While Southern California usually conjures up images of surf and sand, the mountains loom large over Los Angeles too. Hitting the slopes to ski and snowboard in winter months is a popular activity in the area as well. Compared to other mountains in the state, the peaks might not be quite as high, the temperatures may be a little warmer, and the snow isn’t as deep, but locals take their ski culture quite seriously.
There are quite a few small and medium ski resorts close to Los Angeles, San Diego, and other Southern California cities. These resorts provide enough of a quality ski experience for a day trip or weekend getaway. There are also some larger mountain resorts still within driving distance of LA that are worth a longer road trip too.
Because my California ski expertise is more centered in the northern half of the state, I enlisted the assistance of a frequent skier in the Los Angeles area to make sure this post has all the insider details about ski resorts near Los Angeles – driving tips, real talk about lift lines and crowds, which resorts are best for families (and which ones families should definitely skip), and more. So many thanks to local expert Liz Mack! Liz is a mom of two school age kids who has lived in greater Los Angeles for 24 years. She has skied nearly every ski resort in the southern half of the state multiple times (and she also happens to be my cousin).
So where should Southern Californians go for ski trips? Whether you are looking for a day trip, weekend getaway, or longer ski vacation, here is the scoop on all the ski resorts you can get to the fastest on your ski vacation from Los Angeles.
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9 Closest Ski Resorts to the Los Angeles Area
1. Mt. Baldy
- Driving Distance: 50 miles
- Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 1 hour
- Recommended Lodging Nearby: Mount Baldy Lodge Cabins
The closest ski resort to Los Angeles in terms of drive time is Mt. Baldy. It’s reached via an easy drive east on I-210, followed by a short but not too winding 10 extra miles north on a two lane road into the San Gabriel Mountains. Mt. Baldy is most suitable as a day trip from LA.
While it has location, location, location, that’s the bulk of what Mt. Baldy has. It’s a tiny mountain, with minimal infrastructure. There is a single cafe and bathrooms. To even get to the ski area, skiers and riders need to park at a distant parking lot and then take a very old ski lift with all of their gear to the base.
The resort features more backcountry style skiing with mostly advanced terrain. It’s definitely not the place to take kids to learn to ski despite its proximity to LA. But for more advanced skiers with their own gear who can manage the logistics and more complex layout, Mt. Baldy is an excellent choice. It’s inexpensive, with advance single day lift tickets available online for as low as $35, and is rarely crowded either.
While most visitors come in for a day trip, there are a few cute cabin resorts nearby. And the city of Claremont is only about 15 minutes down the road, where several hotels (like the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Claremont) are available too.
2. Mt. Waterman
- Driving Distance: 45 miles
- Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 1 hour
- Recommended Lodging Nearby: Nothing available very close (Residence Inn Los Angeles Pasadena/Old Town about 50 minutes away is about as close as you can likely get)
Located in the San Gabriel Mountains, Mt. Waterman is a tiny ski hill that is the second closest drive of any ski resort from LA. It is an upside down resort, with its “base” area located at the top of one of the lifts.
Like Mt. Baldy, Mt. Waterman has mostly advanced terrain and a very bare bones infrastructure. It has just a single warming hut with bathrooms. Mt. Waterman has three ski lifts and no ski rentals at all. It relies entirely on natural snow, so with no snowmaking, its season can be short and unpredictable. In extreme drought years, the resort may not open at all. When open in winter, Mt. Waterman operates only on Saturdays and Sundays.
Mt. Waterman does offer basic ski lessons. Group lessons are a single hour and require guests to be at least 9 years old and have a little bit of experience. Private lessons are available in 1 or 1.5 hour slots and take kids starting at age 5.
As you might imagine, Mt. Waterman is not a place beginners should look to start skiing and is not really a destination for family travelers. But if you are an experienced adult with your own gear just looking to get a few runs in on the cheap, a half day or day trip to Mt. Waterman might fit the bill.
3. Mountain High Resorts
- Driving Distance: 70 miles
- Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 1 hour, 20 minutes
- Recommended Lodging Nearby: Grand Pine Cabins
A little farther east also in the San Gabriel Mountains is the closest ski resort to Los Angeles that is a good fit for families. Mountain High is close enough to LA to be accessible as either a day trip or overnight getaway.
Located just off the 14, getting to Mountain High requires no real mountain driving, making it appealing to Southern Californians who don’t quite have the experience to handle winter weather on curvy mountain roads. When snow storms arrive, however, traffic can be a real issue. There is just one two lane road in and out of the resort that can get quite crowded.
