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.
After record-smashing winter snowfall, it's taken a moment for ski and snowboard resorts on the north end of Lake Tahoe to dig out and get summer activities rolling.
But now four of the resorts have shifted into warm-weather gears, and here is what they have to offer to the general public.
Palisades Tahoe will keep open for skiing and riding until July 4. At the base, a treetop ropes course swings into action. On the famed rock face above the base, the via ferrata is open to challenge participants who are clipped into anchors and cables up the granite wall.
The mountain's aerial tramway welcomes sightseers, thrill-seekers and hikers and bikers to ride up to 8,200 feet at High Camp. There, you'll find roller skating, disc golf (opening delayed by snow), and geocaching. As snow melts, naturalist and guided hikes begin, but there may still be some snowbanks to jump into. All activities, including tram ride, are free to Ikon Pass holders. Otherwise, a daily fee is charged.
At Diamond Peak in Incline Village on the lake, the resort opens up a moderate 1.2-mile hike to Snowflake Lodge. From there, the view of Lake Tahoe bursts out to the south. The lodge deck will be open for lunch and relaxing. And there's golf nearby, too.
Once again, Sugar Bowl will run Kids Camp on the mountain east of Truckee off I-80. Three four-day sessions in July breaks out children ages 4 to 15 onto age groups for a shot at outdoor activities and challenges -- from unstructured playtime for the youngest to mountain biking for young teens.
Home to the region's only Woodward adventure facility, Boreal offers a full menu of camps for skateboarding, mountain biking, BMX, scooter and parkour (indoor spring floors, trampolines and blocks to outdoor parks designed specifically for tricking). Camps run week-long, daily and micro camps.
On the shores of Lake Tahoe, Granlibakken transforms its winter ski and sled hill into a wider summertime experience. Prime is the treetop zipline, with 97 platforms, 27 ziplines and 60 bridges. Head to the water for swimming, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Or hit the Rim Trail that runs right through Granlibakken's 74 acres.
How is it already time for the final SnoCast of the season?! What a wild winter it’s been. From record snow out West, to the slow onset and sweet finish out East. From capturing those final buttery, spring turns, to pushing back closing dates. This winter will be one to remember.
In this week's SnoCast, we’ll look back on the winter season recapping some of the highest ski area snow totals and best storms of the season. Here’s the final SnoCast of the 2022-23 winter season!
This winter was third consecutive season to be influenced by La Niña, which often brings a colder and stormier pattern across the northern tier of the U.S. and parts of Canada. But this season, the typical pattern was shifted a hair, with the storm track shifted slightly farther west and south from what we would expect.
Thus, we saw a cold and snowy pattern across most of the Southwest U.S., cold but near average precipitation in the Northwest, a mild Midwest with localized lake-effect booms, a warm and wetter than average Northeast and Southeast. In the ultimate "how it started>how it's going" comparison, the images below summarize how the winter was forecast to be by NOAA, versus how it actually panned out. You can read the full NOAA winter forecast verification blog with more details.
Top Snow Amounts
Since this winter pattern favored a super-charged storm pattern and cold across the southwest U.S., this is where we saw some of the highest totals. California and Utah won’t soon forget this season, with numerous all-time season snow records set at ski areas.
While not a comprehensive (nor final) list with ski season and new snow still ongoing, here's a summary of some top snow reports from this season as of April 5, 2023.
Sugar Bowl, CA: 768” (not a record, but still a lot. Even more impressive, the base depth in early April is over 20 feet on parts of the mountain)
Many of these ski areas have had too much snow at times, causing a halt in operations to dig out or conduct avalanche mitigation. Such is the case in Utah right now, but thankfully, you can still take advantage of the snow soon. Check out our story about extended closing date for many Utah mountains, thanks to abundant snow.
Beyond the record setters, we saw a colder than average winter for much of the West, helping boost snow totals. While not a comprehensive list, here are some runner-ups on impressive amounts. You can take a look at your nearest ski area or region on the SnoCountry conditions tab from the homepage.
Timberline, OR: 608” (top in Oregon)
Jackson Hole, WY: 591" (top in WY)
Wolf Creek, CO: 490” (top in Colorado)
Powder King, BC: 477” (top in British Columbia)
Lookout Pass, ID: 448”
Mt Bachelor, OR: 438”
Arizona Snowbowl, AZ: 398" (still with a 10-foot base depth in April!)
Purgatory, CO: 374”
These totals really helped out the water basins with impressive snow-water equivalent tallies. Parts of Nevada, Arizona, Utah, and California are running more than 150% of normal...GREAT news to put a dent in the ongoing drought.
Okay, okay. We get it. The West had a banner year. The West is a lot higher in elevation and has a drier climate, so naturally there's more snow than the lower and more humid East, but that doesn't mean there wasn't some great skiing this season. You just had to know where to look!
Pockets of the Great Lakes region and New England had some incredible days. While the majority of winter was warmer than average, we saw one-off snow storms and lake effect influence to boost totals and bring huge powder days. In all, the East did have a below average snow season up until January, but turned around late in the season boosting snow cover in February and March.
Here were some top totals of remaining open ski areas by state across the Northeast:
Jay Peak, VT: 349" (top tally in the East. Photo on the right from the March 14 powder day)
Mt. Bohemia, MI: 232"
Sugarloaf, ME: 171"
Bretton Woods, NH: 148"
And while we don't want to leave out the Southeast, we've definitely had stronger seasons. Warm and wet weather dominated this year, causing much below average snow amounts. But like the rest of the East, we found some sweet times.
