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Bear Valley, CA Unofficial Guide

skiericon.pngThis resort guide is maintained by EpicSki Ambassador: mvhudson

 
Overall vibe:  Bear Valley has a great "throwback" vibe, and is a great alternative for SF Bay Area skiers looking for a change from the Tahoe scene.  The mountain has plenty to dish out to all types of skiers, and advanced skiers will have a hard time covering all the available lines in a weekend when the lower mountain is open
 
The Mountain: Bear's greatest asset is the mountain, with it's considerable variety of terrain.  The lower mountain, served by Grizzly chair, has expert terrain that can challenge the most experienced skiers.  The backside enjoys long laid back intermediate runs.  Beginners enjoy a protected first-timer's area as well as wide-open beginner's chair just steps from the base lodge... and bar.  With 1,900 vertical feet, and 8 lifts serving more than 1,600 skiable acres, there is always another corner of the mountain waiting to be explored.
New for 2011/2012: Bear has added over 400 skiable acres on the Village Side. 
 
The Facilities: Complimenting the lack of crowds and laid back pace, Bear features an abundance of 70's era technology.  With the exception of Polar express (a modern high-speed detachable quad) the lifts move at a more leisurely pace.  Except for holiday periods, this is not a problem, as most will appreciate the uphill break.  For season pass holders, there are excellent slope-side season lockers available. Food is standard fair, but good standard fare.  Go for the curly fries, and you will not be disappointed.
 
Parking: There is plenty of parking at the area, along with shuttle service for those who do not want to walk.  There is an great slope-side tail-gate area near the Koala lift that draws some serious lunch and apres-ski action.  Near the base lodge, there is both a drop-off area and reserved parking available.  
 
Frontside, Backside (Bear West), and Lower Mountain (Grizzly Bowl, Snow Valley)
This map covers all lift-serviced runs.
 
BV Frontside 2010-11.jpg
Village Side (Dardanelles Vista Bowl, Sunrise Bowl)
These areas are accessed from the Frontside, and end at Bear Valley Village.  A bus return is available all day on 30 minute intervals.
BV VillageSide 2010-11.jpg
 

Description of frontside lifts and runs <in progress>:

 
Kuma (triple), Bear (double): These two chairs both serve the main frontside area.  Except for busy weekends, only the triple, Kuma, is run. 
 
Terrain:  
  • These lifts serve the widest variety of terrain on the mountain.  Topping out at 8,495' on the upper reaches of Bloods Ridge, the lifts provide access to long intermediate cruisers, steep groomed speed tracks, trees, powder  stashes, and of course the ubiquitous "face" bump run between the chairs.  These lifts also provide access to the backside (see Polar Express), and the "Village Side" of the mountain. 
 
Runs: 
  • Departing the chair and going left, you have access to Cliff Run, Porridge Bowl, Cornice, Hank's, and finally R&R.  Note you CAN take Tuck's Traverse all the way to Koala, but most of the way past Hank's is flat.  As in you have to skate, then pole, then stop and catch your breath.  Helps that the views are killer!  Tuck's run also provides access to Village Side runs such as AppleBonkers and Schoolhouse Ridge.
 
Cliff Run:
  • Nice advanced intermediate, often groomed.  This run faces southeast, so it is a good morning or mid-morning choice.  It can slop up in the afternoon, the edges to skier's left can be much steeper, letting wet snow drain nicely. Keep an eye out for rocks & cliffs near the bottom if you work too far left. About half way down, you can cut left over a ridge to access:
 
Sherwood Forest:
  • Entry off of Cliff Run can be tricky depending on snow depth.  This section often holds deep fresh snow well after other runs are skied out
 
Porridge Bowl:
  • This is a large open classic sierra bowl.  Quite visible from the base area, make sure to check conditions before you get on the chair, as the area is almost entirely hidden from view from the chair.  Bear has done a nice job of grooming this run, but will occasionally leave it on good powder days.  The bowl itself of advanced intermediate, and a hoot to scream down when the coast is clear.  BV race team uses this for Super-G practice before the lifts open on some mornings: very cool to watch the kids crank over the edges as they scream down the mountain.  Porridge faces almost due east, so is usually the first run to get sun and soften un in the morning.  Half way down, you have a choice:
 
Spring Gap:
  • This is a narrow access road that serves 2 purposes: provides return traverse to Koala and lodge's upper deck, and provides chicken run alternate to:
 
Groovy Gully:
  • The bottom half of Porridge Bowl is steeper and narrow.   Often groomed, the central path is not overly steep, but the sides form a "funnel", allowing some nice steep lines in from the trees, powder, crud, or bumps to the sides as conditions dictate.
 
