Yes, “cheap skiing” is an oxymoron. With many mountains in Tahoe charging $200 or more for a weekend lift ticket this season, skiing—or boarding—is something you have to really love if you're going to devote your hard-earned cash to it.
But move away from the famed resorts around Lake Tahoe or drive a little farther, and you’ll find much better deals on lift tickets. (And if you must ski Tahoe, read these expert tips on how to ski for less near the lake.)
Check out the list below of less expensive ski and snowboard resorts near the Bay Area.
The Cheapest Ski Resorts in NorCal
Ideal for beginners of any age, this spot near Tahoe City offers the cheapest adult lift tickets in Northern California. Granlibakken is a one-hill skiing spot with cross-country skiing, sledding, snowshoeing and a charming lodge right on-site. It's a perfect spot to avoid the crowds when skiing with little ones or for first-timers wanting to give skiing a try without going all-in on a full resort day.
With six lifts, two moving carpets and a tubing hill, Donner Ski Ranch is a small but mighty mountain. This family-owned and operated ranch has been in business for 80 years near Donner Lake. As big believers that skiing should not be reserved for the rich, the family keeps its pricing reasonable. And though it's not fancy, the Ski Ranch offers a bit of something for everyone in terms of difficulty. It has more advanced runs on the backside and a tubing park near the lodge.
The Badger Pass ski area is small but satisfies a range of snowy interests and activities with backcountry skiing, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, tubing and snowshoeing. Best of all? Badger Pass lies within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park, which means you can walk or drive through Yosemite Valley covered in snow while you’re there. From San Francisco, it’ll be a good four-plus-hour drive to get there via Highway 99, depending on what roads are open when you go.
Geared for beginners and families, Soda Springs is near Donner Lake, about 30 minutes before Tahoe’s West Shore on Interstate 80. It has two chairlifts with access to plenty of beginner (4), intermediate (3) and more advanced runs (6), keeping everyone happy. Plus, one price gets you (or your kids) into the Mountain Adventure zone, with an outdoor snow playground, a Tube Town for downhill sledding and a beginner-level terrain park.
It’s 4.5 hours north—almost to Oregon—but it’s an easy, non-mountain drive on Interstate 5 to reach some wallet-friendly skiing on the side of a dormant volcano. The Mt. Shasta Ski Park lets you ski, snowboard or tube via four lifts and 38 ski trails, beginner and intermediate terrain parks and twilight skiing. And with loads of reasonable hotel and motel accommodations nearby, it’s a great destination for a long, budget weekend in the snow.
Despite its name, Sierra-at-Tahoe is actually a good 30 minutes before South Lake Tahoe on Highway 50, which means you’ll skip the lakeside traffic and shave off some travel time from your trip. Sierra is an idyllic family setting for learning how to ski. Buying a 3-PAK gets adults on the mountain for $87 per day. And you can burn off any extra energy at Blizzard Mountain, with two lift-accessible snow tubing lanes, sledding and play areas.
Fifteen minutes outside of Truckee, Tahoe Donner bills itself as the best place to learn to ski, with lots of deals for little and big learners. Aside from downhill skiing, Tahoe Donner offers tubing, sledding and snowy fun at its Snowplay area—not to mention, the Tahoe area's best cross-country skiing.
From the Bay Area, drive due east for three hours through the Gold Country and up into the High Sierras near Pinecrest to reach Dodge Ridge. Eight lifts deliver for a range of skiing abilities: Advanced skiers stick to the two higher-elevation lifts while beginner and intermediate skiers have the lower elevations to themselves.
Right off the side of Interstate 80 at Donner Summit, Boreal offers Tahoe-level snow and night skiing a good 30 minutes sooner than you’d reach Palisades. And with ticket prices decreasing as the day goes on, it might be a worthwhile stop on your way to wherever you’re headed to grab some bargain turns. Boreal is popular with young boarders, given that it is adjacent to the Woodward at Tahoe terrain park and its indoor Bunker, a huge trampoline and skate park.
Shelley D. Fargo can be reached at [email protected]