A ski resort with terrain for all levels and closeby lodging, lots of apres ski activities and a good ski school make for great vacations on snow.
Northern California: Something Fun For All For Skiers, Boarders -
From fine wines of the Napa valley to the redwoods of the north coast, from the cosmopolitan elegance of San Francisco to the breadbasket that is the Central Valley, from the raging Pacific Ocean to the magnificent Sierra Nevada range, and to everything in between, you can bet Northern California has it.
The region also possesses some finest skiing and snowboarding terrain in the land that is less than a 3.5 hour drive from the Bay Area megalopolis.
Start off with Squaw Valley, home of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games and now known as one of greatest adrenalin-raising hills in the West. Just exploring the terrain serviced by the KT22 high-speed quad – which provides access to among other runs the famed West Face and Chute 75 -- alone will keep you occupied for days.
Hop over a ridge or two to the east and you’ll find the full-service mega-resort of Northstar-at-Tahoe. Known for its emphasis on family fun and long, thigh-burning cruisers, Northstar also has one of the best terrain park complexes in America (the Stash, which meanders through the woods and is made up entirely of natural and/or wood-sculpture hits, is worth a trip alone).
To the south, across the Big Blue known as Lake Tahoe, lies Heavenly, the third facet of Northern California’s crown jewels of mountain resorts. Sprawling over the California-Nevada border, the huge 4,800-acre playground is the largest in California. Heavenly has two vibes befitting its bi-state aspect: Much of the resort consists of immaculately groomed cruisers; the remainder is some of the best tree skiing the region.
While the Big 3 garner most of the public’s attention – and not to mention plenty of skier and snowboarder traffic – there are more than a dozen other Northern California resorts that can, and often do, hold their own.
Alpine Meadows, which lies immediately south of Squaw, is a midsize resort that is famed for its spring skiing and great hike-to terrain. Nearby Homewood, which is owned by the same people who operate Alpine, is a funky, no-frills operation with marvelous tree skiing and snowboarding terrain and a parking lot that is a stone’s throw from the shores of Lake Tahoe.
Sugar Bowl, which sits smack in the middle of the snow magnet known as Donner Pass, is the Grande Dame of Sierra winter resorts (it spun its first lift in 1939). But it’s no dowager -- the steep flanks of the Palisades and the all-terrain-park runs of the Mt. Judah chair see to that.
Boreal is Northern California’s only all-mountain terrain park, and its location right off Interstate 80 at Donner Summit and its relatively gentle slopes make Boreal a great place to take those first tentative turns.
Mt. Rose, whose recently opened Chutes has ratcheted up the thrill quotient, sits high above the northeast corner of Lake Tahoe, less than a half-hour from the non-stop action of Reno’s casinos. Closer to the lake and off the same Nevada state highway that provides access to Mt. Rose – but worlds apart from Rose – is Diamond Peak, an easy-going family-oriented resort that has views of Tahoe that rival those of Homewood and Heavenly.
Just outside the Tahoe Basin is Sierra-at-Tahoe, a little sister to Northstar that provides decent weather-protected tree skiing and family-oriented fun.
Farther south, about 40 minutes from South Lake Tahoe, is Kirkwood. Much like Alpine Meadows – they are similar in size, terrain and number of lifts – Kirkwood is a great place to spend a spring day cutting up the chalky snow that’s usually available in Eagle Bowl and the Thunder Saddle areas. But the best thing about Kirkwood is that, because of its location high up in an alpine valley, you get the feeling that you are light years away from anyone else.
Two other regional resorts that are of interest are Dodge Ridge and Bear Valley, two moderate-size west-slope hills that cater mostly to families on day trips from the Central Valley.
Then there’s Badger Pass in Yosemite. A tiny hill – a couple of lifts, a couple hundred vertical – it won’t raise the excitement level too high, but it is located in one of the most scenic pieces of real estate in the United States.
As you can see, there’s a little bit of something for every skier and snowboarder in Northern California.