8 Best California Ski Resorts for Beginners

by Simon Knott | Updated On: July 14th, 2022
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Are you struggling to pick a resort where you know everyone will be looked after and have fun, regardless of their age or ski ability? Well, we’ve got you covered with this list of the best California ski resorts for beginners.

California has plenty of great options for beginners: Mammoth Mountain with its whopping 3,000+ acres or Big Bear Lake with its twin ski resorts, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain.

Which California ski resort is the best for your first ski trip? Where can you safely learn to ski and have the most fun?

Our Top Picks

    8. Mt. Shasta Ski Park

    Mt. Shasta Ski Park offers over 400 acres of skiing, snowboarding, and tubing fun. The park is designed to accommodate beginners and makes it easy for beginners to progress from the simplest slopes to something more challenging.

    Compared to some of the bigger resorts in California and their high-priced lift tickets you get a pleasant surprise, which for a beginner family can be significant.

    What’s the Skiing Like?

    Mt. Shasta Ski Park has a very useful beginner’s guide on its website under the heading Plan your Visit. If it’s your first time skiing it gives you invaluable information about buying your lift tickets, booking lessons, and equipment rental.

    It’s often best to buy all these at the same time, well before, as Parks does get busy at peak times.

    There’s a small surface lift just in front of the Lodge, which enables you to access the beginner area. This area and some of the green runs on the left-hand side of the Park are designated as slow areas, where you won’t be intimidated by faster skiers coming up behind you.

    When you’re ready for a challenge you can take the Douglas lift up to the top of Douglas Ridge, from where you’ll have a choice of at least four green runs, some of which interconnect, to give you a bit of variety on your descent.

    There are then a couple of blue runs you can progress onto before trying the lift on the opposite side of the park up to Douglas Butte.

    Learning to Ski

    Mt. Shasta offers equipment rentals, which include the skis, the poles, and the boots — plus a helmet at an additional fee. You’ll be suited up and ready to safely hit the slopes in no time.

    You can choose between private and group lessons at Mt. Shasta. Private lessons can be for one person, where you have the full attention of your instructor, or you can add up to 4 other people aged 5+. Lessons must be for skiers or snowboarders, not mixed.

    Group lessons can be booked for half days and full days, and they are designed for ages 5+. The students in each class are grouped according to age and skiing ability.

    For a break from skiing try the Mt. Shasta tubing lanes — each is 300 feet long. Kids as young as 5 can participate and only a tubing ticket is required.

    Off the Slopes

    Mt. Shasta has a diverse selection of food — from pizza, veggie burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, and even donuts! There’s something for everyone to enjoy. In the nearby town of Mount Shasta, there’s a quirky vibe to be enjoyed and plenty of extra eateries to choose from.

    There are several accommodation options including chalets in Mt. Shasta resort, some of which are on the edge of Lake Siskiyou.

    What We Love About Mt. Shasta Ski Park:

    • Smaller mountain with safe green runs for beginners
    • 300+ foot long tubing lanes that are kept neatly groomed
    • Helpful instructors who have experienced skiers themselves
    • Easy equipment rental once you purchase tickets at the gate

    Mt. Shasta Ski Park Stats

    Summit Elevation:6890 ft / 2100 metres
    Skiable terrain: 425 acres
    Lifts:5
    Runs:32

    7. Coppervale

    Ski Resort 7

    While Coppervale Ski Hill may be on the smaller side, there’s still enough to occupy beginners. Additionally, you won’t find the crowds here that can make larger resorts intimidating. You have enough on your plate when you’re learning to ski without the added stress of having to keep an eye out for fast skiers.

    What’s the Skiing like?

    There are a total of eight trails at Coppervale that you access by a rope tow and Poma lift. Some skiers take a bit of getting used to on Poma lifts but at least you can practice in a bit of peace and quiet.

    Similarly, using a rope tow is good practice. There are far fewer of them around these days, but they are a good way of practicing keeping your skis parallel.

    Two easier trails for beginners span out from the top of the hill and there are some more difficult runs once you’ve built up your confidence.

