We had the best experience at Bear Valley Mountain over winter break. Wait where, you might ask? No, not Tahoe. It's in the Sierra Mountains, smack dab between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park. This unassuming treasure flies under the radar and is the epitome of less is more: less expensive, less crowds, less travel time, with beauty and adventures galore.
You can get to Bear Valley in just over three hours, making it one of the closest ski resorts to Silicon Valley. Once you're on Highway 4, it's smooth sailing to the mountain: in the winter, Highway 4 is closed just beyond Bear Valley, so it's essentially a dead-end road through the redwood forest. In 2017, Bear Valley Mountain celebrated its 50th anniversary by building a high-speed, 6-passenger chair lift that transports you to a wide selection of expert terrain in 3 minutes' time—the first of its kind in the Central Sierra.
Our visit to Bear Valley was our children's first time on a ski mountain, and we couldn't have picked a better place to start. We gave them the choice of ski or snowboard; they all chose snowboard. The Bear Valley rental staff was extremely friendly and helpful, and had them outfitted with cool Burton boards in no time.
My kids are ages 7, 9, and 11, and we were thrilled by how quickly they picked up the sport! It didn't matter that there wasn't much snow at the time—it was perfect for what we needed. My husband gave them a group lesson on the bunny hill, and they didn't quit riding until late afternoon when their soaked through gloves had led to freezing fingers.
When we called it a day, we headed into the lodge to warm up. We plopped down at the low bar seating along the large viewing windows to rest and watch the mountain action; whoever thought of that seating design was brilliant! They have an adults-only saloon in the lodge with 8 beers on tap and a private deck.
I told the college student who fitted us with our rentals that I was planning to write an article presenting Bear Valley as a less-expensive Tahoe alternative. He smiled and laughed: "Tahoe alternative? Bear Valley is my preference. I'd pick Bear Valley over Tahoe any day." I guess that says it all, people really do love this special place. It's like a well kept secret, that you're in on.
Bear Valley has some great deals to take advantage of this winter:
- First-Timer Lesson Package for just $49. This includes rental, lesson, lift ticket; offered for ages 13+. Limited availability, make a reservation. Click here to find out more.
- 5th Graders Ride Free on weekends! I was so surprised by this offer, I had to ask why; they said because it's considered an ideal age to learn. To receive your pass, you must present proof of good academic standing. Click here to find out more.
- Their hotel is called Bear Valley Lodge. It's 5 miles from the mountain, there is a free shuttle to and from the mountain. Many of the rooms were recently renovated, their most popular room configuration is the Family Studio with a queen bed and a bunk bed. The grand Cathedral Lounge with its huge fireplace is a prime place to hang out après-ski. This winter they are offering a $99 Getaway Package: available Sunday-Thursday nights, 2-night minimum stay, 2 free lift tickets included (valid next day only). Click here to find out more about Bear Valley Lodge.
- Bear Valley Cross Country is the place to cross-country ski, snowshoe and sled. Click here to find out more.
Go to www.BearValley.com for more deals, book online to guarantee best pricing, and while you're at it, pray for snow!
***Coming soon is an article about the area surrounding Bear Valley: where to stay, where to eat, what to do, and what to drink (it's a burgeoning wine region).