Epic West Coast snow is being measured in feet, not inches, this winter; here’s what you need to know

It has been a winter for the record books in the western U.S. in terms of weather. California is enduring historic rain and flooding that has left many people in the state navigating dangerous roads and trying to protect their homes from the deluge. Across the state, people are cleaning up and recovering from some of the wettest weather in decades.

Along with the rain, there has also been epic snowfall in the mountains of California. Ski areas are experiencing escalating crowds and some best-ever runs.

Just how much snow are we talking about? As of Jan. 19, the Central Sierra Snow Lab had officially recorded 175 inches of snow in the ski areas of the Northern Sierra Nevada mountains — that’s 249% of the 52-year average of 70 inches for the entire month of January. At Mammoth Lakes, 400 inches of snow have fallen already this year, the most in the country. In Lake Tahoe, some areas have already seen 100 inches more snow than they received last year.

With all this snow comes a few concerns. First, the unprecedented amount of snow affects driving and skiing safety. Second, many are worried about what will happen when all that ground covering melts.

If you’re trying to figure out where to go, what’s safe and what’s best to avoid right now on a California ski trip, here’s what you need to know.

Related: From hidden gems to big names: Here are 11 of California’s best ski resorts

Lake Tahoe

Just when you think Lake Tahoe has collected as much snow as it can in one season, the skies open up and add another layer of fluff to the ground. The area has met, and will likely break, historic snowfall records this year. In North Tahoe, home to Northstar California Resort (part of Epic Pass), snowfall has surpassed last year’s record by 100 inches.

For skiers, this not only means an incredible base but also spring skiing extending to May 7. So, you still have more than 100 days to get on the slopes.

Since this season will bring more than 350 inches of snow to some spots in the southern part of the lake — an average of 10 inches per day in January alone — it’s important to keep an eye on safety, too.

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Kirkwood Mountain Resort, located in South Tahoe, offers some safety tips worth noting. First, ski with a buddy and bring a beacon, shovel and probe if you can. Also, be aware of your surroundings in the base area, as the snow stacking up on roofs can fall off in bunches big enough to bury you. Finally, wear reflective gear and use lights when walking around at night since snow removal continues after dark.

El Dorado County, where Tahoe is located, also warns of blocked roadways and routes. The county has a website where you can monitor road closures, emergency evacuation orders, flooding protocols and more. If you’re headed to the area, check conditions in advance and follow all precautions.

Related: How to plan your ski trip with points and miles

Northern California


In Northern California, Redding is the perfect, cozy place to enjoy the snow and fully embrace cold-weather activities without the typical California crowds.

Located here, Mt. Shasta Ski Park is one of Northern California’s best-kept secrets. Limited crowds and 425 acres of skiable terrain make it the perfect winter wonderland, with slopes perfect for all ages and experience levels. So far this season, Mt. Shasta has received 180 inches of snowfall; typically, the average snowfall for the entire season is closer to 136 inches.

The area also lends itself well to non-skiers. At Lassen Volcanic National Park, rangers lead snowshoe tours across volcanoes on weekends during the winter months. At Mt. Shasta, you can race a snowmobile across the mountain and through the national forests around the area. For a family-friendly option, there’s Eskimo Hill, one of the most popular sledding spots in Northern California.

To keep up with weather advisories and related issues, sign up for the area’s new text service which alerts visitors of operational changes. Text “MSSP Updates” to 844-596-7275 to opt in to the text updates.

Central California

Located in the Central Sierras, Mammoth is the largest ski resort in California outside the Tahoe area. It is owned and operated by Alterra Mountain Company and participates in the Ikon Pass.

Home to the state’s highest ski peak and highest base elevation — as well as 3,500 skiable acres of every terrain type — Mammoth legitimately earns its name. Plus, the massive resort usually offers one of the longest ski seasons in the state.

Mammoth usually describes its snow as “unreal,” and this year’s snowfall truly fits the description. As of Jan. 20, more than 400 inches of snow have fallen this year, and Mammoth Lakes has the most snow in the country. And more is on the way.

Much like Northern Tahoe, this abundance of snow comes with some precautions. “Most places would view what we just experienced in Mammoth Lakes as a natural disaster,” Visit Mammoth notes in reference to the more than 33 feet of snow that have already fallen this year.

The official tourism website adds that while Mammoth is celebrating the weather, visitors must keep safety in mind. “Our normal four-lane roads have now been narrowed to two and sometimes even one lane,” according to Visit Mammoth.

Its safety guidelines for visiting this winter include coming prepared for road closures and delays by carrying snow chains and packing an ice scraper, warm blankets, extra clothing, food and water in your car.

Southern California

Big Bear Mountain Resort, in the San Bernardino Mountains, is the largest ski resort that’s reachable from most of Southern California in an easy daytrip or overnight drive.

An Ikon Pass resort, Big Bear Mountain is two destinations in one. Tickets and passes are valid at two base areas on two different mountains: Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. The two are located about a 10-minute drive apart, and skiers can reach them by shuttle.

The area usually receives about 120 inches of snow annually, and while snowpack numbers aren’t soaring there, it’s been a windy and stormy season. The resort area suggests visitors check with the Caltrans QuickMap for updates on road conditions and closures.

Bottom line

It has certainly been a wild weather season in California. Many ski resorts have already experienced record-setting snow levels — perfect for avid skiers and snow lovers. However, it’s crucial to exercise caution when you head into the mountains. Be sure to check current weather and traffic reports as well as with the resort you’re planning to visit to ensure you can safely travel there.

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Written by jepayneiv

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