    Learning to Ski

    Coppervale offers ski classes and beginners should enjoy the smaller group sizes. This enables you to have more individual time with the instructor to get the best out of the lesson. There are numerous areas for beginners to practice their newfound skills and not worry about being in the way of other skiers.

    Beginners could spend two or three days at Coppervale to learn the basics and have a couple of lessons before moving on to another nearby Park which can offer more of a challenge.

    Off the Slopes

    A lodge can be found at the base of the slope as well and there is an area for guests to store their gear while they eat lunch. Susanville is the closest town nearby, where you can find dining and lodging options. There are several reasonably priced motels and hotels nearby, and even a cabin you can rent on the banks of Eagle Lake.

    See also  6 Best Wyoming Ski Resorts For Families

    What We Love About Coppervale:

    • Coppervale is a smaller park operated as a not-for-profit – so it’s beginner-friendly
    • Doesn’t require a weeklong stay to experience the entire park
    • Half-pipe and terrain park for the more adventurous members of your group
    • Less crowded than the large resorts

    Coppervale Stats

    Summit Elevation:9050 ft / 2758 metres
    Skiable terrain: 
    Lifts:1
    Runs:

    6. Bear Mountain – Big Bear Lake

    Bear Mountain
    Photo by John Murphy at licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    At Big Bear Mountain resort, you are spoilt for choice with two mountains to ski.

    Snow Summit is the best for beginners and when you have more experience you can take on some of the easier runs on Bear Mountain as well.

    What’s the Skiing like?

    Absolute beginners need to find the area called Bear Bottom beginner area, with enough short lifts to get in some good practice.

    From there you can easily graduate to the nearby East and All-Mountain express lifts which give you access to green runs from the top of the mountain right back down again.

    There are additional blue runs which you can progress to on Snow Summit and then when you need a greater challenge you can progress to Bear Mountain and some of the green runs at the top of Access and Bear Mountain Express lifts.

    Learning to Ski

    The lessons at Snow Summit are comprehensive with the availability of private, group, and package lessons. What works best for you will come down to experience and the size and ages of your group. Contacting the resort for advice is the best bet.

    You can even take advantage of night-time lessons on selected dates when the runs are going to be a lot quieter. If you’ve ever been interested in terrain parks, you’ve come to the right resort.

    There are several at Snow Summit, which ranges from beginner to expert. So, if you have teenagers who are just starting out on terrain parks there is one specifically designed for them.

    Off the Slopes

    If you’re looking for lodging Big Bear Lake has everything from traditional hotels to private cabin rentals, where you’ll find that home-from-home feel.

    For dining Bear Mountain also has several options close by, many of which have beer on tap for the adults. There is generally a younger crowd at this park, so it may get more lively, especially at the weekend.

    What We Love About Snow Summit – Big Bear Lake:

    • Numerous beginner runs on both mountains for a variety
    • More options for the adrenaline-seeking family members
    • Multiple terrain parks — segmented by skill level
    • Rentals available for purchase

    Bear Mountain – Big Bear Lake Stats

    Summit Elevation:8805 ft / 2684 metres
    Skiable terrain: 198 acres
    Lifts:12
    Runs:15

    5. Snow Summit – Big Bear Lake

    Snow Summit - Big Bear Lake
    Photo by Travis Rigel Lukas Hornung at licensed under CC BY 2.0

    Only two miles away is Bear Mountain, the twin park of Snow Summit. They are both included under the Big Bear Lake umbrella. Beginners can ski at both parks with the same lift ticket to ensure lots of varied terrain for the experience.

    What’s the Skiing like?

    Facing the mountain on the left-hand side at Bear Mountain you will find the smaller beginner area, which contains two conveyor lifts and a triple chair lift that takes you to the top of two green runs, Easy Street, and Inspiration. This area is wide open and tends to be quieter so you can relax while you practice.

    When you’ve cut your teeth on Bunny Hill you can take the nearby Access Express, which will take you to the top of several green runs and a blue. These will help you to consolidate what you’ve learned and hopefully make you feel like taking on something more difficult.

    On the other side of the mountain, there are two lower chairlifts, which take you to a couple of lower blue runs, Central Park, and Pipeline.

