On a clear day, as you head east in Los Angeles, you see them beckoning: those glorious snow-capped mountains. If we had bionic vision, we could watch skiers sashaying down the hills—the resorts are that close. And whether you're a seasoned snow veteran or new to skiing or snowboarding—or you'd just prefer that someone else teach your kids to ski—you'll be happy to know that skiing can be easy, close, and occasionally even free.
So if you're ready for winter activities beyond skating and sledding, check out this list of area slopes and snow schools. Plan it right, and you could be on the slope two hours after packing the car—because the mountains are even closer than they look.
Remember that weather and road conditions may change daily, especially as you climb to higher elevations. Always check before you go, to make sure roads are passable and to determine if you need chains. Also, most resorts increase their rates during peak weekends and holidays; make note of these special times to avoid unexpected rate hikes.
• Mountain High
24510 State Highway 2
Wrightwood, CA 92397
Heralded as LA's closest ski resort with no mountain driving, Mountain High is a sure bet for family skiing—especially with the return of its wonderful 5th Graders Ski Free deal. Check out the Children's Sports Center (and check out our review of it), where "fun is a priority" for kids ages 1-12. The resort offers both half and full day group lessons as well as private lessons. Mountain High is one of the few destinations that offers lessons for toddlers, too. Children ages 1-3 learn safely through Mountain High's simulation training in the Virtual Snow class. Adult lessons are also offered, on a first-come-first-served basis. It is recommended to arrive at least one hour prior to your preferred class time.
For ongoing classes, Mountain High offers the Blue Angel Youth Ski and Snowboard Program for kids of all skill levels, ages 7-16. This five-week camp, which meets every Saturday, provides charter bus transportation from several Southern California locations to the mountain. Full day classes are taught by professionally trained instructors.
• Mt. Baldy
8401 Mt. Baldy Road
Mt. Baldy, CA 91759
Only 50 miles from downtown LA, Mt. Baldy is just around the corner and so might make for the simplest ski outing. Prices are usually reasonable, and the Mount Baldy Chamber of Commerce sometimes offers deals. Equipment rentals are not included.
Variable snowfall levels and limited snow-making capabilities mean conditions are less reliable at Mt. Baldy than at some other resorts. But when conditions are right, locals claim that Mt. Baldy has the steepest vertical drop in Southern California, the shortest lines, and a favorable old-fashioned charm. While convenient and cost-effective, Mt. Baldy might not be the best choice for the littlest first-time skiers, since a steep, gusty ski lift must be braved before touching snow.
Trivia buffs might be interested to know that Mt. Baldy is merely a nickname. The mountain's real name is Mt. San Antonio, and it's the highest peak in the San Bernardino Range.
Snow board show off! Photo courtesy of Big Bear Mountain Resort
• Big Bear Mountain Resorts
A mere 100 or so miles from Los Angeles, Big Bear Mountain Resorts is a hugely popular destination. Choose from two distinct ski areas within two miles of each other: Snow Summit offers "a traditional alpine atmosphere," while Bear Mountain boasts a more youthful, heavily snowboard-friendly environment. Both offer ski and snowboard classes.
880 Summit Blvd
Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
If your kids are new to skiing, Snow Summit might be your place. Choose from a variety of lesson options and packages for both kids and adults. This mountain offers a great variety of beginner and intermediate slopes where a family can enjoy a long, quiet, mellow ski without being knocked down by non-stop thrill-seekers.
43101 Goldmine Drive
Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
Nearby Bear Mountain claims to provide "the largest beginner area and the most innovative and most progressive terrain parks in Southern California." Now there's something to consider! Lesson packages and prices are the same as those at Snow Summit. Bear Mountain also offers Team Bear from 8:30am–2:30pm on the weekends for skiers and snowboarders ages 6 and up.
Ski lessons. Photo courtesy of Snow Valley
• Snow Valley
35100 State Highway 18
Running Springs, CA 92382
Less than 100 miles from downtown LA, Snow Valley is doable as a day trip ski and snowboard destination. The resort's Children's Learning Center treats skiers and riders ages 4-12 to small class sizes that emphasize fun. Choose from a full day program and lunch, or a half day program with no lunch. Equipment rental is $20 with class registration.
The Adventurers program works with kids ages 4-6. Small class sizes enable instructors to focus on individual needs and abilities. (Note: Kids 5 and under must learn to ski before taking snowboarding lessons in the Adventurers program.)
The Explorers program is for kids ages 7-12 with varying skill levels. Beginners build confidence by starting on an easy-to-load conveyer lift.
Learn to Ski or Snowboard packages are also available for skiers and snowboarders ages 13+. Packages include rental equipment, a 1.5-hour beginner group lesson, and a lower mountain lift ticket. Skiers and riders ages 13+ who are ready for a greater challenge can opt for the Lift 'n' Lesson Package.
Last but not least, check out Virtual Snow in Santa Monica, where you can forget the snow pants and goggles. Learn to ski or snowboard (or improve your existing skills) on state-of-the-art indoor simulators (also located at Mountain High). All ages and levels are welcome. (Note to self: they also host parties.) Open every day by appointment only (310.264.4800).
Originally published January 6, 2012