Discover one the best place places to ski in California

Kirkwood Shines as One of California's Leading Ski Resorts


The best ski resorts in California are different for everyone, but if your priorities are top-notch snow conditions and amazing runs, consider Kirkwood.

Posted on December 19, 2023

Scenic Run with Snowboarder at Kirkwood

Choosing just one out of the many fantastic ski resorts in California for your next winter vacation can be a tricky task. A lot of it comes down to your personal preferences and experience level with snow sports, as well as logistical considerations about transportation and lodging. A list of the best ski resorts in California is going to look quite different depending on whether you are, for example, just starting out on your skiing and riding journey, an experienced skier seeking a challenge, or a group of friends with a whole mixture of priorities.  

Once you have narrowed down your list of resorts in California and spent some time researching the terrain and amenities, consider the reasons why Kirkwood should be on your list as a must vista for skiing in California.  

Resort Location and Logistics 

Kirkwood, along with other contenders for the best ski resorts in California, is in California's top location for snow sports. The Lake Tahoe Basin, which straddles the state line between California and Nevada, gets the most snow of any region in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. These mountains are California's spectacular, high-elevation backbone and are an ideal location for great snow conditions 

You can find ski resorts in most of California’s mountain regions, including Southern California’s San Bernardino Mountains and NorCal’s Cascades and Coastal Ranges. However, the Sierra Nevada is the prime place to be for skiing and snowboarding in the state as they receive the most substantial snowfall from Pacific Ocean-born storms that sweep across California from the west. When these weather systems approach, they bring with them a unique meteorological phenomenon – the prevailing wind direction collides directly with the Sierras, resulting in rapidly rising air and exceptionally heavy snowfall rates. This extraordinary weather pattern contributes to the Sierra Nevada's superior snow conditions compared to other California mountain ranges, making it an ideal choice for skiing enthusiasts looking for great natural snow. 

The Snow Report 

The Lake Tahoe Basin receives the greatest amounts of snow of all ski areas in California, almost all of it between November and April. Within this supreme region for snow, Kirkwood claims the most of any ski resort, averaging 354 inches per year. This is due to a weather phenomenon unique to Kirkwood known as the “K Factor.” If powder days and consistently excellent skiing and riding conditions all winter long are a priority to you, this is a good thing to know about Kirkwood. 

Getting There and Around 

Considering the ease or difficulty with which you can get to a ski resort is always a priority. The Lake Tahoe Basin is readily accessible from the rest of California. It’s approximately 2 to 3 hours from Sacramento, 3 to 4 hours from the Bay Area, and 7+ hours from Southern California by car. Three shuttle services connecting Kirkwood with South Lake Tahoe, Sacramento and the Bay Area expand your transport options. 

With major airports serving Reno, Nevada (83 miles north of Kirkwood) and Sacramento (97 miles west), it’s a feasible option for longer-distance vacationers as well.  

What level of desire do you have to embrace a quiet and secluded mountain setting? Kirkwood is about 35 miles from the closest city of Lake Tahoe, so it has an "off-the-beaten-path" vibe.  For many, this ambiance is a top priority when choosing a ski resort in California.  

Skiing and Riding  

Types of terrain will probably be the No. 1 priority if your vacation will focus on snow sports above all else. Choosing a ski resort in California will mean comparing elevation, total number of trails and lifts, and ratios of beginner to advanced terrain.  

Kirkwood’s terrain covers five mountain peaks, all over 9,000 feet, plus two base areas: Mountain Village and Timber Creek. There are 86 trails, topping out at 2.5 miles long, accessed via 15 lifts. All this terrain means Kirkwood has something for all experience levels, from gentle groomed runs suitable for beginners to super-steep advanced-level slopes. The resort has a terrain park, too. 

Kirkwood’s Advanced Terrain 

Is access to advanced terrain and famously thrilling runs a top priority? The most famous double-black-diamond run at Kirkwood is “The Wall” off Chair 10, named for its almost-sheer façade. Hell’s Delight and six more double black diamonds make the Devil’s Corral area a must-do for advanced skiers and riders.  

Ski and Ride School 

If your list of priorities includes lessons, look into the ski and ride schools at different ski resorts in California. Most offer a range of group and private lessons taught by experienced instructors. Private lessons can typically be customized for individuals and groups. These types of lessons are a great choice for friends with different experience levels who all want to learn and have fun on the slopes together.  

Look into Kirkwood's Ski and Ride School if lessons are a part of your vacation plan. Also consider Expedition Kirkwood, a signature program of intimate guided adventures in the backcountry around the resort.  

Winter Activities Besides Skiing 

Does your priorities list include other snow sports? In addition to skiing and snowboarding, Kirkwood Mountain Resort also has options for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing adventures. The Kirkwood Cross Country Center offers lessons and rentals of classic, skate and backcountry Nordic ski equipment, snowshoes and fat bikes.   

Lodging and Dining Options 

You can't ski or snowboard 24 hours a day, so lodging and dining need to be on your list of priorities too. The choices of lodging and variety of dining options you desire come down to personal preferences.  

Kirkwood is known as a locals’ favorite, but ample lodging options make it a great ski resort for out-of-town visitors. The majority of accommodations at the resort are townhomes with one to three bedrooms, a full kitchen and fireplace. These are ideal for groups of friends who want to stay, dine and socialize in the same unit. The Meadows Region is a more budget-friendly choice at Kirkwood. 

Kirkwood's selection of restaurants is ample, convenient and high-quality. They include a pizza place, American bistro cuisine at The Wall Bar and Grill, a general store offering groceries and a full-service deli, and K-Bar for drinks with views. The historic Kirkwood Inn and Saloon off Highway 88 is a storied venue worth checking out as well. 

Is Kirkwood Mountain Resort for You? 

If your top priority is skiing and snowboarding in some of the best snow conditions you’ll find anywhere, Kirkwood should definitely be on your shortlist of the best ski resorts in California. It always ranks among the best ski resorts in California, and for many experienced skiers and snowboarders, it’s the No. 1 destination year after year.  

Everyone has a different vision of a perfect winter vacation, and there’s a good chance that Kirkwood could fulfill that vision for you. Plan your visit today and experience one of California's top resorts!