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?

Skiers stand near a warming hut at Bear Valley's cross-country resort.
Photo: David Fenton

Saturday is murmured to be the one “busy” day on the slopes. So I walk across the road from the lodge to what is, it turns out, one of the country’s biggest cross-country resorts, with 40 miles of trails. It’s a sparkling morning with 4 feet of fresh snow, and the course is hosting a race.

Still, once I’m away from the sunny meadow where families are dragging inner tubes loaded with kids toward the sledding hill and skiers are getting their snow legs on, I’m on my own.

Schussing through a pine grove, I hear clumps of snow breaking apart on branches and look up to see white shimmers descending through streaks of sun. Van Morrison tunes come floating by, and I spy a sunny deck where a T-shirted crowd is eating burgers and drinking beer, in no hurry at all to leave the woods.

Change is coming, but not yet

Moments like this, it’s easy to picture the late ’60s here, when, one longtime guest told me, people would dash naked from the outdoor hot tubs to the sauna. When, for a single, buzzy season, Bear Valley became Club Med’s first-ever U.S. resort. The hot tubs and sauna are gone. So are the naked people, as far as I can tell.

And now there’s talk, big talk, about a new village with shops and condos. So come soon. Come this year or come next. But whatever you do, come before this quaint time capsule morphs into Tahoe South.

Next: Plan your Bear Valley weekend


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