Palisades Tahoe or Mammoth Mountain?

Dylan Craig | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Mammoth or Squaw
Mammoth’s Unbound Park. Photo Credit: Peter Morning/MMSA

For some reason, many casual skiers in the United States find it hard to believe that California has good skiing, let alone skiing at all. Thanks to Hollywood, California has long been associated with palm-lined streets and a warm Mediterranean climate. However, any skier who’s ever been to California knows it’s a legit outdoors destination, with the highest mountain range of any state besides Alaska.

The Sierra Nevada mountain range, reaching heights of 14,505 feet at Mt. Whitney, is home to dramatic granite peaks that offer world-class skiing and massive verticals. California has even more ski resorts than Colorado, with 29 resorts over Colorado’s 28 resorts. California’s ski resorts as a whole are world-class destinations, but two California resorts have gained a certain level of prestige in the skiing community.


  • Palisades Tahoe: 6,000 Skiable Acres
  • Mammoth Mountain: 3,500 Skiable Acres
Palisades Tahoe, CA, buried in snow in February 2019. Image: SnowBrains

The two titans of California skiing are Palisades Tahoe and Mammoth Mountain, historic resorts that any skier is familiar with. Over the past several decades, a friendly rivalry has brewed between the two resorts. Both resorts compete to see who can have a longer season, and California skiers will often pledge strict allegiance to one resort over the other. It’s worth pointing out that other resorts in California (such as Kirkwood, Heavenly, Northstar, or June Mountain) offer some of the best skiing around.

But for some reason, whether it be word-of-mouth or good marketing, Palisades Tahoe and Mammoth arguably have emerged as the two quintessential California resorts. Regardless of one’s opinion over which resort is superior, both are can’t-miss destinations.


  • Mammoth’s Top Elevation: 11,053 feet (3,100 feet of vertical drop)
  • Palisades Tahoe’s Top Elevation: 9,050 (2,850 feet of vertical drop)
Squaw or Mammoth
Mammoth’s Trail Map. Credit: Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth is the highest ski resort in California at 11,053 feet, meaning it typically gets the driest snow in California and arguably the entire West Coast. Mammoth also has a slightly longer vertical drop (3,100′) than Palisades Tahoe (2,850′) – but Mammoth’s vert can be skied in one continuous run. At Palisades, the most vert you can ski in one continuous run is 2,685′. The Sierra Nevada is notorious for having heavier snow (“Sierra Cement”) due to its proximity to the Pacific ocean. Still, dry powder can easily be found at Palisades and Mammoth during the prime season between January and March. Both resorts are known for their consistently deep snowpack.


  • Palisades Tahoe reported 411 inches of snow for the 2021-2022 season (*8,200 feet)
  • Mammoth reported 341 inches of snow for the 2021-2022 season (*8,909 feet)
Palisades Tahoe trail map
Palisades Tahoe trail map.

Palisades Tahoe’s position in the Lake Tahoe basin means that Pacific storms are funneled directly into the resort, so it historically has had higher levels of snowfall than Mammoth. Both resorts get absurd amounts of snow and are notorious for receiving mega-dumps. In January 2017, Mammoth was battered by a series of back-to-back-to-back storms, ultimately receiving 246 inches (20.5 feet) of snow over 20 days. When the chain of storms had finally passed, Mammoth had an insane skiable base of 350 inches (the snowiest resorts on the East Coast get 300 inches a year). With a base like that, along with the additional snow after January, Mammoth was able to spin lifts until August 9th.


  • Palisades Tahoe: 450″
  • Mammoth Mountain: 400″
Mammoth or Squaw
Twenty feet over 20 days at Mammoth was burying chairlifts. The mountain had to shut down to be dug out. Photo Credit: Mammoth Mountain

Palisades Tahoe is no stranger to mega-dumps, eitherIn February 2019, Palisades Tahoe received over 300 inches in one month. It snowed to the point where the resort had to close temporarily, there was too much snow for the mountain operations to function properly, and there were massive avalanche safety concerns. The combination of high elevation and consistent snowfall means that Mammoth and Palisades typically have some of the longest ski seasons in the west. Mammoth, in particular, due to its high elevation/cold weather, is known to have ski seasons that can break 250 days. At Mammoth, I skied as early as November 7th and as late as August 8th.

Palisades Tahoe, with 6,000 total skiable acres, is the home of the legendary Shane McConkey. Palisades Tahoe has iconic steeps and extreme lines featured in countless ski movies. There’s even a book featuring all the extreme lines, Squallywood. The book gave birth to the cult-classic ski movie GNAR, which features McConkey and probably has impacted ski culture more than any other ski movie in history. KT-22 is consistently voted to be one of the top ski lifts in the country, giving access to some of the resort’s most intense terrain. Cliffs and steep runs are the name of the game. The Fingers and the Headwall have graced the covers of ski magazines worldwide, and many skiers claim that it has the most extreme terrain in North America.

