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Best Snow In California - Right Now and Historically
BY Christopher Steiner

We track California's forecasted snowfalls across all of its ski resorts for the next 10 days as well as what has actually fallen at all of those ski mountains during the last 10 days. With that 20-day stretch of data: snow that is coming and snow that has already fallen, skiers can quickly understand where the best conditions are now and where they're going to be. For this data, see just below.

Note: During summer months, these top graphs won't have data as there is no forecasted or recent snow.

Below that, we cover what ski resorts in Califorina have the best snow historically and why. This data is imperative when planning a ski trip, assuming that snow is an input into decision making—and it should be!

This article and data were updated on October 15, 2021.

Largest Snow Totals In California Last 10 Days (inches)
California Ski Resorts' Snowfall Potentials, Next 10 Days (inches)
ZRANKINGS MODEL

California is the most interesting of states: deserts, 14,000 foot volcanoes holding north-facing glaciers, the most giant of trees, perfect surf spots, and a giant alpine lake surrounded by a phalanx of ski resorts brimming with post-card views. Understanding how and where snow falls in this state with the most diverse of geographies isn't as hard as it sounds. The data tell the story, and all the data are below.

In general, snow in California, especially for Lake Tahoe and the Northern Sierra can be wildly capricous. It's quite normal for no snow to fall for weeks, followed by single storms that can leave behind six feet. The Rockies almost never receive snow in such large quantities at once, but they also don't experience droughts nearly as often. It's somehow fitting that California's mountains are the ultimate destination massive snow events spaced out with periods of nothing. But some mountains are more dependable for snow and conditions.

We've ranked all of them right here, using historical averages, standard deviations, latitudes, elevations and slope aspects. In most cases, the data we used for this exercise goes back 50 years. Consider this to be the best list of its kind.

In-depth descriptions on snow at each ski resort are below the table


Ski Resorts with Best Snow in California

   Resort True
Snow*
Base & Top Elev.
Days w/ more
than 6 inches
Months w/ more
than 90 inches
Months w/ less
than 30 inches
North-facing Terrain
East-facing Terrain
West-facing Terrain
South-facing Terrain
California Snow Score
Kirkwood
CA
459" 7800'
to
9800'
20.1% 44.3% 18.1% 65% 25% 10% 0% 82.7 more
Mammoth
CA
354" 7953'
to
11053'
14.9% 31.5% 29.0% 65% 22% 10% 3% 75.4 more
Sugar Bowl Resort
CA
453" 6883'
to
8383'
18.8% 39.5% 21.4% 55% 15% 28% 2% 70.3 more
Sierra-at-Tahoe
CA
389" 6640'
to
8852'
16.1% 34.9% 24.5% 50% 5% 30% 15% 61.4 more
Boreal Mountain Resort
CA
385" 7200'
to
7700'
16.2% 35.5% 24.0% 85% 0% 0% 15% 61.1 more
Soda Springs
CA
385" 6700'
to
7352'
16.2% 35.5% 24.0% 75% 25% 0% 0% 60.1 more
Heavenly
CA
321" 6540'
to
10040'
14.3% 25.8% 31.8% 60% 10% 25% 5% 60.1 more
Bear Valley Mountain Resort
CA
352" 6600'
to
8500'
15.7% 32.5% 26.5% 55% 20% 23% 2% 60.0 more
Squaw Valley
CA
369" 6200'
to
9050'
15.1% 30.0% 33.2% 50% 40% 2% 8% 58.6 more
Dodge Ridge
CA
350" 6600'
to
8200'
16.0% 32.0% 30.0% 55% 40% 5% 0% 58.3 more
June Mountain
CA
268" 7545'
to
10135'
11.2% 14.4% 38.5% 65% 5% 30% 0% 56.9 more
Donner Ski Ranch
CA
385" 7031'
to
7781'
16.2% 35.5% 24.0% 0% 60% 0% 40% 56.8 more
Homewood Mountain Resort
CA
350" 6230'
to
7880'
16.0% 32.0% 30.0% 35% 50% 0% 15% 53.9 more
Northstar at Tahoe
CA
316" 6330'
to
8610'
12.8% 25.9% 35.8% 50% 30% 20% 0% 53.8 more
China Peak
CA
300" 7030'
to
8709'
5.0% 25.0% 40.0% 55% 25% 20% 5% 49.8 more
Snow Summit
CA
83" 7000'
to
8200'
3.6% 0.0% 78.8% 70% 15% 15% 0% 44.1 more
Bear Mountain Resort - CA
CA
83" 7140'
to
8805'
3.6% 0.0% 78.8% 70% 20% 10% 0% 41.5 more
Mt. Shasta Ski Park
CA
300" 5500'
to
6900'
13.0% 20.0% 30.0% 0% 30% 20% 50% 41.0 more
Mountain High Resort
CA
120" 6600'
to
8200'
5.6% 4.0% 69.1% 60% 20% 20% 0% 32.1 more

