photo credit- Big Bear Mountain Resort
Ready to play in the snow? The whole family can enjoy a snowy, active vacation with adventures like skiing, snowboarding, sledding, snow tubing, ice skating, snow people building, bobsledding, snowshoeing, winter ziplining, snow ball fights and more. So, pack up the car and head to the mountains for some good old-fashioned, frosty fun! Here are six winter destinations—all within a day’s drive of San Diego.
Big Bear Region
Nestled within the San Bernardino Mountains and accessible for a day trip or weekend getaway, this popular area hosts a range of family-friendly activities.
Big Bear Mountain Resort includes sister ski areas Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Bear Mountain is home to Southern California’s largest learning area, with the highest acreage of beginner terrain and a Skill Builder Park, which contains safer, smaller versions of the mountain’s famous freestyle features that attract professional skiers and boarders.
Check out two Magic Carpets—conveyer-belt style ski lifts (at the level of the snow) that safely transport learners to the top of beginning ski runs. Nearby Snow Summit also offers night skiing and a tube park. Both have upgraded base area facilities, including new locker rooms.
Additional winter fun includes Big Bear Snow Play’s evening glow tubing sessions, Alpine Slide’s authentic bobsliding experiences, and the new Mineshaft Coaster, the first and only mountain coaster in California! You’ll also find snowshoeing, zipline, off-road Jeep tours and the Big Bear Alpine Zoo. Average annual snowfall is 100 inches.
About 20-30 minutes southwest of Big Bear Lake, Snow Valley also has skiing and snowboarding, along with a snow play area and downhill sledding.
Brian Head Resort, Utah
A doable 8-9 hour drive from San Diego, Utah’s highest ski resort boasts a base elevation of 9,600 feet and an average snowfall of 360 inches.
Offering terrain for all ability levels, Brian Head has two connected mountains: Navajo Peak for beginner/intermediate, and Brian Head Peak for a mix of intermediate and advanced runs. The resort is generally priced lower than many California ski areas, particularly in late season.
Other activities include snow tubing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and more; adults might also enjoy the full service day spa at Cedar Breaks Lodge & Spa. Learn more at www.brianhead.com.
Lake Tahoe Area
With its crystalline lake waters surrounded by one of the largest concentrations of ski resorts in the world, Tahoe is a true mélange of majestic scenery and never-ending adventure. Drivable in a day, the area is also served by Reno-Tahoe airport.
The region has 15 downhill ski areas, an average annual snowfall of 400 inches, over 300 days of sunshine, and more than 22,000 acres of world-class skiing and snowboarding.
Resorts include Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows’ rare mountain-top beginners area; Northstar’s high-end luxury accommodations; Heavenly’s unparalleled scenic views and après-ski scene; and Kirkwood’s off-the-beaten-path, small town atmosphere.
A full range of winter activities awaits, including ice skating, sleigh-rides, dog sled tours, cross country skiing, gondola rides, snowshoeing, and an abundance of sledding hills and tubing parks. There’s also excellent nightlife, dining and entertainment. There’s even “snow-ga”—yoga specially designed for pre-slope stretching and post-ski recovery. Visit www.visitinglaketahoe.com and www.skilaketahoe.com.
Mammoth and June Mountains
One of California’s premier winter sports recreational resorts, Mammoth Mountain, is located in the eastern Sierras, approximately 400 miles from San Diego, and served by Mammoth-Yosemite airport.
Mammoth Mountain is best known for world-class skiing and snowboarding, with California’s highest ski summit of 11,053 ft., over 400 inches of average annual snowfall, and clear blue skies 300+ days each year. Several base lodge areas serve the expansive ski area.
The town of Mammoth Lakes offers snow play areas, electric tubing, scenic gondola rides, high-speed snowmobile tours, ice skating, luxury snowcat tours, dog sled rides and more. Perhaps time your trip to include a guided full-moon snowshoe or cross-country tour.
Nearby June Mountain, about 30-minutes from Mammoth, is smaller and less crowded, with an average snowfall of 250 inches. Kids 12 and under ski/ride free.
Learn more about visiting Mammoth:
Ski Mammoth Mountain
San Gabriel Mountains
Several ski areas are easily accessible for day trips, just east of Los Angeles. The largest resort, Mountain High, is divided into West, East and North resorts. The North Resort has family-friendly, beginner terrain and is home to the North Pole Tubing Park. Kids 6 and under ski free with a paying adult; visitors receive a free lift or tubing ticket on their birthday with valid photo I.D. Visit www.mthigh.com for more information.
Mount Baldy has several vintage-style chair lifts and a tube park. Nearby Mount Waterman ski area and Buckhorn Ski/Snowboard Club are quite small, but cozy. www.mtbaldyresort.com
Yosemite National Park
The beauty and serenity of snow-covered Yosemite will remain with you for a lifetime. Beyond that, this winter paradise is home to a large range of snow-filled activities, including Yosemite (formerly Badger Pass) Ski & Snowboard Area’s ski lifts, 300 inches of annual snowfall, snow tubing/sledding areas and cross-country skiing. Ranger-led snowshoe walks are offered December through March, conditions permitting; and an outdoor ice skating rink operates seasonally in Yosemite Valley. Find more information at www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wintersports.htm.
Lisa Pawlak is an award-winning freelance writer and winter sports enthusiast.