Skiing Resorts in California’s Sierra Nevada
To California skiers and borders, the Sierra Nevada is synonymous with skiing. The Sierra’s are a 400 by 70-mile mountain range between the Central Valley of California and 300 miles south of the Oregon border. It includes Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Kings Canyon and the Sequoias. It lies mostly in California but shares a small portion with Nevada. A couple hundred miles West is the Pacific Ocean. Between the Ocean and the Sierras are low-lying valleys. The Sierra peaks average between 5,000 and 10,000 feet. The moisture coming from the Pacific is captured and dropped on the Sierras in a phenomenon called orographic lift.
Air masses are forced from low elevation to high elevation. This causes rapid cooling and can result in a rise of humidity. The process can create clouds and moisture. The net result is that the Sierras generally get lots of moisture. Historically, it’s not uncommon for Sierra resorts to remain open through the July 4th weekend.
Glen Plake (spiked colored hair), Jonny Mosely (mogul Olympian and dinner roll creator), Shannon Bahrke (mogul Olympian) and Shane McConkey (big mountain skier) have called the Sierras home. Even legendary boarder Shawn White purchased a piece of Mammoth in 2016. The reason is simple: the Sierra Nevadas has great mountains, gets dumped on, and a season that often lasts into the summer. There’s plenty of backcountry. The line possibilities are infinite. But best of all is the local spirit of the outdoors. This is California, and the Sierras are the backyard of the California adventurer.
During weekends and holidays, the Sierras become a giant ant hill for California skiers. Tahoe belongs to Northern California with thousands of cars streaming from San Francisco and Sacramento via Interstate 80 when headed to North Lake Tahoe (Alpine, Squaw, Northstar, etc.) and Route 50 when headed to South Lake Tahoe (Heavenly Valley, Sierra at Tahoe, Kirkwood, etc.). Mammoth (and June Mountain) belong to Southern California skiers. They charge North up Route 395 from San Diego, Orange, and Los Angeles Counties.
Elevation matters in the Sierras because, as storms come flowing across the Pacific Ocean they are not always cold storms. During El Nino years when the Pineapple Express https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pineapple_Express can be especially prominent, feet of snow can drop in Mammoth while inches of rainfall in Lake Tahoe. Squaw, for example, starts low at 6,200 feet.
Lake Tahoe resorts are notorious for low elevations, high snow moisture content, winds and lots of slope aspects.
Skiing can be fun in a variety of conditions, packed powder, powder, corn and slush. And horrible in others like ice and Sierra cement. This makes figuring out where the best snow is on any given day critical.
During my GNASA, my Sierra Nevada loop occurred in late January. My Mountain Collective Pass gave me access to Mammoth Mountain, Squaw Valley, and Alpine Meadows. I came in from Las Vegas via I95 North to Route 266 and then Route 168 to Big Pine. At Big Pine you take Route 395 North through Bishop on into Mammoth Lakes. I spent a few days at Mammoth and then headed North up Route 395 to Lake Tahoe. Mammoth Mountain to Heavenly Valley is less than three hours by car, during good driving conditions. Between the Mammoth Lakes and Lake Tahoe, there are 16 ski resorts. The most famous are Mammoth, Squaw, Northstar, Heavenly Valley and Kirkwood. In Tahoe, I skied Squaw and Alpine Meadows. Before heading back to SLC base camp, I spent Superbowl Sunday with friends at the base of Heavenly Valley.
Great video of some of the terrain between the 2 resorts. Phantom Lifts: Following a Mythical Gondola from June to Mammoth
If skier visits are an indication of Mountain quality, Mammoth is in that rarefied air of over 1 million annual skier days. Mammoth Mountain is a Volcano: or a kind of volcanic configuration. You literally ski on domes, dried up lava flows and drainage areas.