding pleasure. The tubing hill is accessed by two moving carpets (one of which is 450 feet long) and is open Friday through Sunday and during holiday periods.
Northstar-at-Tahoe plunked a tubing hill just outside its mid-mountain lodge. The lift-serviced run is open all day on weekends and holidays and in the afternoon on week days. In the Village, which serves up s'mores on a regular basis and, regardless of the time of year, you can avail yourself of the ice-skating rink, which is open to the public free of charge (skate rentals are $5).
Squaw Valley has two skating rinks - a small one at the Resort at Squaw Creek and an Olympic-size arena at the top-of-the-tram High Camp. There are also two lanes of maintained tubing track at the Papoose Discovery Center near the Village.
Mammoth has a lift-served and groomed sledding hill dubbed Sledz off Minaret Road on the way to the Main Lodge. Dogsled rides are available near the Main Lodge.
The lift-accessed tubing hill at Sierra-at-Tahoe is 425 feet of high-banked turns and rollers.
Big Bear Snow Play area at Big Bear Lake has two magic carpets - one of which is covered - that serve nearly a dozen tubing lanes, which are covered in lean times by snow making machines.
Bear Valley Cross Country operates a small sledding hill on weekends and holidays.
The California Department of Parks and Recreation operates 19 Sno-Parks in the Sierra. The parks have snow-cleared parking lots with sanitation facilities and access to snow play areas, cross-country ski and snowmobile trails. Visit the California State Parks & Recreation Snowparks page for more information.
Check out Paul Doherty's One Stop Guide For Snow Tubing, Sledding, And Snowplay for detailed information on snow-play areas throughout North America.