Winter Guide 2012
By Arrissia Owen
Who knew? Word on the slopes is that some Southern California resorts are host to the best ski conditions in the nation right now. Yeah. Seriously. Better than Tahoe, and Mammoth is lagging, too, as are resorts in Utah, Colorado, you name it.
While the jet stream is keeping things drier lately—gee, thanks Arctic Oscillation—resorts like Bear Mountain, Snow Summit and Mountain High are still living large. That’s thanks to early winter dumps that built up the snow pack, giving way to excellent base coverage. And because the resorts invested millions in snowmaking equipment, the crews are able to keep things alive with regular fresh dustings.
And hey, January is Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month. So what are you waiting for?
Aside from its 748 total acreage of developed and undeveloped runs and more than 150 jumps and 80 jibs, Bear Mountain is home to The Scene, a park full of features at the bottom of the mountain. The Beach Bar overlooks the area for extra fanfare when you pull off something steezy.
To add to the fun at Bear, the resort just opened its superpipe, the only one in Southern California, as well as Gambler, the resort’s most insane jump. The park also has a halfpipe and a beginner pipe for those looking to go, say, less big. And the newish Skill Builders Parks overflow with small features and instructive signs to help you work up to the big guns. Jumps like Gambler are not for beginners. You got to know when to walk away, know when not to get gorked.
The Bear Mountain Eatery kills it with a breakfast burrito served until 10 a.m. Yogurt and granola parfaits are available, as well, for those watching their ski bunny waistlines. The Tiki Bar and outdoor barbecue will get you fed fast on its beautiful, south-facing deck, with close views of the halfpipes and jibs in The Scene. Up on the hill, near the top of Chair 6 is Geronimo’s Outpost for more barbecue and beers slopeside. If you can find The Hole in the Wall, and it’s open, order the garlic-parmesan fries and a side of breath mints.
Bear Mountain Resort, 43101 Goldmine Dr., in the Moonridge area of Big Bear Lake, (909) 866-5766; www.bearmountain.com.
Sink your wayward head into a snoozy pillow at Apples Bed and Breakfast in Moonridge, a 19-room Victorian reproduction with fireplaces and private bathrooms in each unit perfect for a little romance. The main house has common areas perfect for a play-by-play of the day. Breakfast is served each morning at 9 a.m. in the dining room for a homemade, carte du jour breakfast. Your hosts the McLeans do it up right.
Apples Bed and Breakfast, 42430 Moonridge Rd., Big Bear Lake, (909) 866-0903; www.applesbigbear.com.
Pack up the kids. Snow Summit Ski Resort markets itself to families, with various intermediate and beginner hills, along with more challenging runs for advanced skiers and snowboarders. And with interconnecting runs, you can cover the entire mountain without ever returning to the base area. The resort offers 31 trails, 14 chairlifts and a 1.25-mile run.
The mature crowd can hit Snow Summit to escape the brah scene that Bear Mountain overflows with. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t features galore. Westridge has a terrain park with beginner and intermediate jumps, jibs, rails and boxes for skiers and snowboarders of all levels. Night skiing is available off and on throughout the season.
Snow Summit’s ski school guarantees results. So, if you’re not getting the hang of things by the end of the day, keep going back for more. And the kicker? A ticket to Bear is a ticket to Summit. You’re just a tram ride away from checking out all that both resorts have to offer.
At the top of the high-speed quad lift East Mountain Express sits View Haus restaurant, famous for its view of San Gorgonio from the oversized deck where you can put down a pulled pork sandwich. Visit the Summit Inn and Bullwheel bar in the base area, a vintage lodge with a giant fireplace and wonderful nostalgia on the walls. Check out the 1940s chairlift, a track from a Tucker snowcat and examples of California’s first snowmaking guns while sipping on a hot toddy. Classic.
Snow Summit Ski Resort, 880 Summit Blvd., Big Bear Lake, (909)-866-5766; www.snowsummit.com.
Sleepy Forest Cottages is a short trip from Snow Summit, operated by the Pool family for more than three decades. The little cluster of cottages offers excellent customer service, in-room fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs to soak your sore, aching bod.
Sleepy Forest Cottages, 426 S. Eureka Dr., Big Bear Lake, (909) 866-7444; www.sleepyforest.com.
