Hit the slopes on freshly groomed trails with plenty of amenities at some of the West’s best ski resorts this season.
By Ashley Ryan
Southern California is often a slice of paradise, with year-round sunshine and warm weather that makes Christmas on the coast feel more like springtime than winter.
However, there is something magical about spending time in the snow during the holiday season. Covering the land in a fluffy white blanket, the views are breathtaking and activities like skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling and snowshoeing get your blood pumping while presenting unique ways to explore these winter wonderlands.
Luckily, plenty of options abound once ski season hits. Whether it’s a weekend visit to Big Bear, a road trip to Mammoth or a quick flight to Park City, Utah, our practical locale offers a number of places—near and far—to enjoy the snow this year.
Roughly 100 miles away from Laguna Beach, Big Bear is close as can be—a two-hour trip one way makes it the perfect place for a weekend getaway or even a day trip.
Big Bear Mountain Resort comprises two different mountains: Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. The former is a more vibrant, youthful iteration, filled with more than 200 features, from terrain parks and halfpipes to backcountry areas as well as the largest beginner area in the state of California; Snow Summit, on the other hand, offers more traditional ski and snowboard runs with over 240 acres, an advanced snowmaking system and a tubing park. There are 16 black diamond or double black diamond trails between the two properties, making it a great escape for expert-level skiers, while both have quite a few easy runs and a good number of moderate ones for those who are less experienced.
When it comes to apres ski, Laybacks at Bear Mountain features a 13,000-square-foot deck for basking in the sun. Just outside the main lodge, the all-day menu includes pre-mixed drinks, handcrafted cocktails, craft beers and more, and also offers passholder discounts. Over at Snow Summit, Bighorn Smokehouse is a great place to dine, with plenty of barbecue classics as well as grab-and-go items. Snow Summit is also home to Slopeside Speakeasy, located at the bottom of chairlift 2, where no password is required to recline on the outdoor deck and sip cocktails.
New this year is a mobile app, which launched in early November, designed to make booking lift tickets, equipment rentals and lessons easier than ever; the app, along with the new Big Bear Mountain Resort website, also provides dynamic content related to the slopes. In addition, gates with RFID (radio frequency identification) technology have been installed at each lift to expedite the process of getting on the mountain, eliminating the need for lift attendants to scan each pass. Guests may also purchase lift tickets online in advance and grab them from recently established PUBs, or pickup boxes, at the mountain base areas.
Another addition this year is the dual season pass, which is valid for 2021-2022, providing unlimited access to both mountains during the wintertime as well as Summit Bike Park during the summer. Both Snow Summit and Bear Mountain were slated to open in early December, after warm weather delayed a late November launch.
Elsewhere in the region, a free trolley service launches this fall, offering a new way to traverse the Big Bear area. Stopping at the ski resorts as well as the downtown village, the local alpine zoo and Boulder Bay, three routes ensure you can get around with ease. The Big Bear Ropes Course that started just before the pandemic is back and better than ever, while a new Santa Land attraction educates visitors on Kris Kringle’s place in history and pop culture with various themed rooms.
While there are plenty of changes on the mountain itself, a number of fundamental and cultural alterations were announced this year as well. The local Care for Big Bear campaign, set in motion by Visit Big Bear, is a call to action to preserve and protect the natural playground by doing things like packing out trash, staying on trails, taking nothing but photographs and more.
Alterra Mountain Co., parent company of Big Bear Mountain Resort as well as Mammoth Mountain up north, has also partnered with a number of other companies in the ski industry (including Vail Resorts, which owns Park City Mountain Resort) on the Climate Collaborative Charter. Announced in June, the companies have pledged to implement sustainable practices on the slopes.
With unparalleled conditions and an extra long ski season, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is easily one of the most prominent on the West Coast. Located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California, the resort enjoys, on average, 400 inches of snowfall and 300 sunny days per year alongside 3,500 skiable acres. And with a summit of 11,053 feet, it’s the highest mountain ski resort in all of California, ensuring a spirited trip with plenty of terrain to explore.
Ringing in at roughly 350 miles away, the six-hour drive is definitely doable. But there are other options as well, as new air services launch this fall. In November, Los Angeles-based Advanced Airlines began flying 30-passenger jets from both the Burbank and Hawthorne airports to Mammoth Yosemite Airport. An additional route from United Airlines will launch in December, operating seasonal daily direct flights between Los Angeles and the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport in Bishop (roughly 50 miles from the ski resort).
The majority of the trails at Mammoth are difficult or very difficult, with only 15% listed as easy. But with 175 runs, 10 terrain parks and two halfpipes to explore, there is sure to be something for everyone. Small group lessons for children as young as 3 are available while Adult Discovery lessons help build confidence and clinics ensure a mastery of technique.