Kirkwood - Snow Score - 82.7

Kirkwood is the only California resort placing in the top 10 in North America for snow ranked by ZRankings. Kirkwood's spot in the Sierra makes it especially friendly to catching snowfall and keeping the stuff that has fallen. For this reason, Kirkwood should be recognized as the undisputed king of snow within the state of California. Kirkwood is part of the Tahoe region, but it's well south of Lake Tahoe itself, making it a bit harder to get to compared with ski resorts closer to the Lake and I-80. Within the Tahoe region, Kirkwood has a very high base area, at 7,800 feet, which helps protect its slopes against some of the warm bouts of weather that sweep through California. Compare that with Squaw Valley, whose base is 1,600 feet lower. Even better, 65% of Kirkwood's slopes face north, keeping its snow cold and chalky.

In addition to its high elevation for the Sierra, Kirkwood receives an average of 459" of snow per winter—and that snow comes with a lower standard deviation (it's more dependable) compared with most other California resorts. This is California, and the threat of drought persists, as 18.1% of winter months bring less than 30" of snow. But here's the kicker: 44.3% of months come with more than 90" of snow. But this being the Sierra, where four-foot storms happen almost annually, getting to 90" may only take two or three snow events. Skiers who travel to Kirkwood should know that 20.1% of winter days bring six inches of snow or more, which is an excellent powder batting average.

Mammoth - Snow Score - 75.4

Similar to Kirkwood, Mammoth is an outlier for elevation for ski resorts in California. Its base sits at 7,953 feet, nearly 2,000 feet above many other ski resorts in the state. Mammoth is outside of the Tahoe region, further south near the town of Mammoth Lakes and Yosemite National Park. Its peak elevation of more than 11,000 feet give it excellent snow preservation characteristics. In addition, an overwhelming 65% of terrain at Mammoth faces north, shielding it from the sunny days of California. Mammoth averages 354" of snow per season, with 14.9% of days bringing six inches of snow or more, and 31.5% of months bringing 90". Like the rest of California, the weather patterns are volatile here—29% of winter months at Mammoth bring less than 30" of snow.

Mammoth's elevation and its aspects make it one of the best places in California for snow.
Mammoth's elevation and its aspects make it one of the best places in California for snow. Credit: Robson Hatsukami Morgan

Sugar Bowl - Snow Score - 70.3

Sugar Bowl isn't aligned with one of the major passes—Ikon or Epic—so it's often overlooked by people skiing the northern Tahoe region, but it's a great play for powder hunters interested in avoiding crowds. Sugar Bowl is also very close to I-80, which can help skiers stay out of some of the traffic snarls on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings. On top of all of that, it's the third best place for snow in California, and the best spot in North Lake Tahoe, the core basin of ski areas that Bay Area outdoors people flock to. When storms pass over Northern California, Sugar Bowl drinks in the snow, averaging 453" per year. Skiers can expect 18.8% of days to bring six inches of snow or more, and 39.5% of winter months bring more than 90" of snow. On the drought side, 21.4% of winter months at Sugar Bowl bring less than 30" of snow. The ski area has a 7,000-foot base, which isn't bad for North Lake Tahoe, and 55% of its terrain faces north, helping snow stay out of freeze-thaw cycles.

