ROAM’s Guide to Family Skiing in California

Whether your family skis, boards, or just plays in the powder, here are ROAM’s picks for the California mountains worth getting geared up for.

By Maria De La O & Willow Taylor Chiang Yang / Feature photo by Northstar California Resort


Sweat-wicking underlayer, bib, warm hat, wool socks, snow boots, gloves, and polarized sunglasses—you’ve done the drill. And so has your kid. And there have probably been tears. And chances are they’ve turned around and marched straight back into the cabin after they’ve fallen into a snowbank, or even touched the cold white stuff.

Is it even worth it? We at ROAM say a resounding, Yes! 

California is blessed with dozens of ski resorts for families. And after a year of historic challenges, many Sierra Nevada resorts are thrilled to be opening in mid-December for the 2021-22 season. But with a La Nina winter on tap, our mountains may see lower snowfall than usual. Best to get out there while you can!

In 2021, ROAM pulled together a comparison of the most popular mountains. Check out all the details below to see what you get for your dollar at a variety of resorts around the state and find some new slopes to hit this winter!


Lake Tahoe Ski Resorts — North to South

Mt. Rose

If you’re flying into the Lake Tahoe area, Mt. Rose is just thirty minutes from the Reno Airport. Its conditions are usually stellar given its base is at 8,200 feet—the highest in the Tahoe area. The parking is close to the lodge and lifts—no shuttles needed. And on a clear day, the views into Nevada are endless. 

  • Adult/Child Lift Ticket: $125/$65 weekend; $105/$55 midweek
  • Kids Ski/Snowboard Lesson: $155 for 2.5 hour lesson includes full-day rentals and lift ticket
  • Morning and afternoon lift tickets are available to purchase separately. Two-day discounts available.

Diamond Peak

A small but fun mountain located just outside of town, Diamond Peak is a favorite of families who stay near Incline Village and Carnelian Bay. Season passes and lessons are affordable and views of the lake are extraordinary.


Northstar has gotten rave reviews from Forbes magazine for being family-oriented, thanks to its ice rink and perks like wagons for toting your gear. All ages can enjoy the resort’s family snowshoe tours, offered on select Sundays throughout the winter. Strap on a pair of snowshoes (or rent a ski stroller for tiny tourers) and follow your guide for a three-hour trek along family-friendly trails. Be sure to make reservations early, since these tours often sell out.

The buzz and fun in Northstar’s village makes the resort feel like something from Utah or Europe—but this vibe does not come free. The price of parking alone will keep some parents driving to the next mountain. And some advanced skiers and boarders wish there were more steep spots up top. But for an all-in-one spot, Northstar keeps families coming back, year after year. Click here to read Tina Davis’ report about family skiing Northstar during Covid.


The West Shore’s Granlibakken Resort features an intimate ski hill, perfect for beginning through intermediate skiers and snowboarders. It’s a great place to avoid the crowds and get tiny ones up for the first time while skiing right out the front door of the lodge. Plenty of snowplay too! Open all year long, the Tahoe Tree Tops ropes course is right on the way to this West Shore institution, one of America’s oldest ski areas.

Alpine Meadows

Alpine used to be everyone’s favorite family mountain—it has a great beginners’ area and tons of black diamonds for advanced skiers. It’s big, but not huge, which makes it the kind of mountain that your older littles can head off to on their own as soon as they’re finished snowplowing. All this remains true since its merger with Squaw Valley took effect in 2016, the big difference being season pass and day lift ticket prices have gone through the roof. That said, Alpine remains our favorite destination for the best of Tahoe—all levels of skiing and snowboarding, and lake views from the top and back side. And one lift ticket will get the best skier in the family a shuttle bus ride to all of Squaw Valley’s runs—until the long-planned gondola to connect the two resorts is built.

Palisades Tahoe

The newly christened Palisades (formerly known as Squaw Valley) needs no introduction. Home to the 1960 Winter Olympics, Palisads offers some of the best steeps and chutes in California. But if you’re reading this, you are either looking for a new family-friendly mountain or otherwise not already a regular. What’s great about Palisades for beginners is that one of its beginner areas is set off from its other runs. The upside? Your 6-year-old will not be taken out by a crazy boarder or out-of-control beginner. Together with Northstar and Mammoth, Palisades is one of the only ski-in/ski-out resorts in California.


If you’re looking for lake views, it’s hard to beat Homewood. This mountain offers easy access to West Shore towns—read: no crazy Tahoe traffic—and both easy and challenging terrain. It’s got some really long beginner runs and some spots to practice your jumps, too—all with drop-dead views of California’s cerulean treasure.

Heavenly Valley

Another Tahoe institution that needs no introduction, Heavenly is just that. To some families just getting into skiing or boarding, it might be a bit too big. But to shredders aiming for the South Lake Tahoe area, it is perfectly expansive with awesome views of the lake from every run. And for parents who like to end the day playing a few hands of blackjack, it is convenient to the many casinos just over the state line in Stateline.


Above South Lake Tahoe, Kirkwood’s high altitude means it gets really great snow. It’s small but loved by snowboarding powder hounds and other South Lake fans wanting a smaller scene. 