For a unique apres ski experience, visit the Coca-Cola Lounge at McCoy Station between runs. The customizable freestyle machine ensures you can grab your favorite soda alongside a variety of food options; floats are also available. In addition to the new lounge, Tusks Bar offers on-mountain drinks, a sundeck and 15 high-definition televisions to keep up with current sports games. Or head to Broadway Marketplace to enjoy made-to-order ramen bowls, brick-oven pizzas, grilled specials, rotating salads and more.
This year, a land swap was completed, securing the space the main lodge is located on for the ski resort (it was formerly owned by the U.S. Forest Service). Large-scale improvements of this base region may now take place, including on Mammoth Mountain Inn and surrounding areas.
Accomodations in the region are also being updated, with guest rooms at The Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth, already live with new paint, carpet, furniture, artwork and more. A second phase is set to open this spring with renovations to the lobby, Whitebark Restaurant and more. This winter will also see the addition of new luxury rental homes for large groups at the Obsidian Residences, Hillside Highlands and Snowcreek Resort.
Around town, a few new openings are in store as well. Already unveiled is Mammoth Coffee Roasting Co. Located in the heart of downtown Mammoth Lakes, this handmade coffee shop offers a variety of drinks and baked goods as well as a monthly coffee club with out-of-the-region delivery. Also under construction and expected to open around summer 2022 is the Mammoth Lakes Community Recreation Center at Mammoth Creek Park, complete with an Olympic-sized ice skating rink that will be covered in the summertime with tiles to create an alternative RecZone.
Night of Lights returns Dec. 18 this year as well, with a fireworks spectacular taking place over the snow-capped mountain. The free event features live music, activities for the kids and more before the show starts.
While the season typically runs from November to June, it has already started this year, opening Oct. 29 with a weekendlong kickoff party. Guests were treated to music, a beer toast, a hard rock-themed costume contest, a scavenger hunt and more, and the slopes are expected to stay open into late June 2022.
Park City, Utah
If you’re going to venture outside of California, you may as well head to Park City, Utah, where the local ski resort is the largest in the United States: We’re talking over 7,300 acres with more than 330 runs and over 40 different ski lifts. Only 30 minutes from the Salt Lake City airport (with nonstop flights from John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana clocking in an under two hours), half of the trails at Park City Mountain Resort are expert level while 42% are intermediate, making this locale a better place for experienced athletes than those just starting out. However, the resort does have some learning spaces dedicated to beginners. The Winter Olympics also took place here in 2002.
Special events are returning to the mountain this year after a COVID-induced break last season. Everything kicked off with a tree lighting ceremony Nov. 26 followed by an opening day celebration Nov. 28. In mid-December, the beloved Snowfest returns with carolers, ice sculptures, live music, special activities and more—as well as a visit from Santa as he traditionally comes down the ski lift to say hello and take photos.
Early next year, Park City will also host the famed Sundance Film Festival once again in January 2022, an event founded by Robert Redford that showcases independent cinema.
Set in a historic mining town that was incorporated in the 1880s, there is much to experience in the surrounding area as well. A free bus system makes it easy to traverse the region while ski-in-ski-out access from Main Street via the Town Lift makes it easy to combine skiing or snowboarding with dining, shopping, spa treatments, entertainment and more.
When it comes to apres ski, the options truly are endless, with both on-mountain and off-mountain eateries. The High West Saloon is a ski-in gastro-distillery with sips like stirred and strong or light and refreshing cocktails, beers, wines and whiskey flights plus a menu of appetizers and entrees that pair well with the drinks. Another ski-in locale, Mid-Mountain Lodge, is housed in a historic boarding house that was once home to local miners. With fire pit tables on the deck and signature dishes like flame-broiled chicken, a porchetta sandwich and a poke bowl, there is a wide array of flavors to choose from. And for fine dining with a view, Lookout Cabin is a must.
When trying to figure out where to stay on your ski trip, consider Pendry Park City, a new luxury property from Montage International that opens in January 2022. As the first mountain resort from Pendry Hotels & Resorts, it will offer an elevated approach to the alpine setting, with sophisticated spaces, innovative dining and unparalleled service.
Pendry Park City will feature more than 150 guest rooms, suites and residences, with a design of warm woods, stone and metal. Dining and lounge spaces include a Japanese-American steakhouse, a vibrant pizza parlor, a rooftop pool/bar and more. The resort is also home to a fitness center, a kids club, meeting/event venues and a spot for ski and snowboard rentals.