“The first fall of snow is not only an event, it is a magical event. You go to bed in one kind of world and wake up in another quite different, and if this is not enchantment then where is it to be found?” – J.B. Preistley
In San Diego every time you go to bed, you wake up to the exact same thing. Paradise.
The sun shines brightly, there’s a cool breeze in the air, and the ocean patiently awaits your arrival. The magic of of snow eludes San Diego in lieu of consistent 72-degree temperatures, and that is exactly why many choose America’s Finest City to live and play.
But that doesn’t mean we don’t want a taste of winter enchantment too. That’s what day trips are for. Flip-flop nation may not get any snow of our own, but we’re just hours from several snowy mountain resorts. And we definitely take advantage of them.
So where do we go when we ditch our surfboards and beach cruisers for skis and snowboards?
Considered ‘Southern California’s best kept secret’ by many locals, Mt. Baldy is one of the shortest day trips for some fun in the snow. Roughly a 2.5-hour drive from San Diego, this mountain ski resort is situated on 400 acres of unincorporated terrain in the San Gabriel Mountains and features 26 trails accessed by four lifts. Surrounded by the Angeles National Forest, Mt. Baldy offers picturesque views while providing trails for all levels of skiers. While 60% of the trails are divided equally among beginner, advanced, and expert levels, nearly half – 40% – cater to intermediate skiers and snowboarders.
Resort Highlight: No crowds
Resort Downside: Shorter season, (late-December to March)
Big Bear Mountain Resort
If you were to ask any San Diegan which mountain resort is their favorite, 99% of the time the resounding answer would be: Big Bear Mountain Resort. It is by far the most popular and most visited, featuring the largest ski school to boot. Just a three-hour drive from San Diego, it is a two-for-one experience with its sister mountain, Snow Summit. The skill level of this resort ranges from family-friendly to experienced professional, ensuring everyone can find trails to fit their abilities. There are 59 runs between the two mountains, a skill building park, three terrain parks, a half pipe, a mini pipe, and the Red Bull Plaza. This is also an excellent resort for those who want to take lessons by professionally certified instructors.
Resort Highlight: One price gets you access to both mountains and all their perks.
Resort Downside: Often crowded, and traffic to the mountain can be slightly brutal at times.
Snow Valley Mountain Resort
Open since 1924, Snow Valley Mountain Resort is the oldest operating ski resort in Southern California. It is also another of San Diego’s closest winter destinations at 2.5 hours away. Snow Valley is situated at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains. The resort features 240 acres of terrain with 28 runs accessed by 13 lifts, and while it features trails for all levels, only 14% of them are designed for beginners. This is definitely geared to the intermediate and advanced levels of boarding and skiing, as these trails account for 86% of the resort. Snow Valley also features a few half pipes and jumps along the various slopes.
Resort Highlight: They offer night sessions.
Resort Downside: It’s geared towards more skilled skiers.
Bonus Destination: Mammoth Sized
A list of the top San Diego ski and snowboard day trips is incomplete without at least mentioning SoCal’s Mammoth Mountain. Arguably the best ski resort in the West, we couldn’t, in good conscience, put it on the list of top day trips from San Diego. It’s nearly three times the distance from San Diego as the other three, and takes a whopping seven hours to get there. So while you could technically make it there and back in one day, you wouldn’t want to. This is a better choice for a weekend getaway. We’re including it as a bonus destination, for those who love packed powder more than sleep, or for those who are open to an overnight or weekend resort experience.
Mammoth Mountain might be the farthest resort from San Diego for a day trip, but many find it well worth the effort. Like its name says, the mountain is mammoth in size. With a base elevation level at nearly 8,000 feet and a peak elevation of just over 11,000 feet, the entire resort stretches over 3500 acres. It features a wide variety of terrain with 151 runs and 13 terrain parks accessed by 28 lifts. Mammoth also offers mountain tours, snowmobile adventures, and a massive tube park, making it the ideal destination for everyone from beginners to professionals.
Resort Highlight: Receives over 400 inches of snow each year and has the longest season (November to July).
Resort Downfall: The farthest distance to travel.