A Local's Guide to 5 Ski & Snowboard Resorts in Northern California

Published on 04/14/2023 · 9 min readNorthern California is an awesome winter destination for skiing and snowboarding! Check out this guide for everything you need to know for the perfect trip!
will koons, Snowboarding Expert
By Snowboarding Expert will koons

California offers a wide array of ski and snowboard resorts, each with its unique terrain, attractions, and apres-ski spots. While the Lake Tahoe area is often the first place that comes to mind when considering skiing in California, there are many other winter sports havens to discover in the northern part of the state, such as Sugar Bowl and Mammoth Mountain. With diverse landscapes and a range of activities for all skill levels, Northern California is a true paradise for ski and snowboard enthusiasts, with some of the best ski resorts in the country.

In this article, we'll provide a local's guide to the best ski and snowboard resorts in Northern California, including insider tips and recommendations for apres-ski spots, coffee shops, and attractions. We'll cover each resort's basic stats and overviews and provide expert reviews based on our experience as locals. Whether you're a beginner looking for a ski school or an expert seeking a challenge, we'll help you choose the right ski areas for your skill level and provide tips for making the most of your time on the slopes. So, grab your skis or snowboard, and let's explore the winter wonderland of Northern California ski resorts!

Top 5 Northern California Ski and Snowboard Resorts: 1. Palisades Tahoe/Alpine Meadows: Best for all-around skiing 2. Northstar California: Best for families and upscale experience 3. Heavenly Mountain Resort: Best for scenic views and nightlife 4. Kirkwood Mountain Resort: Best for advanced skiers and snowboarders 5. Sugar Bowl Resort: Best for families and easy accessibility

1. Palisades Tahoe/Alpine Meadows: Best for All-Around Skiing

The Village at Palisades. Photo by Vlad Karpinsky

  • Location: Olympic Valley, CA
  • Distance from San Francisco: 3.5 hours
  • Public Transportation: None

Key Info

  • Number of Runs/Lifts: 270 runs, 42 lifts
  • Elevation: 6,200-9,050 feet
  • Annual Snowfall: 450 inches

Spot Overview

Palisades Tahoe (formerly known as Squaw Valley) and Alpine Meadows are two ski resorts connected by a tram, providing an extensive skiing and snowboarding experience. Palisades Tahoe, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, boasts legendary advanced terrain, while Alpine Meadows offers a more laid-back atmosphere with a variety of terrain suitable for all skill levels. With a combined 6,000 skiable acres, these resorts cater to a wide range of winter sports enthusiasts.

Expert Review

As a local, I appreciate this Lake Tahoe ski resort's diversity of terrain. You can find incredible vertical drops from the tram face peak on powder days. The advanced slopes at Palisades Tahoe provide a thrilling experience for seasoned skiers, while Alpine Meadows is perfect for families or those seeking a more relaxed atmosphere. The Village at Palisades Tahoe offers fantastic dining, shopping, and entertainment options for a well-rounded apres-ski experience.

Insider Tips

  • Visit High Camp at Palisades Tahoe for ice skating, dining, and panoramic views of Lake Tahoe.
  • Grab a coffee and a pastry at Coffeebar, located in the Village at Palisades Tahoe.
  • Check out the Auld Dubliner for Irish pub fare and live music on weekends.
  • Don't miss Le Chamois, a classic ski bar with a lively atmosphere and tasty pizza.
  • Experience the scenic Mountain Run, a 3.2-mile intermediate trail at Palisades Tahoe.

2. Northstar California: Best for Families and Upscale Experience

Ice Rink at Northstar Village. Photo by Fovea Centralis

  • Location: Truckee, CA
  • Distance from San Francisco: 3.5 hours
  • Public Transportation: None

Key Info

  • Number of Runs/Lifts: 100 runs, 20 lifts
  • Elevation: 6,330-8,610 feet
  • Annual Snowfall: 350 inches

Spot Overview

Northstar California is a luxury Lake Tahoe Resort known for its family-friendly atmosphere, upscale amenities, and meticulously groomed slopes. The resort offers a variety of terrain for all skill levels and a top-notch ski school. The Village at Northstar provides a range of dining, shopping, and entertainment options, making it a popular destination for a high-end ski vacation.

Expert Review

Northstar California offers an exceptional ski experience for families and those seeking a more luxurious ski vacation. As a local, I appreciate the well-groomed slopes and the various terrain suitable for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities. The ski school is superb, making it an excellent choice for beginners or those looking to improve their skills. The Village at Northstar offers a range of high-quality dining and shopping options and a lively apres-ski scene.

Insider Tips

  • Don't miss the Ritz-Carlton's outdoor "Backyard Bar & BBQ" for delicious barbecue fare and a cozy outdoor fire pit.
  • Head to Tōst, a daily champagne toast at the top of the mountain, for a unique and memorable ski experience.
  • For a caffeine fix, visit the on-mountain Starbucks at the top of the Zephyr Express chairlift.
  • Try the exceptional sushi at Mikuni, located in the Village at Northstar.
  • For a family-friendly activity, enjoy ice skating in the heart of the Village at Northstar.

3. Heavenly Mountain Resort: Best for Scenic Views and Nightlife

Photo by Jonathan Cook-Fisher

  • Location: South Lake Tahoe, CA/NV
  • Distance from San Francisco: 3.5 hours
  • Public Transportation: None

Key Info

  • Number of Runs/Lifts: 97 runs, 28 lifts
  • Elevation: 6,540-10,067 feet
  • Annual Snowfall: 360 inches

Spot Overview

Heavenly Mountain Resort, straddling the California-Nevada border, is known for its stunning views of Lake Tahoe and expansive terrain. The resort features a range of runs for all skill levels and a lively apres-ski scene in nearby South Lake Tahoe. With its close proximity to casinos, dining, and entertainment options, Heavenly is a popular destination for those looking to combine skiing and snowboarding with nightlife and off-the-slopes activities.

