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Resorts in California

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
We have decided to break free of Europe and go to California this year. Does anyone have any recommendations?

We were initially thinking of Heavenly and did quite a lot of research but then we started to see reviews about there being a lot of lift closures. Is that a real issue?

And we looked at Mammoth, which was my favourite at the outset, but it seems to be a long drive. And a fair bit more expensive.

I’d really appreciate any advice. Especially places to stay and to better understand the lift passes.
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
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I've only skied around Lake Tahoe for a few days but its quite interesting.

We rented a car and stayed at a Casino at Heavenly.

I was lucky enough to meet up with an old ski buddy who had moved back there and he took us to around. To .. I'll have to look it up..
Sierra at Tahoe for a day
and then we went and met him up in Truckee and he took us to Northstar which was pretty good.

If I were to ever go again, I would stay in Truckee for a few days and spend more time at the other ski hills around the lake.

Staying at the Harvey Casino was cheap, but its a pretty Godless place, gambling turns me off ..
But that had a vaudeville show that was pretty good.
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Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Sorry the Casino is Hurrah's just across the road from lift.
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California = Tahoe area or Mammoth/June.

Not worth bothering with anywhere else like Big Bear etc.

Pass wise your options are Ikon which gets you Squaw/ Alpine and Mammoth/June or Epic which gets you Heavenly/ Northstar/ Kirkwood. There are other hills like Rose, Diamond Peak, Homewood, Sierra and Sugarbowl which aren't affiliated to either.

Last winter was a big snow winter ( in fact still dumping now at times) so with resorts on the Sierra crest lift closures due to wind can be common during storms. I spent 2 weeks in early March and skied fresh every day bar the day when it wasn't even worth driving up but only got to the top of Granite at Squaw one day.

Heavenly & Kirkwood can also be heavily wind affected, but Northstar is pretty sheltered and easier to avy control. You should get a rental car so you don't need to just stick to one place.

There used to be coupon based lift pass deals from the Tourist offices and some TOs (Ski American Dream etc) but I suspect the Vail/ Alterra wars have done away with it.
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
As for places to stay. South Lake Tahoe is the obvious tourist trap, Tahoe City or Kings Beach good for the North shore. Truckee if you want handy for Squalpine and Northstar ( but get on the road to Squaw early at weekends) Reno for Rose, or Carson Valley for the sneaky backdoor into Heavenly and Kirkwood with less tourist crap to deal with. From Carson Valley only about 2.5 hours drive to Mammoth so you can switch bases.
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I’m going to do a whitegold here!(harsh but to the point)

Need more information to make any meaningful recommendations:

When are you going?
How long are you going for?
What skill level and what sort of terrain you like?

Any other requirements?
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@Dave of the Marmottes, thanks. Really helpful.
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After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
@abc, February half term, probably for 10 days or a fortnight depending on budget, but only a week skiing. Ability is between blue run cruiser and black run/steeps with a 13-year-old in between.

I’m Feeling quite touristy about it: in that I’m happy to ski what’s there. The general reviews suggest that skiing in one resort in America is not like one resort in France.So that’s perhaps why we’ve looked at Lake Tahoe: it has quite a lot of results closely connected by roads. I’ve always quite fancied the idea of Mammoth because of magazine articles and videos that I’ve seen.
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I've skied Heavenly a few times, on the back of business trips to San Francisco. If you fly to SFR bear in mind you don't arrive 'till 4pm (usually) and it's a long drive to Tahoe. So perhaps schedule a night in SFR before leaving the next morning. In which case, you might consider a pre-ski break for 2-3 nights to 'do' SFR if you haven't been before. Then you'll start your ski trip de-jetlagged and fresh. You can fly San José to Reno, and approach Tahoe from the north, but it's a bit swings-and-roundabouts, as you have to get from SFR down Silicon Valley to San José (although since I last went, there may ne be direct flights to Reno).

