Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Ski Resorts near Los Angeles -Snow Reports 12/22/15

It's that time of the year again, and El NiƱo is here this time! The snow is dumping at resorts across the West Coast (more so in the North but hopefully more precipitation will make its way to the LA area in the near future!

There are more than a few ski resorts to choose from in the LA area, even if most people aren't aware of all of them. The following are a few of my favorites:

Mt. High: Actually a collection of three resorts, Mt. High is on the north side of the mountains, accessible from Pearblossom highway (Hwy. 138) between Palmdale and Victorville. With a lot of snow making, a relatively high elevation, and a good number of runs lit for night skiing, Mt. High is one of the most popular resorts in So Cal. The West Resort is best for snowboarders, with a lot of terrain features and a good mix of run types for all ability levels. The East Resort is aimed more at skiers, and has less easy terrain. For the beginners, there is the North Resort (previously known as Ski Sunrise), with a lot of easy and intermediate terrain, and no advanced runs. The North Resort also has the North Pole Tubing Park for family fun if there are people in your group who just want some good old winter tubing fun. Mountain high currently has about a foot of snow with more at the top than the bottom. Not a ton yet, but definitely skiable.

Bear Mountain/Snow Summit: The most popular resort(s) in the greater LA area are only getting better! As of September, 2014, it has been announced that Mammoth Mountain Resorts is buying Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. With this purchase comes the Cali4nia Pass (available here), which is a season pass that will get you into Bear Mountain, Snow Summit, Mammoth Mountain, and June Mountain all for a great price. Hopefully, this comes with additional investment in the towns of Big Bear Lake and Big Bear City as well. Big Bear is easily the most accessible ski resort town to the majority of the South Land. Located in Big Bear Lake North East of the San Gabriel Valley, the sister resorts have a massive amount of snow making, and Snow Summit is lit at night. The advantage to these resorts is the ability to stay in the Bavarian-esque alpine village by the lake and ski for multiple days. This is the only ski resort in So Cal worth staying at overnight in my opinion. It is relatively inexpensive for the variety of terrain you get (compared to other resorts here), and has a lot of other activities and amenities that can be indulged in while in town. Snow Summit is a fantastic family resort for winter sports enthusiasts of all types, while Bear Mountain is more geared towards Snowboarders and the teenage and young-adult crowd. Make sure to check out The Village on Pine Knot Ave and Village Dr. while you're there! Recent storms have been kind to the Big Bear resorts, giving them about 3 feet of base depth when combined with snow making.

Snow Valley: This resort is near Big Bear, West along Hwy. 18 closer to Running Springs, Arrowbear, and Lake Arrowhead. It is a standalone resort, and is considerably smaller than The Big Bear resorts, but being where it is, it catches much more natural snowfall than they do. Because of this, it is typically has more snow and better conditions than Bear Mountain/Snow Summit (although the gap is narrowing with the upgrades to the snow-making systems on those resorts). The lift ticket prices are comparable, though. Snow Valley currently has between a foot and 2 feet of base depth with more at the top than the bottom.

Mt. Baldy: This underrated mountain resort is surprisingly close to LA, hidden just north of Upland and Claremont. It is only a 40 minute drive from Pomona, making it the closest resort accessible to the LA area. Being the resort in the area with the highest elevations, and being along the front of the mountain range, Baldy gets considerably more natural snow than the other resorts do. The resort is old, though, and so are the snow making equipment and chairlifts. There are only 4 lifts serving the whole mountain (one of which can hardly be called a lift, being little more than a couple hundred feet long). When there is snow, though, this is by far my favorite resort in So Cal. Because of the age of the resort, and the lack of advertising, the mountain is usually fairly empty. If you get one of the virtual season passes during the sales they have periodically, you can get a season pass for basically the same price as a day ticket at any of the other resorts. Or, if you buy ahead of time and through the right channels, a day lift ticket can be had for less than $30! There are a number of runs that can be taken, some groomed, but the resort is bigger than it seems, including a lot of tree-bound terrain. Many people (myself included) like to go searching for hidden stashes of fresh powder, often with much more success than the other resorts here. Mt. Baldy has been in the wrong place for most of the storms so far this year. So far only the lift to the lodge from the parking lot and lift 2 (beginner) are operating, in addition to the snow tubing park at the Notch. Watch their website for updates as more storms come.

