Northern California Mountain Resorts Comparison: Mammoth, Kirkwood, Heavenly, and Northstar

March 1, 2019

Duration: 2 days
Mileage: 500
Starting point: Mountain View, CA
States: CA
Average budget for 2 people: $280 ($60 gas, $100 food, $120 hotel) *

  • Day 1: Early morning drive to the mountains (or Friday after work drive, then hotel price doubles), snowboarding
  • Day 2: Snowboarding and drive home

* Excluding ski lift tickets and gear/clothes rental

When we used to live in Southern California we went snowboarding to Mammoth Mountain, however, after we moved to the Bay Area it is much more convenient to go to Lake Tahoe. Luckily, Epic Pass includes 3 awesome resorts: Heavenly, Kirkwood, and Northstar. After spending many fun weekends on those mountains I decided to collect some statistics about them and share their comparison from our point of view.

Kirkwood resort:

Our favorite mountain resort in Tahoe is Kirkwood and it is also the closest one from Mountain View if road conditions are good (182 miles, approx. 3.2 h drive). Northstar is 228 mi away and Heavenly is 223 mi which is quite similar and is approx. 3.4 h drive. Roads to Norstar and Heavenly are wider and better maintained while the way to Kirkwood is a one lane curvy road that can be covered in snow. But this doesn't stop us from going there and we usually spend Saturday in Kirkwood and Sunday in Heavenly (because of cheaper hotel options).

Here is a brief statistics about these resorts. Even though it looks like they are getting a similar snowfall I would say that Mammoth is the best, then Kirkwood, then Northstar with Heavenly. If you are not sure where to go and how bad the season will be in California then Mammoth is a safer bet, however, it is approx. 6 h drive from Mountain View.

Mammoth resort:

Criteria Kirkwood Heavenly Northstar Mammoth
Skiable terrain 2300 acres 4630 acres 3110 acres 3500 acres
Number of lifts 14 28 20 25
Number of trails 85 97 100 150+
Top elevation 9800 feet 10067 feet 8610 feet 11053 feet
Beginner terrain 12% 8% 13% 25%
Intermediate terrain 30% 62% 60% 40%
Advanced terrain 38% 25% 27% 20%
Expert terrain 20% 5% 0% 15%
Average snowfall 354 inches 360 inches 350 inches 400 inches
Longest run 2.5 mi 5.5 mi 1.4 mi 3 mi

All resorts are very well maintained, nicely groomed trails, chair lifts are quite similar except for Kirkwood which has a little older equipment. All resorts also have ski parks but you need to check their status online before going. Now the most important things to consider while choosing a resort.



  • Kirkwood has several free parking lots and we were always able to find a spot there, however, the spaces are limited. It is a walking distance from the chairlifts. There are also several paid parking lots. Just follow Google maps to Kirkwood and you’ll see their employees showing you the way to park. If nearby lots get filled up there will be additional space allocated several miles away with a free shuttle service.
  • Northstar has an ample free parking lot from where a shuttle bus takes you to the mountain. There are also paid lots by the mountain. There are several free lots within several miles as well, check their twitter regularly to see where you need to drive if you get to the mountain later in the day.
  • Heavenly has small free parking lots on Nevada side of the mountain (Stagecoach and Boulder lifts) and near the tram on California side, however, they get filled up quickly. There is a paid garage near gondola and you can also park in nearby casinos for a fee. We usually stay in a hotel close to the gondola and leave our car on their parking lot for free. There is also a free shuttle bus from the gondola to the tram.
  • In Mammoth there are free parking lots next to the Main, Canyon and Eagle Lodges as well as preferred options but they all fill up quickly. Mammoth has a very good free shuttle bus system so you can just take a ride from your hotel.
  • * Paid parking fees for all these resorts are usually 20-40$ per day.

    Heavenly has some very nice off-piste slopes where you can ride between the trees:


    Mammoth has a lot of hotels to a different taste as well as house rentals, however, everything is getting quite expensive for the winter season if you are booking late. In Tahoe area Heavenly is the only place with cheaper hotels right next to the gondola. In Kirkwood and Northstar hotels that are near the lifts are very expensive and limited, all other lodging options are within a driving distance. If we go to Tahoe we usually stay in Heavenly for this reason.


    Village and activities:

    The most beautiful village is definitely in Norstar, it looks very luxurious :) Kirkwood is located in the middle of nowhere and there are not many things to do there. Mammoth and Heavenly are located in bigger cities with lots of restaurants and places to go to.

    Northstar views this season:

    Crowds and bottlenecks:

  • I would say that Kirkwood is less crowded. It's a mountain for an advanced skiers/snowboarders so you won't find many noobs blocking the whole run. The back side of the mountain is awesome after a storm.
  • Heavenly gets a lot of people and the bottleneck can be in the gondola in the morning when everyone is trying to get up. However, you can take a singles line or take a shuttle to where the tram is to take a chairlift from there. Or you can start from Nevada side. Once you get to the ski area you can go to the California side or Nevada, avoid dipper and comet lifts - this is where the crowds are. Tamarack express is the place where beginner snowboarders hangout.
  • I would say that Northstar is the most crowded resort. It has a beautiful back side of the mountain with multiple black diamond trails, however, there are only 2 chairlifts that would take you there so you will need to wait in a line for up to 20 min during the peak season. I wouldn't say that this is a reason not to visit the resort as the mountain is really good.
  • Mammoth is most crowded in the Main Lodge area. Canyon and Eagle express are usually much better.
  • Northstar:

    Other considerations:

    If weather conditions are good then Heavenly offers amazing views from Taramack express, tram, and Canyon Express, it's definitely worth checking out. Several years ago I complained in Heavenly that moving between different sides of the mountain is hard because the runs are too flat, however, this year I was able to make them on my snowboard. Also, Heavenly says that the longest run is 5.5 mi but it is only available when there is enough snow and it gets very bumpy.

    Heavenly views:

    See you on the slopes! And check out our instagram for more pictures :)