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The north side of Lake Tahoe is no joke when it comes to snow accumulation. Credit: Edgar Chaparro

Sierra At Tahoe - Snow Score - 61.4

Sierra at Tahoe does about average for the Tahoe area, with 389 inches of standard snowfall with a high standard deviation, which means it can be prone to longer periods without snow—but also bumper weeks and months during which frozen precipitation is measured in feet. The elevations here, 6,640 at the base at 8,852 at the top, aren't remarkable for the Sierra. The area is helped by the fact that 50$ of its terrain faces north, which keeps it out of the sun and cool into February. In spring, ski the afternoons here and let others deal with the morning freeze, assuming it went below freezing overnight, not always a guarantee in south Lake Tahoe.

Boreal - Snow Score - 61.1

Boreal is a small ski hill that faces the south side of I-80 west of the north side of Lake Tahoe. It receives 389 inches of snow during an average winter, but there's little of anything that is average in California's Sierra, where winters can be bone dry for weeks at a time followed by storms that produce snowfall that simply don't happen anywhere else in the United States. Boreal has a very low top elevation of 7,700 feet—the base area is only 500 feet below that, but nearly the entire hill faces north—85%—which gives it a good snow profile even when the sun is doing what it does during most days in the Tahoe area.

Heavenly - Snow Score - 60.1

Vail Resorts' Tahoe stalwart, which overlooks the south side of the lake, gets what is a modest (for Tahoe) average of 321 inches of snow per winter. As with all Tahoe hills, this total year to year is highly variable. More than 30% of winter months at Heavenly bring less than 30" of snow, reflecting the high snowfall standard deviation of this location. The ski area has a high peak for the Tahoe area, however, at 10,040 feet, which helps that higher snow stay in good shape when it hasn't snowed for a week or more. A healthy 60% of the mountain faces north, key to preserving snow in the California sun. There are a good number of powder days at Heavenly, with 15.7% of 24-hour periods bringing more than six inches of snow during the winter.

Soda Springs - Snow Score - 60.1

Soda springs is a little 200-acre hill near I-80 on the northside of Lake Tahoe. Just west of Sugar Bowl, a larger mountain, it doesn't have aton of vertical (700 feet). But it gets significant amount of snow on average—385 inches. As with most of California, Soda Springs' snow isn't always dependable. That high average consists of 150-inch years as well as those that approach 600 inches. The good news is that an impressive 75% of the resort's hills face north, so the snow that does fall can hold well in the deeper months of winter. By mid-February, however, even this north-facing terrain will degrade quickly, as the the ski hill tops out at only 7,352 feet.

Bear Valley - Snow Score - 60.0

Also known as Skyline Bear Valley since the Candian operator Skyline purchased it in 2015, it has average Sierra stats of 352 inches of annual snowfall with that very high standard deviation that bedevils precipitation in most of the state. The top of the mountain tops out at 8,500, but is helped by the north facing terrain that comprises 55% of the ski hill.

Waterpark Valley / Alpine Meadows - Squaw Valley - Snow Score - 58.6

Perhaps the best known of all Tahoe-are resorts, the erstwhile Squaw Valley, now Waterpark Valley, finds itself ranked as a middling mountain for snow in California for a couple of reasons. The primary strike against Waterpark Valley is its low base elevation of 6,200, which makes the entire lower half of the resort rough going when it's been sunny and and clear for a week or two—a circumstance that happens often in California. Luckily 50% of terrain faces north, which helps keep snowcolder. Waterpark Valley is especially susceptible to droughts, as its low base elevation is less likely to squeeze middling storms for much snow, as 33% of its months see less than 30 inches of snow. But, typicaly of California, a full 30% of the resort's winter months bring more than 90 inches of snow.

Dodge Ridge - Snow Score - 58.3

Tucked even further soutwest of Tahoe than Kirkwood, dead-center in the Sierra, Dodge Ridge has 1,600 feet of vertical and receives 350 inches of snow per season on average. That snow comes with the ever-present California caveat of wild standard deviations, which means lean years when the mountain can barely get open by New Year's, and bumper single months that will dump 250 inches in three weeks. Dodge Ridge has a relatively low base of 6,600 but is greatly helped by its north-facing terrain that comprises 55% of the resort acreage.