    Finally, when you need more of a challenge it’s time to take the quad chair Bear Mountain Express right to the top of Goldmine Mountain at 8440 ft (2572 m). There are a variety of blue runs which run down through the trees from the top of the mountain to give you a taste of real skiing.

    Learning to Ski

    The lessons at Bear Mountain are comprehensive with the availability of private, group, and package lessons. What works best for you will come down to experience and the size and ages of your group. Contacting the resort for advice is the best bet.

    Off the Slopes

    There are plenty of activities beyond skiing and snowboarding including the tubing park, a zipline, a climbing wall, and a bungee trampoline. If you’re looking for lodging Big Bear Lake has everything from traditional hotels to private cabin rentals, where you’ll find that home-from-home feel.

    What We Love About Snow Summit Big Bear Lake:

    • Guests gain access to two parks on the same ticket
    • Progressive beginner trails and a family-friendly atmosphere
    • Close proximity to the city of Los Angeles
    • Night skiing available — unlike at Bear Mountain

    Snow Summit – Big Bear Lake Stats

    Summit Elevation:8200 ft / 2499 metres
    Skiable terrain: 240 acres
    Lifts:16
    Runs:27

    4. Dodge Ridge

    Ski Resort 2

    Dodge Ridge has delighted many generations of avid skiers over the decades since it opened in 1950. Its close proximity to the San Francisco Bay area ensures it is a regular destination for skiers and snowboarders each season.

    It’s a smaller family-friendly resort, which is equally attractive to beginners with an excellent beginner area and access to easy runs from the top of the mountain.

    See also  9 Best Ski Resorts in Wisconsin for Beginners

    What’s the Skiing like?

    The beginner area at Dodge Ridge is down at the base in front of the parking lot.

    You’ll find this area and the region around Sun Bowl, slightly higher up, have been designated as ‘slow areas’. So, you can be sure you can relax and get on with the task of learning to ski without the threat of skiers flying past every five seconds.

    There is plenty of variety in the beginner area with two conveyor lifts and no less than four short chairlifts to take you to different starting points. All the runs are green except one short blue, which will help you to build your confidence.

    From here it’s easy to progress to higher lifts which will take you to a selection of blue runs, which mostly come down through the wooded areas.

    Finally, when you’re starting to feel you have blue runs under your belt you can take the longer Prospector lift to the top of the mountain to give you access to numerous interconnecting blue runs back down to the base.

    Learning to Ski

    The Dodge Ridge website has a very useful page for first-timers covering subjects such as first time on the mountain, wearing the best gear, renting equipment, and first lessons.

    There are numerous levels of lessons at Dodge Ridge, including a My Parent and my package for the 4-6 age group, which runs for two hours and to which another child can be added. In addition, there are private lessons that range from levels 1-6 for skiers and snowboarders.

    For older kids, 13+ there are youth group lessons that can take them all the way up to a level 6 advanced skier.

    There is a focus on bringing up the new generation of skiers, so beginners will feel welcome and should be able to ski confidently after a few sessions.

    Off the Slopes

    Dodge Ridge makes for a great weekend getaway for locals and with Yosemite National Park only 2.5 hours away you will never be short of something to do.

    If you want a change from skiing for a day, there are cross-country and snowshoeing trails at Dodge Ridge to give you a taste of the outdoors through the forest.

    Dodge Ridge is set in a rural location but there are still accommodation options in the vicinity mostly in inns, cabins, and lodges.

    What We Love About Dodge Ridge:

    • First-time lessons with a rental package for an all-in-one experience
    • 3+ terrain parks that allow guests to test out their skills and tricks
    • Specially designed adaptive equipment for those with disabilities

    Dodge Ridge Stats

    Summit Elevation:8200 ft / 2499 metres
    Skiable terrain: 862 acres
    Lifts:12
    Runs:67

    3. Bear Valley

    Bear Valley
    Photo by Richard M Rubin at licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

    Situated halfway between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park, Bear Valley Resort sits up high in the Sierra in a large alpine basin. Nearby Mokelumne Peak is the highest mountain of the Mokelumne Wilderness, while Stanislaus National Forest stretches for nearly 900,000 acres.

