Skiing in the High Sierras


Even if you live along the coast or in southern California, you may look forward to the “winter season” each year as you know that the snow is falling in the High Sierras. There are a dozen amazing wintertime adventures waiting for you in the mountains. If you’re into skiing in the High Sierras,


The Snow Gods Giveth and the Snow Gods Taketh Away

2017 was a banner year for snowfall in the High Sierras. Here are some of figures and snowfall totals from last year that have given the 2017-18 season an incredibly early start with some ski resorts opening as early as July of this year. Now, who knows what will happen this year, much less next year, but we do know that if you’re wondering when the ski resorts open, you’ve already missed the big headline-making news.


Notable Ski Resorts

Depending on how close and how big your ski area needs to be, there are almost a dozen ski resorts in the Tahoe area, but there are also what we like to call the Big 3:


  • Squaw Valley: Site of the 1960 Olympic Winter Games, this 3,600-acre, 170-trail resort has all the trappings and renown of a world-class resort. Top of the line and great for all skill levels, this is great place to start and a great place to revisit as you take your skiing habit to the next level.
  • Heavenly Mountain Resort: We don’t want to diss the skiing. With 34 miles of ski runs and about 100 trails, this resort has plenty of skiing for everyone, but that said, its calling card is the breathtaking surroundings. If you’re into the mountain scenery as much as the skiing, this is the spot for you.
  • Northstar: This is the place for intermediate skiers and family-friendly vacations. Nearly three-fourths of the runs are rated as beginner or moderate. This is also one of the best destinations in all of California for terrain parks.


To read more about these and other ski resorts in the Tahoe area, check out this feature article from PlanetWare.


Online Resources to Help Plan Your Trip

  • Looking for transportation advice and shuttle service? You can find general travel information about getting to the Tahoe area here as well as specific information for the local South Shore Shuttle
  • Looking for custom skis made from a local shop? We recommend you check out Community Skis (formerly known as 333 Skis).
  • Looking for discount California lift tickets? California Ski Authority has a solid beat on the best deals that come available each year.
  • Looking for lodging at any number of California ski resorts? Consider the ratings and reviews of big-name online sources like Trip Advisor.

The 165 Mile Club and the Tahoe Rim Trail in Winter


As avid skiers, we love to talk to our Colorado friends, and one of the things we like to tease them about is their “mile-high club” and how freaking wimpy it is. We’re not saying people from Colorado take the easy way out. What we’re saying is that, when it comes to Sierra Heritage, our club is 165 miles long. And it’s not about height; it’s about length.

But seriously, the Lake Tahoe Rim Trail is a magical place. Especially at various spots during various times of the year. Which is to say, the Lake Tahoe Rim Trail isn’t exactly hurting for press, and we wouldn’t exactly call it a “hidden gem.” Except, perhaps, during the wintertime. Whether it’s backcountry skiing or snowshoeing, whether it’s a day trip or a multi-day snow camping adventure, there’s a whole new level to the Lake Tahoe Rim Trail in winter.

Admittedly, there are some limitations. For one thing, unlike other seasons, you can’t make it all the way around the TRT in the winter. If for no other reason than because you run into some ski resorts and other areas that have their own winter-specific uses. Plus, the trail is covered with snow. Trail junctions, markers, and signs are all likely to be covered by snow, so it’s important that you either know the trail extremely well or you have a trail guide with you. Shorter, more well-cut paths may be safely traversed on your own. Like we said, big or small, the TRT in winter is worth doing.


Make Skiing Part of Your 165-Mile Club Membership

We contacted the official TRT Association. Their website says that you join the club by horse, foot, or bike, but we confirmed that skiing and snowshoeing “certainly count,” too. Better yet, you don’t have to do the entire 165-mile trail all at once or by the same modality. So, whether you live nearby or you make Lake Tahoe your annual vacation getaway, look to add some portion of the trail to your membership trek as a skiing or snowshoe adventure. People around these parts tend to be cool, but there’s still something to be said for the remote vibe that comes with taking to the TRT in winter.


Skiing in the High Sierras

Prefer the traditional ski resort experience with downhill skiing, terrain parks, and well-maintained pistes? There’s plenty of skiing in the High Sierras as well. So, we love you Colorado, but be careful about talking too big about your local clubs and Rocky Mountains. We’ve got game, too.


Arts and Culture


The people of the Sierra Nevada are as diverse and magnificent as the mountains they call home, and their independent and fun loving spirit is reflected in the bountiful music and arts scene that the High Sierras are known for. If you’re looking for local flavor, inspiration, and a good time, here is a list of popular annual music and art festivals that you don’t want to miss….


  • Sierra Nevada World Music Festival – Held annually at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds in Booneville, the SNWMF is one of the premier world music festivals in the world. Enjoy dozens of bands, including the likes of Chronixx, Macka B, the Talking Dreads, and others over the course of this 3 day festival of peace and love held on the Summer Solstice.


