Skiing? In California? It doesn’t really fit with the archetypal picture of sun-kissed beaches frequented by A-list Hollywood starlets.

But an hour’s flight from Los Angeles is Lake Tahoe, the largest freshwater lake in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, a world away the image of California I’d always imagined. And this rather surreal proximity means you can surf in the morning and ski in the afternoon, if you really want an action-packed day.

I’ll admit, I was curious as to why anyone would travel so far from Europe, home to a plethora of perfectly good mountain ranges, fly straight past Canada and over world famous resorts in Colorado, to ski in California.

But the moment I first ski-ed down Heavenly Mountain, with the huge expanse of sapphire blue Lake Tahoe outstretched in front, I understood why.

We make our way along pine tree-lined runs towards the largest alpine lake on the continent, with powdery, pure white snow beneath our skis and the Californian sun beating down from above.

There are 15 skiable mountains around this 22-mile long lake, bordering the state line of Nevada. Heavenly is the largest, boasting the best views, and straddles both states, while one side of the mountain overlooks luscious Lake Tahoe, the other surveys the vast, dry Nevada desert.

Our resort base is South Lake Tahoe, which operates like a fully functioning town, complete with supermarket and cinema. It’s less idyllic than other purpose-built ski villages, but it’s buzzing with life.

A much more glamorous reception awaits me at North Star, another resort 90 minutes away at the top of the lake.

Gliding right up to the doorway of the Ritz-Carlton, where I’m staying, and simply stepping out of the skis for someone else to deal with, felt like true Hollywood A-list treatment.

North Star is better suited to intermediate skiers and boarders than advanced. Even the most difficult runs here only equate to reds in the French Alps.

What does feel special about North Star is the sense of space and quiet on the slopes. Several times I made it to the bottom of a run without even seeing another skier. Affluent Americans from LA orSan Francisco come for long weekends, so it’s not unusual for the slopes to be this empty on weekdays. Just a 30-minute drive from North Star is Squaw Valley, where we stay at PlumpJack Hotel for the night. Here we find warm, cosy, low-key luxury, an ice rink at the top of a mountain and even a ski-through Starbucks.

And after a day on the more serious Squaw Valley slopes (a boarder’s paradise with half pipes and jumps) I head for the outdoor hot tub.

Three hundred miles south of Lake Tahoe is Mammoth Mountain. It’s possible to fly but many Americans choose to do the scenic four-hour drive, with rolling mountains, roadside rivers and little towns along the way.

Mammoth Mountain is definitely worth a visit if only to boast you’ve skied on a volcano. Technically it’s still active with minor eruptions – the last was 700 years ago, so I’m pretty sure we’re safe, but there have been reports of volcanic gases killing trees in more recent years.

The night we arrive at The Westin Monache hotel, we gather for some local Napa Valley wine while Black Tie ski rental come to our hotel with our equipment measured out and ready to fit.

As I take a sip of velvety smooth pinot noir, the hazy memories of queuing at 9am for an hour in a bustling shop in the Alps, gathering skis, boots and poles, blur into infinity.

  • Lauren Taylor was a guest of Visit California (; 020 7257 618).

British Airways operates twice daily from Heathrow to Los Angeles. Fares start from £590. To book, visit

Rooms at The Westin Monache Resort ( start from £116, £96 at the Ritz-Carlton at Northstar ( and £206 at the PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn (