I’m just back from a ski trip to California – yes there is skiing in California and it’s amazing!
During our visit we had epic conditions and certainly some of the best snow I have ever seen! 5ft of fresh powder in Mammoth and 4 days later 8ft in Squaw Valley… it was perfect powder as well – so light and dry (a bit unusual so late in the season!). Hope I’ve not made you too jealous!?
United Airlines operate a direct flight to Los Angeles from Heathrow which takes about 11 hrs. It ‘s often thought that California is much further away than the likes of Denver or Vancouver but in fact it’s only an additional 1 ½ hours. The flight arrives into LA in the evening so the best option is to spend a night in LA before making your way up to the ski resorts. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Beverly Hills, which is located about 30 minutes from the airport, in the right direction to catch the Highway 395 towards the snow. So the next morning we loaded up our 4x4s and headed to Mammoth Lakes.
Mammoth has had a superb season, with 36 ft of snow falling before the beginning of March, so I knew we were in for a treat! It is highly recommended for anyone driving up to the California ski resorts to hire a 4×4 as no normal cars would have made it in the conditions we had – although there were guys on the side of the road who were offering to put on chains for $40!
Our first stop was the Mammoth Mountain Inn, located at the top of the mountain, just few steps from the gondola. This property has a restaurant, the Mountainside Grill, the bar “Dry Creek bar” with great views on the mountain, a rental shop on site, a pool, general store, a free regular shuttle service to and from the village and an underground parking.
So, why is Mammoth called Mammoth? Due to lots of Mammoth sightings over the years? No, it’s actually because everything is so big there! Especially the surrounding mountains around and the amount of snow they received every winter. The epic snowfall allows the ski area to stay open most seasons until the end of June, but this year they are already planning to stay open until the 4th of July! Skiing in July?? Bonkers!
The quality of ski rentals in the US is very high and when we collected ours, the epic conditions were only confirmed by the rental guy recommending to me take “fat skis” and to take them two sizes longer than usual – apparently this would help me stay on top of the deep powder… After some pretty awesome skiing, and thanks to my “fat skis” I stayed on top of the powder, we stopped by the Eagle Lodge by the Juniper Springs Resort for a spot of lunch. It’s a great place to give the legs a break, as well as the restaurant, which serves fab hot chocolate, there’s also a bar, plenty of seating and if you’ve forgotten your goggles fear not as there’s a well stocked ski shop!
The next stop on our Californian ski safari was Heavenly. The drive from Mammoth to Heavenly is about 3 ½ hours and is a beautiful drive, taking in stunning mountains and lakes.
It’s official – this has been the snowiest winter in Heavenly on record! So combining this with the blue skies that met us on arrival, we knew that we were in for a treat. We wasted no time checking into the Embassy Suites, dumping our bags and getting changed in record time and headed straight to the gondola which is about a 3 minute walk away. The view from the gondola of Lake Tahoe is amazing, so make sure you’re facing down the hill so you can see it!
The Heavenly ski area is split by the Nevada/ California stateline and there is enough terrain either side to keep you busy for a long time. Prior to visiting I hadn’t realised its true size and also the wide selection of on-mountain bar and restaurants.
Off slope entertainment in Heavenly is certainly varied! As half of the resort is in Nevada, there is an abundance of casinos right on the border, so it attracts a different crowd than the average ski resort, however most of these don’t step foot on the mountain. There is also the obligatory boat ride on Lake Tahoe – it was a first time I’ve been on a boat ride after a day skiing, playing with slot machines and roulette later. Lots of fun guaranteed! It made the place very unique and very eclectic!
From Heavenly we drove round Lake Tahoe to Northstar, which is located on the north shore of the lake. The journey was just under two hours with the snowy conditions and would make a perfect twin centre holiday with Heavenly.
Northstar has everything – definitely the best tree-skiing, as well as plenty of groomed runs and even the steep stuff! Loved it! And the good news is that Northstar has recently been bought by Vail Resort which means that if you purchase an Epic Pass it can be used in the Colorado resorts of Vail, Beaver Creek and Breckenridge before heading over for perhaps another ski holiday in Heavenly and Northstar!
It’s the perfect family destination with range of accommodation from budget to high end and a pedestrian village, very similar to Beaver Creek. I was amazed to find out you can actually stay in the same building as the main gondola which means in the morning you can cross reception and board the gondola – difficult to beat that!
Our last stop was Squaw Valley and my goodness I’ve never seen so much snow! I woke up at the Resort at Squaw Creek to the piste basher actually digging out the lift so it could operate normally…it had only just been snowing overnight!!! I couldn’t wait to be on the slopes again, so grabbed a quick breakfast at the superb Six Peaks Grille. You can order an omelette with all the toppings you want, it definitely kept my going until lunchtime!
The Resort at Squaw Creek is located 10 minutes drive from the main village and offers all the amenities and services you can expect in a 4* resort. The property has its own chair lift which allows you to ski down to the main based area via an option of runs – a groomer, a steep or a tree run – something for everyone! We headed towards the famous KT-22 chair lift, and now I understand why it is rated one of the best chairlift of North America – the terrain which is accesses is fantastic! After noon we were still able to find virgin tracks in the “enchanted forest”. I was very impressed by the number of expert skiers and snowboarders in Squaw. After few hours I realized that seeing people jumping out of cliff was pretty common sight…
After a day of challenging yet fantastic skiing we went for a drink in “Le Chamois” and over a few après drinks and they confirmed that some French people settled there a while ago…I might just do the same one day!!! Squaw is most definitely Squawsome!
If you want to know more about doing a ski safari in California, please just drop me a line on 0131 243 8097 or email [email protected] and I’ll be more than happy to share my experience.