In a slight break from our usual topic of surfing, and in honor of the Winter Olympics, I’ve decided to give a little mini report on the snow this winter. A lot of surfers I know also like to snowboard or ski. It never hurts to change it up a little! In fact, riding in powder on a snowboard feels quite a bit like surfing. If the cold water’s got you down and you’re looking to hit the road for some of the white stuff, then let’s take a look at some favorite spots.
My snow travels this year have focused on mainly the west coast of North America, from the local hills in California to the grand vistas of Whistler Blackcomb.
If you live in the area you know it’s been a stellar year for snowfall, and it can only get better.
Mt. Baldy, CA
Mt. Baldy is a local favorite, and an often under appreciated member of the local hills within reasonable striking distance of the major Southern California area. Me and a friend set out for Baldy at the tail end of the 10-year storm that hit Southern California in a series of soaking wet punches. Thanks to the elevation all that rain came as snow for the local mountains like Baldy, Bear, Mt. High, and others.
I can only describe Baldy as quaint. It has a very small parking lot and 4 two person chair lifts. When we got there it was snowing quite a bit, and the Baldy staff was a little overwhelmed with the crowds and trying to dig out the chairs.
The runs on Baldy are steep and full of natural features and obstacles–it’s a cool natural terrain park. Unfortunately it was snowing so hard when we got there that it was nearly impossible to see where we were going, let alone the surroundings. Visibility got so bad we had to cut our stay short – that and the fact that the chair lifts were constantly stopping (not sure why, but they were covered in about 1″ of solid ice so that might explain it).
If you’re heading up to Baldy be sure to pack chains unless told otherwise. The road up to the top is a narrow switchback which can get very slick.
I’d like to head back to Baldy for sure when I can actually see something! I also heard that the Baldy backcountry is one of its secret charms.
Don’t Forget Your: Woodsman’s Axe, Flannel Shirt, Goggles
Mt. High is a bit easier to get to than Mt. Baldy, and is also bigger. It also gets a bit more crowded I think. The crowd is a bit different, consisting of a more punk/shred crowd in general. This is probably because of the very popular terrain parks that are kept in very good quality by the crew.
Mt. High has three “resorts” in total – West, East, and North.
If you’d rather just cruise I highly recommend the East resort. They have one run called Goldrush which is over a mile long. However, Mt. High has installed jumps on this run recently, which to me reduces its charm as a place to escape from the park-heads at the West resort. Although I haven’t been to the North resort yet, but although a bit smaller I think that it probably has the least crowds and I don’t believe there are any jumps or park features.
Come here after a local snow and enjoy the pow. Unfortunately Mt. High can get hardpacked pretty quickly due to the crowds and the warm temps. You can get away with wearing a long sleeve shirt at Mt. High during the day – the sun is very strong.
Don’t forget your: Sunblock, Ipod, Beer Cooler, Baggy Neon Pants
One of California’s crown jewels in terms of mountain resorts, Mammoth is a true pleasure. I think I was a little spoiled when I went here for the first time last weekend. We had over 2′ of fresh powder over two days, and there was very little wind. According to my friends it can get pretty windy at Mammoth, but the fact is that when it snows there it tends to do so in large quantities.
Mammoth is big, and even on weekends it doesn’t get too crowded. I only had to really wait on the lift line once, and that was because the lunch crowd was done eating and decided it was time to get back on the hill.
What was amazingly fun about Mammoth was the intermediate level tree runs we found. Not too dense, but just challenging enough to be super fun. With the 2′ of pow it was like a dream. After each run we were hooting with delight. If you’re just starting to get into trees I highly recommend checking out chair 25. Even after 2 full days we were able to find hidden caches of untouched pow.
If you’re looking for a place to stay check out the Sierra Lodge. Great prices, spacious rooms, very friendly and helpful staff, and a hot tub on the roof. I think the conversations in the hot tub were one of the highlights of the trip, as a friendly group of older men challenged my group of female friends with the question of whether or not they pee in the shower. According to them either you do, or you lie about it (just like wetsuits). We begged to differ! I think guys are a bit different in this respect, although one of my girlfriends insisted that she did.
Anyway, carry chains with you to Mammoth. You can find good lift ticket deals at Costco if you’re going for a few days. Buying multiple days on the internet will save you a few bucks, but if you’re anything like us and don’t roll in until 5 in the morning after driving all night, then you might want to hold off in case you only board a half day.
Don’t Forget Your: Powder Board, Friends, Snacks For The Car Ride, Sinkhole Detectors
Everyone has to do Whistler at least once in their life if they are a big time skiier/snowboarder. It’s just so big. For the average skiier or snowboarder it could take 30-40 minutes to get from the peak to the base. The views are breathtaking, and the Peak2Peak Gondola is a real life Disney ride.
Whistler and Vancouver are playing host to the Olympics this year, but don’t let that scare you away (except during the Olympics). We went over New Year’s and although it was crowded on Saturday and Sunday, after the weekend the mountain was practically vacant. Go for a midweek jaunt and I think you’ll have a blast.
Although the local Vancouver mountain Cypress is having trouble getting enough snow for the Olympics this year, November was officially the snowiest month ever recorded for Whistler Blackcomb. My friends and I were lucky enough to arrive right before it dumped a foot and a half of snow, so conditions were pretty mint.
Our best runs were in 7th Heaven, which is a wide open bowl with copses of trees to challenge you. It’s a wide open powder playground when it’s on. Another great place to head off track is the Symphony Amphitheater, where you can also find some challenging powder and tree runs.
Losing your friends on this mountain is a pretty real concern, so make sure you stick with your buds and carry phones/walkies. Also, going out of bounds here can have lethal consequences, so make wise choices and stick with the buddy system.
Whistler has some fun nightlife, so for Apres check out Longhorn and Garibaldi Lift Co for drinks, then Maxx Fish and Tommy Africa’s 80’s Night for some dancing. Watch out for creepy gropers and slimy old guys.
Remember: US Citizens now need a Passport to enter Canada, so take that into consideration.
Don’t Forget Your: GPS Unit, Walkie Talkies, Dancing Shoes, Passport