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Make for California


The parking lot scene at Mammoth Mountain on March 6, 2016. (courtesy of Peter Morning/ Mammoth Mountain)

El Niño has served the Golden State well this week. Here are some totals from the past 72 hours, plus our 2016 guide to each resort.

<Mammoth Mountain>

Last 72 hours: 46”

Acres: 3,500 | Vertical: 3,100 | Snowfall: 400 | mammothmountain.com

Aptly named Mammoth is an elephantine resort in Southern California’s craggy Sierra Nevada range. Breeding grounds for Olympians (Stacey Cook, Kelly Clark), along with past and rising stars (Glen Plake, Chris Benchetler), Mammoth’s laid-back vibe belies just how world class the skiing is here. Fall lines drop from lift summits (not a lot of traversing here) and thanks to higher elevation terrain, Mammoth sees some of the biggest, driest dumps in the Sierra Nevada. “It’s not uncommon to get four feet of snow overnight and then a bluebird day,” says Harry Blackburn, a Mammoth local for 33 years. “Three days later, the wind buffs the ungroomed terrain into beautiful velvet you can ski again and again.” Leave tracks in the gladed double-black diamonds off Chair 22, or the wide-open bowls off the Panorama Gondola. Mammoth’s expert terrain ranks it among the best North American resorts, yet the mountain remains accessible to families, thanks to four base areas with plenty of blue and green runs, and enough bars and restaurants to keep every skier going from dawn till dusk. —Rachel Walker

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<Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows>

Last 72 hours: 48” 

Acres: 6,000 (combined) | Vertical: 2,850 (Squaw) and 1,802 (Alpine) | Snowfall: 450 | squawalpine.com

At Squaw Valley, every lift and even the peaks they access seem designed for serious riding—just unload, drop in, and let the fall lines take over. Some of the best lines sit right under the chair, so the incentive to get good quick is high. But don’t let the ripping locals intimidate you—Squaw and neighboring Alpine Meadows (you can ski both mountains off one ticket) offer breathtaking Tahoe views, sunshine, and playful terrain for all abilities. At Squaw, the tram delivers beginners and intermediates to the best of both worlds—mountaintop views and gentle slopes on Bailey’s Beach and Shirley Lake. Meanwhile, Alpine Meadows serves up still more wild, but approachable, terrain. Ping-pong between Squaw and Alpine via a free, 15-minute shuttle—soon to be augmented with a groundbreaking connecting gondola. —Ingrid Backstrom

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<Sugar Bowl>

Last 72 hours: 41”

Acres: 1,650 | Vertical: 1,500 | Snowfall: 500 | sugarbowl.com

Don’t let terrain names like Donald Duck and Mt. Disney fool you—76-year-old Sugar Bowl has scads of grownup terrain. Locals and Bay Area folk love it for its uncrowded slopes, family-owned vibe, and stellar, off-the-radar skiing. On a powder day, Reno residents and Sugar Bowl regulars Erin and Tyler St. Pierre head first up Mt. Lincoln to Silver Belt, a snaking natural half-pipe. Later, they’ll hit Mt. Judah for sparse trees and cliff-dotted alpine. Then it’s off to the Palisades for spines and chutes. Really, though, the route doesn’t matter, says Erin, because, “there’s plenty of fresh here, even two days after a storm.”  —Ingrid Backstrom

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Last 72 hours: 21”

Acres: 4,800 | Vertical: 3,500 | Snowfall: 350 | skiheavenly.com

Heavenly’s high-energy vibe comes from its unique location on the California-Nevada state line. After a day of riding, you can gamble at nearby casinos, including the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Stateline, Nevada. Ski nearly 100 trails ranging from the glistening groomers off the Comet Express chair to the wooded glades of Milky Way Bowl. Heavenly averages 350 inches of snow, and meteorologists predict this could be a big year. Longtime local Christine Dobrowlski says start a powder day in the south-facing Olympic trees, then slip the gate off the Olympic Express quad to the long, treed firebreak skier’s right: “The roomy pines form alleys down the steeps,” she says. —Suzanne Roberts

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Last 72 hours: 32”

Acres: 2,300 | Vertical: 2,000 | Snowfall: 395 | kirkwood.com

Perched at 7,800 feet on the Sierra Crest, Kirkwood boasts the highest base elevation of any Lake Tahoe resort, complete with expert worthy cornices, cliffs, and chutes. On a powder day, find all-day fresh skier’s right of the Cornice Express chair in the trees and glades of the Palisades Bowl. Come spring, hit backside corn. Even in lower snow years, the terrain under The Wall chair holds white until the end of the season. All of this is why longtime South Lake Tahoe local Jenn Gleckman has skied Kirkwood for the last 15 years. “Big snow and rugged terrain make it one of my favorite winter playgrounds,” she says. —Suzanne Roberts

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