In California, a series of eight ski and snowboard destinations -- from mega-big to oh-so small -- string from north to south, hugging the Sierra Nevada range.
From Kirkwood to Alta Sierra, these ski areas stretch some 250 miles above the Central Valley along the craggy granite pitch of the eastern Sierra Nevada that owes its elevations and terrain to the collision of oceanic and continental plates beneath. And, snowfall regularly tops 400 inches, thanks to storms soaked by the ocean and crystallized at elevation.
Mammoth Mountain (3,500 a., 3,100 vert.) looms above all -- isolated in the middle of east-central Sierra. A favorite for Los Angelinos, it's a five-hour drive from the coast. Kids 12 and under ski free at companion June Mountain (1,500 a, 2,590 vert.).
The others are an eclectic group, starting with Kirkwood (2,300 a., 2,000 vert.) -- as cliffy as anywhere -- and neighbor Sierra-at-Tahoe (2,000 a., 2,200 vert.) that aims squarely at the intermediate and terrain park crowd.
Hop on Hwy. 88 for a scenic winding, switchbacking 100 miles (3 hours) through the gnarly Sierra massif to oddball Bear Valley (1,680 a., 1,900 vert.). On private land, The Bear is upside-down. Parking is at a mid-mountain base, and the easier stuff is higher up, while the tougher terrain down below. And the main village is over the ridge and down a lift-less bowlful of blacks. You have to take a shuttle back to the front side.
More traditional is Dodge Ridge (862 a., 1,600 vert.) that clusters its greens, blues and parks under five fixed-grips out of the main base. Getting to the steeps takes some time, but they are worth it.
One of only three U.S. ski areas within a national park, Badger Pass (88 a., 600 vert.) sits near the Arch Rock entrance to Yosemite NP. Opened in 1935, Badger Pass (briefly named Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area) is proudly compact -- five lifts, 10 runs -- and a must stop if only for the views of Half Dome.
China Peak (1,400 a., 1,679 vert.) is a straightforward as it gets in the central Sierra. Park at the base, ride a new high-speed or fixed-grip up to main system, and take any of three that serve the upper mountain. Below, the Park three-seater sets apart for novices and park-ers. Popular as Fresno is close.
And at the southern tip of the range, Alta Sierra Ski Resort and Terrain Park (80 a., 400 vert.) makes no bones about being a community hill, appealing to a casual crowd who dig terrain parks and need no black runs. Saturdays and Sundays only, it's 50 miles from Bakersfield.
Located two hours from Stockton, Bear Valley fits nicely into Cali Pass' 400-mile south-to-north stretch from Mountain High above Los Angeles, China Peak above Fresno and Dodge Ridge above Modesto -- now all owned by Mountain High-based California Mountain Resort Company.
Opened in 1967 as Mt. Reba Snow Bowl, Bear Valley boasts 1,900 vertical drop on 1,680 acres. It catches tons of snow in good years, like 2022-23 when snowfall came for 55 days totaling 428 inches.
The layout of the mountain is awkward -- somewhat upside-down -- with no lift out of the main base village and the steepest runs on the lowest sections of the mountain. Traditional "front-back" distinction is blurred, vertical drop isn't continual, and moving around the mountain's four distinct sections takes time.
A 2.5-mile shuttle ride gets to the mid-mountain day lodge where the lift system and the more modest terrain begins. Parking is limited there.
The lift inventory includes two high-speeds to serve the moderate terrain on the upper mountain, and four of the mountain's original fixed-grip chairs (1967-1970). The vast majority of trails are rated intermediate or advanced, making the mountain a playground for laid-back cruisers and unhurried families.
The new owners told Storm Skiing Journal that the first order of business will be putting up a lift out of the base village to connect all sections of the mountain: "That's been the biggest hurdle that's probably held Bear Valley back for 40 years."
It's unclear whether any or all of the mountains will retain current participation in the Powder Alliance or Indy Pass. Owners did hint at the possibility of future resort purchases.
In spite of buying a mega-pass, folks who can't wander too far too often still have to pay the same price as those who can travel far and wide -- making regional passes like the new Cali Pass a good deal.