We always stayed in the Tahoe Seasons Resort at the base of the Gunbarrel lift, which meant we just walked across the car park to/from the chairlift. We'd then take the hotel shuttle into Heavenly or just get a taxi of we wanted to go into town. But there's a lot of choice of where to base yourself, including as mentioned, right in the middle of town where there's also a lift up. Heavenly straddles the California / Nevada border with casinos only on the latter side of town and that side being livelier. It depends on what you want to do, really.

Heavenly is a pretty big area, and high. And typical Rockies inasmuch as when it snows, it can snow pretty hard. There's the usual big difference between on-piste and double-diamond i.e. you'd need to be an experienced skiier to do the latter and need a guide if you're not familiar with the area. DD is not like an Alpine Black, generally. I found the standard on-piste restaurants are good at mass-catering: reasonable and efficient. I like the way hotels take, store and service your skis and boots. The skiing itself was great for someone like me who only does on piste and as ever in the US, efficient queuing and relatively quiet. Personal space is important and there's nothing like French jostling/elbowing.

I've also done Vail in similar circumstances. But would I go out there from the UK? Personally (and many would disagree), no, on balance. But I can see why people would. On the Vail trip my wife come out form the UK and joined me at Denver, where I was able to pick her up straight away, having flown over from St.Louis in the morning and collected the hire car already. But the drive was heavy going due to snow (who'd have thought, in the Rockies, in February?) and it took her 2-3 days to really get over the jetlag and tiredness.
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Point of order, California is very much not in the Rockies and consequently fresh snow is often called Sierra Cement due to the high moisture content. Result is that I believe that it gets far more 6 inch+ "pow" days but these are often not blower pow, Altitude helps so Mammoth, Kirkwood have drier snow than lakeside elevations. Now Sierra Cement has its pluses and minuses - it packs down nicely over rocks and sticks to steeper pitches that might slide elsewhere but may mean you need good waterproofing in a storm or picking and choosing elevations.

For pure piste skiing the clear winners are Heavenly, Northstar and Mammoth. For tourist crowds, Heavenly. For terrain, Squalpine, Kirkwood and Mammoth. For more laid back vibe, Kirkwood, Alpine, June. For an awesome drive, Kirkwood.
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Dave of the Marmottes wrote:
Point of order, California is very much not in the Rockies and consequently fresh snow is often called Sierra Cement due to the high moisture content. Result is that I believe that it gets far more 6 inch+ "pow" days but these are often not blower pow, Altitude helps so Mammoth, Kirkwood have drier snow than lakeside elevations. Now Sierra Cement has its pluses and minuses - it packs down nicely over rocks and sticks to steeper pitches that might slide elsewhere but may mean you need good waterproofing in a storm or picking and choosing elevations.

For pure piste skiing the clear winners are Heavenly, Northstar and Mammoth. For tourist crowds, Heavenly. For terrain, Squalpine, Kirkwood and Mammoth. For more laid back vibe, Kirkwood, Alpine, June. For an awesome drive, Kirkwood.


And for a fun, alternative day or two: Sierra. Easy to get to from South Lake Tahoe. Less crowded than Heavenly, not as gnarly as Kirkwood (my favourite, by the way).
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
LOTA wrote:


And for a fun, alternative day or two: Sierra. Easy to get to from South Lake Tahoe. Less crowded than Heavenly, not as gnarly as Kirkwood (my favourite, by the way).


Ah yes it's always a treat at Kirkwood to take an early morning spin up Chair 6, the only meaningful Hi speed quad, to find some tourists nervously peering over the edge thinking "I didn't think it was possible for a groomer to be this steep".
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So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
Quote:

For an awesome drive, Kirkwood

Or a terrifying one in bad weather.
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 You know it makes sense.
You know it makes sense.
henzerani wrote:
@abc, February half term, probably for 10 days or a fortnight depending on budget, but only a week skiing. Ability is between blue run cruiser and black run/steeps with a 13-year-old in between.

