Travel

10 Best Ski Destinations Near Los Angeles and San Diego

Book those lift tickets, stat.

Editor’s note: Please note that restrictions due to COVID-19 may be in place at many of these resorts and may be more stringent than at the date of publication. Call before booking.

Whether you’re a powder hound, beginner skier or snowboarder, or champion lodge warmer, now is the time to brush up on your ski resort and winter destination knowledge. As you do your snow dances and pray to the snow gods for many inches of plow this season, be thankful that there are plenty of mountain excursion options—whether you’re hailing from Los Angeles or San Diego. From Mt. Baldy to Lake Tahoe, here are the top places to head to in and from Southern California for that magical winter wonderland getaway:

Mountain High

Wrightwood
Mountain High is a quick hour-and-a-half drive from LA and a little over two hours from San Diego, attracting many Southern Californians who are looking to get an easy snow fix. Flexible ticketing options are available from half day, from 12–4 pm ($59 or $69) to a whole day, from 8:30 am–4 pm ($74 or $84) and—on the weekends—even nighttime, from 5-10 pm ($49). During these pandemic days, they’ve reduced capacity to 50%. 

If snow sliding isn’t your thing, you can still activate your sense of adventure with a day of zip lining or retail therapy by perusing nearby antique shops.

How to book: You must purchase tickets online and in advance, as well as rentals and lessons. None of these options are available for walk-ups. Check hotels.com, booking.com, and Airbnb for local lodging options.

Snow Valley Mountain Resort
Photo courtesy of Snow Valley Mountain Resort

Snow Valley

Running Springs
Snow Valley is an hour-and-a-half to two-hour drive from Los Angeles and a little over two hours from San Diego, and will generally have smaller crowds than Mountain High. Though there are fewer people getting in the way of you and a good time in the snow, the vertical isn’t as high. You can go all day for a $74–$95 lift ticket, half-day for $64–$85, or at nighttime for $35–$49. This is a good beginner hill with great access to the city, and teenagers, college students, and seniors will enjoy a $10 discount on lift tickets. If you’re going more than a couple times this season, it might be worth it to look into a pass—which comes with an assurance that credit will be applied to next season should the resort close early due to the pandemic.

Nearby, take a hike among chaparral and yellow pines along the Exploration Trail in the San Bernardino Mountains at the National Children’s Forest.

How to book: Advance online purchase is highly encouraged, as on-hill ticket sales will be available only there are tickets left. Check hotels.com, booking.com, and Airbnb for local lodging options.

Mt. Baldy Resort

Mt. Baldy
Mt. Baldy Resort is a small hill that’s only a one-hour drive from Los Angeles and two hours from San Diego. Though it’s the shortest commute, it tends to open a little later in the season than the other local resorts due to its lower base elevation, while offering the best natural terrain after a big storm. There are more skiable acres than Mountain High, so there’s literally more room for learning. A big plus for families coming to the mountain is that non-skiers can take a scenic chairlift ride for $20 and go snow tubing for $35–$45 on the weekends.

How to book: A dynamically priced day lift ticket purchased in advance ranges anywhere from $46–$60 throughout the short season, available online. Check hotels.com, booking.com, and Airbnb for local lodging options.

Bear Mountain

Big Bear Lake
Bear Mountain is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Los Angeles and three hours from San Diego. The mountain is known for its state-of-the-art terrain park, with features like boxes, rails, a variety of jumps, and the snowboard scene that goes along with it. It’s got a higher elevation than its sister slope Snow Summit that's also operated by Big Bear Mountain Resort, but with more beginner runs. Full day lift tickets range from $99–$109, but on holidays they bump up to $125 per day. With a nod to masks and proper social distancing, safety in the pandemic era is also ensured by the resort’s dedication to reduced capacity. The best thing about tickets to Big Bear is that you also get access to Snow Summit since the two hills are connected and operated by the same people.

How to book: All Big Bear Mountain Resort day lift tickets are valid for same-day use at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Full-day lift tickets are limited each day this season and guests should book in advance online or by calling 844.GO2.BEAR to ensure availability. Half-day and night session lift tickets are available on select dates and guests should call in advance to ensure availability. Check hotels.com, booking.com, and Airbnb for places to stay.

big bear mountain resort ski lift
Photo courtesy of Bear Mountain & Snow Summit

Snow Summit

Big Bear Lake
Snow Summit is the more family-oriented half of the Big Bear Mountain Resort duo despite having more skiable acres—240 compared to Bear Mountain's 198—with same-day lift tickets working for both hills, so the same ticket rates and rules apply. You can also download the Big Bear Mountain Resort app for easy, direct-to-lift access using your smartphone. Summit is also where night sessions happen from 3-8:30 pm on select weekend dates from December through March, and range from $55–$65 per person. The mountain is ideal for beginner skiers and snowboarders thanks to its robust facilities and instruction team, but has a larger share of advanced runs compared to Bear Mountain—so unless you’re into terrain parks, you’ll want to ski or snowboard Snow Summit over Bear Mountain if you’re out of the beginning stages.

Other family activities nearby include tubing at Big Bear Snow Play and bob sledding at Alpine Slide. Visit Big Bear Alpine Zoo to take a gander at animals. For hiking, try the Pinenut trail, the Alpine Pedal Path trail, or the steep Castle Rock trail—all of which are situated around Big Bear Lake.

How to book: All Big Bear Mountain Resort day lift tickets are valid for same-day use at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Full-day lift tickets are limited each day this season and guests should book in advance online or by calling 844.GO2.BEAR to ensure availability. Half-day and night session lift tickets are available on select dates and guests should call in advance to ensure availability. Check hotels.com, booking.com, and Airbnb for places to stay.

Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows

Olympic Valley
Currently undergoing a name revamp, Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows is a two-mountain wonderland worth that eight-hour drive from LA and nine-and-a-half hours from SD. However, once you get there, the mountains are only a 20-minute drive from each other and you can ski and snowboard both hills on one ticket—the price of which ranges from $99–$209. The terrain is varied, with wide open beginner runs in Alpine Meadows and steeper, advanced runs at Squaw. You’ll find the fine ski village life at Squaw, which is handy especially if you plan on taking advantage of outdoor dining options. In addition to the diminished capacity, Squaw requires face masks at all times for COVID-19-safe skiing. 

For non-downhill ski activity options, Squaw offers cross country skiing, tubing, sledding and ice skating as well as plenty of shopping.

How to book: Skiing and snowboarding tickets will be available only on the weekdays (no weekends nor holidays) with a limited number being sold each day and in advance after that date. Ikon pass holders have access immediately. Check Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadow Resort website for lodging options.

Northstar

North Lake Tahoe
Regularly great conditions at Northstar in North Lake Tahoe will make that eight-hour drive from LA and nine-and-a-half hours from SD worth your while. The resort is a winter mecca, with snow making abilities on its skiable 3,170 acres as well as its own Village, providing for a great overall winter getaway if you’re traveling with non-skiers. You’ll find plenty of terrain parks as well as long runs here, so it’s well suited to a range of abilities. Great dining options as well as an ice skating rink abound in Northstar Village.

As for other activities, go cross-country skiing in the forest, snowshoeing under the stars, and fat tire snow biking for some adventure. And at night, sit with s’mores kits by the fire. Truckee is just a short drive away for those looking for that ski town vibe; you’ll find great independent restaurants and retail. 

How to book: Individual lift tickets aren’t available for purchase this year until December 8th, so you’ll only be able to get some early season runs if you have an Epic pass (available for purchase until December 6) and a reservation. If you plan on skiing for a few days, the $439 Epic day pass, which is good for a total of seven days (excluding holidays) on the lifts, isn’t bad at all. Find local lodging options on the Northstar Resort website.

Kirkwood

Kirkwood 
You’ll find some great skiing and riding terrain in South Lake Tahoe at Kirkwood, just under eight hours from LA and nine-and-a-half hours from SD. Kirkwood tends to have even better conditions than Northstar thanks to consistent incoming storm systems from the north and south. At 2,300 skiable acres and a summit elevation at 9,800 feet, Kirkwood is massive and offers a great variety of natural features. 

For those who would like to play in the snow but not necessarily on the ski hill, head to the Kirkwood Cross Country and Snowshoe Center for other adventures on foot. Check the schedule for family events happening at the Red Cliffs Lodge.

How to book: Like Squaw-Alpine, individual lift tickets at Kirkwood won’t be available for advance sales until December 8th, but Epic pass holders are available to ski now—though reservations are required to ski and snowboard, no matter what. Find local lodging options on the Kirkwood Resort website.

June Mountain

June Lake
Long considered the local mountain for Mammoth and June Lake residents, June Mountain—which is opening on December 19th—is an unsung hero for its smaller crowds, which give it an intimate feel. It’s a five-and-a-half-hour drive from LA, six-and-a-half hour drive from SD, and offers 1,500 skiable acres. Kids ski free, making it very attractive for families. The hill has a good amount of viable tree riding for advanced riders who like to duck in and out of the groomers, as well as terrain parks and an ultra-impressive run with huge jumps and a super pipe for pro riders. Chairs won’t be loaded to full capacity as before and masks will be required indoors. Mammoth lift tickets can be used the same day at June.

Explore the town of June Lake for some extracurricular activities, as it’s a charming hodgepodge of independent restaurants, craft shops, coffee shops and retail. 

How to book: It’s still unclear when June is slated to open. This year, season pass holders will have priority and all individual tickets must be purchased in advance online as walk-up lift tickets will not be available in order to maintain a decreased capacity at the resort. Half-day tickets will be available at a 25% discount, scannable starting 12:30 pm and are the only tickets sold onsite. Find local lodging options on June Mountain Resort website.

Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth Lakes
Now open for skiing and snowboarding, the prize mountain of Southern California, Mammoth Mountain, is a five-and-a-half hour drive from Los Angeles, and six-and-a-half hours from San Diego. It offers 3,500 skiable acres of varied terrain, with multiple terrain parks for all levels and two or three half pipes in the peak season. Their ski lifts are some of the most efficient (read: fast) in all of California, and the whole mountain—including the peak, 11,000 ft up—is epic when there’s a good amount of snowfall during the season. Masks are required at all times while indoors and cancellation policies have been loosened a bit to accommodate peace of mind (changes can be made up to three days in advance). 

Other fun options available for the family include snowmobiling trips, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. There’s also a relatively new tubing track for more downhill fun. There are many lodging and dining options in and outside Mammoth Village, but you’ll want to stay close: There’s great après-ski and dining right in the Village, making Mammoth LA’s best ski-vacation destination, by far. 

How to book: Like most other resorts, season pass holders will get priority and individual lift tickets range from $129-$189 each, with a limited number being sold to accommodate the decreased capacity. Currently, reservations are not required for Ikon pass holders, though the resort may do so in the future. Explore Mammoth’s lodging collection on their website. 

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Esther Tseng is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake. She's also a winter weekend warrior snowboarder who shreds Mammoth Mountain and Northstar, her second and third home.