I have a conference in LA in early March 2015. Is it worth bringing gear and staying an extra day to ski at Bear Mountain or Snow Summit this year? I've never been there, but I hear the snow conditions are not great in California this year.
worth going to Big Bear for 1 day while in LA? (March 2015)
Big Bear is rarely gonna be all that good compared to most Western destinations, but they have good snow making and nearly full coverage right now. Can't really say what March will bring... If your expectations are to have fun on a new (to you) mountain it would be worth it.
Washington, DC. I have a couple other trips, so it's not as if I never get to ski anything better, but this is the first time I've had a business trip to LA so I"m wondering whether the extra-gear hassle would be worth it.
I have never skied any mid - Atlantic areas but the southern California hills are similar to the Berkshires or Catskills vertical drop and terrain wise and if my memory serves are best skied mid-winter and most winters rely fairly heavily on man made snow. I lived in Orange County for several years a long time ago. Personally, I would not bother. The closest big mountain skiing is Mammoth but that is too far for a day trip.
I'd say the LA area is definitely worth staying an extra day--definitely lots to see and do. You can rent demo skis and boots cheaper than checking them, so I wouldn't recommend bringing all your gear. March is unpredictable... you might get a big powder day; there might be amazing spring skiing in the sun; or it might be gross. But there's the beach, fantastic museums, the tar pits, the amusement parks, Santa Barbara, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park... seems like you should be able to find something to entertain you if the skiing's not up to par. Also, if you have a free evening and don't feel like checking out the LA club scene, night skiing at Mountain High is pretty fun
I'm just saying that any area close enough to drive to for a day from LA is going to be a similar experience to the OP's home mountains. Plenty of stuff to do in and outside of LA for a day but I think the local skiing would only be really worthwhile for someone from, say Florida. My favorite thing to do with free time on business trips to LA was to rent a bike and ride along the beach from Venice down to Marina Del Rey and then up the coast to Malibu and back.
Wednesday at Snow Summit:
This would be a fairly good representation of what the OP might see in early March, IF his ski day is midweek. If it's on a weekend, ticket will be $79 vs, $64, parking will be a pain if he doesn't get up there very early, and the spring snow will get chewed up a lot faster.
Don't even think about going to Mountain High under current conditions. They have limited water capacity for snowmaking so terrain steadily deteriorates in sustained warm spells like the past month. Mountain High currently has 38% of one of its areas open while Big Bear has 80+% of both of its areas open, the same as a month ago as noted in my TR.
I would try to extend 2 or 3 days and go to Mammoth. Conditions are not great there now, but this weekend's storm should restore adequate coverage to the upper mountain.
If the extension is only one day and it's Saturday or Sunday, I agree better to go to the beach or somewhere else in SoCal. Big Bear is a 2-hour one-way drive from L.A. with clean traffic.
I don't know... Mountain High West has 1k vertical, and Mountain High East, Baldy, and both Big Bear areas have more... is there much in the DC area with that kind of vertical?
That said, I definitely agree with Tony that, if the weather's like it is now, it's not worth skiing--and that a longer extension for Mammoth might be very fun. But a single good storm can change things for at least a few days--Big Bear and Mountain High both can get a lot of terrain open quickly with a few natural inches. Odds are that it won't be worth skiing--and definitely don't prepurchase lift tickets or reserve a room in Big Bear. But extend for a day and see what happens... chances of a great ski day are pretty slim, but the consolation prize of some other sort of fun day in southern California really isn't bad
Terrain-wise on exclusively manmade snow Big Bear and Mt. High are better than anything in the mid-Atlantic or Southeast. The Catskills or Berkshires are probably the closest eastern analogy.
With natural snow terrain open and skiable, Baldy is comparable in scale and challenge to the best of Vermont. Of course the last time Baldy was good was 2010.
Thanks for all the information, folks! I have decided to arrive a day early so I might ski March 1 depending on conditions and other factors. I'll probably just bring clothing and rent demo skis & boots; I hate renting boots but am in the market for a new pair so this might be a good way to try some out.
If you want real convenience, you can rent demo skis at this little shack at the bottom of the miracle mile trail. The selection is not that good but depending on your preference it may work out. You can literally switch out skis after every run.
I wouldnt rent boots on-site though. They are pretty packed out, like any other onsite rentals.
That's a Sunday. Better plan on a very long day if you don't want to get hung up with crowds.
1) If you don't want to be relegated to a remote parking lot with cattle car shuttle, you need to be there by about 8:15AM. If you don't get there in time you can pay $20 for VIP parking.
2) Do not even think about doing rentals from the ski area on a weekend. Use one of the shops in town. Leroy's has a few stores. I have not used Goldsmith but I've heard good local recommendations.
3) Allowing 2 hours for the drive from downtown L.A. plus getting rentals, you're going to be on the road before 6AM. You might want to spend Saturday night a little closer to Big Bear. Driving super early you will also beat traffic on the front road Hwy 330.
4) The drive home on a weekend can be tedious with everyone leaving at the same time. Use the back road Hwy38 through Redlands. It's longer but faster, will take you 2 1/2 hours. It could easily be 3-4 hours driving down Hwy 330 at the peak weekend departure time. Then you'll REALLY wonder why you didn't go to Mammoth instead.