    What’s the Skiing like?

    By a quirk of its geography, Bear Valley Resort has an unusual layout. The main lodge is close to the top of the mountain surrounded by easier blue runs, while most of the black runs are lower down in the valley.

    For beginners, this makes no odds but does give them the opportunity of skiing at a higher altitude with none of the risks that you would normally associate. At the base, there is Beacon Basin, a small beginner area adjacent to Cub Terrain Park.

    Longer green runs can be accessed by taking either Kuma or Mokelumne Express lifts, which will deliver you close to the beginning of Upper Mokelumne and Mokelumne West, which start off as blue but quickly turn back to green on the way down.

    On the far left of the resort, you can also take the Koala lift and take your choice of four blues back down to the day lodge. A good proportion of the easier runs on this top section of the mountain are all designated as slow areas, to keep the speed of traffic down.

    Learning to Ski

    Private lessons start for kids as young as 3 years old, so families can bring the little ones and get them on the mountain early. Cub Club group lessons are for slightly older kids between 4-12 and teen and adult group lessons are for those aged 13+.

    Those with disabilities can take advantage of the Adaptive Ski & Snowboard Package, which includes a 1.75-hour lesson. For those without ski equipment yet, the resort offers several rental packages to suit your needs.

    Off the Slopes

    There are few things more relaxing than heading back to a warm and cozy lodge at the end of a long day on the slopes. At Bear Valley, you can opt to stay in one of their new glamping tents for an unforgettable experience.

    There are plenty of extra activities at Bear Valley including cross-country skiing,

    snowshoeing, snowmobiling, snow tubing, and sledding. If none of those appeals, you can always go back to basics on the large open meadow and build a snowman or have a snowball fight.

    What We Love About Bear Valley:

    • Adaptive lessons for those with special needs and lessons for seniors!
    • Snowmobile adventures available at Bear Village
    • Access to beginner terrain all over the mountain
    • Quaint village to explore and enjoy one of the many dining choices

    Bear Valley Stats

    Summit Elevation:8500 ft / 2591 metres
    Skiable terrain: 1680 acres
    Lifts:10
    Runs:56

    2. China Peak

    skiresort3

    China Peak is located on the south shore of Huntington Lake, about 70 miles northeast of Fresno and just a few hours from Los Angeles. The family-owned resort has been attracting visitors since 1958 and has some of the highest peaks in California.

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    What’s the Skiing like?

    The beginner area is just in front of the Day Lodge at China Peak next to the Tube Hill.

    There are three conveyor lifts to help you to climb the area, which has been designated a slow area.

    When it’s time for something more challenging you can take the Canyon lift, from which you can take the Academy green run, which has a winding path across the mountain back down to the base.

    There are some additional blue runs that interconnect so that you can up your game when you feel ready for it.

    The much longer Summit lift will take you higher still and you can pick up the higher section of the Academy run to join with the section lower down you are familiar with.

    Learning to Ski

    China Peak has a full team of qualified ski instructors to help get your skiing journey underway. There are a group or private lessons and your choice of which is best will be decided by the age of your group and your ability.

    If you’re not sure, it’s well worth having a chat with the lesson tutors who are experienced in advising beginner groups and families. It’s advisable to not only book your lessons well in advance but also book your equipment rental and lift ticket.

    Private lessons do get booked up early.

    Off the Slopes

    if you’re looking for a bite to eat during the day, you’ll find the Day Lodge and Mainstream Station have quick and easy items on the menu, such as burgers, chili, and pizza.

    For lodging, there is the Inn at China Peak, where you’ll find a variety of slope-side rooms at economical prices. Alternatively, there are cabin rentals along the shores of nearby Huntington Lake.

    What We Love About China Peak:

    • Wide variety of skiing + snowboarding lessons
    • Second-tier snowmaking system for early opening
    • A compact and well-organized resort for beginners
    • Family-owned resort for a closer-knit experience

    China Peak Stats

    Summit Elevation:8709 ft / 2654 metres
    Skiable terrain: 1400 acres
    Lifts:11
    Runs:52

    1. Mammoth Mountain

    Mammoth
    Photo by Marty B licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    As you may have gathered from the name, Mammoth Mountain is huge and there is plenty to do and see. With over 3,500 skiable acres and a summit at 11,053 ft, Mammoth boasts the highest lift-served summit of any California resort you’ve got plenty of choices even as beginners!

