Bear Valley Ski Resort: Family-friendly Skiing and Snowboarding - 510 Families
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Bear Valley Ski Resort: Family-friendly Skiing and Snowboarding

If you’re seeking a ski area that isn’t in the Lake Tahoe area, consider Bear Valley Resort. Located just off Highway 4, Bear Valley caters to families and offers a range of options for beginners to advanced skiers and snowboarders. 

Child learns to snowboard
The magic carpet area is ideal for trying to teach your kids | Photo: Maureen Burke

Get To Know Bear Valley Ski Resort

Bear Valley Ski Resort may not be the fanciest ski resort but it delivers when it comes to beginners, especially kids. Parents will appreciate the somewhat affordable prices, because we all know that snow sports are expensive!

The resort features 9 lifts and over 75 trails. There are two sides to the resort, a Day Lodge side and Village side. The Day Lodge side is where you’ll spend most of your time at the start of the day and if you’re a beginner. The Village side has more challenging runs and no return lift; A shuttle is available to transport guests. The Day Lodge itself is a hub for buying lift tickets, obtaining gear, picking up food from the restaurants, and housing lockers. Lessons must be purchase in advance online. Parking is available for free outside the Day Lodge, but fills up quickly. Aim to arrive by 9 am or so for best parking options.

There are several food options onsite for coffee, lunch, snacks and apres ski drinks. It seemed like most families brought their own food because the tables were all reserved with coolers when we walked into the dining areas at 10 am. This was probably the biggest downside to our visit: limited seating. Luckily, we found some couches tucked in a corner to use while we put on boots, helmets, and all the gear before heading outside. When we took a snack break, we stood awkwardly along a wall in the cafe area with juice and granola bars in hand. This complication could be easily remedied with an earlier arrival time or eating outside peak lunch hours (arguably between 11:30 am and 1 pm). We didn’t eat any of the food sold onsite, but it looked decent and included a variety of options.

The ski resort is located just off Highway 4 on CA-207, a short offshoot road. This area of the Sierras can get hit hard with snow storms, which means Bear Valley Resort deals with occasional, unplanned power outages. Several lifts and magic carpets cannot run on auxiliary power sources. This could put a big wrinkle in your family’s mountain master plan. Thankfully, the team is accustomed to these outages and works quickly to get things up and running again.

Skiers use magic carpet at Bear Valley Resort
Beginners can take advantage of the magic carpet and bunny hill | Photo: Maureen Burke

Our Snowboarding Experience at Bear Valley Ski Resort

Our family visited over the 2023 MLK holiday weekend. There was a LOT of snow—so much that the resort closed a few days before and after our visit. I kept track of the closures by following the resort’s Instagram page. I found it more informative than their website. Sunday seemed to be the magic day and we were able to safely, but slowly, drive from the cabin in Arnold to Bear Valley Resort. Highway 4 was beautiful in the snow, but it was a bit of a white-knuckle drive. The normal 30 minute drive grew to 75 minutes because chain restrictions were in place. I highly recommend checking CalTrans and CHP before heading out because this area of the Sierras can get incredible snowfall.

My husband and I decided to teach our kids, 6 and 3, how to snowboard ourselves because we’ve been riding for several years. We didn’t think our kids were emotionally ready to be away from us to make a lesson worth it. Thankfully, Bear Valley has two magic carpet areas for beginners to learn, Lil’ Cub is dedicated for lessons and Panda is a short walk from the Day Lodge. We rented gear in advance from Sports Basement in the East Bay, but purchased lift tickets on site. I didn’t have to wait in line too long and the customer service reps were able to help me get the best deal for our family’s game plan. However, I’ve read some mixed reviews on wait times. There’s an option to buy lift tickets in advance online and that may be an option to consider before your visit.

Once we had all our gear on, we went outside and started Daddy/Mommy Snowboarding School. Dozens of parents were stepping into the role of ski or snowboard instructor, so we weren’t alone in our efforts. The magic carpet ride was about 7 minutes long, which means the bunny hill is a long enough to get some solid instruction in on each downhill ride. My kids only lasted a few times down the bunny hill, but it sparked their interest in snowboarding. We started planning our next snowboarding adventure on the drive home. All in all, I’m really grateful that we got to experience the mountain and that it was the location for our kids’ first time snowboarding.

Family on skis poses next to Person dressed in bear costume
Bear Valley Resort is popular among families | Source: Bear Valley Resort Facebook

Tips for a Smooth Visit at Bear Valley Ski Resort with Kids

A day of skiing or snowboarding with kids will be full of emotions for all involved. Come prepared with a game plan and your day will go much smoother. The resort also has a handy guide for first-time visitors. We traveled to the resort during the snow storms of MLK holiday weekend. The storm didn’t keep people away but our experience may be slightly different than visiting on a bluebird day.

