The Best Places to Ski If You Live in San Diego
“For me, skiing is a necessity. I have a need for risk.” -Jean-Marie Messier
It’s getting to be that time of year again when the weather gets cold and the snow starts to fall. Not in San Diego, of course, where it is sunny and 72°F pretty much year around. However, in my experience, snow skiing and snowboarding are two of the most fun winter activities for San Diegans, at least for many that I know. I have lived in California for almost 30 years now. I’ve lived in OC twice, LA twice, SF once, and now San Diego for the last 14 years. Of all of these, despite all of San Diego’s amazingness, it has the worst access to world class skiing of all four. However, it still isn’t too bad, and after living here for a while now, I have some experience of what is best based on a combination of access, cost, luxury, nightlife, and world class skiing, of course. Here are my top 10 ski destinations if you live in San Diego:
(1) Park City, Utah
Once you get used to the liquor laws in Utah, this is absolutely the best skiing and snowboard destination for San Diego residents. Both Delta and Southwest Airlines fly direct from San Diego to Salt Lake City, UT. It is about an hour and thirty minute flight, and a 45 minute drive on an interstate highway that rarely closes or gets significant delays, even with massive snow.
The snow in Utah is usually dry and powdery, and the temperature is typically not blistering cold. From Park City, you have immediate access to Deer Valley Resort (skiing only) and Park City Mountain Resort (a new mega ski resort that combined Canyons and Park City Mountain Resort). Park City Mountain offers a ski school for the kids that is a great experience. (Check out the full story on kid’s ski school here.) If you drive an hour to Cottonwood Canyon on the SLC side of the mountains, you can ski Snowbird, Alta (skiing only), Solitude, and Brighton. If you drive 90 minutes north of Park City, you get to Snowbasin and Powder Mountain. For my family, now that Park City is a mega resort, we rarely ski anywhere else, but do go to Deer Valley occasionally to avoid snow boarders. Park City Resort is now owned by Vail Resorts, which owns an operates several major ski resorts on my top 10 list, and if you are a mega skier, you can get their Epic Pass, which is a season pass to ski all of their resorts.
Park City has a super quaint downtown with several terrific restaurants and quite a few bars and clubs, so the nightlife if really good. There are also half a dozen world class hotels including St. Regus, Montage, Stein Ericsson, Waldorf Astoria, and Ritz Carlton.
I love Park City so much that I bought a vacation home there a few years ago, and it is an amazing place in the summer as well. I sold my place, and now we just rent a home there when we visit since I have such a big family. We can usually find good deals on VRBO, and I hear that Airbnb is pretty good as well.
If you are looking for one place to ski and snowboard that will be super fun for you and your whole family, you can stop right here.
(2) Mammoth Lakes, CA
Mammoth Mountain and nearby June Mountain are great ski resorts right here in California. If you don’t like to fly and you don’t mind an eight-hour drive, much of which is on a two lane highway 395, this is a wonderful ski resort. Mammoth as the name implies is a gigantic mountain. Although the snow is not as good as Utah, it is really good in the middle of winter. It is in the Eastern High Sierras, so it has a higher elevation than Tahoe, which makes the snow much better and more consistent. They have good snow making equipment, but not as good as Deer Valley or Park City Resort. This is purely a ski destination, and there isn’t as much nightlife here or vary many great restaurants. When I lived in LA, this was the place to go skiing because of the easy access. It actually isn’t even a bad drive from Orange County. San Diego is just a bit further, which makes this a bit less convenient. There are fights to Mammoth, but the schedules can be inconsistent, since planes get grounded for high winds pretty frequently. A few years back, we went skiing in Mammoth and took a fight. We were scheduled to return on New Year’s Eve day. Our fight was cancelled due to wind. My kids were pretty ticked, and it was a bummer for me as well. That being said, it is still the second best ski resort for San Diegans.
(3) Lake Tahoe, NV
Lake Tahoe is the primary ski destination for people that live in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. It is a four-hour drive from SF, and the skiing and resorts are really good. The snow can be a little inconsistent, so it is important to monitor the ski reports and be willing to travel last minute to get the best snow. From San Diego, there are direct flight into Reno, which I recommend versus the Tahoe airport. Reno is a lot more consistent. It is about an hour drive from Reno to South Lake Tahoe, where Heavenly Resort is located, but there can be long delays on the road if weather is bad. There are also a number of really good Las Vegas style casinos in South Lake Tahoe on the Nevada side of the boarder. It makes this a really fun spot for nightlife and skiing.
