The Sierra resort the crowds forgot

California's Bear Valley has no hassle, no scene, no lift lines. Isn’t this why we go to the mountains?

Skiing in Bear Valley, California
Photo: David Fenton

Mutiny is afoot. There’s time for one last run―but just. Then the lift creaks to a stop, and the operators start taking a good ribbing from the regulars backing up into the first lift line of the day. As the rumblings grow louder and first-name-basis insults are tossed around, someone in the back of the line yells, “Allez! Allez!”

You have to wonder: If the French tourists have found Bear Valley, why is it that hardly anyone in Northern California seems to know it’s here?

One reason may be that it’s so darn hard to find on a map. Start at the blue orb of Lake Tahoe, drag your finger south along the Sierra, then squint and look for the speck labeled Bear Valley. In winter, State 4 dead-ends just past here at Lake Alpine. It’s a road to nowhere.

But there is a ski resort here. Not the biggest, certainly not the flashiest, but make no mistake―with 1,280 acres of downhill skiing, there’s room to roam. And the runs have views across a mountainscape unbroken by show-offy homes or parking lots.

This adds to a throwback feel that either you get or you don’t. It’s as if one of Tahoe’s resorts had been scooped up in the late ’60s (loopy I Love Lucy–style logo and all), suspended in ice, then plopped here for you to discover in 2009.

And some do discover it. They come because, well, it’s simpler and cheaper than going to Tahoe. They come because nightlife here means coming in frosty-faced from the slopes for an epic game of Yahtzee in front of the fireplace and an early bedtime so they can get up, stretch their legs, and choose between another day of downhill or hitting the tranquil weave of cross-country trails.

Next: The Sierra’s best-kept cross-country secret


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