The season lasted a total of 138 days (38% of the year!) from start to finish: Sugar Mountain Resort and Cataloochee Ski Area (both in North Carolina) opened on November 14, 2022 and Snowshoe Mountain Resort closed it all up on Sunday, April 2. The top ski area total went to Canaan Valley, WV with a total of 62.4", which fell short of the annual average of roughly 150".
The Real Apres-Ski
With that, it's "apres-ski time" for me and SnoCast. I hope you have loved reading my weekly forecast updates and took advantage of new snow and amazing conditions on the slopes. 'Til next season, enjoy what's left out there, and have an amazing off season. Hope to see you again next fall when the flakes start flying again.
Snowfall for the 2022-2023 ski and snowboard season has bordered on the absurd, but the 700-plus inches that fell on California resorts is enough of a reality for at least 10 to extend their seasons beyond scheduled closing.
Nowhere did snow seem to fall more often than the resorts in and around the Lake Tahoe area and Mammoth Mountain. Photos of chairs buried in snow up to the tower tops kept coming and coming this winter. As the end approached, the month of May became the "new April" with a number of mountains keeping lifts spinning into the seventh month of their season.
Here's a look at what SnoCountry has as of March 28, but be sure to check websites because this season has been anything but predictable.
Starting at the top, Mammoth Mountain has announced it will stay open until "at least the end of July" -- perhaps taking a shot at its latest ever on August 6, 2017. Touting the state's highest summit elevation (11,050 feet), the central Sierra resort recently reported more than 800 inches of snow had fallen since the season began in November.
Next would be Palisades Tahoe on the north end of Lake Tahoe. Touting nearly 700 inches of snowfall so far, the mountain formerly known as Squaw Valley will run daily until the end of May, and then fire up the lifts on weekends through July 4.
The list of California resorts extending into May begins with a surprise: Southern California's Mt. Baldy has gotten so much snow that mountain officials say they have enough to keep going through May 21. But they also said they'd like to break their all-time record of June 6, weather permitting. Mt. Rose will run to April 30.
Also pushing their season into May are Kirkwood (May 14, more than 675 inches), and Heavenly (May 7, nearly 600 inches). Diamond Peak will also sneak into May, planning close on May 1 -- the second longest season since 1966.
A bunch of California mountains will push their closure dates deep into April. SoCal's park-ers' haven Big Bear will run until the end of the month, and so will Tahoe's Northstar. April 23 is the extended finish for Sugar Bowl, which seemed to catch every flake of every storm this season to ring up a total of 732 inches -- and counting. Recovering from the Caldor Fire, Sierra-at-Tahoe will nonetheless extend to April 16.
While Boreal and Soda Springs officially say they'll finish on April 16, stay tuned as they are unofficially considering another week of operations. Tahoe Donner Downhill looks to add another weekend on April 14-16.
Season passes for 2022-2023 are beginning to come onto the early-season market for California's 38 independently owned ski and snowboard mountains.
Used to be that the first week of April was the traditional time to hang up the skis, store away the boots, and dust off the summer recreation equipment. Not so much nowadays.
As we close the book on 2021, we’ll get off to a busy snow start for the new year. A storm treks from coast to coast delivering new snow from the Southwest to Quebec. Details in this week’s SnoCast.
A series of storms will target the West this week with some of the heaviest snow yet of the season in the Sierras, while the East continues to bask in mild temperature. Here are the details in this week’s SnoCast.
Following a season of masks, spaced-out lift lines, and other restrictions, several of the area’s ski resorts are heading into the final weekend of the year.
In the waning days of January, Mother Nature got to work -- dropping her glorious bounty upon the mountains of the West, and finally giving skiers and snowboarders the deep powder they've been waiting for.
The baker's dozen of ski and snowboard resorts in the Lake Tahoe region will start opening for the season in late November, and all will have policies in place to combat the spread of Covid-19.
Like all U.S. resorts, the list of COVID-related changes at Tahoe-area mountains reads familiar: Cashless transactions, masking up, self-grouping for lifts, state regulating size of gatherings, more weekday season pass options, rental shop spacing, group lesson capping, gearing up in the parking lot, and grab 'n' go food.
The winter 2020-21 snow season is quickly approaching. Although skiing and snowboarding are naturally socially distant activities, the social experiences that come with the snow community — such as striking up a conversation while congregating in line to wait for a lift, or grabbing a well-earned apres-ski drink after a long day on the mountain — are shaping up to look different this year.
After a "brisk" preseason for season pass sales at Sugar Bowl, the northern California resort has hit the pause button to assure safe distancing this season.
Californians love the out-of-doors but COVID has put some reins on that. However, the mountains still beckon as one place that can be safe to go -- and give the sun-and-fun fix they crave.
After a landmark season last year, California's ski and snowboard resorts are pumped to do it again, with a half-dozen more opening around Thanksgiving and plenty of snow on the way.
One California resort is already spinning chairs with more to follow in November, as the ski and snowboard season gets underway in The Golden State.
Once summer settles in, the winter resorts around Lake Tahoe become magnets for city-dwellers aiming to beat the heat – and to have a bunch of fun doing it.
With a boffo snow year all across the nation, the multi-resort season passes earned their keep in 2018-2019 as skiers and riders hop-scotched around. Now, those same passes are up for sale for next season.
Throughout SnoCountry, certain mountains always seem to get more of the white stuff than others – meaning a better chance at a powder day.
SnoCountry took a look around the country and came up with a half-dozen mountains that perennially attract the most snowfall.