With the biggest snowfall since 1976, California’s ski spots are perfect right now for deep powder and well-groomed pistes. Whilst Americans have known about the skiing in the Golden State for a long time, it’s still news to plenty of people outside the USA.
If you’re heading to LA or the Bay, you should definitely consider tagging some days in North Lake Tahoe or Mammoth Mountain on to your stay – or else go for a dedicated trip. The snow’s been so good this season, that the mountains are expected to be open until at least July 4th, when there are traditionally big parties on the slopes.
The 12 ski resorts of North Lake Tahoe (including Squaw Valley, Northstar California, Mt. Rose – Ski Tahoe and Diamond Peak) are the go-to ski spots for the Bay Area crowd, whereas Mammoth is popular with LA and San Diego winter worshippers.
Trips to Squaw Valley and Diamond Peak are a study in the contrasts of the skiing on offer here. The larger Squaw Valley hosted the Winter Olympics back in 1960 and is back in the big league after recently hosting Women’s World Cup races. There’s plenty of terrain, Starbucks on the slopes and a village made up of Patagonia stores, cookie shops and coffee spots. Le Chamois is consistently named as one of the best après-ski bars in North America and the Plumpjack restaurant serves up poke along with super nice wines.
Whilst that’s high-end and well-served, half an hour’s drive away is Diamond Peak, a cute, grassroots resort with just a handful of runs. The mountain is owned by the town’s residents and has rootsy local tennis club vibes. It also boasts the best views of Lake Tahoe of all the resorts. If you stay lakeside at the cute cabins at Cedar Glen Lodge, you can wake up and pick a different resort every day, chasing the best conditions around the region.
If you’re up for a larger ski safari, drive the fours hours to Mammoth (or hop on a quick direct flight from San Francisco or LA) and take in the eerie lunar landscape around Lake Mono that’s been used as a backdrop for car commercials and the movie Oblivion. Cattle ranches and rusting gas stations line the route.
Brad Pitt heads to Mammoth for his winter holidays. The very particular conditions around the mountain mean that they get plenty of wind buff – a ‘hero snow’ which is beautiful to ski or board. Here you’ll find big, broad runs that are fairly rare in Europe, and if you come during the week, you’ll pretty much have them to yourself.
Rather than having a big boozy lunch like you might in Verbier, Chamonix or St Anton, here you’ll have a pit-stop at The Mill for a burger, chicken tenders, tri-tip or tacos. It’s a fun, no-nonsense, practical approach to skiing and the outdoors that’s in stark contrast to some of the decadence of the Alps.
Whilst it’s surrounded by the Sierra Nevada range (which stretches from north of Lake Tahoe to the Mojave Desert), Mammoth’s mountains are actually made up from the volcanic rock from the Great Basin Desert. Come here and you’ll typically get ten gorgeous blue sky days to three days of storms.
Stay at Village Lodge, take an outdoor hot tub or swim surrounded by snow, then head for the gigantic margaritas at the Gomez’s, local beers at Mammoth Brewing Company, tuna tartare at Petra’s, black squid ink seafood pasta at Campo and late night dive bar action at Clocktower Cellar.
British Airways’ new service from Gatwick to Oakland, California operates four times a week from £424 return, including taxes and charges. BA are also launching a new lounge at Gatwick www.ba.com