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!