californiagrownIMO SF is cool if you're into the SF scene, or want to do big things in your career. For most other things, I think there are better cities. Seattle had the best mix of world class city and access to world class outdoors.
You would plan on living in SF? or in a surrounding city? SF is a really cool, really unique place, don't get me wrong, but unless you surf/windsurf/sail, you gotta work hard to enjoy the outdoors sports.
You have to work hard to surf in SF. Ocean Beach can be great, but it is blown out most of the time. You really need to be on it to get those windows when the surf is clean and that is tough to do with an office job. It is much easier to surf in Santa Cruz, and far easier to surf in Orange County where I live. If I ever moved to SF I would enjoy being closer to Tahoe than I am to Mammoth but deal with the trade off that I would surf less.
I would not say SF sucks for skiing, not saying you did, if you have the money to get a ski lease and you are willing to drive you can get in a whole lot of days, but those two things are key. If you can't spend the money on a ski lease and you don't want to drive you won't be able to have a good ski year. I guess I see it that way because I drive to Mammoth 3 weekends a month from Orange County and that drive is 5 hours and 45 minutes with no traffic. I also spend 385 a month on my ski lease. It takes a real commitment to live here and ski good mountains 30 to 40 days a year, but it can be done if you are motivated enough.
I think SF is much better than people think for skiing when compared to Denver. I've heard the I-70 can be hell when getting to Summit, 4 hours, which is almost as bad as the drive from the bay to Tahoe. If you want to ski two days 3 weekends a month or more you would need a ski lease there too, and I would rather ski Tahoe than Summit County, so I think those areas are pretty even. The advantage Denver has is Loveland Pass, which is close. If I lived there I would either drive every weekend day to ski Loveland or get a ski lease in Summit.
I guess what I am saying is that you can have winters that are just as good in Orange County and SF as you can in Denver, you just have to be willing to drive to do it. As far as Seattle goes, how far is it from Crystal/Alpental/Steven's Pass? If it is two hours each way you are still driving 8 hours every weekend if you want to get a lot of days in, whereas in the bay you are driving 9 to 10. The difference is day trips, you can't do a day trip from SF unless you are willing to drive 9 hours for one day which I would not do.
So I guess Seattle is easier, but if you don't get a ski lease you still drive a lot for a two day ski weekend. I think the only major city where you can ski great mountains without much of a commitment would be Salt Lake.
But your point about SF is accurate. You WILL have to work for your outdoor activities, but you will be rewarded. You will find people in SF who ski just as much as the folks in Denver, it just takes getting used to the drive. I'm not trying to persuade someone not to go to SF, it is where I would live if I did not live in socal, just be aware of the commitment you will have to make to ski a lot. That skiing will be great though, I would rather ski Squaw than anywhere I have been, and that includes Mammoth, the place I currently spend my weekends. I love Mammoth, but I would trade Mammoth for Squalpine in a heart beat. Or maybe I wouldn't, maybe the crowds at Squalpine are now so bad that it would drive me to Sugar Bowl. When I lived in Tahoe the crowds at Squaw were not that bad because the season passes were not so cheap.