    Mammoth Mountain is a popular destination during the winter months for good reason!

    What’s the Skiing like?

    As beginners, you’re spoilt for choice at Mammoth Mountain. There are different green runs at the base linked with each of the main areas, including The Main Lodge, The Mill, and the bottom of chair four.

    You may like to start at the Main Lodge, where you can take the Discovery Chair-11 to try out the small runs, Sesame Street and Apple Pie, before moving on to something more challenging.

    One of the highest greens, Easy Rider, is accessed by two lifts Rollercoaster and Canyon Express. It’s an easy ride down through tree-lined slopes, which will give you a good insight into the layout of the resort on this side of the mountain.

    From these early green runs, it’s straightforward to gradually transfer to more difficult blue runs, which will give you access to most of the mountain.

    Learning to Ski

    The instructors at Mammoth Mountain are experienced in helping beginners find their feet in the snow. Whether you opt for a group lesson or a private one, the pace of the lesson will be governed by the students in it, so there’s no obligation to feel you must keep up.

    Group lessons are cheaper than private and you get the advantage of meeting other new skiers and having a good laugh about the pleasure and the pain. On the other hand, private lessons when you’re just starting out are a very efficient way of developing good techniques and ironing out any problem habits you may develop.

    That Mammoth group lessons are divided into Kids, aged 3-14, and adults, 13+. Groups are selected by age and ability to make the best use of the teaching time.

    If you’ve been working hard on your skiing and you want a change of pace, then trying out cross-country skiing or snowshoeing are great alternatives. They are a great way to see a different aspect of the resort while giving you a gentle workout at the same time.

    For young kids (and teenagers!) Woolly’s Tube Park is a great break from skiing and the high-speed chutes offer a winter blast. The park also offers scenic gondola rides, right to the top of the mountain where you will have space for 360 deg panoramic selfies and even a coffee at Eleven53 Café.

    Off the Slopes

    At the base of the mountain, visitors can find a wide range of dining options as well as a range of lodges.

    There are cabins and lodges available for rent close to the runs or you can base yourself farther away in the quiet of Tamarack Lodge on the shores of Twin Lakes. The resort village often offers live music to entertain guests as well as a lively scene including activities such as karaoke!

    What We Love About Mammoth Mountain:

    • Impressive lift infrastructure within the resort
    • Neatly groomed and well-maintained tubing park
    • Beginner runs that are separate from the main trails
    • All ski bases link with the free shuttle service

    Mammoth Mountain Stats

    Summit Elevation:11053 ft / 3369 metres
    Skiable terrain: 3500 acres
    Lifts:25
    Runs:150

    Why Choose California for Skiing?

    Many skiers and snowboarders rank the resorts of California along with the best of Colorado and even Europe. There is reliable, heavy snowfall and some of the best infrastructure to ensure your day goes well.

    However, for beginners, the State is equally equipped with numerous resorts where the design of the runs is well thought out. This means beginners start lowdown and gradually progress to more difficult runs higher up. The increase in the challenge is gradual, so your confidence builds in the same way.

    How Did We Order This List?

    To help rank our top selection of ski resorts for this list we compared the following ranking factors:

    👨‍👩‍👦 Ranking Factor📈 Power to affect Rank
    Amount of Beginner Trails (Mi) 4x
    Amount of Skiing Area (Mi) 3x
    Cost of two adult tickets + child ticket1x
    How many magic carpet lifts1x

    We gave each factor its own weighting depending on how important we feel it is for family fun across all ages. For example, a resort with more beginner trails is higher ranked than a resort with a lower-priced family ticket – with all else being equal. That’s because while cost is a factor, it’s not a primary one. We may also use our editorial judgment to remove or add resorts that we believe should make a list.

    When taking all of this into account, gives us our awesome list above. We hope it was helpful in planning your next family ski vacation.

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    Best Ski Resorts for Beginners In California

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