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North Of Tahoe, A Cluster Of Classic California Skiing Beckons

NoCal-Boreal-Nigh_20231120-170754_1 Smaller mountains in northern California succeed by finding their niche, like terrain parks and night skiing at Boreal. (Image via Boreal Mountain Resort)

Skiing and riding in Northern California succeeds because of its proximity to the Sierra Nevada Crest (9,000+ feet), which pushes Pacific storms skyward to produce often prodigious snowfalls.

While the Tahoe "big boys" dominate in terrain, vertical drop, lift systems and skier-visits, you can find a less corporate feel to the north around Truckee, where a cluster of some of the oldest ski areas in the nation retain an old-school family ibe.

A quartet ski and snowboard mountains are within 10 miles of each other, each welcoming newbies, novices and casuals with terrain, vertical and mellow atmosphere they require. Take your pick:

  • Opened in 1937, Donner Ski Ranch (500 a.,750 vert.) sits astride Donner Pass -- an "easy" side and "difficult" side each with three fixed grips. One of several "big little" mountains around the pass.

  • Just off the Crest with a 7,701-foot summit, Boreal Mountain (380 a.,500 vert.) presents a laid-back, green-blue, terrain-park paradise. Woodward Extreme Sports at the base, plus five terrain parks and a half-pipe on the hill.

  • Open Thursday-Monday, Soda Springs (200 a., 650 vert.) is a family extension of neighbor Boreal. Founded in 1931, its two fixed-grip chairs serve a mountain with more than half its runs rated green. Plenty of off-hill stuff: tubing, kids play area and Woodward Start Park.

  • Another green-blue heavy hill, Tahoe Donner (120 a., 600 vert.) rates 90% in the easy-peasy category. A couple of fixed grips reach 7,300-foot summit for runs with few if any trees. Good place for kids to wander.

If the big-mountain urge hits, Sugar Bowl (1,500 a., 1650 vert.) is just down the road. It's got four peaks,13 lifts including five high-speeds. Blacks are more like blues on a hill that attracted Hollywood celebrities when the first chair went up in 1940.

Now, head a couple hours north to find some genuine classic ski slopes that locals love but few others know about. Near Susanville, Coopervale Ski Hill (50 a., 730 vert.) spins a single "poma" platter on Saturdays and Sundays. Owned and operated by nearby Lassen College, this tiny gem even has a half-pipe.

Less than hour away is Stover Mountain, likely the smallest hill in the state at 13 acres. Some 500 feet vertical drop is served by a very long rope tow to a 5,600-foot summit. Another weekend-only operation.

And, in the corner where California, Oregon and Nevada touch, volunteers operate Cedar Pass Snow Park (40 acres) on weekends. A T-bar and rope tow handle uphill transport.

Again, if you just have to get more vertical and ride a high-speed, take a three-hour ride west to volcanic cone Mt. Shasta Ski Park (425. a., 1,390 vert.). There, you'll find conditions more like Oregon -- Sierra Cement, drop-dead views -- without the crowds.


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