I’m Feeling quite touristy about it: in that I’m happy to ski what’s there. The general reviews suggest that skiing in one resort in America is not like one resort in France.So that’s perhaps why we’ve looked at Lake Tahoe: it has quite a lot of results closely connected by roads. I’ve always quite fancied the idea of Mammoth because of magazine articles and videos that I’ve seen.

Of all the California resorts, I think Mammoth is probably the "best" in terms of variety. It's also the biggest and most convenient (once you arrived and settled down).

But if you're felling "touristy" about the trip, then you should visit more than just one mountain.

Given the day pass price, you'll be better off buying one of the multi-mountain passes: both Ikon and Epic has their bottom level pass around ~$600. In a week's worth of skiing, you'll likely come out ahead over daily pass (pay close attention to junior price of each).

Ikon pass gives you Mammoth, Squaw and Alpine. Epic gives you Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood. Both are pretty good collections.

Wind hold: It can happen. And when it does, it tend to affect all of the mountains (except Northstar perhaps). And it's not an infrequent thing.

Further more, when you're "lucky" enough to see a big storm? The upper mountain may take several days to re-open!

There's not much you can do about that except to go walking or xc skiing/snowshoeing.
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
There're also a bunch of smaller resorts well worth visiting if you're the kind who likes that. My favorites:

Mt Rose has the best snow and terrain.

Homewood has no crowd, sweeping view of Lake Tahoe, and powder stays untouched for several days.

In February, you need an SUV.
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
abc wrote:
Quote:

For an awesome drive, Kirkwood

Or a terrifying one in bad weather.


Pfft - one person's terrifying is another's Type 2 fun (I have dug my 2wd rental car out from a drift ascending Carson Pass - not that scary as on the rock side going up wink) Trick is to know where the icy spots are (between dam & Kirkwood Inn) & drive accordingly.

For 10 days I'd do 5 qt Squaw/Alpine from a Tahoe City base then 5 at Mammoth (with an early start for the drive down so I didn't miss a full day's skiing). Be prepared to flex the balance depending on weather - i.e. no point doing the drive if 395 will be stormed out. If you split your flights into SFO, out LAX or vice versa may be even more practical - though Mammoth is a long drive from any major city.


Last edited by Poster: A snowHead on Mon 13-05-19 15:42; edited 1 time in total
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Dave of the Marmottes wrote:
abc wrote:
Quote:

For an awesome drive, Kirkwood

Or a terrifying one in bad weather.


Pfft - one person's terrifying is another's Type 2 fun (I have dug my 2wd rental car out from a drift ascending Carson Pass - not that scary as on the rock side going up wink) Trick is to know where the icy spots are (between dam & Kirkwood Inn) & drive accordingly.

It's not just the icy spots. There's so much wind and snow drift sometimes you can't even see where the road ends and the ditch starts!
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Jackson Hole.
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Whitegold wrote:
Jackson Hole.
Wrong state wink
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
abc wrote:
Whitegold wrote:
Jackson Hole.
Wrong state wink



Check out Sherlock Holmes over there wink
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Dave of the Marmottes,

Good advice - though "Squalpine" may be confusing to some folk...
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@henzerani, For me Heavenly wins hands down. There's more going on, a vibe around the base area after skiing, more terrain, special views and, depending on your budget $$$, there's this hotel: https://www.edgewoodtahoe.com/ - stayed there a few years back and made me realise just how worn out the casino hotels are. Assuming you have a car (I prefer the drive up from SFO rather than waiting around for connection to Reno and potential for never seeing your luggage again), then you can always drive out to Sierra, Kirkwood, Squaw etc.
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After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
depending on how you are getting to US, it could be worth looking into flying into Sacramento (or even Reno) for a shorter drive to Tahoe.
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Pruman wrote:
@henzerani, For me Heavenly wins hands down. There's more going on, a vibe around the base area after skiing, more terrain, special views and, depending on your budget $$$, there's this hotel: https://www.edgewoodtahoe.com/ - stayed there a few years back and made me realise just how worn out the casino hotels are. Assuming you have a car (I prefer the drive up from SFO rather than waiting around for connection to Reno and potential for never seeing your luggage again), then you can always drive out to Sierra, Kirkwood, Squaw etc.


How long is the drive from SFO?
This trip is on my bucket list.
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Quote:

How long is the drive from SFO?

AL9000, Around 4 hrs IIRC - we flew into Reno - no problems, only around an hour or so drive, but we were staying in Tahoe City. 4x4 is a must due to road conditions at times. Plenty of decent hills to sample rather than just Heavenly wink
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abc wrote:
It's not just the icy spots. There's so much wind and snow drift sometimes you can't even see where the road ends and the ditch starts!


Strongly agree here! I thought I liked driving in snow until one weekend this season (the 9th/10th of Feb) I thought it would be a good idea to go to Northstar from South Lake Tahoe on Saturday morning because there was a big snowstorm coming and Northstar was more sheltered and Heavenly had been a bit wind-hold closetastic.

Getting there was easy, getting back took 7 hours as several roads closed and the only route back was on the 80 via Reno then Carson City. According to onthesnow 45" of snow fell over that weekend, and the storm started around midday Saturday iirc.

If you don't like skiing in whiteout conditions consider what it's like driving in them Shock I couldn't see the barrier on either side and had never driven the road before so had no idea how many lanes it had or if there even were barriers at several points.

Driving back on the Sunday was another level of disaster as only SR-50 was open and still covered in ice/snow which meant it took me about 10 hours to get home, mostly sitting in traffic.

The snow was absolutely amazing though! Very Happy
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And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
AL9000 wrote:

How long is the drive from SFO?
This trip is on my bucket list.


depends on traffic & roadworks.
Its a drive I done last summer, but via Napa. Traffic around SFO was really heavy. Also hit a narrow parts with roadworks that had long holdups.
We hit Sacramento area around midday & traffic was quiet, so no idea what it could be like in rush hour. If I went back, then I would look an internal flight to Reno or Sacramento.
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So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
AL9000 wrote:


How long is the drive from SFO?
This trip is on my bucket list.


Bit of a piece of string question. Google will give you drive times at various times of day but having done it quite a few times in winter I'd identify the following variables:

i SFO is teh wrong side of the bay so chances of getting stuck in traffic at the times UK flights get in high (particularly if you go Bay Bridge to I80)
ii OAK much better on this count above and the airport is small and navigable easier
iii Driving over the Sierra Crest can be a massive ballache on Friday afternoons/evenings and whenever there is actually a storm on. I80 and the other 2 routes (50 & 8Cool can and do get shut down in storms , however most of the time they remain open. You need to be prepared for an unscheduled stay on the west side.
iv Do not attempt without chains/ 4wd with snow tires
v RNO is definitely the best airport for Tahoe, very rarely snow disrupted but only 30 mins from Truckee or Mt Rose. BUT connecting flights extra costs etc.


Despite all this if you pick a sensible travel time when the roads are clear it's not much hassle at all.
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Thank you everyone. My email stopped telling me you were still here so it’s been a nice surprise.

The main journey to Tahoe looks direct. Google Maps put me off Mammoth by showing that the only route from SFO is to go to Tahoe and then drive for a few more hours.

Obviously, I can’t choose the weather so that would be down to luck, but I was intending to hire a 4be.

I’m still trying to understand the ski passes if anyone would like to offer an explanation. Are they really that dear?
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 Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Otherwise you'll just go on seeing the one name:
Quote:

I’m still trying to understand the ski passes if anyone would like to offer an explanation. Are they really that dear?

Yes
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 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
Quote:

Google Maps put me off Mammoth by showing that the only route from SFO is to go to Tahoe and then drive for a few more hours

If you insist on flying to SFO, that is.