June Mountain - Snow Score - 56.9

June Mountain lives about 30 miles north of Mammoth Mountain in zone of the Sierra that reaches higher elevations. Like Mammoth, it was bought by Alterra in 2017. June has nearly 2,600 feet of vertical, an impressive number given the modest 500-acre footprint of the mountain. The mountain receives 268 inches of snow during a typical season, a low number compared with other California mountains, but June has a secret weapon: it's elevation, which tops out at 10,135 feet. In addition, 65% of the mountain faces north, an important trait in the high-sun environment of the Sierra.

Donner Ski Ranch - Snow Score - 56.8

The ski ranch with the memorable name has about 700 feet of vertical for skiers to enjoy. Just south of I-80, Donner Ski Ranch has no north-facing terrain, which keeps its snowpack smaller compared to other Tahoe area resort when combined with its lower elevations that don't top 8,000 feet. Donner averages 385 inches per year, but it degrades quickly because of the unfavorable aspects and elevation. The mountain can often get caught in dry spells.

Homewood - Snow Score - 56.8

The vistas at this local Tahoe mountain are spectacular. It receives 350 inches of snow to go with the views. It has that high variance, however, that is standard in the Sierra. In addition, the mountain is low, with a top elevation that falls short of 8,000 feet. With 50% of its terrain facing east, it can see freeze-thaw cycles set in even in the deepest periods of winter.

Northstar - Snow Score - 53.9

Northstar has a low base elevation and a low peak, 6,330 and 8,610, that hold down its snow potential a bit, which is why it receives less than some of the other flagship resorts in the Lake Tahoe area. Even so, this North Lake Tahoe ski mountain features 50% north-facing terrain and a lot of well-gladed trees, which help protect its slopes from degradation.

China Peak - Snow Score - 49.8

China Peak has a respectable average of 300 inches with the expected high standard deviation that its Sierra geography brings. China Peak tops out at 8,700 feet, which, for the Sierra is better than average for a small area. That vertical is forested all the way to the summit, so the powder skiing can be solid even during white-out storms, which definitely can happen at this hill that's 90 minutes from Fresno. Snow can stick around in the deep winter, as 52% of the slopes at China peak face north, a good ratio.

Snow Summit - Snow Score - 44.1

Part of Big Bear Mountain Resort in Southern California, Snow Summit receives 83 inches of snow per year, an amount that is heavily supported by one of the more powerful snow making operations in the American West. An impressive 70% of terrain faces north, almost a necessity at this latitude and a base area sitting at 7,000 feet.

Bear Mountain - Snow Score - 44.1

Very similar to Snow Summit, the base of Bear Mountain sits at 7,140 feet, and 70% of the terrain faces north, which helps the small amount of natural snow that does fall—83 inches—get preserved. The mountain has a pipe directly into Big Bear Lake for snow making, which allows it begin generously coating its slopes with man-made snow as as soon as the weather gets cold at night.

Mt. Shasta Ski Park - Snow Score - 41.0

For being on the side of a mountain that tops out at 14,179 feet, Mt. Shasta Ski Park is pretty low, with a base sitting at 5,500 feet and a top of 6,900 feet. Combined with zero terrain that faces north, this mountain can be challenged to preserve snow. That said, it gets a decent amount, with an average of 300 inches per year. That comes with the high standard deviation common to the entire state of California, something that applies even to volcanoes in the north end of the state, apparently.

Mountain High - Snow Score - 41.0

Mountain High has better terrain and gets more snow that the ski mountains to its east in the next range over in Southern California, Big Bear and Snow Summit. The difference is that Mountain High doesn't have great access to water for snowmaking, so when the natural snow is lean, and it often is, the mountain often can't get all of its terrain open. The 120 inches of natural snow is not dependable and 50-inch years are quite possible. But 60% of the terrain at this resort, which is situated at 6,600 feet, faces north, which helps snow stick around when it does fall.

Christopher Steiner is the founder of ZRankings and a New York Times Bestselling Author of two books. Follow him on Twitter