A few extra tips to make for a memorable day:

  • On Gear. Kids taking lessons are required to have eyewear, gloves, waterproof pants, and a helmet (available for rent) to participate. I’d also add that warm ski socks and waterproof coat are essential. Nothing is worse than being cold and wet all day. We rented gear from Sports Basement Berkeley in advance. This is widely recommended by many, but may not be the best option if rentals are included in a lesson package.
  • On Lessons. Bear Valley offers downhill ski and snowboard youth group (ages 4+) and adult group lessons, plus private lessons (ages 3+). Reserve your space in a lesson online before you head to the ski field. Full day lessons are available and include rental and lift ticket for children. Lessons break for lunch from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm and parents must pick up children during this time, then return kids for the afternoon portion of the lesson. This adds another logistical layer to the day.
  • On Lunch. We opted to bring lunch from home, which seemed like a common option by guests. Lessons and ski teams break for lunch from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm and it was most crowded at the Day Lodge then. Consider an early or late lunch before 11:30 am or after 1 pm if purchasing hot items from the cafeteria or attempting to get a seat at a table.
  • On Lockers. Bring quarters with you if you want to rent a small locker for the day (costs $1). There are also larger lockers available the appeared to be large enough to fit a few pairs of skis or boards. We prefer to bring a backpack to hold snacks and personal items so we don’t need to go back and forth from the locker or car.
  • On cold temps: HotHands hand warmers and buffs are lifesavers for very cold, blustery days.
  • Local Parent Tip: Berkeley parent Hannah—whose children are part of the Bear Valley ski team—chooses Bear Valley because it’s a nice mix of slopes, generally less crowded  and has shorter lifts lines, and traffic isn’t as heavy on peak travel days (Fridays and Sundays). She recommends paying for preferred parking to avoid a long walk with the kiddos, bringing your own lunch and snacks, and ending your day on the slopes with hot chocolate!
Children reviewing ski map
Studying the runs at Bear Valley Resort | Photo: Maureen Burke

Plan your visit to Bear Valley Ski Resort (as of Jan 2023)

  • Road Safety. Make sure you have the latest information on winter storms and road safety before heading to Bear Valley region/Alpine County. This section of Hwy 4 requires chains unless your vehicle has 4WD and snow tires.
  • Hours: Lifts open from 9 am to 4 pm. The rental shop and ticket office open at 8:30 am.
  • Tickets and Reservations: Lessons must be pre-purchased online. Be sure to book early for popular dates (such as holidays) as those can sell out quickly. Lift tickets can be purchased in advance or in person at the Day Lodge.
  • Price: Bear Valley offers two types of lift tickets: Beginner and Day Tickets. Beginner lift tickets ($69 weekdays, $79 weekends) only allow access on a few lifts and the magic carpets. However, this is a cost-saving option if you’re not ready for more advanced areas of the mountain. One-day lift ticket prices are based on age: $28 for 5 and under; $98 for 6-12; $142 for 13-17; $153 for 18-69; $142 for 70+.  One-day tickets are a few dollars less on weekdays. Season passes are also available.
  • Rentals: Rental equipment is available in packages or a la carte. Full packages range from $44-$61 for children and $59-$75 for adults, depending on the day. Rentals are included in the price of full-day, child lessons. Rental purchases must be made with a credit card. Allow 60-90 minutes to be fitted for rental equipment on site. We rented equipment from Sports Basement in the East Bay and then brought the rentals to the resort.
  • Parking: Free, but get there early for the good spots. Preferred parking is available for $20 a car or $30 for an RV. A shuttle takes guest from the village to the Day Lodge between 8 am and 4 pm, about every 30 minutes.
  • Location: 2280 State Route 207, Bear Valley, CA 95223
  • Lessons: Group and private ski and snowboarding lessons book fast, especially the longer sessions. Reservations must be booked online, in advance. It’s recommended to book 2+ weeks in advance for peak dates and at least 72 hours in advance for other dates. If your date is booked, keep checking the website. Sometimes other people cancel lessons and you can snag one that way. There is a lesson cancellation policy, but it’s somewhat restrictive.
  • Helmets are required for kids under age 13.
  • No on-site childcare.
  • Private + Group Lessons >>

Bottom Line: Bear Valley Resort is a great option if you’re searching for a ski destination outside the Lake Tahoe area. It’s a basic resort caters to families with affordable lessons and lift tickets, plus a magic carpet area.

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