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California is known for the ability to move from shoreline to ski run in a matter of hours. Not only is it home to some of the best ski resorts in the U.S., the backcountry skiing in California delivers nothing short of powder-perfect conditions. Whether you’re looking for the deepest snow, the steepest vertical or the best local vibe, you’ll find it on this list of the best places to backcountry ski in California. Without further ado, here are our top spots.
Several mountain ranges are found across the state. In Northern California, Mt. Shasta attracts devotees to no-frills ski mountaineering in the Cascade Mountains. In Southern California, day trippers head to the mom-and-pop resort in Big Bear. But it’s the Sierras that claim all the notoriety. The Sierra Nevada Mountains stretch for almost the entirety of the Golden State, a range known for its terrain, powder and vertical drops. In the eastern Sierra, Mammoth backcountry skiing is a huge draw. The hands-down classic touring spot for backcountry skiing in the Sierra landscape is Lake Tahoe. Perhaps the most famous skiing in California, Lake Tahoe is an unforgettable bucket-list destination.
Where is the best snow in California?
Thanks to its average snowfall of 450 inches (and 300 days of sun), the best snow in California is in Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe. Much of the Eastern Sierra backcountry skiing is comparable with the best of Colorado backcountry skiing or Utah’s top skiing destinations. Tahoe has some of the best skiing in California, but it’s not alone. Advanced skiers and splitboarders head north to Mount Shasta to traverse an active volcano in the Ring of Fire. Travelers are fond of Mammoth Mountain when seeking bowl skiing and elevation. Mammoth backcountry ski tours are worth the journey to this section of the easter Sierra. Several AMGA/IFMGA licensed guides offer programs to skiers across the state looking for a weekend out of bounds.
Find the best backcountry skiing near Lake Tahoe and Truckee
Tahoe, where most of the spots on our list are situated around, offers varied and extremely challenging terrain — if you’re looking for that sort of thing. Lake Tahoe’s deep blue water is surrounded by mountain ranges with the desert to the east. The lake itself is split in half by the border of California and Nevada states. The majority of developed ski areas are on the California side. Tahoe backcountry skiing is a major draw for locals and weekend warriors in the Bay Area looking for a quick fix. Tahoe’s Olympic Valley — the soon-to-be-renamed Squaw Valley Resort — hosted the winter games in 1960.
Neighboring ski towns around Lake Tahoe include Truckee and North and South Tahoe all have tantalizing objectives available just off the road. Worthwhile runs are found on resort, just out of bounds and deep in the backcountry. What’s most interesting about backcountry skiing in Tahoe is that the resorts have begun to embrace it, too. But, it’s not just Tahoe that holds all the goods. Read on to find out what we consider to be the best six backcountry ski destinations in California: