Slopes of fun in NorCal

With 29 major ski areas in the state, Californians have so many choices — from Lake Tahoe to the eastern Sierras — that figuring out where to go and what to do is as much a luxury as it is a challenge.

From Mount Shasta Ski Park (280 miles north of San Francisco) to Snow Valley Ski resort (in the San Bernardino Mountains), skiers and snowboarders — or those who just want to see the white stuff for a day or two and return to winter palms and 60-degree winter days — have  much to choose from.

Without a doubt, however, Lake Tahoe has some of California’s biggest draws. A couple of things are worth noting this year.

In South Lake Tahoe, Heavenly Mountain Resort — with its 4,800 acres of novice green-circle trails to expert black-diamond runs — is a no-brainer for most people. Straddling terrain in California and Nevada, Heavenly — which sits 10,000 feet above sea level — is one of the highest peaks in Tahoe.

In addition to over-the-top offerings — from a ski school for toddlers to tree-skiing for daredevils — the expertly run resort is offering a new, on-mountain, nonski, family-oriented offering: a four-lane tubing hill. Stretching 450 feet up East Peak, with a 65-foot vertical drop, the tubing hill is a new addition to Heavenly’s Adventure Peak recreation area. Utilizing a fully enclosed, elevated magic-carpet lift, beginner snowboarders and tubers can use the surface lift to access new teaching terrain, as well as the multilane tubing hill.

Also on the South Shore, the Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort is offering two new packages: A beginner package for just $35 Sunday through Friday and free backcountry tours in Huckleberry Canyon.

On Lake Tahoe’s North Shore, the big news starts at Northstar. Scheduled to open next weekend, weather and conditions permitting, Northstar is offering luxury and value this year. In terms of value, kids and first-timers can expect deals: All kids tickets at the Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort are now admission for back-to-back days but priced as a single-day ticket. Next, from Nov. 30 to Dec. 18, first-timers age 13 and up can learn to ski or snowboard for $25, which includes a 2½-hour lesson, a lift ticket accessing beginner terrain and rental equipment. In terms of luxury, the Ritz-Carlton Highlands in Lake Tahoe is set to open Dec. 9. In addition to its luxurious digs, the resort is also set to open Manzanita, a new restaurant helmed by Traci Des Jardins, the James Beard Foundation award-winning chef behind San Francisco’s Jardinière and Mijita Cocina ­Mexicana.

Also on the North Shore, Tahoe Donner Downhill — which has six beginner and nine intermediate runs — is scheduled to open Dec.  18.

With some of the most affordable daily lift tickets in Tahoe (starting at $38 for adults), the ski area recently upgraded its rental shop with more equipment, a computer sign-in system and new boot dryers; it added a ticket and lesson location to help visitors get into the right lesson; and it has made several improvements to its Snowflakes Ski School.

Closer to Reno, the Mount Rose ski area on the north shore is set to open a new Slide Lodge, a 7,865-square-foot building that will feature new dining options and panoramic views of Washoe Valley. Located on the southeastern-most edge of the Slide Bowl, the new building — designed by BSA Architects of San Francisco — is constructed mainly of glass and steel.

Alpine Meadows, also on Tahoe’s North Shore, is offering a new travel-to-dinner-via-snowcat package (an enclosed-cab, truck-size, fully tracked vehicle designed to move on snow); prices start at $150 for groups of 12 to 15.

What’s new elsewhere

Although Tahoe may dominate a lot of California skiing, several resorts throughout the state are worth visiting.

Mammoth — located in the eastern Sierras — had one of its earliest openings this year (Oct. 16). The resort is set to launch direct air service Dec. 17 between Mammoth and San Jose on Horizon Air. The resort is also set to open a new Village Ski Back Trail. The trail will give skiers a new option to get from the slopes of Mammoth Mountain to the Village at Mammoth — reducing down-slope congestion on the Village Gondola.

Located south of the Tahoe area, Bear Valley Mountain Resort is offering a new experience this year: Bear Tracker Snowcat backcountry tours will give skiers and riders access to 400-acres of side-country ­terrain.

If you go

North Shore

  • Alpine Meadows Ski Resort,
  • Boreal Mountain Resort,
  • Diamond Peak,
  • Donner Ski Ranch,
  • Granlibakken Ski Resort,
  • Northstar-at-Tahoe,
  • Homewood Mountain Resort,
  • Soda Springs Snow Park,
  • Squaw Valley USA,
  • Sugar Bowl Resort,
  • Tahoe Donner Downhill,

South Shore

  • Coppervale Ski Area,
  • Stover-Mountain
  • Heavenly Ski Resort,
  • Kirkwood,
  • Sierra-at-Tahoe,


  • Mount Shasta Ski Park,


  • Bear Valley Mountain Resort,
  • Dodge Ridge Ski Area,
  • Yosemite’s Badger Pass,
  • June Mountain,
  • Mammoth Mountain,
  • Sierra Summit Mountain Resort,


  • Mountain High Resort,
  • Mount Baldy,
  • Mount Waterman Ski Area,
  • Bear Mountain Resort,
  • Snow Summit Mountain Resort,
  • Snow Valley Ski Resort,
  • Alta Sierra Ski Resort and Terrain Park,
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