Taho_Visit California_cmyk. Palisades Tahoe. PHOTO COURTESY VISIT CALIFORNIA

By Ann Marie Brown 

Visit California 

Remember last winter? More than 30 atmospheric rivers dumped record-setting snow across the Sierra Nevada and Southern California mountain ranges. Ski resorts reported seasonal snowfall totals of 50 to 70 feet, and that colossal snowpack lingered long into summer. At Mammoth Mountain, skiers and riders carved up the slopes for a full 275 days from November 2022 to early August 2023. Be sure to check with individual resorts’ websites before making plans, as opening dates will be determined by current snow conditions.  

“Last winter, California resorts experienced their second snowiest season on record, and almost 8.3 million skiers and riders took to the slopes,” says Mike Reitzell, president of Ski California, a nonprofit industry association. “Skiing and snowboarding were incredibly popular, and the tremendous snow conditions only added to the experience.” 

Snow fans are hoping for a repeat as California ski resorts gear up for their opening dates. Mammoth Mountain was the  first to open on Nov. 10. Although no one knows how much snow will fall this year, we do know that the Sierra Nevada received its first significant white stuff — four inches on Donner Summit — on Oct. 25. Now’s the time to dust off your gear, buy your season pass, and plan your ski vacation. 

Reitzell says that California’s resorts are “gearing up for another phenomenal year” by installing new high-capacity chairlifts, remodeling restaurants, upgrading grooming and snowmaking equipment, offering new pass options, and adding new off-mountain activities like the new Olympic-sized indoor ice rink in Mammoth Lakes. 

One big change this season for Tahoe skiers and riders headed to Palisades Tahoe, Heavenly, Northstar, and Kirkwood: On weekends and holidays, you’ll need to make advance reservations for parking. Many spots are free and some have a price tag attached, but all require reservations. On weekdays, you can just drive up and park any time.   

“This new system is not trying to limit the number of people at the resorts. It’s more about trying to spread out arrival times,” Reitzell says. “We’re trying to reduce traffic congestion on mountain roads like Highway 89, which were not built to handle the kind of traffic that occurred on weekends during the big snows last year.”  

For resort-goers, the reservation system has advantages, Reitzell says. “There’s no longer any need to rush to arrive at the resort by 8 o’clock in the morning. Skiers can show up for a 10 a.m. reservation and know they have a reserved parking spot. That should alleviate traffic problems that were caused by everyone trying to get to the resort at the same time.” 

At Heavenly and Northstar California, weekend and holiday reservations will be free for cars with four or more occupants; a flat fee of $20 will be required for cars with three or fewer passengers. At Palisades Tahoe, you can pay for a reserved spot to guarantee your parking well in advance — a convenient choice if you know what days you plan to ski. If you’re a last-minute decider, you can try your luck for a free reservation on the Tuesday before the upcoming weekend. If you strike out, simply wait till the afternoon. You don’t need a reservation after 12 noon at Heavenly and Northstar and 1 p.m. at Palisades Tahoe. 

Here’s a look at other changes, upgrades, and improvements at 10 California ski resorts: 

Mammoth Mountain Mammoth Lakes 

Info www.mammothmountain.com 

California’s highest resort — 11,053 feet at the summit — is replacing its aging Canyon Express (Chair 16) with a high-speed six-seater lift, which will reduce wait times at Canyon Lodge. Mammoth is also spending $5.5 million to expand and automate its snowmaking system. Non-skiers can take advantage of Mammoth Creek Park’s new ice rink, L.A. Kings Ice at Mammoth Lakes, and a new alpine coaster at Woolly’s Tube Park. The all-ages ride travels through twists, curves, and straightaways at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. 

Palisades Tahoe Olympic Valley 

Info www.palisadestahoe.com 

In the past two years, Palisades Tahoe has invested more than $6 million in snowmaking infrastructure upgrades across both Palisades and Alpine Meadows, which means better snow all season. The resort also added five new grooming snowcats, bringing their total to 53, the largest fleet in North America. The three-person Red Dog chairlift has been replaced with a high-speed, six-seater lift. 

Northstar California Truckee 

Info www.northstarcalifornia.com 

The Village at Northstar’s new café/bar, Vous, is a casual gathering place serving all-day snacks and beverages from morning lattes to après-ski wine. Also new this season is mobile lift ticket technology on the My Epic app. With the app, resort guests can store their pass or lift ticket on their phone, put their phone in their pocket, and get scanned hands-free, so they can skip the ticket window and head straight to the lifts. 

June Mountain June Lake 

Info www.junemountain.com 

At this family-focused resort — kids 12 and under ski and ride for free when accompanied by an adult — you’ll find two new adventure zones for kids and a new Mexican eatery, Slims Cantina, with outdoor seating and sweeping views. 

Heavenly South Lake Tahoe 

Info www.skiheavenly.com 

Lakeview Lodge will host a new Brews and Views après party with food, music and beer tastings. Also new this season is mobile lift ticket technology on the My Epic app. Skiers can skip the ticket window and head straight to the lifts. 

Sierra at Tahoe Echo Summit/South Lake Tahoe 

Info www.sierraattahoe.com 

At this resort 12 miles west of South Lake Tahoe, extensive post-Caldor-Fire restoration has continued throughout 2023. Skiers can look forward to new trails and expanded ski terrain, especially in forested areas like East Side and Avalanche Bowl. 

Dodge Ridge Pinecrest 

Info dodgeridge.com 

Dodge Ridge has installed a new quad chair at the base area, increasing lift capacity by 30 percent. Thinking of buying a season pass? The resort is now part of the multi-resort Cali Pass — get unlimited access here and at Mountain High, China Peak, and Bear Valley. 

Mount Shasta Ski Park  

Info www.skipark.com 

Mount Shasta has joined the Powder Alliance, so skiers who purchase a Shasta season pass get three days of free skiing at 21 Powder Alliance resorts across the U.S., Canada and New Zealand. 

Big Bear Mountain Resort Big Bear Lake 

Info www.bigbearmountainresort.com 

Southern California’s largest ski area now has three ski hills instead of two: Snow Valley Ski Resort has joined Snow Summit and Bear Mountain, and the combined resorts have invested $12 million in upgrades. A two-year renovation is complete at Laybacks Bar, including a 12,000-square-foot sun deck with firepits and seating. New snowcats and snowmobiles will improve grooming capabilities, and new snowmaking equipment means more and better snow. Both Snow Valley and Snow Summit will offer night skiing. 

Mountain High Wrightwood 

Info www.mthigh.com/site 

Always the first Southern California resort to open for the season, Mountain High has completed more than $1 million in improvements include more efficient snowmaking, two new grooming snowcats, and new rental equipment. Night skiing is offered Fri.–Sun. 

Mountain Safety Guide 

Info safety.skicalifornia.org/ 

Whether you’re a returning skier or new to the slopes, check out the Mountain Safety Guide created by Ski California before your first trip. The guide is a comprehensive tool to educate downhill skiers and riders of all ability and experience levels about on-mountain safety.

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