Bear Valley, California
Bear Valley is southwest of the Lake Tahoe basin in the central Sierra and caters to families and locals.
Stats and Rating
|Real Vertical ?||1,900′, Rank: 78|
|Size||1,680 Acres, Rank: 51|
|Annual Snowfall ?||359″ claimed / 352″ actual, Rank: 27|
|Lift Pods ?||4, Rank: 72|
|Distinct Trails ?||75, Rank: 56|
|Review Date||1995-2002, 2021|
|Number of visits||4|
Bear Valley Review
Before 2021, the last time we skied Bear Valley was in 2002 when our kids were young and still learning to ski. I also had a couple of visits in the mid-90’s. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures from any of those visits. So in early March 2021 we decided to go back, get some pics, and give it another chance.
On paper Bear Valley looks pretty good with 1900 vertical, 9 lifts, and 1680 acres, but it skis much smaller than that much of the time. Prior to 2021, the problem was that we had never been there when the lower part of the mountain below 7,500 feet was open. This is quite common since the summit elevation is fairly low, topping out at less than 8,500′. That means that the effective vertical drop is commonly only 950 ft. The resort has only 100 acres of snowmaking and the main lodge could really use an upgrade. In our earlier visits before lift upgrades in 2006 and 2017, it would have been a fine family area, but back in 90’s many of the lifts were center-bar doubles, which we found to be very difficult to load kids on safely. Since then, the resort has installed 2 new high speed lifts on the 2 major ski pods so this problem has been fixed and it is a much better situation for families now.
The Mokelumne Express 6-pack was newly installed in 2017 and has really solved any issues on the front side that used to exist. This chair only has 730′ of vertical but it’s fun and has some steep sections. The capacity of this lift will eat up any weekend or holiday lift lines quickly. They groom most of the runs off this lift and the ancient Koala double chair. Koala has some steep groomers but it’s very short at only 500′ vertical. The bottom line is that the front side terrain kept us entertained for an hour or so.
The Polar Express pod is the main course for most people who will ski at Bear Valley. This is a modest 950′ of vertical, but it’s really ideal intermediate terrain. We had a blast doing laps on all the groomers until lunchtime. All of the intermediate runs but 1 were groomed when we were there. Corral Ridge looked interesting but the off-piste conditions were pretty icy/atrocious in the morning when we were there so we didn’t sample it.
When we went back in 2021 we made sure Grizzly was going to be open so we could experience the whole resort. After lunch we concentrated on this lift pod which had started to soften in the warm March temps. It’s pretty intimidating from the top. You don’t really know what’s over the edge until get right up there and peek over. This area is completely different from the other parts of the resort. It’s a north-facing rocky bowl with few trees. The view is spectacular, and the terrain is really steep in places, but manageable. There is usually a less scary way to angle across the slope if you don’t want to go straight down a steep line.
Skier’s left is the more difficult side with some seriously steep pitches. In the barely-softening icy conditions we took our time but enjoyed the runs. Skier’s right is the easier side with a very approachable line that cuts the steepness considerably going down Upper Snow Valley. This side faced the sun more so we had some nice soft turns.
I could see spending most of the day exploring this lift under better conditions. There are so many interesting lines that will get your heart pumping and give you a real sense of accomplishment.
Down to town
Because of COVID, the shuttle bus from the town of Bear Valley was not running, but I’m told it’s a must-do to ski down Lunch Run or any of the numerous advanced runs on the village side when they are open. These face mostly south so the snow has to be right. Maybe next time.
- Usually uncrowded, the resort is a good choice for central-sierra skiers looking to get away from the bustle and expense of Tahoe.
- They do a good job with grooming and it’s a friendly atmosphere.
- There are lots of shorter black runs available on the upper mountain and some really legit advanced/expert terrain on Grizzly when it’s open.
- The “Polar Express” lift on the West Side area has some decent intermediate groomers.
- The main frontside ski pod now has a high-speed 6-pack “Mokelumne Express” which has an enormous capacity and will be easy for families to load.
- The Village side can provide an additional adventure that is quite unusual.
- The low elevation means the bottom of the resort does not get or hold snow very long.
- The terrain is “upside-down”, with the most difficult terrain on the Grizzly chair at the bottom. Obviously steep terrain at a low elevation is not a good combination.
- Although it does have a high-speed quad on the West Side and a 6-pack on the front, these serve less than 1,000 feet of vertical, so it’s a quick ride up and run down.
- The lift upgrades were welcome, but they could really use a lodge upgrade and more snowmaking.
The bottom line
This is one of the closest areas to where we used to live in Fremont, but it took us 19 years to get back there while we waited for improvements to be implemented. In 2014, the area was looking for an investor to finish the master plan they have approval to start, which will link the village with the resort for the first time, but that still hasn’t happened as of 2021. Still, it’s an interesting place and the 2021 visit showed us that this is a legit top 100 resort so we added another star to the rating.