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Best Places to Learn to Backcountry Ski in California

Best Places to Learn to Backcountry Ski in California

When Paulina Dao, the founder of Bay Area Outdoor Women and an advocate for diversity and inclusion in outdoor media, asked us if she could learn how to splitboard on our Sojouner Splitboard, we couldn't say no. Here's her take on the best places to learn how to backcountry ski and snowboard in California.

Learning how to get into the backcountry can seem really daunting if you don’t know where to go or how to get started. There’s so many factors involved that it can be intimidating to strap in. 

I’m still a baby in the backcountry so I polled all my friends and pooled together the few days I have outside to put together a short list of beginner-friendly terrain in California. 

Glacier Point

It’s not a true backcountry experience as you’re skinning up a well-traveled, and occasionally groomed road, but it’s a nice spot to practice your skinning. Turns are a little contrived but can be found. It’s a nice, mellow ride down to the car with a few transitions. This trip is also quite busy, so you’ll never find yourself alone. This is also best done as an overnighter, unless you are up early and beast the 8-10 miles in. You can snow camp here or stay at the hut. 

Elephants Back

With few trees to spook you, Elephants Back is an easily accessible spot to earn your turns in Mokelumne Wilderness. The amount of sweat you put in is minimal. This area, in conjunction with Round Top Peak, is popular with winter users, so you’ll never really be alone if you find yourself in a bind. 

Round Top Peak

Located in the same area of Elephants Back, you’ll have to work a little harder to earn your turns. The approach is longer, but the skiing is fun. If you’re interested in this location, get here early. Parking fills up quickly!

Donner Summit

There’s a reason why many groups head to Donner Summit. It’s accessible for a Dawn patrol lap before work, or for an all-day excursion. There’s a ton of different terrain here, so do your research before you go, or go with folks who have been before. It’s busy and popular, so get an early start to guarantee parking. 

Little Round Top

If you’re interested in a little peak bagging with your turns, Little Round Top is the place for you. This area contains few trees except for near the summit; which you could choose to bootpack up and down if trees make you antsy. A friend described it as “not exciting, but nice”, which is fairly accurate, making it great for beginners who want to learn without too much thrill. 

Mt. Rose

If you enjoy big, wide bowls with plenty of places to stop and rest, you’ll love Mt. Rose. Minimal trees means you can focus on your turns and staying afloat, rather than fretting about hitting trees—a thing I stress out a lot about. It’s incredibly beginner-friendly terrain, with a nutty parking lot to prove it. Get here early. 

Ostrander Ski Hut

Located off the same road as Glacier Point, Ostrander Ski Hut is a backcountry enthusiast’s dream. It’s a 10 mile skin to the hut, but once you’re there, the cirque is your oyster. Proceeds from the hut go towards projects within Yosemite National Park. Reservations are required.

Learning a new gear-intensive, and knowledge-intensive sport can be intimidating. These locations should make the learning curve a little flatter, with accessible, beginner-friendly, non-technical terrain. Before heading out, please check national park or forest service closures. Many of these spots may be affected by COVID-19 or fires. 


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