Sierra-at-Tahoe was the only resort severely damaged by the Caldor Fire and remains closed as of December. The mountain is working hard to repair lifts and is posting updates for the 2021 season on its website.  It is an ideal location for families to learn how to ski or ride. There’s carefully sculpted beginner terrain, including gently banked turns and carefully shaped snow features to naturally help beginners practice their turns and stops. After a day of focused learning, the whole family can blow off some steam at Blizzard Mountain with two lift-accessible tubing runs, sledding and a slow play area.

Tahoe-Donner Area Ski Resorts


Truckee’s Tahoe-Donner is a small ski area that’s especially family- and beginner-friendly. And since the runs funnel down to the resort, you don’t have to worry about losing your young’uns.

Donner Ski Ranch

Another family-run, family-friendly mountain, Donner Ski Ranch is bigger than it looks. Parents love the reasonable prices, and staying in a cabin near Donner Lake is less expensive than in other parts of Tahoe.

Sugar Bowl 

If you’ve gotta get on the slopes quick, Sugar Bowl is the place to do it. You can be parked and skiing within three hours of downtown SF. Although Alpine and Squaw might seem just a little farther, ski traffic adds about an hour to your journey.


Also a quick run from the Bay Area, Boreal is a smaller mountain on the side of Interstate 80 in Norden. Parents who get ski leases in Donner like to hit Boreal after work for its night skiing sessions.

Soda Springs

Another before-the-summit mountain, Soda Springs  is a small resort that offers families affordable skiing and snow play. The Family Pass is a killer deal: $509 for 2 adult and 2 kids’ lift tickets and tubing passes. That’s the cheapest you’re gonna get your family skiing in 2020–2021!


Other Central/Northern California Ski Resorts

Bear Valley Resort

Bear Valley is located high in the Gold Country, between Tahoe and Yosemite. It’s little known and perfect for learning how to downhill ski, snowboard or crosscountry. This off-the-beaten path mountain is a favorite, especially for East Bay families who have a bit of an edge in terms of drive time. Most of the route is on smaller two-lane highways through the Sierra foothills, which some city parents prefer to busy Interstate 80 and its tractor trailers. There are some accommodations near the mountain, but many families rent cabins in Dorrington or even Arnold, 30–45 minutes away. 

Mammoth Mountain

In case there are some nonskiers in the family (or those who just don’t ski on the same runs), here’s a nice way to keep everyone in one pack: Experience the snowy backcountry on snowmobiles. Mammoth Mountain is perfect for snowmobiling with both little and big kids. Numerous snowmobile outfitters, including Mammoth Snowmobile Adventures, combine experienced guides with top-of-the-line equipment to help your family explore large meadows, lush pine forests, historic landmarks and acres of backcountry trails. Kids 16 years and older with a valid driver’s license and a parent present can steer their own snowmobile, while kids 5 and older can ride with a parent. Snowmobile season begins mid-December; helmets are provided. Mammoth’s other big crowd-pleaser, meanwhile, is Wooly’s Tube Park and Snowplay with its night tubing and plenty of room for old-fashioned snowman-building.

  • Adult/Young Adult and Senior/Child Lift Ticket: $209/$171/$84 weekends; $169/$139/$68 weekday
  • Kids Lesson: Call 800.MAMMOTH to find out pricing for and book a 1-hour private lesson
  • For the duration of the stay-at-home order in California, Mammoth Mountain is not taking reservations or selling public lift tickets. Private lessons are still available for families.

Mt. Shasta Ski Park

Families looking for a smaller scene love the Mt. Shasta Ski Park. It’s a bit more time in the car to drive north – almost to Oregon – but a lot more budget-friendly than Tahoe—they’ve even got a KOA with cabins nearby. The mountain is small, but it’ll satisfy most family members’ need to schuss and sled just fine.

  • Adult/Senior/Junior Lift Ticket: $69/$54/$49 weekends; $59/$40/$36 weekdays
  • Weekend/Peak Kids Lesson: $65/$75 for 2 hours per person. Lift tickets and rental equipment not included. Options with lift tickets and rental equipment available
  • Multi-day lift ticket passes and advance purchase discounts available. For the duration of the stay-at-home order in California, resort options may be limited.

Southern California Ski Resorts

Mountain High

With up to 12 different lanes, two moving carpets and custom tubes, Mountain High, features the North Pole Tubing Park, which is the largest park of its kind in Southern California. It offers an easy day of play in the snow (kids should be at least 36 inches tall). Ride solo, challenge family members to races or make a chain. Space is limited, so grab your reservation early for one of the four different tubing sessions throughout the day, or buy an all-day pass for true tubing enthusiasts. For skiing and snowboarding, Mountain High is also an excellent place to learn.

Big Bear

Big Bear also features snowplay areas (try the Magic Carpet ride to get to the top with no walking!) and a ski mountain, boasting 240 acres of skiable terrain. For the truly brave, the Alpine Slide is Southern California’s only authentic bobsled experience. It begins with a scenic chair lift ride to the top, then riders control their speed twisting and turning down a ¼-mile long track.

  • Adult/Teen and Senior/Child Lift Ticket: $135/$111/$54 weekend; $115/$111/$54 weekdays
  • Child Private Lesson: $125 for 3-hour lesson. Lift ticket and rental equipment not included, but options with are available
  • Season passes available. For the duration of the stay-at-home order in California, resort options may be limited.




Maria De La O

ROAM Executive Editor

January 2021

Magazine editor. Documentary filmmaker. Copy expert. Mother. Traveler. Maria brings it all to the pages of ROAM.  


© ROAM Family Travel 2021 – All rights reserved


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