Starting in the great white north of Canada and finishing in Southern California near the Mexican border, this winter road trip is not for the faint of heart or short on time. A new take on the iconic coastal drive, it follows the West Coast’s mountainous backbone from top to bottom and includes a smorgasbord of mountain ranges, national parks, world-class ski resorts, funky ski towns, incredible scenery and heaps of untold adventures.
A diverse array of recreational options are offered — everything from ice climbing to snowboarding, cross-country skiing to snowshoeing — these are some of the hidden gems that shouldn’t be missed. How they link together is completely up to the individual road trippers.
Start in Vancouver, sampling all the delicious sushi and ramen restaurants in one of the world’s greatest cities. Vancouver has it all and is just a quick 90-minute drive north on highway 99 to Whistler. Consistently rated a top resort in North America, Whistler/Blackcomb is also one of the biggest. Boasting a nightlife scene that rivals Vegas, if you get bored in Whistler it’s no one’s fault but your own. The trick is not getting stuck there for the entire winter season…or lifetime, for that matter. After all, there are thousands of miles to cover and this road trip is just getting started.
Head south from Whistler towards the U.S Border, where no funny business will be tolerated, so keep it clean. Remember to bring your passport and leave plenty of time to cross as the lines can get long. First stop in the U.S is Bellingham, Washington and nearby Mt. Baker Ski Resort. With an annual snowfall depth that routinely tops the 700-inch mark and a relaxed, mellow crowd, Mt. Baker is the place to shred.
From Mt. Baker, drive south towards the small town of Leavenworth. Don’t let the funky Bavarian facades of Leavenworth’s downtown fool you, it’s a legit mountain town with some incredible backcountry skiing options in the Cascades. There’s a cool local hill, lots of resident rippers and Steven’s Pass Ski Resort just 30 minutes up the pass on highway 2.
In Oregon, don’t miss Mt. Hood and the nearby town of Government Camp before logging a couple days in Bend. Surf the famous white waves of Mt. Bachelor, where the wide-open terrain and deep snowpack encourage giant wind lips that resemble an endless series of waves for snow surfers. 130 miles south of Mt. Bachelor on highway 97, Crater Lake National Park is a sight to behold in winter, when the deep blue lake shines like a sapphire donut against the snowy backdrop. Plus there are way less people visiting in the winter. The Modoc and Plumas National Forests are next before beelining it to Lake Tahoe.
Needing little introduction, especially during a winter like this one, Lake Tahoe is a mecca for all things snow. Nine different ski resorts of varying sizes surround Lake Tahoe from the world famous Squaw Valley to off-the-beaten path Kirkwood Resort, and everything in between. The backcountry is insane and there are 24-hour casinos on Tahoe’s South Shore. Needless to say, it’s worth spending at least a few days in the Tahoe area.
After gorging on good times in Tahoe, pack it up and continue south down highway 395 to Mammoth Mountain. The Hot Creek Hot Springs just outside of town are not to be missed and neither are the legendary terrain parks and the chutes and bowls found on Mammoth’s upper mountain. Deep with a capital D, Mammoth is having a record snow year and it’d be rude not to partake in some of that bounty on a road trip like this one.
It’s about a six-hour drive south through some beautiful terrain from Mammoth Lakes to Big Bear, a Southern California ski resort that can get decent during a good snow year. During the drive, make a quick detour to check out Joshua Tree National Park, where the rock climbing and camping is world class during the crisp winter months.
California’s one of the few places where it’s possible to surf and ski in the same day. So catch a sunrise wave at Rincon near Ventura and then drive up to Big Bear to finish the day skiing or snowboarding. Big Bear can get crowded on a busy weekend so be sure to venture out of the terrain parks when there’s fresh snow, it can feel surprisingly empty.
The final stop is Mt. Baldy in San Bernandino County. When there’s snow on Mt. Baldy, its steep slopes and tight trees will test even the best shredder and leave them shaking their head saying, “I can’t BELIEVE we’re in Southern California!”
After spending the winter shredding powder and bathing in hot springs, maybe it’s time to keep driving south into Baja to thaw out? Or you could always turn it around, trade in your snowboards for surfboards and drive back north up the coast. Ah…life on the road.