Born out of the 2022 purchase of China Peak by owners of Dodge Ridge and Mountain High, the new regional pass covers unrestricted access to the three primary resorts for the remainder of this season and throughout the 2023-2024 season. Because of previous partnerships, the Cali Pass also includes three days at all Powder Alliance resorts -- including Sierra at Tahoe and Mount Shasta Ski Park -- plus an add-on for the two-day Indy Pass.
The Cali Pass and affiliates stretch from Mount Shasta in the north to Mountain High in the south. Cali Pass purveyors tout the proximity to California's major populations, diverse terrain and "old school" vibe as reasons to forgo sprawling mega-pases and to lock in skiing and riding closer to home.
The new consortium connects a trio of western Sierra resorts that attracts skiers and riders from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Plus, it puts more skiable terrain (about 2,300 acres combined) within a day's driving distance of these major metropolitan areas.
Mountain High, one of California's oldest ski mountains and an hour's drive from L.A. basin, and Dodge Ridge, which draws from San Francisco and Stockton markets, will now bracket China Peak and its Fresno following under a single season pass.
Powder Alliance membership means the Cali Pass is honored for three free days at any of 21 U.S. resorts, and the Indy Pass add-on gives two days free at any of its 18 West Coast mountains and 120 worldwide.
Combine the Cali Pass with the consolidation of SoCal's Big Bear, Snow Summit and Snow Valley under one season pass and the Ikon Pass, and California skiers and riders have plenty to choose from as the early-season pass sales get underway.
The owner of two California ski and snowboard mountains have acquired China Peak and plans to create a season pass for alll three mountains.
Mountain High -- one of California's oldest ski mountains and an hour's drive from L.A. basin -- and Dodge Ridge, which draws folks for San Francisco and Stockton markets, will now bracket China Peak and its Fresno following under single ownership.
The purchase should be good news for Central Valley skiers and snowboarders. The new consortium connects a trio of western Sierra resorts that attracts skiers and riders from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Plus, it puts more skiable terrain (about 2,300 acres combined) within a day's driving distance of these major metropolitan areas.
Ownership told The Storm Skiing Journal that they will issue a multi-mountain season pass either this winter or for next season. All three are members of the Powder Alliance -- a season pass at any of 21 resorts is honored for three free days at others -- and the burgeoning Indy Pass that gives two days free at any of its 18 West Coast mountains and 120 worldwide.
As each opened this season, snowmaking topped the what's-new list at each. Mountain High added state-of-the-art snow guns and snow cat, and expanded snow play area. Dodge Ridge -- three hours from S.F. and two hours from Stockton -- will be testing its first snowmaking system at the base this season. And, China Peak became a top-10 California snowmaker this offseason, as well upgrading food service.
A number of southern Sierra ski and snowboard resorts opened earlier than planned for the 2022-2023 season, with a new chairlift, revamped tubing park and more snow guns highlighting new additions.
Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain, Dodge Ridge, Bear Valley and China Peak got going in early November, thanks to several unexpected large storms that dropped several feet up and down California's highest mountain range.
At Mammoth Mountain, crews at the Ikon Pass resort spent the summer working on a long-term project to develop Woolly's Tube Park into an all-season attraction. This offseason, tubing lanes were expanded, six new snow guns went in just for the tubing park, and an elevated conveyor lift is now up and running. The park, located at the bottom of Chair 4 and close to the kid-focused Wonderland Playground,is targeted to get more parking spots, too.
More snowmaking went in over the summer, aimed at getting more snow more quickly on the connecting trails across the mountain, and a bigger supply of snow for terrain parks. Neighbor June Mountain stood pat over the summer, and expects a mid-December opening.'
Up the Sierra Crest, the big news at Dodge Ridge is that two circa-1960s chairlifts came down, and a new triple chair went up in there place this summer. Skiers and riders can now reach the mountain's 8,200-foot-high summit with just one lift ride. The 862-acre mountain, a member of the Powder Alliance, expanded its terrain parks to promote progression, and remodeled both base and mid-mountain lodges.
A couple of other Sierra resorts got enough snow to being spinning lifts early. Bear Valley, a two-hour drive from Stockton, and China Peak, Fresno's backyard ski and snowboard mountain, got a couple of early feet of snow and pushed up opening dates.
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