A wintertime getaway so close to L.A. — Angelinos can see it
By Sarah Kozer
I last wrote about Big Bear in the summer, and all of the amazing things to do there when the weather is warm. I also remember joking in that story about Big Bear how Los Angelinos enjoy a good laugh every winter when watching the news and seeing the poor residents of this mountain town getting snowed in for days at a time. Being from the East Coast, though, there’s something about cold brisk air, snowdrifts, and winter clothes that I just seem to miss in California during the “winter” months. I have been chasing the snow all season: I went to Pennsylvania for Christmas last year… no snow. I spent some time recently in Utah for the Sundance Film Festival (all work, no play…) and, again: NO SNOW! So when I had some free time last weekend I decided to drag the snow chains out of storage and head out to the mountains for some winter fun.
GETTING THERE IS NOT HALF THE FUN!
Anytime I complain to people outside of California that I miss the snow, they always have the same reply, “Oh, come on—you can drive to the snow… it’s only a couple of hours away!” Well, what I have to say to that is, “Easier said than done.” Having one bad experience driving to Big Bear under my belt already (I went for my birthday one year and got a flat tire in a blizzard) I was a little apprehensive about trying it again. We decided to leave early on Friday to avoid rush hour getting out of LA, but obviously we didn’t leave early enough, and once we hit the mountains it was raining pretty hard and the fog made the roads almost impossible to navigate. All in all, with a couple bathroom stops and a one-hour dinner break, it literally took us six hours to get there!! So here is my advice about the drive: Fill the gas tank before you get into the mountains; pack some food, water, and warm blankets in the car; and check your emergency supplies (spare tire, tools, flashlight, flares…). The old Boy Scout motto about always being prepared should be heeded. Nine times out of ten you won’t need to rely on your emergency supplies, but that one time you do, you’ll be really glad you have them! Also, if it is snowing or if there is the possibility of snow, have some snow chains in your car because if the roads are bad, they will be required. Check BigBear.com or call (800) 427-7623 for any weather or road warnings, and also the California highway website, CHP.ca.gov, and BigBearRoads.com can be useful. Also, make sure you like the people you are driving with—it could be a long trip!
LODGING IN THE HEART OF THE VILLAGE
Finally pulling up to Alpine Village Inn, 546 Pine Knot Ave., (909) 866-5711, BigBearResortCabins.net, we were excited to see that our lodge was right in the center of town in Big Bear Village. This is exciting, especially in the winter, because the village is alight with activity and ambiance and is super close to all the restaurants and shops. The place could use a little updating, but the rooms are huge and comfortable. We had a fireplace in a decent-sized living room, a small full kitchen, a dining area, and two pullout futons for the kids or extra bodies. It’s a perfect place for families or groups of skiers and snowboarders, and they allow pets. If you are looking for bells and whistles, this might not be the place, but we really enjoyed it and found that it suited our needs perfectly at an affordable price: A one-bedroom suite runs about $100 and up during ski season. Exhausted from the long drive, we grabbed a quick beer at Nottingham’s right at the end of the street and walked home to hit the hay for a big day of skiing in the morning. On the way home we discovered another treasure: Big Bear Liquor Market directly across the street from our hotel. Stopping in for a late-night snack, we were surprised to see the large and varied inventory there! Sydney, the owner, obviously has tailored a unique service in the village. You could probably find just about anything you needed there. I’m not sure why a person would need a Spanish sword for their ski weekend, but Sydney has a full case of them, along with groceries, hats, gloves, DVDs, and, of course, liquor. The chilled bottle of Jägermeister looked tempting, but in my experience skiing with a hangover sucks, so we just went to bed.
SKIING AT SNOW SUMMIT
After an early breakfast at the Snow Summit Resort, 880 Summit Blvd., (909) 866-5766 SnowSummit.com, we geared up for some skiing! I had been worried about the conditions because of all the rain on the way up, but the mountain was in great form… The resorts here are actually able to produce snow practically fresh enough to fool Mother Nature. And if, like me, you have always been wary of what they put in man-made snow… rest assured. The Big Bear resorts use only one ingredient: water, which is atomized and blown into the cold mountain air so it freezes and falls to the ground as real snow. The resort is open for day sessions from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. during the week, and 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on the holidays and weekends. The cost is $20 child, $43 young adult, and $50 adult. Night session and half-day passes are also available. My best advice is to get there EARLY if you need to rent skis—the line was unbelievable, even for a Saturday! The hours and availability are subject to change and they sometimes offer specials, so contact the resort before making plans. As an incentive during the current economic situation, Big Bear is offering midweek lift and lodging packages starting at $69. Check out BigBear.com for details.
It had been a while since I last skied, so I decided to take it easy and spent most of my time on the intermediate-level slopes. I LOVE West Coast skiing because the trails are usually so much longer and more open than what I’m used to in the smaller resorts near Pennsylvania where I grew up. A couple of my friends had never skied before, so those who were brave took a lesson, which I wish I would’ve done when I had the opportunity in junior high ski club… instead of ditching and hitting the arcade. I’ve been skiing for longer than I care to admit, but if you saw me you’d guess I picked it up a couple of years ago. Beginners always learn faster and with better form if they have the patience for a lesson.
