The Great Big California Snow Experience is the perfect mix of ski and sand
It was billed as the Great Big California Snow Experience, but here I am on Venice Beach with sand between my toes.
Because I can.
This, after all, is the state with everything from the hustle of Los Angeles to the wilderness of its, er, wilderness.
It’s all about location, location, location.
So, an hour after touching down from London, the Pacific coast is beckoning with a ride on the roller coaster on Santa Monica pier thrown in.
It is also the state with the Sierra Nevada mountains, the 400-mile ribbon of rock that rises up thousands of feet and runs north to south through California along the border with Nevada.
And that means 60 minutes after leaving LA I can swap sand for the bitter cold of an airstrip ready for the snow.
And where better to start than Mammoth Lakes, with its convenient airport and spectacular flight path over the mountains from LA.
Mammoth has established itself as the ski destination of choice for the Los Angeles locals, and with good reason.
Apart from the short flight, it is also reachable in a five hour drive from the La La Land – a doddle for our US cousins.
And when they arrive they will find wide open, beautifully prepared pistes and snow as good as you will find anywhere in the world.
Those feeling inspired should take on Scotty’s Bowl, a fabulous off-piste run that, under the clear blue sky that bathes it in sunshine 300 days a year, and on fresh snow, was awesome.
Mammoth is part of the huge Californian ski industry residing in the Sierra Nevada.
Loved by the locals, it remains a gem largely undiscovered by the many European ski fans who instinctively head for Colorado when they dash across the Atlantic.
There is a huge variety of runs, many offering the chance to ski through the trees, and to do most justice takes a few days.
From Mammoth we travelled by car to Lake Tahoe, passing the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park and the turning for Bodie, an abandoned gold-mining town now a State Historic Park but unreachable in the winter.
It gave us a good idea of the brutal conditions endured by prospectors in the mid-1800s.
And it is at Tahoe where you hit a rich seam of skiing – the home to 14 resorts scattered around the mountains that surround this massive lake.
Now we understood why it was billed the Big California Snow Experience.
South Lake Tahoe is a real story of beauty and the beast and not just because scenes from The Godfather II and The Bodyguard were shot at Heavenly Village.
Straddling the California/Nevada border, it has a schizophrenic existence where in one state smoking even close to a building is illegal while in the other smoking, gambling and almost anything goes.
So from my room at the Embassy Suites in the shop lined street on the California side of the state line I crossed the road for a night of debauchery at one of the many high-rise casinos in Nevada that once boasted regular appearances by Elvis Presley.
It’s all about location!
But wherever your morals may take you – and a meal at the Riva Grill restaurant close to the dock from where Tahoe’s paddle steamers depart Heavenly is a good starting point – your head will clear on the gondola to the ski area the next morning.
As a contender for the most stunning place to ski anywhere in the world, it takes some beating.
From virtually every well-manicured trail, each glance is rewarded with a view of the lake.
From the 10,000ft peak of the Sky Express chair you look down on the lake that was formed 25 million years ago, or turn the other way and peer out over Carson Valley, an equally imposing board flat landscape stretching for miles.
Ski Map of California
And before your descent back to lake level, stop off and enjoy an apres ski drink at the Tamarack Lodge central hub with its live music.
It really is all about location.
An hour’s drive further round the lake is Northstar, around two hours from San Francisco.
Like Heavenly, Northstar is part of the huge organisation that owns Vail, America’s iconic Colorado resort, and is linked in to their EpicMix system, where lift-use, games, the chance to test yourself on a downhill course against US legend Lindsey Vonn and free photos are available.
European resorts have something to learn about added value.
For a bit of history you can always head round to the west side of the lake and stop by at Squaw Valley – home of the 1960 Winter Olympics.
A mountain boasting nothing more than three lifts when it was awarded the Games, $80million later (£408million in today’s money) it was playing host to the world.
Meanwhile, we shake our heads in amazement at the £7billion being spent by oligarchs to turn Sochi into a venue to host next month’s Winter Olympics in Russia.
But in Sochi you won’t be able to hop on a plane back to LA and be on a beach again a couple of hours later.
I was. It’s all about location, you see.
America As You Like It has a 10-day California beach/ski self-drive touring package from £1,975pp based on 2 sharing and travelling in late Feb.
Includes flights to Los Angeles from Heathrow with British Airways, car hire and 2nts r/o at The Viceroy Santa Monica; The Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth; Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel; Ritz-Carlton Northstar; and Plumpjack Squaw Valley Inn. americaasyoulikeit.com,
020 8742 8299
Tourist info: visitcalifornia.co.uk.