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When it comes to quirky, nostalgia-filled road trips that send you through the time machine, U.S. Route 395 through eastern California ranks pretty high up there. Bonus if the nostalgia-lovers are also powderhounds, as this nearly 500-mile drive from the slopes of North Lake Tahoe to the southern California snow and surf vibes of Big Bear – Bear Mountain and Snow Summit ski areas – serves up four resorts and over 8,000 acres of terrain on a silver platter.
We chose these resorts because they’re all on the Ikon Pass, but also because each one does a great job of showcasing the individuality of the states ski resorts. From the legendary extremes of Squaw to Mammoth’s terrain parks and under-the-radar backcountry to Big Bear’s family-friendly accessibility, this trip is a pleaser with plenty to do and see along the way. Go direct from mountain to mountain or build in some extra days to hike Death Valley, soak in one of Mammoth’s many natural hot springs, or skin into an authentic ghost town. As the old saying goes, the journey is the destination.
Total Miles Traveled: 482
Combined Vertical Feet: 8,824
Combined Skiable Acres: 8,088
Resorts Visited: 4
Checklist: Squaw Alpine
Five mandatory runs at North Lake Tahoe’s biggest resort.
To be attempted by expert skiers only, McConkey’s, named for the late legendary freeskier Shane McConkey, requires a short hike and the skills to navigate a tight chute, mandatory air, and a gravity-defying 68-degree pitch at its steepest section.
Located off the KT-22 lift, Moseley’s serves up leg-burning bumps with just the right pitch to keep your thighs screaming all the way back to the lift. What else would you expect from a run named after Olympic mogul champ – and hometown boy – Jonny Moseley?
Cruiser: Outer Limit
Intermediates wanting to feast their eyes on the lake views they came for should head for the Lakeview chair and to the Outer Limits and Leisure Lane runs on the Alpine side. These wide, groomed boulevards make for easy skiing and safe lake-viewing.
Trees: Red Dog Glades
Beeline to the newest tree-skiing pod, Red Dog Glades, for 100 acres of excellent sheltered trees with plenty of different lines to explore. Find Red Dog Glades, as well as Paris Glades, off either the Red Dog chairlift or the Far East Express.
Bowls: Pacific Crest North
Soak in the amazing vistas from the top of the Summit Six Express six-pack, then traverse along the ridge until you find a line that speaks to you. These mostly black-diamond bowls funnel into blue-black rollers toward the bottom.
Check out more about Squaw here.
Get Your Soak On
These natural hot springs pools near Mammoth Lakes set a new standard in après-ski soaking.
A short wooden boardwalk eases the way to this pair of hot pools about 20 miles east of the ski resort. The views of the Eastern Sierra foothills are just plain lovely, but be warned, this special little spot can get crowded.
Miles off U.S. route 395: 4.8 miles
Water temps: 95 – 100 degrees
Keough Hot Springs
This manmade option is ideal for those who don’t want to go hunting for random little pools in the middle of nowhere. The pools are fed by geothermal hot springs; the large pool is the cooler of the two, while the hot pool gets as high as 104 degrees.
Miles off U.S. route 395: .7 miles
Water temps: 92 – 104 degrees
Hilltop Hot Springs
This little man-made tup is fed by a natural hot spring on Mammoth Valley’s volcanic floor and is surrounded by mountain views. It only fits about a half-dozen people, and it can be a popular place, but the setting is unbeatable.
Miles off U.S. route 395: 3.5
Water temps: 100 degrees
Follow That Beer
A craft brewery tour takes you from Tahoe City east along the shore of North Lake Tahoe.
Trace the lakeshore—with a short detour to Truckee—stopping at these craft breweries along the way.
Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co., Tahoe City
This brewpub serves up a relaxed environment in which to sample its rotating selection of craft beers alongside elevated pub fare such as seared ahi tacos. If hoppy is your jam, give the Paddleboard Pale Ale a try.
Truckee Brewing Company, Truckee
The town of Truckee is 20 minutes from Tahoe City, and a visit to one of its newest breweries, which opened last year, is a good call. TBC is known for its selection of IPAs and small but yummy snacks, including stuffed pretzels and stromboli. Pair a pretzel with the Belgian White IPA for a happy après experience.
Related: Gold Medal Brews
Alibi Ale Works, Incline Village
Alibi has two locations, one in Truckee and this one in tiny Incline Village. This location is where the beer is made. The core brews are a tasty pale ale, a pilsner, and a porter, all made with water from that big lake down the road.
