75 degrees. That’s what the thermometer is reading as I type this in San Diego, in January, at only 10 AM. California should be deep into winter right now, but we’re not – and that’s obvious everywhere from this sunny cafe a few miles from the beach, to the mountains that should have snow. In our quest to teach Kendall how to ski (more on that at some point), we’ve been visiting Snow Valley, a small ski area on the road up to Big Bear Lake, only 2 hours from my doorstep. Last time we were up there, the mercury climbed above 60. I was burning up in a windbreaker and a t-shirt. If it weren’t for their furious overnight snow making, they’d make a much better business as a water skiing venue. “Well”, you might be saying, “big surprise that you aren’t making snow angels in Southern California. Go find some real snow”. But the big guns aren’t faring well either.
At Mammoth Mountain, you’re in the heart of the Sierras. A huge chunk of the runs are on rocky tundra above the treeline – rare for ski areas in the States. You’re less than 100 miles away from Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States. 200 miles away, you have the Pacific Ocean, an endless bath of moisture from which heavy storms can brew. In short, this place should be a snow fiend’s dream – and normally, it is. The average snowfall of over 33 feet (yes, that number is correct) leaves the resort open until July, at which point it shuts down due to lack of crowds rather than snow. So the grand total so far this year, already half way through the snow season? Six. In the month of January, which more often then not delivers over 100 inches of snow, we’ve received… a fraction of one inch.
The Tahoe Area is struggling similarly – a few resorts recently closed down in the middle of the season citing lack of snow. And this isn’t the first season of such dismal snow. It’s the fourth disappointing season running. So what is a skier to do? Well, we gout out there and enjoy anyway. While a couple fresh feet of snow is any good skier’s dream, a nice warm day under the sun spent carving turns on the snow that’s there is plenty of fun too. If you get really lucky, the sun will soften up the snow pack on your favorite off-trail steep or tree run to give you a hint of the floating-on-powder feeling that your’e craving. Spring skiing at its best means pleasant, long ski days with forgiving snow and less crowds, and that’s exactly what California has provided these last few years. It’s now the eternal land of spring skiing.
Last year, my brother and I enjoyed these conditions over a long weekend at Squaw and Alpine Meadows in Lake Tahoe. It’s taken a while to get the video ready, but better late than never!