  • High Sierra Music Festival – Fans come to the town of Quincy from all across the country every July to hear the best rock, jam, bluegrass, and funk bands in the world. If names like the Trey Anastasio Band, J.J. Grey and Mofro, Leftover Salmon, Umphrey’s McGee, the Del McCoury Band, and Widespread Panic get your attention, then this festival is one that you definitely want to get on your calendar.


  • Snow Goose Festival – Enjoy this annual celebration of one of the greatest mass bird migrations on the planet (and other avian frequenters of the Pacific Flyway) every January in Chico, CA. With banquets, speakers, educational opportunities, avian inspired art, and more, this four day festival draws birdwatchers from all across the world to witness the mass migration of Snow Geese to their traditional wintering areas up and down the Sierra Nevada.


  • Bear Valley Music Festival – If musical diversity is your thing, the Bear Valley Music Festival is your thing. Located in Bear Valley, halfway between Tahoe and Yosemite, the Bear Valley Music Festival hosts acts as diverse as the pianist Vladislav Kern, the Bear Valley Orchestra, the Mama’s and the Papas, Hal Ketchum, and the Big Bad VooDoo Daddies. From wine tastings to rock concerts, this festival has it all.


  • Sierra Nevada Arts and Crafts Festival – An annual four day celebration of arts and crafts at Bristols Café grounds in Arnold, the Sierra Nevada Arts and Crafts festival has been showcasing Sierra inspired artists for 45 years and running!


  • Eastern Sierra ATV and UTV Jamboree – If Yamahas make you think of off-roading rather than guitars, then the Eastern Sierra ATV and UTV Jamboree in Coleville/Walker should be on your bucketlist. Held for four days every September, the Jamboree features good times and group rides for off-road enthusiasts all across the country.


The Natural Wonder that is the Sierras


The Sierras are one of the most majestic and diverse mountain ranges on earth. How diverse are they? On a single road trip you can see live volcanoes, glacial valleys, great sequoias, and scorching deserts. Here’s a list of some of the must see destinations if you’re a nature lover in the High Sierras . . .


  • Yosemite National Park – Home to Half Dome and El Capitan, Yosemite National Park is one of the original crown jewels of the United States of America’s National Park system. Its scenic alpine vistas, pristine lakes, cool mountain rivers, and majestic granite walls make it a mecca for adrenaline junky rock climbers and casual naturalists alike.


  • Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park – These two national parks in the Southern tip of the Sierras are home to some of the last remaining old growth sequoia forests in North America. Be sure you stop to see General Sherman, the largest tree on the planet, and hike the Congress Trail in Kings Canyon National Park. Being in the presence of some of the largest and oldest trees on earth is often described as a life changing experience for those who visit.


  • Mount Whitney – Sitting at the southern edge of Sequoia National Park, Mount Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48, rising to 14,494 feet above sea level. If you climb it in the spring or early summer, make sure you have crampons and an ice axe at the ready. July through October, however, it’s a non-technical (though still challenging) climb to the summit.


  • Death Valley National Park – Tucked away on the South East edge of the Sierras you’ll find Death Valley National Park. Not for the weak of heart, Death Valley is the hottest place in North America (temperatures regularly rise to 110-120 degrees in the summer), has the lowest elevation in North America (it’s actually below sea level), and is the driest place in the lower 48.


  • Lassen Volcanic National Park – Found in the Northern Sierra, Lassen Volcanic National Park is a well kept secret, and sports active volcanoes and hydrothermal vents, as well as hundreds of hiking trails, beautiful alpine lakes, and breathtaking mountain valleys. In addition to walking the fumaroles, Lassen is popular with backpackers, stargazers, and cross-country skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts in the winter!


If you’re trying to explore the Sierras on a budget or if you’re a camping enthusiast, you’re in luck. Much of the year, this is a great part of country for camping. During the warmer months, you can head up into the mountains and still find moderate temperatures. During the cooler months, you can stick to lower elevations. Either way, much of the Sierras is bear country, so be prepared to hang your food, or there are also plenty of campgrounds that provide bear boxes.




A Rich History . . .


The Sierras have a rich history, encompassing everything from the California Gold Rush to the infamous Donner Party to the birth of American conservationism. If history is your thing, you won’t find many places in the U.S. with a richer heritage or more colorful history. Here are a few stops that every history buff should have on their itinerary . . .


  • Marshall Gold Discovery State Park – When James Marshall discovered gold in the Sierra’s in 1848 it changed the fate of the state of California, and of the entire nation, forever. Marshall Gold Discovery State Park celebrates the California Goldrush, the 49ers, and gives visitors a glimpse into what life was like during one of the largest gold rushes in American history. Pan for gold, raft the American River, and see Sutter’s Mill (or what’s left of it) during your visit!


