Our Favorite California Ski Areas
Though California’s “Eureka!” state motto originally meant you’d struck gold, today visitors can say Eureka! about a whole lot more than a few grubby nuggets. Skiers exploring California and its exceptional Sierra Nevada mountains—whether it’s their first or fifty-first trip—will be in awe of the scale and range that the state’s slopes and trail networks have to offer. Boasting some of the biggest cross-country complexes in North America, not to mention an unbelievable concentration of world-class trails and conditions, these Nordic areas are bound to exceed your greatest expectations.
Tucked, fittingly, along the Rock Creek, just south of Mammoth Lakes, this gem of a ski lodge offers novice and seasoned skiers alike access to a prime swath of the deep snow for which the Sierra is famous. With towering peaks on either side, the 15 km of carefully groomed trails yield breathtaking views and widely varied terrain that both snakes up the canyon walls and traverses its meandering center. The lodge also offers cozy, rustic accommodations for weekend or holiday guests, making it an ideal winter (or summer) getaway for the trail-loving couple or adventurous family.
Located just outside the skiing hotbed of Truckee, Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Center boasts over 100 km of perfectly groomed trails that travel through every shade of Nordic terrain: meadows and mountains, creeks and crevasses, all culminating in the altitudinous vantage points of the Crabtree Lookout and the Drifter’s Hut, where the glory of the Sierra Crest come into full view. A fleet of ultra-modern grooming equipment manned by expert groomers keep everything world-class and adventure ready. If you want to improve your technique or nail your stride while having a blast out there, Tahoe Donner’s ski school is staffed by PSIA accredited instructors ready to help you make your skis in the Sierras that much more amazing. Plan your Truckee cross country trip here!
Joining the Tahoe cluster of tremendous cross country ski venues, Kirkwood brings to the group its own special blend of epic terrain and personalized, small mountain hospitality. The three trail systems sweep in long loops across the Caples Lake valley, offering lofty outlooks over the Lake itself, along with lengthier treks to the northern edge of the valley and back. As part of their careful attention to their guests’ needs, Kirkwood offers an array of ski lessons, informative guided skis and hikes, and exhilarating group tours. Led by their experienced and friendly staff, these myriad opportunities are sure to place a cherry atop an already awesome Tahoe trip. Learn more about how to make your trip to Kirkwood Cross Country Ski Area special here.
Cut from a slightly different cross than its resort-owned neighbors, Tahoe Cross Country has a long (and somewhat checkered) history as a community-run, community-oriented cross country center. Since the seventies, folks have been renting skis from what’s now the lodge, and hitting the 60 plus km of trails that spiral out from Burton Creek, on the banks of Lake Tahoe. Today, the main lodge as well as three warming huts scattered along the trails await intrepid skiers who are eager to experience this special slice of North Tahoe—and don’t worry: rentals, reasonably priced day passes, and snacks are there too! Learn more on the Tahoe XC website.
An exception to the Southern California stereotype of surfers and steaming pavement, Rim Nordic is the proud home of the only machine groomed Nordic trails in the region. With their fully equipped Piston Bully grooming fleet, the Rim staff maintain ten miles of wide trails suitable for both skate and classic skiing. Big hills combined with fast, spring skiing conditions can make for an unbeatable day of family fun, where kids can rocket down hills and practice their ski tricks on nicely groomed flats. For workout buffs, there is plenty climbing to get heart rates up and legs burning. Learn more about this unique Southern ski spot here!
If you’re looking to avoid the beaten path and chart your own through some vivid and totally wicked topography, Mt. Shasta’s off-the-grid Nordic Center has you covered. Tucked in the shadow of the imposing Shasta herself, the ski center’s 20 km cut across meadows and forests, and switchback their way up nearby Everett Hill, topping out at over 5,000 ft of elevation. Though it doesn’t have electricity, the Center’s ski hut furnishes guests with the real skiing essentials: equipment, quality instruction, and plentiful hot chocolate. Learn more, and see why Mt. Shasta Nordic Center might be your perfect far North Cal destination here.
Ideally located within the 7,000-8,000 foot “snow band” on the Western Slope of the Sierras, Bear Valley Adventure Company prides itself on being the first cross country ski center to open and the last to close in the region south of Tahoe. There, you can cruise amongst the giant Sequoias, wandering for hours or even days on end across the 70+ km of trails, without ever doubling back. If you’re with the family, be sure to circle around to the lodge area where a wide-groomed section of hill makes for a great learning environment or just some killer downhill loops. Other attractions include four trailside huts, exclusive kids trails, and a deluxe tubing and sledding area. Check it all out here!