I'm going to LA for the holidays and I am planning to take my brother snowboarding for the first time. I am an intermediate/advanced skier from the East Coast. Which mountain would satisfy both our needs? I'm currently looking at Mt. Baldy (30 miles away from our house) and Bear Mountain (80 miles). Mammoth is ideal but it's just too far at 6 hours. What other resorts should we consider? Cost, crowds, and terrain variety are key considerations. But then again, they would all fall under holiday/peak anyway unless you have any recommendations for coupons or discounts. We both would need to rent gear too. Thanks!
Which Southern California resort? Beginner Snowboarder and Intermediate/Advanced Skier
- 3 Posts. Joined 11/2004
- Location: SoCal
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Go to Mammoth it's worth the trip. Drive time for me is usually 5-5-1/2 hours. You can fly from LAX in 55 minutes; did it once last year and it sure beat the 5 hour drive.
Never been to Baldy. Big Bear is perfect for a first timer, just have to check the snow conditions on their website.
If you go to Mammoth during the holidays, I highly recommend you take the first timer to June Mt. It's never crowded and it has a scenic 2 1/2 mile beginner run from the top of one of its peaks.
The SoCal local areas I have a summary page of my analysis based upon 30+ years skiing them: http://bestsnow.net/scalnet.htm
Mt. Baldy is both expert-oriented and not a favorite to have good snow by Christmas. It's my favorite local area now but it was not a pleasant experience as a beginner.
Mt. High is extremely high density on the West Resort, especially if East is not open. Avoid during holidays IMHO. If East is open, there's a nice ~300 vertical chair at the top which is good for beginners.
There are 2 resorts at Big Bear under the same ownership, Bear Mt. and Snow Summit. With the lake as a water source and high snowmaking expertise they are heavy favorites to have the most open terrain and best surfaces in early season. Both are about half open now, but surfaces aren't great because it rained last Sunday Dec. 5 (other areas rate to be worse though). Bear Mt. is almost entirely covered with park features. Snow Summit is much better for a beginner and the terrain layout flows better with fewer bottlenecks when it's busy. You can ride both on the same ticket and there is a shuttle bus. So you may want to take that to Bear while your first timer is in lessons at Summit. You may need advance reservations during holidays because there is a ticket limit.
I would avoid renting gear from the resorts during the holidays as there will be huge lines for that. Leroy's is good shop for snowboard rentals. There's one in the town of Big Bear Lake and another in Arrowbear on the road up between Running Springs and Snow Valley.
Snow Valley is 1/2 hour before Big Bear and might be a good choice for the first timer as it's much quieter than Big Bear and has a lot of gradual terrain. But it's lower with less snowmaking so only 10% open now.
I can't argue with jmsracer's comment. Mt. High and Big Bear are cut trails with snowmaking and very similar to East Coast skiing; Hunter Mt.might be a close analogy. Mammoth is huge, high alpine, already has had 104 inches snow this season, consensus top 10 area in North America (more like top 5 in my book). If you have even 2 full days/nights it's worth the trip.
- 2,736 Posts. Joined 7/2002
- Location: Connecticut
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I used to live in SoCal a long time ago and skied most of the areas mentioned. I actually was a liftie at Mammoth for a couple of months one winter. Mammoth was always crowded as hell on weekends and holidays - especially the beginner and lower intermediate lifts. It would be best for you and suck for bro because of the crowds on the lower mountain. It's at least a 6 hour drive from LA. Mammoth is a great mountain!
Back in the day, Snow Summit in the Big Bear region would limit ticket sales. If you wanted to ski on a weekend you had to buy your tickets at a ski shop or a Ticketmaster by Thursday at the latest. It paid off big time as all the other area in the region had extremely long lift lines and over crowded slopes. I would say it was similar to a Windham or Hunteresque area in regards to terrain and size with a good deal of intermediate terrain, a few bump runs and even some tree skiing if there is enough natural snow. Snow Valley was a bit easier and way more crowded.
Baldy has the rep of being the steepest in SoCal. I have never skied there so can't comment. Mt. High has some decent advanced intermediate terrain. At least it did when I skied there because it had some steepish runs that they left ungroomed. I don't know if that is still the case.
The above comments sound like what I remember from the late '70's and '80's. Lift capacity has increased a lot since then. Mammoth's lift lines now (when everything is open) tend to be shorter than most destination resorts at comparable time periods. Nonetheless, like anywhere Christmas-to-New-Year's is the busiest time, and crank is correct that it will be OK on the upper mountain and more crowded on the lower mountain. Thus my earlier suggestion of June Mt. for the first timer.
The SoCal market has consolidated a lot since crank lived there. Summit/Bear do ~750,000 skier days per season and Mt. High ~500,000. Mt. Baldy in the excellent 2004-05 season did 50,000 and I'd be surprised if Snow Valley is much more than that now.
The Big Bear sellout situation is not as common as before either, but during the holidays I would reserve ahead to be sure.