On Route 89, winding through Truckee and Tahoe City, snow still clings to the tops of the pines, evidence of a fresh snowfall this weekend.
After five years of suffering, California’s ski resorts are rejoicing in the recent El Niño snows that are bringing back the crowds and much-needed revenue.
Experts are saying this particular El Niño, the weather phenomenon that, among other things, can yield serious snowfall in the southern third of the Western United States, is so strong they’re calling it a “super El Niño.”
While East Coast ski resorts are operating mostly due to excellent snowmaking, out West is getting the powder it’s waited a long time for. We checked in with our writers, our editors, and the team over at Liftopia to find the resorts where you want to be skiing and boarding this season to take advantage of these super El Niño conditions.
Mammoth, Calif. — Mammoth Lakes in the Sierra is massive and has skiing for literally everyone. Of all the resorts in California it seems to have Mother Nature’s snow nozzle directed straight its way this year. “While I personally am a Squaw/Alpine person in my normal life, Mammoth is a bucket list resort for many folks in the Bay Area and should be considered by others as well, especially Mountain Collective pass holders,” says Liftopia co-founder and CEO Evan Reece.
Sun Valley, Idaho — While El Niño isn’t supposed to positively affect snowfall this far north, it does seem to be doing good things for the slopes of America’s oldest destination ski resort. Unexpected early storms blanketed Sun Valley and Ketchum, nestled into the Wood River Valley in the Idaho mountains, with fresh powder back in December, and the ski season has been in full swing ever since.
Professional extreme skier Lexi duPont (wearing Eddie Bauer First Ascent) finds powder in Sun Valley. (Photo: Ray Gadd)
Ski magazine’s annual readers poll recently ranked Sun Valley No. 1 in lifts, grooming, character, and kid-friendliness.
“I love it because there are no crowds and I know the ski hill like the back of my hand,” said professional free skier and Eddie Bauer athlete Lexi duPont, a Sun Valley native. “Another bonus are the high speed chairlifts, and the grooming is some of the best in the world. It’s easy to get a ton of laps in, in a short amount of time.”
Taos, N.M. — Taos has been under the radar for the past few years, but is now seeing a bit of a reemergence as a world class destination.
On a bluebird day, there are few mountains that rival Taos. (Photo: Thinkstock)
“Taos does phenomenally well with El Niño patterns like the one we are seeing, so folks who like deep snow are going to be in for a treat,” explains Liftopia’s Reece. “Having been off the radar for a while, Taos is similarly uncrowded to Sun Peaks, and is very accessible by car for folks in Texas, and for anyone with air access to Albuquerque or Santa Fe.” Access to Santa Fe also means a great cultural add-on to the ski trip, something not offered by most any other ski resort.
Squaw/Alpine, California — If you live in the Bay Area, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows should be your El Niño destination for both skiing and boarding this season. It’s been awhile since these resorts saw good snow, and Northern California is definitely taking advantage of it.
Dirt skiing the top of Squaw last year. (Photo: Nick Aster)
It’s the biggest ski area (a combined 6,000 acres of terrain) in the Tahoe area, with a regular shuttle bus running every 15 minutes between the two resorts.
When the snow returns, so do the lift lines at Squaw Valley. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
These mountains have a long-standing culture of laid-back California-style skiing with plenty of terrain to suit all abilities, and when the snow is coming down (and it is now) you can ski for days without skiing the same thing twice. With fresh powder now coming in on a regular basis, longtime Squaw visitors are heading off the groomers and into some of the truly fun stuff this mountain has to offer.
Need a break from all that powder? Try the ski-through Starbucks at Squaw. (Photo: Nick Aster)
Deer Valley, Utah — Ski conditions are looking incredible in Southern Utah with snowpack at nearly 200 percent of average as of the beginning of the year. The World Ski Awards, the Oscars of winter sports, recently named Deer Valley the No. 1 ski resort in the United States. Because Deer Valley, with its 2,026 skiable acres, is one of the only ski resorts in the country that allows only skiing, this is the place for die-hard skiers to hit the El Niño powder before it gets scraped away by the boarders.