California resorts offer more than skiing and snowboarding. // © 2017 iStock
Feature image (above): Skiing at Northstar California in Lake Tahoe, Calif. // © 2017 Ski CA
When you receive a postcard from California, it’s likely adorned with images of the surf, sand and sun — three things that make the Golden State one incredible vacation destination, to be sure. But locals and travel agents in the know understand that there’s much more to the state than its often-idyllic weather and pretty coastline. Come in the winter, and that beauty continues, if you’re willing to head to the mountains instead of the sea.
In fact, California boasts 28 world-class ski resorts — and there’s a lot more to do than ski or board at many of them. Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association, also known as Ski California, talked to TravelAge West about how the state’s mountain properties are serving guests of all ages and interests.
Fact No. 1: California resorts are ready to help beginners hit the slopes.
Whether you’re booking a vacation at Mt. Shasta Ski Park in the northern reaches of California or Big Bear Mountain Resort’s Snow Summit down south, there are great programs and classes for those new to skiing and boarding. In fact, Reitzell says that teaching is an industry priority.
“All of our member resorts are ready to get kids on the slopes,” he said. “One of the most important things we do as an industry is teach people to ski and snowboard. Given this, [determining a resort] is really about the location you want and your budget.”
To that end, all venues offer group and/or private lessons, and some boast special facilities that lessen some of the stress inherent in tackling a new sport. For example, at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows in Lake Tahoe, there’s a dedicated beginner’s zone at the top of the mountain, which means learners can enjoy gorgeous views of the crystalline lake as they practice. Many venues also put together multi-lesson packages and lift tickets at a discount. One such resort is Boreal Mountain Resort in Lake Tahoe. Its “Take 3, Ride Free” deal includes three lessons and a free unlimited season pass that kicks into gear on your fourth visit. The package is good for learners ages 4 and up.
Fact No. 2: Non-downhill ski options abound.
“There is a strong movement in the industry to expand activities beyond skiing and snowboarding, including activities that are more entry-level for guests not quite ready to hit the slopes,” Reitzell said.
That means even your uncle or auntie who’s never been on a lift can have some wintry fun. At Soda Springs, a resort outside of Truckee, Calif., a specially designed snow playground called Planet Kids awaits. Here, children ages 7 and under can ride on spinning snow tube carousels; make snow angels and snowmen; and play with snow volcanoes.
Back at Squaw Valley, families can enjoy the season on scenic aerial tram journeys; ride mini-snowmobiles at the resort’s SnoVentures Activity Zone; or go ice-skating at the mountaintop Olympic Ice Pavilion. History buffs also won’t want to miss Squaw’s Olympic Museum, which offers a glimpse of the venue when it hosted the Winter Olympics back in 1960. Woolly’s Tube Park at Mammoth Mountain is another hit with families, as it offers snowcat tours, gondola rides, snowmobile fun and more. Some resorts offer great “villages,” too — think Squaw Valley and Northstar California, located in Truckee — where visitors will find great shopping and great apres-ski opportunities.
Royal Gorge, also located outside of Lake Tahoe, is another feather in California’s cap — it’s the largest cross-country ski resort in the U.S. If clients would rather take in the beauty of the forest at a slow and steady pace, Royal Gorge offers 6,000 acres of terrain, plus eight trail systems and nearly a dozen warming huts. Snowshoeing and snow kiting — when riders use kite power to glide on snow or ice — is usually available here.
Fact. No. 3: Annual events bring more fun to the mountains.
As if all of the above wasn’t enough in the way of entertainment, some resorts host annual events that bring even more options for families. In December, The Village at Squaw Valley got into the holiday spirit with its first “Olde World Christmas” festival, which included fire dancers, fireworks, ice-sculpture demonstrations, storytelling with Santa and more. In February, the same resort will host “Kid-O-Rama,” a weeklong extravaganza with kids’ concerts, games and big machines on display — just right for the child who can’t get enough of fire trucks, snow plows or grooming machines. Agents can check each resorts’ calendar of events for family-friendly festivities.
Fact No. 4: There’s variety, and it’s all relatively accessible.
Whether clients need beginning areas, long groomers or steep, adrenaline-pumping slopes, there’s a just-right resort for them in California — and it’s likely pretty accessible geographically, which families often appreciate.
“If you want to experience any of the 15 member resorts in the Lake Tahoe area, flying into Reno, Nevada, brings you a short drive from all of them,” Reitzell said. “And because of Reno's location, flight travel is typically very reliable, even in the winter. The same is true of Mammoth Mountain, which has its own airport just 10 minutes from Mammoth Lakes. And our Southern California resorts are just a short drive from the Ontario airport. Contrastingly, if you fly into Denver, for example, you’ve still got a bit of travel ahead of you.”