I'll reiterate my suggestion to come a day or two early and go to Mammoth if you want to ski. Or arrange your schedule so the Big Bear day is not on a weekend. Read my TR again. Those slopes are far less enjoyable with high weekend skier density and clumpy spring snow created by heavy skier traffic.
Tony and Nochaser's advice re: Snow Summit all sounds on-point, and they're much more experienced than I am with Snow Summit. If you end up at Mountain High, I definitely wouldn't recommend renting on-site on a Sunday... they just can't move people through their rental shop anywhere near fast enough. The town of Wrightwood has great shops, though... Big Benny's is my favorite, but I've had good experiences everywhere in town that I've tried. There are also options down in the LA Basin where you can rent the night before.
If the Mountain High East is open (that's Tony's criteria for considering Mountain High worthwhile, I believe), you'll probably want to park there and spend at least a good chunk of the day there: the parking lot at East won't fill, so timing isn't too critical (although if you happen upon an overnight snow day, getting there early will be huge in terms of scoring first tracks). With only West (or West and North) open, you want to park at West... that means arriving early (before the lifts start turning) or after lunch (by 1:00 or 1:30 there will be parking at West again). The drive to Mountain High shouldn't be bad... figure 15 minutes more than what Google Maps/your GPS tells you, because of traffic. If they're requiring chains (very unlikely, but it happens) all bets are off... but then again, the parking lots should all be pretty empty until the chain restrictions are lifted. In the 60 or so times I've driven to Mountain High, I've never needed chains or had any difficulty getting in with a cheap sedan. I recommend holding off on booking a room for this part of the trip until you know what you're doing with that extra day. Staying up in the mountains, in the high desert, or in the San Bernardino area will definitely help you with a head start to skiing.
Driving back from Mountain High, you'll be sharing I-15 with people returning from Las Vegas and Mammoth. It's a major highway built to handle a lot more traffic than the roads to/from Big Bear, but it will still very likely back up. The back way from Mountain High (out through Pearblossom/the edge of Palmdale and down to Santa Clarita) is significantly longer and won't be worth it unless there's some sort of major incident on I-15. In my experience, Sunday evening delays on I-15 and I-15/I-215 (which I normally took to get to San Diego, but you probably won't) average probably 45 minutes... so still probably a shorter drive than getting back from Big Bear, although there's a lot of variability in both routes.
It is, and should be the OP's also. It will take a serious dump of snow for Mt. High East to open before March 1 IMHO. Probably a big enough dump to put Mt. Baldy into the picture. The odds are exceedingly remote that it would be rational for the OP to make Mt. High the area of choice for March 1.
Big Bear will definitely be open in early March. They will triage terrain if they have to. At 80% open now, worst case scenario is 50% open early March, close completely late March. Last year was worse than this year: Big Bear never got over 60% open and it closed March 16. My advice stands that in the current situation Big Bear is probably worth it for the OP midweek but not on a weekend.
Brian Head is not doing all that well for snow either, and it's about the same size as Big Bear and 3 hours from Vegas. If you're going to move the weekend somewhere else to get better skiing, move it to Denver or Salt Lake.
Last year was really bad. This year is not as bad as the last year, but not as good as the year before. With that, I agree with Tony's projection of late March closing for this year.
Skiing at SS early March is good for spring skiing. Just get there very early.
We are in another hot spell in SoCal. After Wednesday and Thursday at Mammoth we went to the beach Friday, when it was nearly 90F at home.
My friend Garry Klassen has been skiing Snow Summit twice a week since New Year's and said after skiing yesterday there is substantial thinning of snow with some brown spots, and that it's quite sloppy since it's not freezing overnight. He will not be going back there until they can make some snow and restore the coverage/surfaces we had in my TR 10 days ago.
Mt. High West is down to 3 runs open. My guess is that Mt. High will close completely next week without a turnaround in the weather.
Here's the Mt. High closure I predicted:
A March forecast is worth nothing now. How many times since early January have we been told the pattern might change 2 weeks out? Maybe it will and maybe it won't, but nobody really knows now.
Average snowfall is most western ski resorts is quite even January-March. February tends to have the lowest standard deviation of snowfall, so the extreme dryness of this February is more of an anomaly than a dry January or March IMHO.
14" of fresh at Mountain High & Baldy, and 9" at Big Bear is a promising jump start. Now if this weekend's storm hits SoCal right, you might be in for an awesome day on the slopes! And if not, enjoy the beach.
Big Bear should be fully open soon with nice surfaces. The other places started from a zero base and need 2+ feet more snow to be worthwhile.
I'll also say now: this weekend will almost surely be a traffic disaster at the local ski areas. Throw in snow on the road, thousands of snowplayers and SoCal drivers, you can just imagine. It rained in LA, snow is visible on the mountains, and they will be mobbed. If you can get up there midweek, go for it, but I would avoid the upcoming weekend.
I was at Snow Summit today (Tuesday) and it was terrific (for SoCal). The snow quality was much better than the other 5 times I've been up there this season, and there was even enough snow for me to ski my way down some of the "closed" runs and to pick my way through the trees. Sure, it was boney but it was the most interesting skiing I've had all season. The run with the most amount of good fresh snow happened to be "log chute." It must sit in a spot that picks up more snow because it was noticeably deeper over there and I never had to avoid any rocks or bushes.
So it turned out to be a really good day to go, soon enough after the storm, and mid-week, which meant the crowd and traffic was fine. But I wouldn't go anywhere near that place on a weekend.