It’s that time of the year to start dusting off your ski and snowboard equipment and start looking forward to another epic winter on the mountain. Northern California doesn’t lack great resorts for your next skiing adventure but it can be difficult to decide which one is best for you.
Obviously, Tahoe has some of the best resorts in the world and while some of the larger resorts can be VERY expensive, there are also some reasonable prices hidden in the Tahoe winter playground. Mammoth and Mt. Shasta are in a world of their own, since they sit far away from the other resorts and thus, might be some people’s only option.
Here’s how this works – We graded each season pass with a score from 1-10 based on Price, Quality of the Resort’s Accommodations, Quality of the Terrain, Location and Size of Lift Lines.
Let’s take a look at how each pass scores:
Mt. Shasta Ski Park
Mt. Shasta Ski Park is a smaller resort and one that has been known for it’s inexpensive lift tickets for years. But following a change of ownership, lift ticket prices have increased.
What Mt. Shasta lacks in high speed lifts, in makes up for with great skiable terrain and short lift lines. Also, if you live in the northernmost part of Northern California, this is sort of your only option. Also, the night skiing adds to the value of your ticket. (*note: the resort has had trouble opening for large periods of time over the past few seasons. Take that into consideration before deciding.) Here are the prices:
Adult Day Lift Ticket: $59
Lift Lines: 10
Overall Score: 35
Summary: For some, this mountain is just too far away. For others, this mountain is just too close. While this may be the worst resort as far as accommodations, the lack of lift lines give it a huge boost. You will get many more runs at Mt. Shasta in a day then any where else. More bang for your buck.
Boreal, located right on the top of Donner Summit near Truckee, fits the niche for terrain park junkies. While sometimes you can see this place packed with powder, it isn’t necessarily the place you want to go for a powder day. Boreal is a small resort packed full of terrain park features for the extreme skiier/snowboarder.
While the terrain at this mountain might not be for everyone, the prices are. Boreal boasts some of the best lift ticket and season pass pricing around. It’s a short drive from Sacramento and North Lake Tahoe and you won’t get the tourist lines you see at the other major resorts. They also have night skiing. Here are the prices:
Youth (13-23): $259
Senior and Child: $159
Adult Day Lift Ticket: $69
Lift Lines: 8
Overall Score: 36
Summary: Yes, this is a niche mountain for younger riders but that season ticket price matched with the lack of lift lines are too good to avoid. It is the closest Tahoe resort to anyone living north of Sacramento and has pretty good resort accommodations, including multiple high speed lifts.
Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows
Squaw Valley has always asked a high price for their season passes and rightfully so. Squaw boasts some of the largest terrain in Tahoe, and with an incredible Olympic Village to boot, it’s no wonder people come from all over to see this resort. Now that they have teamed with Alpine Meadows, located nearby on the west side of the lake, they can offer even more terrain and lifts for one pass price.
Meanwhile, the southern resorts have teamed with the Tahoe giant (Squaw) to offer a huge, crazy mega-pass!
We know we are going to hear it from many of the true Northern California purists who don’t believe any of these mountains sit in NorCal (get off your high horses already), but we certainly consider June and Mammoth Mountains as part of our NorCal brethren. These are all cool mountains and anyone who spends time in Central or Southern California, this might be the pass for you.
Mammoth Mountain is currently known as “the mountain that never closes” due to its recent 9 month ski season. It’s a world renown resort in an awesome location with a ton of terrain. June Mountain is a smaller resort but is known for some really cool backcountry lines. As for Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, who cares, they’re in SoCal…
This season, these resorts unveiled the its rendition of the Tahoe Pass, only bigger. It’s called the Ikon Pass, which includes a season pass to all of these resorts, and limited access to 22 more resorts. The price is high, but it’s the perfect pass for the hardcore traveling skier. Here are the Ikon Pass prices:
Lift Lines: 8
Overall Score: 36
Summary: Squaw Valley is a legendary resort with huge runs, family friendly activities and a historic Olympic Village. Add to that the foursome of the southern resorts in California, and this pass is definitely one of the best in California. For people who don’t take their mountain riding that serious, there may be better options for you, but for the hardcore ski bum, these resorts rank near the top.
Sierra At Tahoe
Also know as the “Local’s Mountain,” Sierra-At-Tahoe is not a mega-large resort, but what it lacks in size it makes up for with incredible terrain. You probably won’t see many of the locals at the mega-resorts, with their long lines and inexperienced riders hogging the slopes. Instead, they head up the pass to this medium-sized resort with 14 lifts and 2,000 acres of pure snowy bliss. Some of the best powder days around and small lift lines make this mountain a great bang for your buck. Here are the prices:
Lift Lines: 9
Overall Score: 37
Summary: The price is a little high when you compare it to other mountains who are offering similar prices for multiple resorts. But the people who are familiar with this mountain love it to its core. This resort is a community of locals, with very little of the resort distractions – just the rider and the mountain.
Here is the giant trio of Vail Resorts in Tahoe that are attempting to dominate the skiing scene in the area. Let me make something very clear: all three of these resorts are awesome in their own right. These are three very different mountains but all fall under the Tahoe Value Pass (or Tahoe Epic Pass). That’s right, you get all three of these mountains (maybe with some restrictions) with one season pass.
Northstar is the big resort in North Tahoe, with an amazing village, great terrain for everyone and located 5 minutes from Truckee. Heavenly is the mega-resort right in the middle of South Lake Tahoe. I think it has a million lifts (I need a fact checker) spanning over two states and the gondola begins at the coveted Stateline, with casinos and shops everywhere. Kirkwood is more out of the way in Meyers, known for its great powder days and vast terrain – this is the outlier in the trio. Here are the Epic Pass prices:
Lift Lines: 5
Overall Score: 39
Summary: Listen, I don’t want to sit here and promote the big resorts. Not my style. But you can’t deny that $600 for three mountains all over Tahoe is the best deal around. Northstar is bar-none a great place to have a season pass (speaking from over a decade of experience), Kirkwood is a top backcountry resort in Tahoe and Heavenly is, well, really convenient if you’re vacationing in South Lake Tahoe. I don’t want to be homer but Vail is really forcing my hand over here…
If you weren’t keeping score at home, here are our final scores:
1. Epic Pass – Score of 39
2. Sierra at Tahoe – Score of 37
3. Boreal – Score of 37
4. Ikon Pass – Score of 36
5. Mt. Shasta – Score of 35
Northern California’s Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine