If you live in Southern California, you visit snow. Snow does not visit you. If you are not a native of Southern California, as I am, you can be forgiven for not being aware that it snows in Southern California, indeed, in Los Angeles County, inter alia, every single year. Indeed, if you are a recent immigrant to Los Angeles, you can be forgiven for having only recently discovered that Los Angeles is ringed by mountains.
Because of the mountains -- the San Gabriels and the Tehachapis to the North, the San Bernardino's to the east and the coastal ranges, and the constant breezes blowing inland off the ocean, there is something called an inversion layer that is like a lid on a pot that keeps all the grey-brown gunky stuff in the air from dissipating upward. And that smoggy gunky stuff keeps you from seeing the mountains until you are right on them. If you live in Pasadena or Burbank or one of those towns along the 210 "foothill" freeway, you can see the mountains, but most of the time you can't see them because of the grey brown air.
And then December and January weather arrives with, we hope, rain and wind, and wash all that yucky stuff out of the air and, voila! not just mountains, mountains with white stuff on them. The white stuff is snow.
When I was a youth, it was obligatory to have at least one trip to the snow. This involved finding all of your warm stuff, including mittens or at least gloves, rubber boots or your warmest footwear and your warmest coat, and then everyone in the car, drive an hour or so up into the mountains, find an appropriate place to park, get out of the car and play in the snow. Sometimes we had sleds and tobaggons or we would make our own out of something else. Depending on where your parents chose to park, it could be a little intimidating because the San Gabriel mountains can be very steep. The combination of snow and steep and a sled can lead to some very fast rides. Then we would pile some snow on the top of the car to show everybody we had been up to the snow, and drive home, grateful to be inside and warm again.
And it is still a tradition today for millions of families in Southern California. So we are blessed here in the Los Angeles area with plenty of places to play in the snow. Here is a list of suggestions for those who are new to the L. A. snow scene.
For skiing: (No I am not making this up)
Mount Baldy Their motto is real snow, real close. Mount Baldy is in the San Bernardino mountains and has chairlifts and skiing. It has a small lodge where you can drink hot cocoa. You can rent ski equipment and take lessons there as well. Unlike most places that you ski, you have to take a lift to get up the place where you rent your skis at Mount Baldy. That is because between the parking lot and the ski hut, the mountain is very steep. You can buy a lift ticket just to go up top and look around. Or you can buy a lift ticket to ski. Below the area where the chair lift is there are plenty of places to park and play in the snow.
Mount Waterman I am pleased to discover that Mount Waterman is open again depending on the snow. Check the website. Again a very small local place to ski and freeze your buns off. I have skied there a few times. Since I'm not a very good skier, I take the lift up top where the easier skiing is . The mountain down to the road is VERY black diamond steep. You can also go up top and go to the lodge have some cocoa and enjoy the forest.
And of course: Mountain High which is actually a full blown resort. They have night skiing for those who want to drive up after work and break a leg. I've skied there and my 2¢ worth is, too many hot doggers. If you are a hot dogger, have at it.
Of course, we can't leave out Big Bear because it is in Southern California and it is very Big. It is also a long twisty icy drive up Running Springs Road which will take you a couple of hours to get there. And it will be crowded.
Now if you just want to play, the best place to go is up Highway 2 into the Angeles Forest. If it has recently snowed you will probably be required to put chains on your drive tires-- the ones that actually propel the car forward or backward. This is to make sure your tires have traction on icy roads. It's a safety thing. There will usually be a CHP enforcement team which will turn you back if you don't have them. So drop by Pep boys or your other favorite auto store and buy them before you go. You wait until you get up where there is a lot of snow and it is very cold and then you pull over to the side of the road and lay on the ground in the freezing wet cold and wrap those things around your tires with your frozen fingers turning numb. Oh. Well, that's what I do. Or, if you have 4 wheel drive, you flip a switch and you probably won't be required to have chains.
If you go far enough on Highway 2 you will come to Newcomb's Ranch, which is a biker hangout. Don't let that intimidate you. They are all very nice people. Remember, Jay Leno is a biker. Anyway, after you play in the snow until you are all wet and really, really cold, you can go to Newcomb's Ranch restaurant and get lunch and play pool and drink cocoa and get warm. If you are not the one driving you can also indulge in adult beverages. They have a well stocked bar. Well, I'm really not a judge of such things, but they seem to have a reasonable array of booze.
And let me say just one thing about the aforementioned icy roads. In addition to being twisty and windy the roads are narrow and in most places if your car leaves the road at a high speed, it is a very long way down-- like 500 or 1000 feet. So all things considered, better to take it slow and not lose control.
If it has snowed recently, you may want to check to make sure the roads are open. Caltrans, in its wisdom, closes the roads in Angeles Forest when they think they are too dangerous. Check here for the status: http://www.dot.ca.gov/cgi-bin/roads.cgi. Don't worry about Highway 2 being closed from Islip saddle to Wrightwood. They close that every winter. Newcomb's Ranch and Mount Waterman are both before the closing point.