Mt Waterman/Kratka Ridge: These forgotten resorts have had a number of ownership woes, fire issues, and accessibility issues, but finally reopened a couple of years ago. Last season was disappointing with the minimal precipitation and high/fluctuating temperatures but this year should be much better. Mt Waterman is a very small resort with only two lifts and natural snow only. It is usually almost dead empty though, so there is a lot of fresh powder to hit and plenty of space to yourself, with little or no lift lines. Definitely a great hidden gem. Kratka Ridge, just up Angeles Crest Highway from Mt Waterman has not operated in a number of years, but I have been told that the ownership of Mt Waterman now owns Kratka Ridge and that there may be some plans for its reopening. Mt Waterman so far has a little less than a foot of snow. They need 2 feet to open and do not make snow, so pray for more storms to get them open! Watch their website for updates.

If you are willing to travel a little farther, there are a few more options to the north:

Alta Sierra: This tiny resort is near Lake Isabella/Kernville along Hwy. 178. AKA Shirley Meadows, it is a lot like Mt Waterman, but with better snow and a longer season. They too have not yet gotten enough snow to open. Watch them for news, and pray for more powder!

China Peak: Previously known as Sierra Summit, before going back to China Peak (the original name of the resort). This resort, located north of Fresno along Hwy. 168 near Huntington Rsv,  is on the larger side of small. Fantastic snow, a lot of options, a lot of fresh powder and groomed runs, and very few people. The mountain is less than thirty miles from Mammoth Mountain as the crow flies, but is accessible from the other side of the Sierras. This mountain is a great option for SF and central coast folks looking for mammoth quality snow with much less driving (given Mammoth Mountains limited access from SF). The only drawback is if there has been a snowstorm recently, it can be a long drive with chains on. I have seen it with up to 45 miles of chains required road to the resort. So far the mountain has about 3-4 feet of snow, and is open (and I'm sure with the recent storms, hard to get to).

Mammoth Mountain: Almost everyone has heard of Mammoth. One of the biggest resorts in California, Mammoth always has one of the deepest snow bases in the country, with some of the driest snow available in California (unless the sun has been shining for any length of time). This gives Mammoth a season that usually stretches from December to May, and can go as long as from October to July. It also has a ridiculous number of runs and lifts. You could ski or board all day and not even hit half the runs available. The resort is not close to anything else, though, so unless you are into the hardcore "get up very early and drive five hours then ski all day-get in the car and drive home," be prepared to stay in the town for a day or two. Mammoth has been dumping snow (3 feet in the last day or two) and has about 6 or 7 feet of base! What are you waiting for...get up there! While you're there, check out Mammoth Brewing Company (and their sampling).

June Mountain:  June Mountain is just to the north along Hwy. 395 from Mammoth Mountain along the June Lake Loop. It is a great out-of-the-way resort with plenty of beginner to intermediate terrain and a little advanced terrain mixed in. Don't be intimidated by the face of the mountain you see from the parking lot. This steep face is mostly only used anymore as a way down to the parking lot for advanced riders, with everyone else getting down the mountain using the 2-person J1 chairlift. Access to the mountain is very easy, as it is right off the highway on the June Lake Loop. You can access it from Mammoth easily enough, or just stay in June Lake, as there is plenty of lodging available there (the locals will love you for bringing extra business to their town, too!). There is even a shuttle over to June from Mammoth now, I believe. I grew up going to this resort as it always had the same great snow as Mammoth did, but without the crowds. I was told by a lift operator a few seasons ago that June Mountain was having problems with the snow making equipment. I was told that the pumps, thirty years old at least, were failing. Now, however, it seems that June has been re-opened and re-branded as the family friendly sister resort to Mammoth. It has expanded and updated snow making equipment, and will feature expanded ski school options and classes. Hopefully eventually they will upgrade that J1 chair to get up the hill! June now has a few feet of snow with more on the way, and Kids under 12 ski free!

There are many other resorts available in and around Lake Tahoe and Truckee, as well as Northern California, but I wont get into those as I have not spent a significant amount of time at any of those resorts.

At any rate, don't just take my word for it. Try as many resorts as you can and form your own opinions. Let me know if I missed your favorite resort and I will go try it for myself and add it to the list. Next issue I will go over different equipment for skiing and snowboarding, and hopefully, a hiking trial in the LA area to come too!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Other Equipment for Day Hikes

Should you hike with other equipment? Or should you stick with the minimum: boots and appropriate clothes? That really depends on what level hiker you are, and whether or not you have any past injuries that may affect you. Of course you will want to prepare for the location you will be going to. If there is poison oak or any bad brush areas where the trail is limited, make sure to wear good thick jeans. If you will be going through water crossings above your ankles, wear clothes and shoes that you are prepared to get wet, and walk in wet. Aside form the obvious though, I will be going over various pieces of equipment and when or if you should use them. Feel free to ask about a piece of equipment if I forgot or left it out and you are curious

Walking stick: 
This could go either way. It could either get in your way if you get into a sticky spot, or it could assist you if you just don't have enough traction. I do not personally walk with one, but I know someone who does. She uses it as a brace just in case she loses her footing, and uses it as a tripod for her Canon EOS Rebel (she is very into photography, which is the main reason she joins us on many of our hikes). If you will be walking anywhere with loose footing, such as on shale, gravel, ice, or snow, I would recommend bringing along a walking stick, as they can assist getting that little bit of extra traction needed. The one my friend uses that seems to be a very good, lightweight walking stick with a rubber grommet covered planting spike, a compass on top, and a removable cap with a screw for her camera underneath is the Adjustable Aluminum Trekking Pole. If you are not going to be on one of these surfaces, I would not personally bring one unless I needed it for a camera mount.

Hydration Pack:
One piece of equipment you should never be without. I used to lug Nalgene bottles up with be, which really do not carry all that much water, and can be rather awkward to hold unless you put them in a backpack. If you are going to put it in a backpack anyways, might as well invest in a good hydration pack. They typically hold a liter or more of water, and can keep that water cold for a long time due to the insulation in the pack (even better if you add ice). That extra water may be important if you get lost, or someone gets hurt and you are stuck on the trail for longer than expected. I like the Camelback M.U.L.E., because it can hold up to 100 oz. of water, and the pack has compartments for all kinds of other gear, so you can bring along your camera or food or something and keep your gear somewhere easy to carry and relatively safe.

Most people overlook this item. Socks can make the difference between a good day and a bad day. If you are going over a few miles in distance, especially if you are changing elevation quite a bit, it is a good idea to wear a pair of good padded wool hiking socks. These will pad your feet on the areas that see the most impact, as well as offering some protection against blisters. If wool bothers your skin, thin sock liners are made to wear with them.
Extra Socks:
If you are bringing a pack in the first place, you might as well have everybody bring an extra pair of clean dry socks just in case. You will thank yourself if you lose your footing and step in water.

Extra Shoelaces:
See above explanation.

Always always ALWAYS wear sunscreen if you are going hiking. It will protect your skin from the harmful, cancer causing rays of the sun, and probably prevent a painful sunburn.Always wear it, even if it is cloudy. Always. What part of always don't you understand?

I could go either way on this. I always lose sunglasses, and hats bug me when I'm wearing them, so a lot of the time, I will try to wear them, but they end up in my backpack. They are a good idea to bring, in case it is really bright out to help you see past the bright, reflective soil for footing (or dangers). If you buy sunglasses, make sure they are polarized, otherwise you are pretty much wasting your money.

First Aid Kit/Survival Kit:
This is just dumb not to bring. Things happen when you get out and active. Follow the Boy Scout's motto: Be Prepared. This kit may end up saving your life if you get injured and stuck somewhere more remote than the mountains of Los Angeles, as (depending on the contents) it may give you the emergency blanket and matches to build a fire and keep you warm through the night or until help can arrive.

