One of the hardest things about living in Southern California, for me at least, is dealing with the lack of quality skiing, snowboarding, or freeheeling (telemarking), and to a lesser extent, cross country skiing. Now, I know what people will say – 1) Southern Californians will complain about anything; and 2) that Big Bear is great skiing. To the second point, my response is simply this: “no”. Big Bear is not great skiing. I’ve skied Chile, New Zealand, the Alps, Utah, Oregon, and the better parts of California. Big Bear, quite simply, is not great skiing. Big Bear is skiing, I’ll give you that. If you want – or need to learn – any of the resorts up there – Bear Mountain, or Snow Summit, are probably great places to learn. The terrain is not that steep, and there’s a lot of novice runs. Also, if you want to hang out with your friends, or not drive the six to eight hours to the Sierras, it’s decent for a day.
However, if you are above intermediate skill level, and like to get out there, Big Bear is not the place for you. Unfortunately, there are few other options in the area – you can go full on backcountry on a number of ridges and mountains, assuming there is enough snow, and also assuming one likes a hike to get up for your run. I would know, since I try to backcountry ski San Jacinto at least once a year. Great open runs – but lots of work to do. The other solution: Baldy. Baldy is a semi-little known resort here in Southern California. I say, “semi-little” because while it was a locals only type resort for many years, the word is now out. It is hard to keep such a secret from all of LA and San Diego, though, to be honest. The resort bills itself as the “steepest terrain” in all of Southern California. This is one case where the billing is correct. The runs are steep, challenging, and best of all, provide great access to several great backcountry areas. Last year, my friend and I bombed down a narrow chute from near the summit ridge to almost the bottom – a truly great experience. This year, even though we got out after a recent storm (the best time to go, for sure), the coverage was not quite as good, so we stuck to some more traditional routes. If you do decide to check it out, note that it’s a true old school resort with no high speed quads and fancy trappings. But, no matter what, there’s always an adventure to be had there – whether it’s finding questionable bags, meeting interesting people for a pint, or getting in some quality runs. For information on how to find your way there, check out their site here: http://www.mtbaldy.com/,and be sure to enjoy the best part of Baldy: riding/skiing in t-shirts by the end of the day as the sun cooks you and the snow