Wednesday, January 13, 2016

From the Desert to the Sea to All of Southern California: Winter Sports in the L.A. Area

It's been said of the Los Angeles area that you can go surfing in the morning and skiing in the afternoon. It is very possible to do but, unless you're a very hard core surfer with an excellent wet suit, the winter water in our ocean will chill you to the bone.

But, if you were really adventurous, absolutely.  It wouldn't be a stretch to surf Huntington or Newport and zip up to our local mountains for a few hours on the snow.

Especially this winter when the long promised El Niño has arrived and is dumping record amounts of snow in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountain ranges.

I'll let someone else tell you about the joys of winter surfing on our local beaches but I do have quite a bit of experience in our local mountains...but fair warning: I haven't skied here for several years.

At one point, I can remember 15 separate ski areas in our area. Now, due to mergers and closures, we're down to 6.  Here are my thoughts on the areas I've skied over the years.

Big Bear Lake - The eastern most portion of our local mountains contains our biggest areas, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, which are now owned by Mammoth Mountain (the giant ski area up north). 

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia under CC BY-SA 3.0 license
Bear Mountain (formerly Goldmine and formerly Moonridge before that) is my favorite of the two...longer trails, more vertical drop, higher summits, and better snow. But Snow Summit bought them out a few years ago and the area kind of turned into a step sister to it's new owner, which got most of the money and upgrades over the years.  Still, a great mountain for our area and one of the oldest and more established adaptive ski programs in the west.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia kallahar under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Snow Summit is a smaller, more cozy place to ski.  Not as challening as Bear Mountain and tends to draw most of the crowds.  It's plusses are that it has complete coverage for snowmaking and you can also do some night skiing here.

Rebel Ridge is a defunct ski area that had some really nice, challenging terrain at bargain prices but that is all just history now. You can now go tubing and sledding there and it's called Big Bear Snow Play.

There was also another, small challenging hill there called Snow Forest.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia me under CC BY-SA 3.0 license
Running Springs - Lake Arrowhead is a big, beautiful and private lake up in the San Bernardino Mountains...a little closer to civilization than Big Bear (about a half hour closer)...and creator of their own ski area, too.  It's changed owners a few times over the years but Snow Valley remains a key player in the Southern California ski scene in nearby Running Springs.  

It's a huge area (by local standardss) serviced by an equally impressive array of lifts with a very large snow making operation. Night skiing is also available here, giving Inland Empire students a place to come up and burn off some of those calories after school at reduced rates.  While the bottom is mostly bunny hill, there is plenty of terrain up above for those of higher skills.

Green Valley Ski Area is another defunct ski hill in the area that couldn't keep up, especially after its facilities burned down in a fire.

Wrightwood - Formerly home to three separate areas that merged into one. Holiday Hill and Ski Sunrise (formerly Table Mountain) became part of the umbrella of the Mountain High (formerly Blue Ridge) Ski Area. It's biggest plus is that there is no windy, mountain driving required to get there and is the easiest resort to drive to from the cities down below.

In my opinion, Holiday Hill (now Mountain High East) is the best of the bunch here but is now mostly used as an overflow hill for the main Mountain High area (called Mountain High West).  It has nice, long trails. Some are very challenging, such as the two very steep faces you see from the parking lot. An intermediate trail winds down from the east side in the trees and beginners catch the lift back down at the top of those steep runs.

Mountain High West holds a lot of memories for me too, as it was the closest night skiing venue to my college and found me coming up a lot for some midweek, after dark thrills.  One time, finding it closed when we arrived, my friend Donnie and me hiked up to the top with our equipment just to get a ride in and not have a wasted trip.

The former Ski Sunrise is mostly used as a snow play area now.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Eric T. Gunther under CC BY-SA 3.0 license

Mt. Baldy - For most people in the eastern part of the L.A. Basin, this is the closest ski area to get to, although the last couple of miles are probably the hairiest bit of driving you can find to get to any of our local slopes.

Technically, it's our biggest ski area but in reality, only the upper portion is dependable for skiing. The lift out of the parking lot takes you up to the base lodge and the run underneath is extremely steep and usually doesn't have enough snow to ski on even if you're expert enough to handle it. 

About half of the slopes on top face south so the snow readily turns to slush in the sun and sometimes melts completely. It doesn't have the financial resources of the bigger areas to the east so it aways seems to be hanging by a thread.  It does attract a good, local crowd, though, and is a great place to ski with fresh snow.

It does not offer any accessiblity at all for wheelchair users.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Eekster under CC BY-SA 3.0 license
Angeles Crest Highway - Talk about hanging on by a thread. Mt. Waterman didn't open at all for 7 years and is still waiting to open this year, although their website says they'll be opening in a few days as of this writing.  Mt. Waterman...and it's long gone sister area, Kratka Ridge...are the closest areas to central L.A., the Westside, and the Valley, sitting just above La Cañada on Angeles Crest Highway between Mt. Wilson and Wrightwood.

They also have a problem that no other local area has, a complete lack of snowmaking capability. In a warm climate, prone to drought, it's not a good recipe for financial success to rely on natural snow only.

From the bottom, at it's tiny parking lot (really just a wide spot on the road), all you see are the steepest runs you can imagine ending abruptly at the pavement with nary any slow down area at all. The easier slopes are up at the top prompting most people here to take the chair back down.

I've only skied at Kratka Ridge which was a fabulous place to ski when there was good snow and run by some of the friendliest folks you'll find. The owner once saved my butt when my motorcycle broke down nearby, offering me cocoa and a seat by the fireplace until I could be rescued, so I do have a bit of a soft spot for this defunct area.

The Mt. Waterman side of things could sure use some good breaks during this El Niño year to get back on track financially, it will be interesting to see if they can hang on.

Nearby, Buckhorn Ski Club operates their own little rope-tow serviced hill and lodge. It's a private ski club but you can get a 'tryout' on their hill for only $10. I've never tried this place so have nothing to report on it.

So, active ski areas are
Big Bear Mountain Resorts (Snow Summit and Bear Mountain)
Snow Valley
Mountain High (Mountain High, Mountain High East, and Mountain High North)
Mt. Baldy
Mt. Waterman
Buckhorn Ski Club

Defunct areas are
Rebel Ridge
Green Valley
Krakta Ridge

Snow Forest

There you have it, the Alpine skiing options for those of you who want to get a little time on the slopes in while you're here in sunny, Southern California.

Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

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