Cornice, Hanks:
  • Past Porridge bowl, there is a large exposed flank of Bloods Ridge which often builds a sizable cornice.  Early in the season, there will be exposed cliffs and steeper lines, but there is almost always a section to get air with an open landing & outrun area.  I still remember the sensation of backing up and skating off the edge as a teenager like it was yesterday.  And it wasn't yesterday.   Below the cornice, there is a good constant line that crosses Spring Gap (another big air potential, but one that REQUIRES a spotter for traffic), and heads down into Groovy Gully.  This last section is well protected from the sun, so can have great powder moguls days after a big dump.  Hanks is just past Cornice, and works towards and through the trees to skier's right.
 
R&R:  
  • Continuing along Bloods Ridge beyond Cornice, there are several ways to access a heavily forested area known as "R&R".  This protected bowl faces north, and often will yield great quality powder.  It is steep, and the trees are tight. The downside is that is't pretty short, with a long traverse over, and another back to the bottom of the lift.  

 


From the top of Kuma, heading right, you have access to the Face, Yellow Submarine, Monte Wolfe, National, Mokelumne, and Mokelumne West.  Trees between Face, Yellow Sub, and the next few runs provide great powder skiing.  Note that these runs (except for Mokelumne West) are pretty steep, which makes for a shorter run and leaves you with a bit of a flat outrun.  "Shorter" is relative to western mountain terms: I rarely get through the main run without at least one stop to catch my breath.
 
Face:
  • U-turn back down under the chair.  I can't tell you anything you cannot see from the chair.  Narrow slot to skier's left of the cliffs at the bottom is "Pillows".  Fun challenge to drop into and see if you can set the edges properly as everyone on the chair watches.
 
Yellow Sub:  
  • Next up is Yellow Sub.  This is never groomed, and can build up some pretty sizable moguls.  Yellow Sub has fun funnel-shaped cliff area near the top.  It is easy to avoid, or play with depending on your outlook.
 
Monte Wolf:  
  • Often groomed, this is a great place to get out your skinny skis and pointy ears.  Steep, wide, straight. The consistent pitch allows you to make huge "S" turns all the way down.  Faces east, but does not warm up as quickly as Porridge due to trees along the side.
 
National:
  • Deja Vu with Monte Wolf.  Can't tell you how many times my kids an I get the two mixed up when recounting the day's runs.
 
Mokelumne:
  • This is a fine run, but is basically serves as an access route down to National, West Ridge or tree skiing along the way.  Bottom of the run gets traffic and merges with Mokelumne West
 
Mokelumne West: 
  • A long, winding intermediate run that gives intermediate skiers both good snow and challenges.  Most of this run is lower intermediate, and consequently a great place for skiers and boarders of almost any level to practice carving turns.  There is a short section after the merge with Mokelumne and before West Ridge that is a bit steeper.  The run is always groomed well, and seldom builds significant moguls, so for aspiring novices, this is your challenge section.

 


 
 

Cub Meadow, 12-17-11

Cub Meadow and Freestyle park from Kuma Chair, 12-17-11

Mokulmne West, 12-17-11

Mokulmne West, 12-17-11

Kuma Chair Summit, 12-17-11

This is the top of Yellow Sub.  Ouch.  Shows what a great job the mountain has done on the terrain with snow-making.

 

 

Comments (4)

The lower mountain (advanced area), which needs a lot of snow to open, is often times empty during the day.  It is possible to ski there on weekends when the snow is good and not see another skier.  The lower mountain is a good place to find powder on a day trip from the Bay area.  Almost the entire upper mountain is for intermediates and beginners, with just a few portions that most skiers would consider "advanced."
Sweet to see a community come together and look at acquiring Bear Valley for locals, by locals and of the locals. They're now part of the unofficial network too: www.unbearvalley.com and they have a local, Oliver K, writing up reports on their web and facebook pages. http://unbearvalley.com/
I trained at Reba when i was a youth. Roger Test was my coach. Do you have any info on how he is doing?
Tanks
Tim
I skied today (4/20/14) on Bear Valley’s closing day. I hadn't skied Bear in well over 10 years. I remember it being great on powder days. Today I found out that it is also great for spring skiing. The mountain has so many different exposures.
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