Mountain High is actually three different mountains with different parking areas at multiple bases – a legacy of its history as three separate resorts. Each mountain has its own focus, so it’s important to do your research in advance to find the one that meets your group’s abilities and interests. The three areas are:
- East: more intermediate terrain, some longer trails and a high speed quad, beginner area with lessons offered on weekends
- West: more advanced terrain, more snowboarding (terrain park located here), often offers night skiing as late as 10pm, lessons offered daily here
- North: beginner and intermediate terrain, but no lessons
Mountain High has a total of 14 lifts across 290 acres of skiable terrain, with a pretty even mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced slopes. The resort is truly set up for families, with a tubing park and snow play area (Yeti’s Snow Play at East Resort) and a small town with cabins for rent.
The resort has snowmaking coverage on 80% of its terrain, so its season isn’t entirely subject to the whims of Mother Nature either. Mountain High offers rentals on-site (advance booking required) as well as ski school group lessons for kids ages 7-12 and adults. Kids ages 3-6 are eligible for private lessons. Mountain High also participates in the Indy Pass.
4. Snow Valley Mountain Resort
- Driving Distance: 85 miles
- Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 1 hour, 30 minutes
- Recommended Lodging Nearby: Giant Oaks Lodge
A little farther east in the San Bernardino Mountains (and another participant in the Indy Pass) is Snow Valley Mountain Resort. Snow Valley is still close enough to do as a day trip from Los Angeles. In fact, its driving location from Los Angeles is pretty ideal. It shaves about 30 minutes of windy mountain roads off of the drive compared to the other major resort in the region, Big Bear.
Snow Valley has several unique features of note, including Southern California’s only six pack high speed lift. It also has the only lift-served sledding hill in the southern half of the state. The resort has a lot to offer a wide variety of skier and rider types with 12 lifts and 30 runs. The resort has a strong commitment to teaching beginners (both kids and adults) and is extremely family friendly. It also has an impressive number of more advanced runs for a mountain its size, so expert skiers can find options here too. The prices at Snow Valley are remarkably affordable as well.
There is no lodging on the mountain, but there are a few independent accommodations in the town of Running Springs about 5 miles away.
5. Big Bear Mountain Resort (Bear Mountain & Snow Summit)
- Driving Distance: 100 miles
- Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: >2 hours
- Recommended Lodging Nearby: Holiday Inn Resort the Lodge at Big Bear Lake
Southern California’s largest and most full service resort is Big Bear Mountain Resort. It is located in the San Bernardino Mountains and is most commonly a weekend destination for Southern California skiers and riders. Big Bear Mountain Resort is owned by Alterra so it is the only Southern California ski resort that participates in the Ikon Pass. The resort has a lot of snow-making capacity so it traditionally opens the earliest and has the longest season of SoCal ski destinations.
The resort is really two ski mountains in one: Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Skiers and riders can pick one mountain for the day, or use the resort’s shuttle (about a 10 minute ride) to hop back and forth. Lift tickets are good at both. Bear Mountain has a history as the more adventurous mountain and has a lot of features for snowboarders, including terrain parks and halfpipes. Snow Summit is usually a better fit for beginners.
There is no lodging on the slopes, but the mountains tower just above the popular resort community of Big Bear Lake where vacation rentals and hotels aplenty are available (see VRBO vacation rentals in Big Bear Lake area). The resort community location means there is a ton for families to do, including many restaurants, a tubing park, alpine slide, arcade, nature center, and more.
Crowds, however, can really be an issue. The drive itself from Los Angeles is on a fair length of winding mountain roads (about an extra half hour beyond Snow Valley), and the roads can be backed up on weekends quite a bit. Additionally, lift lines can be nuts on weekends and during the holidays, and prices for lodging go up astronomically during those periods as well.
6. China Peak Mountain Resort
- Driving Distance: 287 miles
- Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: >5 hours
- Recommended Lodging Nearby: The Inn at China Peak
Although Southern California skiers have plenty of options within less than a two hour drive, many skiers venture farther north for lower crowds and more reliable snow. Also within driving distance for Los Angeles area visitors, especially those located on the northern side of the city, is China Peak. China Peak is located in Lakeshore, California – about one hour northeast of Fresno. China Peak isn’t really any larger or fancier than the SoCal ski resorts, but it does have the advantage of being quite a bit less crowded since it tends to draw most of visitors from the Central Valley. Not a lot of LA locals necessarily have even heard of it.
China Peak recently invested in more snowmaking to extend its season. The resort is very family friendly, with kids skiing free until they turn 6. It offers affordable full or half day ski school starting kids as young as age 4, with a special “Mini Skier” lesson for 3 year olds just starting out that gets parents involved. China Peak also has several restaurants and lodges as well as a tubing hill.
