|Originally posted by Bullet:
Mt. High is closest. Snow Summit and Big Bear are nearly 3 hour drive for me and I'm in NE OC. From LA they must be about 4 hours. On twisty, winding, 2 lane roads that guarantee you'll always get behind someone going 15 mph. Mammoth from LA up the 5 to the 14 to 395 is done in 4 1/2 to 5 hours. Almost all 4 lane road the entire way.
You must be the 15 mph driver. I used to live in Claremont (10 miles West of Ontario), and I could make it to Bear in 1 hr 20 min if there was no traffic. Now I live in downtown LA and I can do it in 2 hours (again with little traffic).
I can only think of one reason that it would take you almost 3 hours from OC, and that's poor route choice. If it's a holiday weekend (or otherwise busy) it can take forever to get out of the mountains, but only if you take the "front way" (highway 18/330). On all but the very busiest weekends, the "back way" (highway 38 through Redlands) will get you down a lot faster, and is never crowded. I typically drive up 330/18 in the mornings (but I get a REALLY early start), and down 38 in the evenings. Generally, the only traffic problems I experience are on the freeways.
As far as LA ski areas go,, here's the opinion of someone who loves Mammoth, but can't afford to go up every weekend (I should add the disclaimer that I'm a ski instructor at Bear Mtn, so I'm most familiar with it).
It's really close, and REALLY ghetto (think gang graffitti everywhere). You'd have to pay me to go there on a weekend (I might do it for $50). The only real time to ski at Mountain High is at night. It's as icy as anywhere in the East, but it's usally pretty quiet, and most of the truly dangerous out of control riders have gone home. If you need a quick fix, and you don't mind ice and cold, night skiing at Mountain High is the way to go.
As mentioned above, I used to live in Claremont, which is at the foot of Baldy. My first season in Southern California was the El Nino season of 97-98 (ie tons of snow), so I skiied Baldy a lot. They have terrible customer service (I've seen a couple of fights break out between customers and employees), they rarely open on time, they have a Southern exposure and very little snow, and if you don't know the deals, there lift tickets are way overpriced. Apart from the above, they have possibly the best terrain in Southern California. Lots of narrow canyons, great tree skiing, plenty of steep stuff, and good backcountry access. You could have your best Southern California ski experience there, or it could be your worst (it's even possible that it could be both on the same day).
Bear Mountain/Snow Summit
Bear Mountain and Snow Summit used to be owned by different companies until last season when Summit bought Bear from Booth Creek Holdings. Before the merge, both mountains were competing for everyone, now Bear Mountain is aiming for the younger snowboard market, while Summit is aiming for the family market. Since the season is just starting, it's hard to say how this will play out. However, in the first season of the merge (last season), Snow Summit pretty much destroyed their park. What used to be a world-class park with HUGE hits, was turned into a smaller park more suited for the everyday toursit. The park at Bear was expanded somewhat, but there weren't really any drastic changes. Your lift ticket is valid at both resorts, so spend half a day at each and see what you find.
Remember when I said that Baldy has "possibly the best terrain in Southern California"? The other contender is Bear. It's not as well known for it's tree-skiing, but there is a ton of skiing in between the runs (and off the edge of the mountain) in "the canyons."It takes some exploring to get to know the area, but there's lots of good stuff out there, and it doesn't get tracked very quickly (I've gotten fresh tracks within sight of a lift a week after a storm). The trails tend to be more interesting then those at Summit (narrower with more bumps and dips). The crowds are bad on weekends, but if you head to Silver Mountain or Geronimo the lines are short (non-existant on Geronimo, but you'll spend all day lapping a steep ice sheet). Most of the runs have jumps, rails and boxes, so there are a fair number of out of control snowboarders, but the vibe is better than Mountain High. That said, I've seen a number of people get hit by out of control boarders.
Summit has less interesting terrain, but if you stick to the lookers left of the mountain, it's almost all blue and "black" cruising terrain. This side of the mountain is typically ruled by skiers, so you may feel at home here. The Summit terrain parks are confined to a couple of designated areas, so most of the mountain is free for cruising. The atmosphere at Summit is decidedly more upscale than at Bear, but I've found it to be a little less friendly. With their new emphasis on "family" I'd expect the mountain to be a skiers paradise during the week, with more boarders on weekends.