LAX is much better for Mammoth. (hence the suggestion of "open-jaw" flight into SFO out of LAX, or reverse)
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henzerani wrote:

The main journey to Tahoe looks direct. Google Maps put me off Mammoth by showing that the only route from SFO is to go to Tahoe and then drive for a few more hours.


took me a lot longer to drive to lee irving than googlemaps stated. I turned off at Yosemite, but it was probably near double to google estimates. Long holdups at places where they was logging. 20-30mins a time.
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Not so much logging in winter notwithstanding that Tioga pass is closed between Yosemite and the Eastern Sierra from about November onwards. And if it is open it's a bad drought so access to ski areas becomes pretty irrelevant.
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Dave of the Marmottes wrote:
Not so much logging in winter notwithstanding that Tioga pass is closed between Yosemite and the Eastern Sierra from about November onwards. And if it is open it's a bad drought so access to ski areas becomes pretty irrelevant.


wouldnt you go the same route (except for Yosemite turn off & Tioga) from South Lake Tahoe to Mammouth?
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Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Only 395 from Gardnerville to Mammoth. But it is super quiet in winter with the main hazard being speed cops.
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henzerani wrote:
Thank you everyone. My email stopped telling me you were still here so it’s been a nice surprise.

The main journey to Tahoe looks direct. Google Maps put me off Mammoth by showing that the only route from SFO is to go to Tahoe and then drive for a few more hours.

Obviously, I can’t choose the weather so that would be down to luck, but I was intending to hire a 4be.

I’m still trying to understand the ski passes if anyone would like to offer an explanation. Are they really that dear?


The ski passes are expensive but relatively good value in my view. Buy and Epic or Ikon or Mountain Collective (whatever suits your taste). The mountains are small by Euro standards but you can confidently ski anywhere inbounds as it will be controlled (if open of course). That means skiing off piste without the expense of a guide.

You seem to be having difficulty with logistics. Have you considered flying to another hub like Salt Lake City or Denver? SLC particularly offers great skiing close to the airport.
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@sbooker, thank you. We are struggling with logistics. Part of the aim was to combine it with a city break in San Francisco. We were also thinking of N American skiing being the equal of Europe. And it doesn’t appear to be true for California.

So I have looked at Salt Lake City and Denver. Salt Lake City airfares are about twice those to San Francisco but Denver is quite similar. On top of which the resorts in Denver appear to be much bigger and a bit closer. But the downside is that we don’t get to do the touristy city break. In which case is the extra time and the extra money worth it?

That is the joy of snowHeads. You can read all the literature you like but it doesn’t beat the opinions of people who have been there.
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@abc, it only seems to save an hour or so. Currently flying into one and out of another is a bit dearer on Skyscanner.
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henzerani wrote:
@sbooker, thank you. We are struggling with logistics. Part of the aim was to combine it with a city break in San Francisco. We were also thinking of N American skiing being the equal of Europe. And it doesn’t appear to be true for California.

So I have looked at Salt Lake City and Denver. Salt Lake City airfares are about twice those to San Francisco but Denver is quite similar. On top of which the resorts in Denver appear to be much bigger and a bit closer. But the downside is that we don’t get to do the touristy city break. In which case is the extra time and the extra money worth it?

That is the joy of snowHeads. You can read all the literature you like but it doesn’t beat the opinions of people who have been there.


I wouldn't be downbeat NAmerican skiing isn't the equal of Europe because Western Europe is densely populated with a huge customer base for 1 week hols by road or 90 min flight to convenient airport. But it has its compensations including at times massive snowfalls etc.

Re Denver, whether you go Epic ( Breck, Vail, the Beav) or Ikon (Winter Park, Copper, Aspen) you get a multi resort experience and are in range to trip out to Moab to do touristy stuff in incredible surroundings. I'd always recommend it if you are going for 2 weeks or more.
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henzerani wrote:

the resorts in Denver appear to be much bigger and a bit closer. But the downside is that we don’t get to do the touristy city break. In which case is the extra time and the extra money worth it?

Is San Francisco special? Or more just a famous tourist city as a justification for crossing the pond?

If latter, Vancouver would tick all the boxes. Great touristy city with lots to do. Whistler is a big resort very much like a typical European resort. I bet the flight is reasonable too. (yeah, people talk on and on about the rain, it's up to you to see through the mist to find the truth Wink )
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