Sierra snows; skiing, boarding, cross country and sledding, just two hours from Stockton!

After several years of below average snows, skiers and boarders are dreaming the predictions of an El Nino winter come true.  Early storms are allowing opening of nearby ski areas and the two “closest snows to home”, Dodge Ridge and Bear Valley ski resorts, are opening November 25 and 28, respectively.

Dodge Ridge Ski Resort, 30 miles east of Sonora on Hwy. 108, and Bear Valley Ski Resort, 50 miles east of Angel’s Camp on Hwy. 4, are closer than other options in the Sierra/Lake Tahoe areas. Both are family-friendly, less expensive than resorts in the Tahoe area, and are noting good conditions for their early openings. From my north Stockton home, Dodge Ridge is 99 miles, Bear Valley, 106 miles – each only two hours away!

Family stops mid-run on Graceland, off Chair 8, in the scenic Boulder Canyon area.

Kid's Club ski group prepares to polish their ski skills at Dodge Ridge.

Dodge Ridge Ski Resort will open for the season on Wednesday, November 25, the 10th time in 40 years that Dodge Ridge has opened prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.

“We feel very blessed to have this kind of a start to the winter” said CEO Sally Helm. “Lots of families have gotten their season passes this year knowing we have an El Niño pattern in the forecast. I’ll be on that first chair with them on Wednesday!”

With another storm predicted for this week, the majority of the lifts are expected to run on Wednesday, accessing about 70% of the mountain. Lifts will open at 9 a.m. with the Creekside Café opening at 7 a.m. for breakfast. Dodge Ridge offers a 1,600 foot vertical drop, 67 runs, 12 lifts and 862 acres of skiable terrain.

Skier schusses the trees in Dodge Ridge's Sonora Glades area off Chair 8.

The resort prides itself on being family-focused, further enhanced when it opened its Family Lodge a few years ago.  The area offers a variety of gentle slopes for beginning skiers and snowboarders as well as “double black diamond runs” off Chair 8 in the Boulder Creek Canyon area. Check the stunning scenery serviced by Chair 8; Graceland is a favorite run, scenic, rated “blue” (more difficult) and a family favorite for both schussing and photos!

A number of cross-country ski trails emanate from the Dodge Ridge base area and access road. Sledding and snow play areas can be found in the Pinecrest Lake area below Dodge Ridge and at Leland Snow Play area, about seven miles further east of Dodge Ridge off Highway 108.

Dodge Ridge offers a number of dining options at the ski area, including the Creekside Lodge and Café, with a large variety of food and drink. On weekends and holidays, the North Fork Bistro in the Family Lodge is a great place for families to dine, and slopeside dining is also offered at Local’s Café, bottom of Chair 7, with tasty BBQ.

Other reliable dining options are nearby: The Steam Donkey (steaks, seafood, pasta), Pinecrest, Mia’s Italian, Cold Springs and The Pie Pizza in Sugar Pine. Overnight lodging is offered at Pinecrest Lake Lodge or Pinecrest Chalet, Pinecrest, the Christmas Tree Inn, Mi Wuk Village or the Long Barn Lodge in Long Barn.

Bear Valley's slopes, looking northwest from the day lodge.

Bear Valley Ski Resort is just off Hwy. 4, sporting a top elevation of 8,495’, a mid-way day-lodge at 7,750’ and base elevation (the Grizzly Chair) of 6,595’, 1680 acres, 8 chairlifts (one a high-speed quad) and two carpet lifts, with snow-making on 100 acres of upper slopes.

Trio of kids in "Ski Bear" lessons, with day lodge in background.

Bear Valley’s opening day is Saturday, November 28; and opening weekend includes Winterfest celebration, a hiring fair and more.  Lifts will start turning at 9 a.m. and guests will have the opportunity to enjoy an entire weekend of skiing, snowboarding and family activities.

Family prepares to enjoy Bear Valley Ski Resort!

Recent weather brought more than 12 inches to Bear Valley, yielding more than 25 inches for the season. Additional snow making on the mountain covering 100 acres of terrain has started and another expected weather system will have the destination in terrific condition for opening day.

“We’ve been out packing snow throughout the mountain to ensure great coverage and a solid base. Meanwhile temperatures have become great for snow making, and we’re excited about opening over Thanksgiving weekend.” said Mattly Trent, Director of Guest Safety.

Winterfest at Bear Valley kicks off Thursday, November 26 with a Thanksgiving Dinner and the weekend will continue with a new backcountry film on Friday. November 27.  The weekend includes live music, a bonfire and open house events.

Bear Valley Mountain offers ski and boarders 1,680 acres of varied terrain, more than 70 trails, two terrain parks featuring more than 18 features, and 1,900 vertical feet.  Bear Valley Village is home to a variety of services, shops, restaurants and a wide range of accommodations.  Winters provide skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, sledding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.

Bear Valley offers a variety of food and drink choices at its mid-way Day Lodge, including delicious outdoor BBQ when we last visited.  Several dining options are offered nearby.  In Bear Valley Village, the Lodge offers light fare in the Grizzly Lounge and steaks and seafood in the classy Creekside Dining Room and has recently updated the Lodge’s Trattoria, with pizza and pasta for  families with big appetites!

Closer to the Valley, one can find numerous dining options in Arnold, and even more good eats in Murphys, including the highly rated Alchemy Restaurant and the historic Murphys Hotel.  Arnold and Murphys both offer a variety of hotels and motels for overnighting.

How to get there: The start of the route from Stockton is the same for both destinations; take Highway 4 east to Copperopolis.  There, to reach Dodge Ridge, go south on O Bryrne’s Ferry Road, then east on Highway 108 to the ski area. For Bear Valley, continue on Hwy. 4 all the way to the ski area.

For more information: Dodge Ridge Ski Resort,, 209.965.3474; Bear Valley Ski Resort,, 209.753.2301.

Contact Tim Viall at Follow him at Think snow, and happy travels in the West!

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