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Hitting the ‘California Double’: A Same-Day Surf and Snowboard Adventure

California Surfing Ski and Snow
by Eben Diskin Sep 12, 2023

Sports like skiing and surfing are as much part of a person’s identity as the music we like, or being a cat or dog person. It helps define what we value, how we spend our time, how we dress, and ultimately who we are. Due to geographic constraints, people are usually one or the other – a winter shredder or a summer swell-seeker. Living in the mountains, in a colder climate, means you’re more likely to gravitate toward the winter sports, while living in a warmer coastal area means surfing is probably a bigger part of your local culture. When you visit California, though, you quickly learn that being both isn’t just possible – it’s a way of life.

This best-of-both-worlds mentality is central to the California lifestyle. Southern California is famous for its beaches and surf scene, a scene that persists farther north in the colder waters of the Central Coast and the Bay Area’s icy Pacific waves. North of there, inland mountains in the Tahoe region are famous for skiing and snowboarding (although you’ll also find a handful of ski resorts in Southern California). In many cases, the two vastly different climates and experiences are separated by a mere two-hour drive, and it’s more than possible to hit both the waves and the slopes in the same day. Doing so, in fact, is considered a Cali badge of honor.

What is the California Double?

The California Double is an outdoor challenge regarded with a quiet reverence among skiers, snowboarders, and surfers. It involves surfing and skiing or snowboarding on the same day, with the aim of taking advantage of California’s diverse landscape and climate, given the easy access to both the Pacific coastline and nearby mountains with ski resorts.

While the rules might sound simple, completing the challenge does take some planning. Usually, participants begin their day by hitting the waves at sunrise, before heading to a nearby ski resort. You might find yourself driving a few hours, but if you start early enough, you’ll still have plenty of time for both activities, and the reward of enjoying both experiences in a single day is totally worth it.

The California Double is achievable in both Northern and Southern California, but you might face longer drive times up north. One of your best bets for pulling off a California double is to start on the coast in Orange County or San Diego County, depending on your surf level, and end on the slopes in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles.

Surfing in SoCal

If you’re serious about tackling the California Double, start at sunrise at Beacon’s Beach just north of Encinitas. The beach sits quietly below a bluff and is reachable via a switchback trail that descends down the cliffside. Because the beach is a little more difficult to access than some others in the area, it’s perfect for both surfing and sunbathing away from the crowds. Known for the frequency and consistency of the waves, and the relative ease of the surf, Beacon’s Beach is accessible for beginner surfers just looking to (literally) get their feet wet.

For more experienced surfers, head an hour north of Beacon’s Beach to Newport Beach. It’s known for The Wedge, a surf spot at the southeast end of the beach that has some of the most powerful breaks in California, with giant wedge-shaped waves. Even if you’re not surfing the 30-foot waves here, it’s worth visiting simply to admire the swells and the beautiful oceanfront homes sitting right on the sand.

Snowboarding in the San Bernardino Mountains

Just a few hours from the beach, the mountains are calling in San Bernardino. A far cry from the frigid temperatures of Vermont and New Hampshire, the San Bernardino Mountains see an abundance of natural snowfall while still maintaining relatively warm temperatures — so warm, in fact, you can even board in a tee-shirt during the warmer days of the ski season (and might even prefer it by the time spring skiing rolls around).

There are over 55 miles of slopes in the San Bernardino Mountains, across several ski resorts. Big Bear Mountain Resort, one of the larger resorts in the area, consists of two popular ski areas: Snow Summit and Bear Mountain. While Snow Summit is more family-oriented and known for its well-groomed trails that are ideal for beginners, Bear Mountain is set apart by its terrain park with crazy jumps, rails, and other freestyle features. For obvious reasons, Bear Mountain attracts more advanced riders.

Snow Valley Mountain Resort is another popular resort in the mountains. Located near Running Springs, the resort has over 240 acres of ski terrain and 29 trails, a mix that makes it perfect for riders of all skill levels. There’s also a dedicated learning area for beginners, which make it a great family destination along with snow play areas, sledding, and scenic chairlift rides.

Though technically the California Double refers to surfing and downhill skiing or snowboarding, we can make an exception for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The Rim Nordic Ski Area, also near Running Springs, has groomed trails for cross-country skiing, as well as snowshoeing. The quieter setting is also a great option for those looking to escape the crowds of the busier ski resorts and really appreciate the beauty of the San Bernardino Mountains.

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