You can bring a compass if you know how to use one. I'm not going to say they are not useful, because they are very useful, but most people (especially in the mountains around Los Angeles) would have more luck if they get lost just following geographic features. Canyons are there because they are where the water runs during a rainstorm. They always converge, and when they do, eventually, they will lead to the watershed. In the mountains around LA, if you get lost, you can always follow a canyon (waterbed) until you get back to a recognizable area. From there, you can get back to civilization. Just be sure to watch out for cliffs, and be extra careful not to get yourself injured in the process of making your way out. Remember, this is always a possibility if you leave a marked trail, or are trailblazing; hike at your own risk.

Since you have your pack anyways, make sure to pack some snacks/food. Either a good lunch, or some granola, trail mix, dried fruit, or beef jerky will do the trick. This is more of a convenience item, in case someone gets hungry (unless, again, someone gets themselves lost, in which case he would be thankful to have this).

Garbage bags:
This is one things that I always bring with me. With a couple of holes torn into them, they can serve as a poncho in case rain surprises you, they can serve as a pretty good emergency blanket in a pinch, or if you are just going for a short hike, you can use them to do an impromptu trail cleanup, picking up trash as you hike, and chucking it on your way out. A lot of the trails in Los Angeles see heavy use, and many people do not do their part to keep them clean. The rest of us suffer. The more of us that work to keep our trails clean, the better they will be, and the easier it will be on each of us.

Happy Hiking!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


 So, what should you do to prepare to start hiking? I recommend before setting out on any major hikes, especially those requiring good traction, or involving a good deal of elevation change, that you get yourself a good pair of boots and break them in well. Proper preparation will save your feet, and you will thank yourself for it. Good hiking boots are the foundation you have to start with if you want to have a good time and avoid injury when hiking and exploring.  So what boots should you buy? I wont claim to be an expert by any measurement. I have, however, gone through a good number of boots until I found that one pair that was perfect for me, so you can heed what I say, or not. I wear and highly recommend Asolo TPS520GV Waterproof Backpacking Boots, but I have friends who have had very good luck with Hi TecScarpa, and Lowa boots.

As far as what I recommend, you can try the aforementioned boots...or not. Just do your research. try a lot of different boots. If you get the chance to borrow a pair from a friend that are your size, take that opportunity. Once you have landed on a pair that fits your needs, shop around for a deal. Take into account the service options that come with buying in certain stores. You can buy online, but make sure to go to a local outdoor store like REI and test before you buy to make sure that the boots are right for you, and that you get the right size. I paid the extra money to buy through REI for their guarantee and service department. People have different beliefs on what should be spent for good boots, but I have found that those boots that are the most expensive, are generally that way with good reason. The build quality is just better. As long as you properly care for them, they can last a long time. My Asolos have lasted for three years so far, and I wear them every day, whether I'm going to work, going out, working in the yard, or going hiking or backpacking. I treat them from time to time to keep them in good shape, and still haven't worn through the Vibram soles they came with. The nice thing is that you can take any boots with Vibram soles to REI and pay to have them professionally resoled by Vibram (although I haven't tested this service yet for quality because I haven't needed to).

As far as conditioning and maintenance goes, if your boots are good quality to begin with you really just need to keep your boots well protected and conditioned to make them really last. I like to use Obenauf's Leather Oil and Leather Preservative.
I typically spread the leather preservative on with a rag with the shoelaces removed and give it a little time to get in the pores, then wipe down the boot thoroughly. If you want, you can also waterproof your boot, but I have exposed mine to plenty of water and the preservative seems to be enough to keep the leather supple and impervious (or very resistant at least) to water damage.

Whatever your boot choice may be, make sure it fits with your hiking needs, and do plenty of research before you buy. Happy hiking!

Mission Statement

I live in Los Angeles, very close to the San Gabriel Mountains, and I like to go exploring as often as possible. On occasion, I have searched for some less-traveled trails, fishing spots, and campgrounds, only to find links and articles about all of the tried and true trails well known to those of us who are well versed in the LA hiking scene. I will set about writing about my hikes and exploring, detailing each of the spots I hit (as well as how to get there). I may also throw in some restaurant and bar/hangout recommendations as well, but we'll see as I go. Please suggest any hiking trails or cool spots you think I should give a try and write up on here.