China Peak has a single slopeside hotel offering basic accommodations open on weekends in winter. The resort is another California participant in the Indy Pass.
7. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area
- Driving Distance: 315 miles
- Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 5-5.25 hours
- Recommended Lodging Nearby: Westin Monache Resort
For Southern California travelers who want a large full service ski resort experience, the closest option within driving distance is about 5 hours away at Mammoth Mountain. Since the drive is pretty distant, most visitors from the Los Angeles area go to Mammoth for a weekend or longer.
As the name suggests, the resort is quite large, with 25 lifts, 175 trails, and 3500 skiable acres. Mammoth boasts the highest peak elevation of any ski resort in the state of California. It is usually open for one of the longest seasons in California as well (in fact, it opened by the first weekend of November for the 2022-2023 ski season already!). Like Big Bear Mountain Resort, Mammoth is owned by Alterra Mountain Company and participates in the Ikon Pass.
Mammoth has a large village area full of restaurants and shops. The Village regularly hosts special events, including Santa visits during the holidays and kid-friendly dance parties with mascot “Woolly” on Saturdays in winter. The resort has other non-skiing activities as well, including tubing and snowmobile rides.
Family-friendly offerings abound. Mammoth is also the only California ski resort outside of a few options in Tahoe to offer childcare. Mammoth Child Care takes kids ages 2-6, and also offers a combination lesson and childcare packages for 3-4 year olds just starting out on skis. Mammoth’s ski school has half day group lessons for 3-4 year olds (max group size 4) as well as full day ski school for kids ages 5-14 (max group size 6).
Like other major California ski resorts, Mammoth offers multiple slopeside and other nearby lodging options. Traditional hotels, condos/townhomes, and individual homes are all available. There is additional lodging in the nearby town of Mammoth Lakes.
8. June Mountain Ski Area
- Driving Distance: 324 miles
- Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 5.25-5.5 hours
- Recommended Lodging Nearby: Big Rock Resort
Located not far from Mammoth, June Mountain has the reputation of offering fantastic bigger mountain skiing in a much lower key and more family-friendly atmosphere. June Mountain welcomes children 12 and under to ski and ride for free and bills itself as “California’s Family Mountain.” For Southern California families looking to escape the more crowded scene of Mammoth and save some money in the process, June Mountain is an excellent alternative.
June Mountain has 1,500 skiable acres & 2,590 vertical feet, across 7 chairs and 41 trails. The resort has a good mix of beginner, intermediate and expert terrain as well as a superpipe and two terrain parks for snowboarders. Outside of the Tahoe area, it also has some of the best skiing views in the state.
Like Mammoth, the drive from the Los Angeles area is straight up Highway 395. At about 5.5 hours, it’s more of a weekend trip destination for vacationers from Southern California. The snow is much more reliable though compared to the smaller Southern California resorts at lower elevations.
The closest lodging options are in nearby June Lake, with additional choices in the town of Mammoth Lakes about 20 minutes south.
9. Badger Pass Ski Area
- Driving Distance: 302 miles
- Drive Time without Traffic & Weather: 5.25-5.5 hours
- Recommended Lodging Nearby: Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite
Most Southern California skiers probably won’t make the trip all the way to Badger Pass for the skiing alone, as it’s a pretty small mountain with just 10 runs and 5 lifts. But its location within Yosemite National Park (one of only three downhill ski resorts located within a U.S. national park) makes Badger Pass a special winter destination. Travelers can enjoy all the beauty of Yosemite in a time of year with lower crowds, while sneaking in some runs on the slopes at the same time. There are other winter activities like cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and tubing.
Badger Pass also offers a lot of value for families and beginner skiers. Lift tickets for adults are no more than $62 in price, with half day and senior discounts available. Kids 6 and under ski free. Badger Pass also has a quality learning program for young kids (Badger Pups for kids ages 4-6). It’s a good place to learn to ski at a lower cost and with lower crowds.
What Southern California ski resorts have you found have the right mix of proximity and amenities for your traveling family or group? Leave your recommendations and stories in the comments.
Want more information about skiing in California or other family-friendly travel in and around Southern California? Check out these related articles:
- Comparing Family-Friendly Amenities of Tahoe Ski Resorts
- 7 Tips for Skiing with Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Why Ski School is Worth it for Kids
- Mistakes Not to Make Skiing with Kids
- Things to do in Los Angeles with Kids
Editor’s Note: Special thanks as well to Central Valley local parent Jessica B. who provided invaluable information about skiing at her home resort of China Peak.