  • Donner Memoria State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum – The High Sierras were the last true obstacle for emigrants crossing the continent from East to West during Western expansion, and the story of the Donner Party is a black chapter in that larger story. There’s more to this State Park than tragic tales of wagon trains, winter storms, and cannibalism, however. Soak up the history of the Native Americans who once called this region home, the story of the trans-continental railroad, and enjoy camping, hiking, and other outdoor activities in a beautiful mountain setting.


  • California State Railroad Museum – If you’re a train buff, head a little bit west of the Sierra foothills to Sacramento and visit the California State Railroad Museum. Voted one of the top railroad museums in the nation, the CSRM has permanent and rotating exhibits detailing the rich history of the railroad. Be sure to finish your visit with a ride on the Sacramento Southern, a working rail line that is a museum highlight for adults and kids alike.


  • Columbia State Historic Park – Step back in time and experience a day in the life of a 49er! Columbia State Historic Park boasts period costumed tour guides, stagecoach rides, a blacksmith’s forge, a Wells Fargo express office, and shops and stores where you can trade your wares and wrangle for some authentic Gold-Rush souvenirs. And don’t forget to hit the Western Saloon for some ice cold sasparilla before you mount your horse and head out on the trail.


  • Lake Tahoe and the Truckee River – The Sierras have an amazing natural history as well. Water spends on average 700 years in Lake Tahoe before finding its outlet into the Truckee River. (The lake itself is about 2 million years old.) So, when you see or wade into the Truckee River, know that that water is three-quarters-of-a-millenium old….


Outdoor Activities


As one of the most beautiful natural playgrounds in the world, it should be no surprise that the High Sierras are a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. Whether you’ve already been bitten by the bug, or you’re just looking for a new hobby, here are some of the most popular outdoor activities enjoyed by residents and visitors in the Sierra Nevada…

  • Backpacking – The Sierra Nevada are a backpacker’s paradise. Whether you’re tackling the 42 mile Rae Lakes loop in Kings Canyon National Park, the 27 mile trek from Glacier Pass to Sawtooth Pass in Great Sequoia National Park, or you’re just hiking a few miles in on any one of the thousands of trails that cross the 400 miles of terrain that make up this majestic mountain range, packing it up and hiking into the backcountry is one of the most popular past times in the High Sierras.


  • Skiing – Anybody whose anybody knows that some of the best snow in the world can be found in the Sierras. Whether you ski Lake Tahoe, Bear Valley, Mammoth, or Squaw Valley, the Sierras are a winter wonderland for skiers and snowboarders alike.


  • Horsepacking Trips – With its western heritage, the Sierra Nevada are still home to plenty of equine enthusiasts who like to saddle up and head into the wilderness for a little R & R. Most backcountry trails permit horse travel, though if you’re in doubt be sure to check with the locals about permits and restrictions.


  • Rock Climbing – Anyone who has ever strapped on a harness, roped up, and clipped into a carabiner knows that there aren’t many places in the rock climbing world more legendary than El Capitan and Half Dome in Yosemite. Climbers flock to the vertical granite face annually to try to their hand at some of the most difficult and technical climbs on the planet. But that doesn’t mean the fun stops there. The solid granite and steep faces of the Sierras make the entire range a rock climber’s dream.


  • Water Sports – Whether you’re canoeing on Lower Bear Reservoir, white water rafting down the Merced, or waterskiing on Lake Tahoe, the Sierras are a great place to get wet and cool off in the summer. Fishing is a popular pastime throughout the High Sierras, and the growing popularity of kayaks and stand up paddleboards have made lakes, reservoirs, and rivers increasingly popular weekend destinations for those looking to the Sierras for an escape from the daily grind.

…from the shores of Lake Tahoe at twilight. We were too busy having fun on the lake to get a picture during the day!!

Love for the Sierras


Few places in the world have a richer mix of natural beauty, history, and arts and culture than the Sierras. Stretching nearly 400 miles from Bakersfield on up to California’s northernmost borders, the Sierras boast natural wonders like Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, music and art festivals like the High Sierra Music Festival and the Sierra Nevada Arts and Crafts Festival, and tourist draws as diverse as wine tastings in the Shenandoah Valley and skiing the High Sierras.

And if that’s not enough to grab your attention, there’s always Lake Tahoe, Death Valley, Kings Canyon National Park, Mono Lake, and hitting the casinos in Reno. The Sierras truly have a little something for everybody. Whether you’re looking to make the Sierras home, are just passing through, or are planning your next vacation, here’s a comprehensive guide to the Sierra Nevada, and a celebration of the rich Sierra heritage.

To be able to live and work in this area is a blessing. It is not easy, with just incredible and storied amounts of snow, the view of the deep blue of Lake Tahoe that never gets old. Far enough away from big cities that we still feel small, but close enough to be accessible by many. If you look on the map, nearly anywhere in the world, you won’t find a place nor a culture quite like this that is snuggled amidst some of the most sought after places to be in the entire world.

Welcome to our Sierras.