Up the 15 freeway and through the woods is Wrightwood, home to Mountain High Ski Resort in the Angeles National Forest. The resort recently remodeled the West Base area to make it more user friendly, and increased its snowmaking by 30 percent. With an early winter blast, Mountain High managed to be the first ski resort open this season, and most seasons. Kudos.
Aside from the West and East resorts, each with their own terrain parks, Mountain High now offers the North Resort, with 70 acres of beginner terrain and the North Pole Tubing Park, SoCal’s largest of its kind. It’s located across from the West Resort and operates weekends through the peak season.
There’s a new quarterpipe on Borderline this season, as well as a ton of stepped-up features. Since upping their game, Mountain High is releasing its first-ever snowboard flick, Los Angeles. It will document its growing roster of team riders, including returning Mountain High vet Mark Frank Montoya.
If you’re already on the slopes and you’re ready for lunch, take some time out at Bullwheel Bar and Grill (yes, same name as the one at Summit) on the west side of the hill. The chicken quesadilla and nachos are perfectly paired with an ice-cold beer.
Bullwheel, 24510 Hwy. 2, Wrightwood, (888) 754-7878; www.mthigh.com.
The Canyon Creek Inn is just a short walk from Wrightwood Village and a few minutes from the slopes. The little hotel recently redecorated to emphasize its mountain feel. The rooms are very clean—none of that musty mountain scent to sniff of.
Canyon Creek Inn, 6059 Pine St., Wrightwood, (760) 249-4800; www.canyoncreekinn.com.
While the big resorts get all the glory, there are two more little local guys to hit when the snow conditions are right:
Snow Valley in Running Springs is on the way to Big Bear. While its snowmaking capabilities and lower altitude work against the resort, it is closer and usually doesn’t have chain restrictions to get there. They boast a snowboard park, the EDGE, and a few black diamond runs.
Snow Valley Ski Resort, 35100 Hwy. 18, Running Springs, 909-867-2751; www.snow-valley.com.
Mt. Baldy is at the top of Euclid and Mountain avenues above Upland and Claremont, tucked away above Mt. Baldy Village. The resort doesn’t blow a lot of snow, which, er, blows when Mother Nature doesn’t play nice. But when the weather cooperates, this place goes off.
Mt. Baldy Ski Resort, 6700 Mt. Baldy Rd., Mt. Baldy, (909) 982-0800; www.mtbaldy.com.
Skiing and snowboarding take gear galore. But here’s what’s key: roomy boots. Unless you’re riding at the Olympic level, make sure your boots are comfortable. If they’re a bit loose you can lace them tighter or add a pair of socks. Tight boots equal cold feet, period.
As far as what’s hot on the mountain this year, twin-tip skiing is slowly edging in on snowboarding as what’s hip with the kids. And you’ll need center mount twin-tip skis, preferably K2 or Völkl. And don’t forget the short poles for getting airborne. Check out Atomic or Leki.
Snowboarders seem to be gravitating toward Arbor and Never Summer, and anything Analog for boards, jackets and pants. Grenade gloves are still the chosen handcovering for park rats.
But what will really set you apart, the must-have mountain gear, is a GoPro camera, which attaches to helmets to catch all your sick sticks as you hit the sweet spots.
And helmets? Yes. If you go big, or not, either way, it’s cool to keep your cranium intact. Ask any ski patroller or recent head-injury victim who was airlifted off a mountain.
Surfers have it easy—a good board and some trunks, maybe a wetsuit, they’re good. To make it through a day on the mountain you may need multiple layers of T-shirts, a hoodie, jacket, goggles, shades or goggles, helmet or beanie, long underwear, pants and boots, not to mention gear, and a huge amount of sunscreen.
Everyone knows you need a lot of clothes when it’s cold out. Another essential element, buy high-end socks. You can get by with cheapie specials, but why? Pamper your patoots when hitting the slopes. They’re doing most of the work afterall.
Another slope secret: basketball shorts. Slip the slinky wonders on under your snow pants. They feel awesome. Save the long thermals for really cold days. You’re in California. Just knowing you’re wearing shorts will give you visions of après-ski flip-flops dancing in your head.