Day-Ski trips from Los Angeles
January 12, 2013 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Angelenos, tell me about the best local ski areas! I want to drive up in the morning, ski and drive home all in the same day. I'm an expert skiier coming from the West side of LA, and I'm trying to figure out which ski area I should try out first.

I've been looking at Big Bear and Mountain High, but I'm having trouble figuring out the best place for me to go. Big Bear appears to have turned half the mountain into a terrain park, which is the exact opposite of what I'm interested in. Mountain High is just confusing with three seemingly unconnected and really tiny groups of runs. Realistically, I'm fine with an area with a good variety of blues, minimal terrain parks and less of a ski-school presence. Bonus points for a decent lodge my husband can hang out in. Where should I be going?

Also, if you are someone that does this regularly, tell me about the traffic/snow conditions getting up there. Do I need chains (FWD car with average clearance)? Is the traffic epically bad? When should I plan to leave my house in the AM to get up there by 9-10am?

Finally, where can I get demo-level ski rentals on the West side of LA/Santa Monica?
posted by annie o to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I spend 2-3 days per week living in Big Bear and wouldn't imagine driving in the San Bernardino mountains during the winter without at least carrying chains in the vehicle. That even goes for when I'm in my 4x4 truck. The CHP website is a good source for chain control and traffic info (just click on "INLAND" in the dropdown).

Traffic can be maddening up here and most of the worst congestion is caused by idiots who don't carry chains or do a poor chain installation. Always remember that just because there is no chain restriction in force when you come up to the mountain, things can change quickly and you may need them when it's time to head home.
posted by buggzzee23 at 1:27 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mammouth is the best ski area accessible to LA, but it's 4-5 hours, so not doable in a day trip. Big Bear will be OK and better for you than Mountain High.

Big Bear is the best option within day trip driving distance of LA - Mountain High is really crowded, gets slushy and is more of a place for kids to learn to ski or teenagers to do some snowboarding within an hour from home. It does not have a good lodge and it is very much a ski school and snowboarding tricks sort of place.

Big Bear is about 2 to 2.5 hours - leave at 6 or 7 am if you want to get up there by 9. Driving conditions are totally fine for the majority of the drive, only the last 30-45 minutes are up a mountain. My rear wheel drive regular car was always fine on that drive.

Mountain High is about 60-90 minutes from the westside depending on what time you leave (before 9 it will take barely an hour). It's not a mountain drive at all and you won't need any kind of special car equipment (it's barely a mountain, more like a very large hill).
posted by rainydayfilms at 1:29 PM on January 12, 2013

At a minimum elevation of 6,000 ft, Mountain High is definitely in the mountains. " It's not a mountain drive at all and you won't need any kind of special car equipment (it's barely a mountain, more like a very large hill)." can easily become famous last words ( on the order of "hey y'all, hold my beer and watch this").

People die on the highways leading to Wrightwood and Big Bear every winter because of over confidence.
posted by buggzzee23 at 1:38 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

buggzzee23 is giving solid advice. Have those chains with you. Even if you are an experienced mountain/snow driver, keep in mind that you will be sharing the road with many who are not.

As for specific mountains:

Mountain High is chock-a-block with bro-brahs. Thar be dragons. Give it a skip.

Snow Summit is probably your best bet. Get there as early as possible to get parking and lift tickets sorted. And prepare for the possibility of a lonnnnnnnnnng drive home. It can sometimes take longer to get down the damn hill than it would if you'd gone to Mammoth! Also beware people who decide to chain-up with the car halfway in the road, and their legs sticking out into the road proper while they slither around under their lowered Honda (you may think I jest). There's a lodge for the hubster.

And keep an eye out for "snow-players": families who go up to the mountains, and park willy-nilly and let the kids run amok in the road.

Truly, do not underestimate the folly of flatlanders set loose in the hills.

There is a special place in my heart for Mount Baldy, but it is not to everyone's taste, and probably falls outside the realm of what you are looking for. Google some trip reports on it, though, and see what you think.

Sport Chalet rents ski stuff.

posted by nacho fries at 3:31 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I live near Mountain High. You do not want to come here on a weekend or a holiday, especially after it snows. Hwy 2 is like the 405 during rush hour, with only one lane.

To get here by 9-10AM, I'd leave between 7 and 8. Check traffic. You can get here via the 14 or the 15--the 138 connects them both.

The village of Wrightwood has a good coffee shop, antique stores, decent restaurants, and a cozy library. The bars are meh--the only one I'd go to is the Yodeler.
posted by luckynerd at 4:00 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm retracting my earlier rec for Sports Chalet for demo rentals. I think you would be better served by Elevation Sports, located in Santa Monica. Selection and expertise will be more dialed-in than Sports Chalet.
posted by nacho fries at 4:14 PM on January 12, 2013

Mr baldy is tiny but very close .on powder days (!) Its a cheap blast of fun. If it's sunny and they have snow cover then a great day of spring skiing can be had
posted by lalochezia at 7:03 PM on January 12, 2013

Nthing Snow Summit for being your best bet, most of the time.

The sad truth is, if you're an expert skier, especially if you're not from SoCal, you're likely to be disappointed in anything that SoCal has to offer skiing wise. Unless you're really jonesing to get out on the snow and get some turns in, or only have time for a day-trip, save your money and head to Mammoth or Tahoe.

Given the right conditions (good base, fresh snow) Baldy has the best advanced terrain in SoCal. Unfortunately, you're not likely to find those conditions right now. On the rare SoCal powder day though, Baldy is your best bet. Get an *early* start and bring chains (and/or awd/4wd). The last mile or two to the Baldy parking lot consist of steep switchbacks, which become a total clusterfuck in icy/snowy conditions. You can easily kill an hour sitting in traffic a mile from the parking lot. However, if there's fresh powder, and good coverage. Baldy is worth the hassle.

Or get some back-country gear and earn your turns on San Jac, or San G.
posted by zen_spider at 11:30 AM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

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