Grin and Bear It
Bear Mountain and Snow Summit are just the right size for the ultimate family adventure both on and off the slopes.
Bear Mountain Adventure Academy
This new 6,000-square-foot facility opened in December at the base of Bear Mountain as the new kids’ ski school, rental, and lift ticket hub. Stop in with the littles to get them outfitted and prepped for lessons, and stick around to try the artisan pizzas at the resort’s newest restaurant, located inside the Adventure Academy.
Soaring Eagle Zipline
The year-round zipline-style ride opened last fall and gives adrenaline seekers another way to feel the wind in their faces this winter. Featuring side-by-side bucket seats spanning 500 feet, the Soaring Eagle hits speeds of up to 28 mph while serving up beautiful lake views.
Timber Ridge Tube Park
Three lanes of magic carpet-served tubing for kids of all ages located between chairs 1 and 8 at Snow Summit.
Skill Builder Terrain Parks
This is SoCal, where even the tiniest tots can learn to slide a rail. Both Bear Mountain and Snow Summit boast Skill Builder parks with pint-sized features including boxes, rails, table tops, and rollers.
Movies in the Meadow
This Snow Summit movie series features family-friendly flicks on Saturdays all season long at the resort’s base village. Bundle up, because these movies are projected under the stars.
Beyond the Gates
The Eastern Sierra backcountry terrain around Mammoth Mountain is some of the best and most varied in the region—and some of the most underutilized. Mammoth is doing its part to sagely introduce more skiers to the terrain beyond its ropes this season with a new Intro to Backcountry Touring Clinic as well as Sidecountry Tours. Taught by Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) instructors and American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA) certified guides, the half-day Intro to Backcountry Touring Clinic takes place daily and serves up an introduction to touring and safety equipment, skinning, kick turns, downhill transitions, and more. The Sidecountry Tour departs from Tamarack lodge and takes experienced skiers on a three-hour guided tour into the resort’s vast backside terrain. The latter option offers less instruction, but it’s certainly not short on adventure.
More on Mammoth here.
Mountains of Plenty
A sampling of events at the resorts along our Ikon Pass California road trip.
Mammoth Mountain, March 12-17
Watch up-and-coming stars of Halfpipe, Slopestyle, Skicross, and Big Air ply their trade in this exciting event for 13- to 19-year-olds.
Winter WonderGrass Tahoe
Squaw Alpine, March 29-31
The popular celebration of all things bluegrass comes to Squaw Alpine for three days of concerts, workshops, and jam sessions.
Earth Day Festival
Squaw Alpine, April 20
Celebrate the only planet we’ve got at the Village at Squaw with a day of music, eats, entertainment, and education about preserving the region’s resources.
11,053 Summit Sunset Party
Mammoth Mountain, April 27
Ride the Panorama Gondola to Mammoth’s summit to watch the sun set over the Sierra during this unique event.
Local’s Tip: Grab lunch to go at the First Chair food truck, a red trailer in Mammoth’s Footloose lot: Try the Vietnamese-inspired Banh Mi Sandwich or the Mayan (achiote-braised pork with a garlic and citrus aioli on a roll).
Our curated list of southbound U.S. Route 395’s best winter pit stops.
Route 395 from Lake Tahoe to SoCal is one of the state’s iconic road trips, filled with all the natural wonders and quirky off-the-beaten-path detours one would expect. May we suggest a few?
1. Visit the real-live ghost town of Bodie. The dirt road that access it is closed in the winter, but you can snowshoe, skin, or cross-country ski down the abandoned main drag of this former gold-mining town that once boasted a population of nearly 10,000.
2. Just south of Mammoth, Convict Lake’s three-mile loop gets you a front-row seat to beautiful alpine views rising 5,000 feet from the shoreline.
3. Roam around the dramatic arches, boulders, and rock formations at Alabama Hills, a portion of the Sierra Nevada that was dramatically affected by erosion.
4. You could spend days in Death Valley National Park, but if you don’t have them to spare, beeline to Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at 282 feet below sea level.
5. Thirsty? Indian Wells Brewing Company churns out 20 types of beers and over 100 flavors of soda made from artesian well water from the Indian wells spring. Stock up: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough soda may be hard to find at your local grocery store.
Originally published in the January/February 2019 print edition of SKI Magazine.For more great road trips and resort information, SUBSCRIBE NOW.