I enjoyed the classic “ski lodge” vibe of the place… with all sizes and types of skiers, too, which made me feel at home in a world dominated by snowboarders. There are several lodge dining options, but my favorite was the open-air deck of the Bear Bottom Lodge, which has an open-air BBQ and also an indoor cafeteria and taco bar. Midday they even set up an outdoor bar so you don’t have to trek any further than absolutely necessary in those stupid ski boots (the one remaining thing that ultimately makes boarders look cooler… when are the ski companies going to make better boots!?)
DINNER AT NORTHWOODS
We had plans to meet some friends for drinks later, but we were so beat from the altitude and the exertion that I slept through happy hour, so we went straight to dinner at Northwoods Resort, 40650 Village Drive, (800) 866-3121, NorthwoodsResort.com. If you are looking for bells and whistles while staying in Big Bear, this might just be the place. The resort is upscale and really beautiful with a definite romantic feeling. I heard that they just recruited a new chef, and our dinners were perfect! The menu items range from traditional “comfort” food to exotic fusion options with a price range of $12–20, but keep in mind Big Bear goes to bed kind of early… the restaurant is only open till 9:00 p.m., even on the weekends.
TUBING IN THE SNOW
The next day, feeling some muscles aching that I haven’t used in a while, I headed next door for breakfast at Nottingham’s. The coffee was fresh and plentiful and the omelets were a thing of beauty. Talking with some of the other diners made me realize how much there was to do at Big Bear! Snowshoeing, off-roading in ATVs, cross-country skiing… Feeling inspired but not wanting to miss a day of skiing at the other resort, we decided on a quick trip to the Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain, 800 Wildrose Lane, (909) 866-4626, AlpinSlideBigBear.com. The park is open weekends from 10:00 a.m. to dusk and 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. weekdays, and was packed early on this Sunday. Anyone who enjoyed sled riding as a child will get a thrill out of flying down the hill in oversized inner tubes, and they even take out the hard part by letting you “climb” back up on a covered electric people-mover. All day passes for the slide or snow play cost $25. A single ride costs $4 and a transferable five-ride book goes for $18. Night tubing is also available on Fridays, Saturdays, and holidays from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. and costs $15… how fun!! This was a great warm-up for our day, but I’ve spent a lot of time tubing at a resort slide near my hometown that can scare the bejesus out of a grown man. Although a little tame for my taste, the tubing at Magic Mountain is perfect for families with kids. I bullied my six-year-old nephew into going on the one at home with me last Christmas and I don’t think he’s trusted me the same ever since.
After about our fourth run, it started to SNOW!! YIPPEE!! Finally: real, falling snow. It was delightful. Unfortunately, however, they shut down the toboggans when it snows. Not wanting to wait it out, we left and headed for a half day of skiing. Next time, though, I hope to get to try out the slide!
THE “SCENE” AT BEAR MOUNTAIN
Snow Summit and Bear Mountain are friendly neighbors and if you purchase a lift ticket at one it is good at the other on the same day; a shuttle runs between the two resorts. So you really can check out both places and see which suits you best, although for us it was a difficult decision. They both rocked! Honestly, there is something for everyone, which is great if you are in a mixed group of boarders and skiers, or for a family with teenagers who don’t want to run into their parents all day. Whereas Snow Summit is more family-oriented, Bear Mountain is definitely where to go if you want to make the scene…especially for snowboarders.
The Park at Bear Mountain is an “all mountain terrain freestyle park” that appeals to newbies as well as hard-core enthusiasts. Individuals with basic riding skills who want to learn freestyle boarding and have some fun can take the Intro to the Park riding class at either Summit or Bear Mountain.
One day, I will learn how to snowboard. This was not that day. With the fresh dusting of snow, the conditions were too perfect not to keep on skiing! (OK, so I chickened out of snowboarding lessons…) Wanting to encourage my boyfriend David on only his second time on skis (and by “encourage,” I mean “show off in front of”), I spent the rest of the afternoon with him practicing on the easier slopes, which surprisingly were fun for BOTH of us. Because they were so well groomed and open, the runs allowed David to get more comfortable and me a safe place to concentrate on improving my form. It was nice that even though Bear Mountain had a larger percentage of boarders, it really accommodates skiers, as well. 43101 Goldmine Drive, BearMountain.com.
BACK TO LA LA LAND
Although we were anxious about the drive home, we hated to leave and stayed until they closed the lifts. If you go to Big Bear for a weekend and can stay late or call in sick to work on Monday, try to hit the slopes on Sunday—it was way less crowded! Against the advice of our peers, we did NOT take Highway 18 home to avoid traffic. We are not rebels; we just got lost and found the 38 first. Happily, we didn’t encounter nearly as much traffic, fog, rain, or motion sickness as on the drive in. We made it safely back to LA in about three hours, which isn’t bad for night driving. I had a late dinner party at my place that evening, and after I recounted my weekend, my friends and I are already plotting another trip to Big Bear. Maybe next time I will strap on a snowboard!
Sarah Kozer, best known for her role on FOXÕs TV phenomenon, Joe Millionaire, has been featured on TV shows and magazines in the US and abroad, including UKÕs Back to Reality, People, US Weekly, Time, Front, Loaded, Vanity Fair, and Glamour. She has been seen on Oprah, Jay Leno, Regis and Kelly, Saturday Night Live, Howard Stern, Jimmy Kimmel and CNN, and on the cover of Playboy!
Voted one of the Sexiest Women of Reality TV the past four years, Sarah has hosted television programs including Extra!, has written for USWeekly and is currently producing, casting and writing for television, with several of her own shows in the works. She resides in Beverly Hills but spends much of her time traveling and exploring the world.
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