There are quite a few really good resorts in the Tahoe area including Heavenly, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Homewood, Diamond Peak, Sugar Bowl, Kirkwood and Northstar. I personally like staying in South Lake Tahoe for access to the casinos, but I have a bunch of friends that like to stay in North Lake or Trukee, CA, which is more mellow. There are some great hotel resorts there as well.
One year, I just stayed at one of the casinos in Reno, which was super cheap. I took a bus to ski everyday, which included the cost of my lift ticket. There was a bus that went direct to Squaw Valley, and it was a great trip if you are alone or with a bunch of guys. It would have been a lot tougher with the kids on that trip.
(4) Aspen, CO
Aspen is the cream de la cream of ski resorts and towns. It can be a bit pretentious for my taste, but you can find down-to-earth people anywhere if you look hard enough. For those of you that remember Bernie Madoff, and his Ponzi scheme scandal, the saying in Aspen was “the millionaires are pushing out the Madoff billionaires.” For years the billionaires were pushing out the millionaires in Aspen.
In the winter, there is a daily direct flight from San Diego to Aspen, which is really nice. My main complaint with the other Colorado resorts is access, and Aspen is different. Although some of the others are wonderful ski destinations, they just aren’t the best if you live in San Diego, relative to other options.
I think the best time to go to Aspen for a super fun time is the Winter X-Games. This is typically the week after the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
(5) Jackson, WY
Jackson Hole is one of the best ski destinations in the country for fun on and off the mountain. The snow is terrific. It can get a little colder there, so you need to dress appropriately. My only knock on Jackson is access. If you have a private plane or a charter, nix that thought, and go to Jackson Hole.
(6) Vail, CO
Vail and the resort next to it, Beaver Creek, are both terrific resorts with wonderful skiing. There is also a really great downtown area in both locations and it is very family friendly. My main knock on Vail is access. You need to fly into Denver, and the drive through “the tunnel” to get the resorts. Traffic delays can be terrible, and I don’t like sitting in traffic. Other than that, you will love it once you get there.
(7) Telluride, CO
This is another epic ski resort with a super fun town like Park City and Aspen. You can fly into Aspen and drive to Telluride. The snow is really good, and the resort is terrific. Downfall: It’s too close to Aspen. If you flew into Aspen, why not just ski Aspen? I would never make Telluride my go-to destination despite its amazingness. However, some would argue that they want to experience something new and different which I can understand.
(8) Sun Valley, Idaho
I have never been to Sun Valley, but I have a few venture capitalist friends that live in Silicon Valley and own vacation homes there. I hear it is really amazing. I thought you had to have a private airplane to travel there, but I heard recently that you could get there from San Diego on a commercial airline. I may try this if one of my buddies let’s me borrow their place or invites me there. *Hint hint.*
(9) Whistler, BC
There is no substitute for Whistler and British Columbia, Canada in general, for deep powder skiing on a consistent basis. Canada is a little cold for me a good part of the winter, but this is a wonderful ski destination for a guys’ trip, for couples or for a family. It isn’t super easy to access, but it isn’t horrible either.
(10) Helicopter Skiing with CMH Resorts in British Columbia
I don’t have a “bucket list” because I don’t believe I’m not old enough to have one, but if I did, then I crossed this one off my bucket list in 2004. I went on a ski trip with a group of other San Diego executives and professionals to the Bugaboos in British Columbia for some heli-skiing as the Canadians call it. I almost died, but it was a super fun trip for the expert skiers in the group. I am an advanced skier, and I was in WAY over my head. But if you’re in for an adventure, and skiing is your thing, you have to do this. It is unforgettable. The poor man’s version of this is Snow Cat skiing in Utah or Colorado, where they drive you up remote mountains on tractor-like machines, and you ski down from there.
Hope you enjoyed this list and found it entertaining. What are your favorite skiing and snowboarding destinations and why? We’d love to hear from you about your ski adventures!