SoCal Face Shots
Big storm leads to big pow at Mount Baldy, just outside of L.A.

By Matt Hansen

Skiing powder in Southern California? Here’s what it takes:

Coffee up at 5:15 am. Navigate the Los Angeles freeway system in torrential rain. Backtrack after taking a wrong exit on one of the several eight-lane highways. Go north at the Mountain View exit in Upland, which will lead you to Mount Baldy Ski Area, one of the country’s most classic little mom-and-pop areas. Notice how the road steadily climbs between steep rugged canyon walls. Notice how there isn’t any cell service and that desert yuccas grow among old-growth pine. Yes, there are trees. Big trees! And snow!

Huge storms last week repeatedly slammed into Southern California, creating mass flooding, hundreds of home evacuations, and snowfall down to the 3,000-foot level. More important, the storms brought several feet of snow to Mount Baldy. This means that Baldy, whose base sits at 6,500 feet and tops out at over 8,600 feet in the rugged and steep San Gabriel Mountains (the neighboring peaks get up to 10,000 feet), can provide powder skiing that comes close to that of the Wasatch. It feels reminiscent to Snow King, in Jackson, or Solitude, in Utah, back before Intrawest replaced the classic A-frames with homogeneous condos. And it’s only 45 miles from one the biggest cities on earth.

We arrived on Friday morning around 9:30 a.m. to find the road closed due to snow and ice (Longtime Powder photo editor Dave Reddick, who grew up skiing Baldy, drove his truck into the parking lot at 6:30. He’s got it that dialed). The road finally re-opened at around 11:30, and we crawled the final few miles up to this ski area seemingly lost in time.

Socal Head Shots Gallery

But, of course, still in SoCal. As we walked up to the ticket window, we encountered a group of snowboarders looking at a 15-step bootpack shortcutting the parking lot. “What is this, Mount Everest?” one complained. “I didn’t come up here to die!”

In the afternoon, we saw at least a half dozen Latino day laborers shoveling snow off the top of Chair 1. A few hours later, we saw them riding the chair down the mountain in the blizzard, one guy happily singing what sounded like a festive Mexican jingle.

Socal Head Shots Gallery

Everyone says that a powder day at Baldy is something not to be missed. Not just because of the deep snow, a phenomenon that happens once every few years, but also because of the characters it brings out of the woodwork. As such, it’s one of the more unique skiing experiences you could ever have—on this or any continent.