A California gal for most of my life, I endured jabs and digs about the dearth of culture and the abundance of silicone in our fair city during my two-year stint in New York. (I am neither blessed with blond hair nor an 18-inch Malibu Barbie waistline, nevertheless my East Coast friends had many a laugh at the expense of my geography.)
It was on a weekend ski trip to Vermont that I got to wave my California banner with pride.
As the chains clacked against the Buick LeSabre and the salt ate away at its beautiful maroon paint, Eric, Judy, Mark and I were stuffed inside a rental car for four hours, trying to keep from throwing up from the icy hairpin turns. I know they were silently worshipping Los Angeles as I boasted about Bear Mountain's fluffy snow and the easy 45-minute drive to Mt. Baldy from the city. As the heater broke and we clung to each other for survival, I reminisced about the time I skied in a tank top.
San Gabriel Mountains
Ninety minutes from the Pacific Ocean, the San Gabriel Mountains host several ski resorts. Unlike the treacherous eastern version of the ascent to the promised land, the gently sloping, well-maintained state highways rarely require chains for much of the winter season.
There are five resorts clustered within minutes of each other. With the exception of Mountain High, the others are natural snow mountains, their open status intricately tied to the whim of Mother Nature. At press time, Mt. Baldy was only operating one chair, and Mt. Waterman, Ski Sunrise and Snowcrest were closed due to a lack of precipitation.
The unique position of Mountain High on the north side of the San Gabriel Mountains enjoys maximum exposure when Alaskan storms roll in, gracing Southern California peaks with snow, says John McColly, director of marketing for Mountain High. And with 95 percent of its resort covered with snowmaking capabilities, even with summer-like conditions in the flats of Los Angeles, Mountain High's slopes are sprayed with man-made snow and machine-groomed to create a winter playground for a ski season that runs from Thanksgiving to April.
The bad news: Because of its proximity to the city and effective marketing, Mountain High can become very crowded on the weekend. To have a prayer of parking, you must arrive very early.
Now the good news: Mountain High has two distinctly different mountains (East and West). East's main runs are long and more challenging, and as a result, the intermediate and advanced skier will find fewer beginners to get tangled up with. Mountain High's Web site also aggressively markets the "uncrowded slopes of the East resort" and the "little to no lift lines" to the "uncrowded terrain park," which means that it may not stay that way for long.
For more information: www.mthigh.com
24-hour telephone snow report: (888) 754-7878
All other inquiries: (760) 249-5808
Mailing address: Mtn. High Resort, P.O. Box 3010, Wrightwood, CA 92397
If I ever disappear, send the FBI looking for Mt. Baldy locals desperate to keep Southern California's best-kept secret just that -- a secret.
Enjoying its 50th anniversary, Mt. Baldy is a natural snow mountain, and when Mother Nature has graced us with the white stuff, it offers 800 acres of terrain. Four-hundred developed acres on the front side comprise 26 runs, which is twice the size of any of the other local resorts. It is also the steepest resort in Southern California with a vertical drop of 2,100 feet.
The other 400 acres are on Baldy's Back Side, the wild and natural runs that locals call "sick" and "ghetto." By the way, "sick" and "ghetto" are the ultimate in teen-speak, proclaimed by the advanced skiers after negotiating their way between trees and sailing off cliffs. An unusual treat for those looking for extreme skiing in untracked conditions, the Back Side can only be accessed with a personal guide. Plans are underway, however, for development of six lifts and lodging, according to Mendy Cox, manager of Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts.
The closest lifts to Los Angeles, Mt. Baldy is 45 miles from downtown Los Angeles. An additional bonus? Any card-carrying member of a Jewish group will get 50 percent off lift tickets at all times.
Totally "ghetto? That is when we have snow.
For more information: www.mtbaldy.com
Ski report (909) 981-3344
Business phone, ski school, special events, information (909) 982-0800
Lodging and dining information (909) 946-1115
Mailing address: P.O. Box 459, Mt. Baldy, CA 91759
San Bernardino Mountains
Another 60 minutes due east of the San Gabriels, the San Bernardino Mountains contain their own ski resorts. Bear Mountain, Snow Summit and Snow Valley are comparable to each other in size and number of trails and lifts, but each has its own unique characteristics.
The closest resort to Lake Arrowhead, Snow Valley covers 240 acres. Locals recommend this resort for parents with young children and beginners because of its tame trails. The family atmosphere and skier friendliness is created less because of what Snow Valley offers, and more because of what it does not. Without the mobs of teenage snowboarders you encounter at Bear and Summit, Snow Valley has a slower, sweeter pace.
For more information: www.snow-valley.com
24-hour snow report (800) 680-SNOW
All other information (909) 867-2751
Mailing address: Snow Valley, P.O. Box 2337, Running Springs, CA 92382
Southern California's steepest and highest ski resort at 8,805 feet, Big Bear Mountain Resort offers four mountain peaks and eight freestyle zones. Brad Farmer, public relations director for Bear Mountain, says that unlike Summit's freestyle parks, Bear's special freestyle features are placed all over the mountain so that skiers can enjoy the entire mountain and not be confined to a penned jumping area.
Like Baldy, 500 acres of back canyon area are available as conditions permit, which means we need to pray for snow to get off the very crowded 198 developed acres on the front side.
Bear boasts of Southern California's largest beginners' area, as well as challenging expert runs. Summit, according to Farmer, caters to the intermediate skier.
For more information: www.bearmtn.com
24-hour snow report (800) BEAR-MTN
All other information (909) 585-2519
Mailing address: Bear Mountain Resort, P.O. Box 6812, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
A teenager's dream come true, Summit has two half-pipes and seven freestyle parks, with no fewer than 200 features such as hits, banks, woops, rails, fun boxes and hips for boarders at every level of ability. Skiing and snowboarding fanatics appreciate the longer hours they can stay on the slopes (weekends 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m.) to be able to squeeze out another ride. Despite the limited number of tickets they sell (and trust me, you snooze past 10 a.m., and you lose), the feeling of being crowded out of your personal space is quite palpable on and off the slopes.
Snow report: (888) SUMMIT-1
General information: (909) 866-5766
Credit card ticket reservation service (909) 866-5841
Mailing address: 880 Summit Blvd., P.O. Box 77, Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
Depending on the level of riding ability, desire to avoid kamikaze snowboarders or to limit driving, the various local resorts offer options to virtually any person interested in spending a fun-filled day with friends.
As for my friends from New York, Eric and Mark now live in Venice and enjoy dating blond, buxom babes. Ah, California.