The Fingers. KT-22. February 2019. image: snowbrains

But Mammoth is no slacker regarding terrain, coming in at 3,500 skiable acres. After all, it’s where the US Olympic Ski Team trains. Mammoth has one of the best park systems in the world. Legends from Shaun White to Chloe Kim all have roots in Mammoth’s Unbound parks. Mammoth is known for its upper bowls and chutes. Chair 22 and Chair 23 offer steep chutes that fill in beautifully on a windy day; any Mammoth local will endlessly gush about Mammoth’s famed wind buff. Avalanche Chutes and Wipeout/Dropout Chutes are two of the more prominent chutes on the map, but they can be found off-trail all over the mountain. The Hemlocks and Dragon’s Tail on the opposite flanks of the resort are seriously steep.

mammoth or squaw
When the snow fills in right (not quite yet in this picture), there are some serious chutes at Mammoth. Photo Credit: Snowbrains

Both resorts have good base areas/towns with lively nightlife and classic bars. It’s impossible to pick one over the other, but a rivalry between the two resorts has brewed regardless. Both have strengths and notable features, and they are worth a visit.

They’re also both on the Ikon pass, meaning California’s two most iconic resorts can be skied with the same pass.

Which one do you prefer?

Chair 23 on April 29th, 2016. photo: snowbrains

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20 thoughts on “Palisades Tahoe or Mammoth Mountain?

  1. I had season passes to both resorts. I have to say, Mammoth gets my vote. The snow is way better. It rains at 6000 ft, I can’t remember rain at Mammoth. You can access almost every lift by car. You can’t beat the shoot skiing either. Balls to the walls, Felipe’s, Hangman’s. Can you really compare?

  2. If Palisades would build a park half as good as Mammy; no brainer Palisades takes the cake. Terrain is more featured and we got KT. That said, Mammoth’s high elevation chalk, wind re-fills days later, and best park/pipe in the Country put it ahead in my opinion.

  3. As someone who loves powder/steeps, they are about equal overall in my opinion and the 2 best resorts in CA. And part of the top 7 in North America. There are a couple smaller CA resorts that are just as good quality wise, but not quantity wise. Mammoth has the higher elevation, but really it depends on the storm, if it’s a cold storm they’re both great, and S* often gets more snow. If it’s a warm storm Mammoth is better. A lot of the experience comes down to the individual lifts. Chair 23 at Mammoth is awesome but only 1,121′ vertical drop and gets tracked out in 2-3 runs because it’s open and visible. Mammoth has a lot of powder stashes but they don’t have a lot of vertical. S* has the 1,767′ KT22 and 1,755′ Headwall and with good snow they go off. S* also has lots of powder stashes with less vertical drop.

  4. Not this tired thread again. Milers, you must me desperate for content. It’s like saying the Lambo or the Ferrari.

  5. “There’s even a book featuring all the extreme lines in Squaw, Squallywood. The book gave birth to the cult-classic ski movie, GNAR, which features McConkey…” FACT CHECK PLEASE! THIS IS FAKE NEWS!!

  6. I worked for years at both. On a powder day squaw blows doors off mammoth. On a sunny groomer day definitely mammoth. I defy you to find a longer steeper consistently groomed run than scotty’s. Keep in mind that mammoth is a true ski town while Tahoe is super spread out. Unless you stay in Olympic valley you will be driving to squaw

  7. I learned to ski at Squaw, and I mostly ski at Mammoth now. I feel that they’re very comparable in all ways but one: snow quality. Due to its higher elevation, Mammoth not only gets lighter snow, but it’s also less likely to be affected by warmer rainstorms during ski season. If you want to compare snow quality, the only Tahoe resort that’s Mammoth’s equal is Kirkwood, due to its similar elevation and orientation.

  8. Kind of like saying which do you prefer, the Blonde or the Brunette? I don’t know, there both fun to ride.

  9. While Squaw claims a top elevation of 9050′, to get above 8,741′ feet (top of Emigrant and lower than Main Lodge at Mammoth) according to requires hiking above Granite Chief, Headwall or Siberia, all of which top out below 8,700′.

    The same source for Mammoth says top of gondola is 11,023′.

  10. Mammoth has way nicer employees and way better food , the food at squaw valley sucks , I know for a fact that leftover food was reheated and served at High camp . Midweek powder at mammoth is basically a private ski resort, try to get first turns at squaw on a powder day and you will get run over by rude assh***es every time .
    Mammoth is just a much nicer experience and fewer people and has the steep terrain comparable to squaw and alpine meadows with more vertical feet.
    Chair 23 in considered one of the best chairs in North America and offers amazing powder skiing and double black diamond terrain.

    1. Mammoth reports their snow from Main Lodge at 8,909′. Squaw measures their snow from High Camp at 8,200′.

  11. That picture of Squaw is ob btw! But Squaw does have more steep terrain than Mammoth, especially when you add Alpine Meadows. You should have used a picture of the fingers or the palisades. Good article though.

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