Expert Review

Heavenly Mountain Resort offers a unique ski experience with the breathtaking sights of Lake Tahoe and its exciting nightlife scene. As a local, I enjoy the diverse terrain and the long, sweeping runs that make for an exhilarating day on the slopes. In addition, the resort's location near South Lake Tahoe makes transitioning from skiing to enjoying the town's restaurants, casinos, and entertainment options easy.

Insider Tips

  • Take the Heavenly Gondola for a scenic ride and stunning views of Lake Tahoe.
  • Visit Base Camp Pizza Co. for delicious pizza and a lively atmosphere.
  • Don't miss the Gunbarrel Tavern & Eatery for tasty food and a great selection of craft beers.
  • For a more upscale dining experience, visit the Chart House, known for its seafood and steak offerings and panoramic lake views.
  • Check out the nearby casinos for nightlife, live music, and gaming options.

4. Kirkwood Mountain Resort: Best for Advanced Skiers and Snowboarders

Photo by YoTuT

  • Location: Kirkwood, CA
  • Distance from San Francisco: 3.5 hours
  • Public Transportation: None

Key Info

  • Number of Runs/Lifts: 86 runs, 15 lifts
  • Elevation: 7,800-9,800 feet
  • Annual Snowfall: 500 inches

Spot Overview

Kirkwood Mountain Resort is known for its challenging terrain, high elevation, and deep snowfall, making it a favorite destination for advanced skiers and snowboarders. The resort offers a range of expert-level runs and some beginner and intermediate options. In addition, Kirkwood's remote location and laid-back atmosphere provide a more relaxed and less crowded skiing experience compared to other Lake Tahoe resorts.

Expert Review

As an advanced skier, I love the terrain at Kirkwood. The variety and difficulty of the runs here have pushed me to progress my skiing and expand my abilities and comfort level. If you like riding steeps and powder I highly recommend taking a trip to Kirkwood. While Kirkwood may not have the same range of dining and nightlife options as other resorts, its focus on skiing and snowboarding makes it a top choice for those seeking a more authentic mountain experience.

Insider Tips

  • Check out The Wall, a double-black diamond run, for a thrilling challenge.
  • Visit the Kirkwood General Store for a quick lunch or snack.
  • Visit The Cornice Grill for a relaxed après-ski scene and tasty pub fare.
  • For a cozy on-mountain lodging experience, consider staying at the Kirkwood Mountain Resort's condos or lodges.
  • Take advantage of Kirkwood's excellent backcountry access for experienced skiers and snowboarders, but be sure to follow all safety precautions and guidelines.

5. Sugar Bowl Resort: Best for Families and Easy Accessibility

Photo by Steve Jurvetson

  • Location: Norden, CA
  • Distance from San Francisco: 3 hours
  • Public Transportation: None

Key Info

  • Number of Runs/Lifts: 103 runs, 12 lifts
  • Elevation: 6,883-8,383 feet
  • Annual Snowfall: 500 inches

Spot Overview

Sugar Bowl Resort is a family-friendly ski area known for its easy accessibility from San Francisco and abundant snowfall. The resort offers a range of beginner, intermediate, and advanced runs and a highly-regarded ski school. With its charming and historic base lodge, Sugar Bowl provides a more intimate and relaxed skiing experience compared to some of the larger Lake Tahoe resorts.

Expert Review

As a local, I enjoy the accessibility and welcoming atmosphere at Sugar Bowl Resort. The resort's varied terrain caters to skiers and snowboarders of all levels, making it a great choice for families and groups with mixed abilities. The ski school at Sugar Bowl is particularly strong, which is ideal for beginners or those looking to improve their skills. In addition, the historic base lodge and on-mountain lodging options create a charming and cozy atmosphere for visitors.

Insider Tips

  • For a hearty breakfast or lunch, visit the Mid-Mountain Lodge near the top of the Disney Express chairlift.
  • For a casual après-ski experience, head to the Belt Room Bar in the Village Lodge.
  • If you're interested in learning about the history of the resort, visit the Sugar Bowl Village's small museum.
  • Don't miss the Judah Lodge for a warm and inviting place to relax between runs.
  • For a unique on-mountain dining experience, visit the Lake Mary Cabin Dinner Series, accessible by snowcat during winter.

Other Resorts Worth Checking Out

  1. Mammoth Mountain, CA: Located in central California Mammoth provides a variety of great terrain.
  2. Boreal, CA: Boreal is located just west of Tahoe and is a prime resort if you want to check out great terrain parks.
  3. June Mountain, CA: June Mountain is nestled in central California near Mammoth and is a smaller resort providing a luxury experience

Conclusion

The diverse ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe region and beyond provide a wealth of opportunities for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. From the expansive terrain of Heavenly to the family-friendly slopes of Sugar Bowl, there's a mountain experience to suit everyone's preferences.

When planning your next ski or snowboard trip, remember that the Snowboarding and Skiing Experts at Curated are always available to assist with any equipment needs, recommendations, or advice. By tapping into their knowledge and expertise, you'll be well-equipped to make the most of your time on the slopes. So, don't hesitate to reach out to the professionals at Curated and embark on your next unforgettable adventure with confidence. Happy shredding!

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