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While daydreaming of California one usually conjures the stereotypical images of the “Golden State”. There’s the Beach Boys, palm trees, surfers, blonds, fake boobs and traffic; snowboarding doesn’t exactly come mind right off the bat. Don’t be fooled, even as far south as Los Angeles, California boasts 10,000-ft peaks, powder days and one of the most fun parks built today. Sure, most of the ski areas in Southern California are overcrowded and get barely enough snowfall to cover the gritty desert dirt, but drive a couple hours north and you’ll score some of the most consistent powder days in the Eastern Sierras. If you don’t catch a storm there, instead you can ride two of the biggest parks built at Mammoth and June. The snow (except above mentioned) and the people may be artificial, but it doesn’t mean you should cross it off your list.
Best Park: Toss up between Bear Mountain and June Mountain
Best Powder: Mammoth
Best Pipe: Mammoth’s is bigger but June’s is more fun to ride
Best Run: Through the woods burm track from June to the town of June Lake
Most abundant fake boobs: Mountain High
Night Snowboarding: Mountain High
Best Drive: Mammoth
Gnarliest chair: June’s J1 (it’s a high old double with no bar)
Best Vibes: Baldy
Worst Vibes: Mountain High
Best place to ride the actual mountain: Mammoth
Best Contest: Bear Mountain, Hot Dawgz and Handrails
Best Nightlife: Mammoth
Best Bloody: Bear Mountain
Best Lodging: Bear Mountain
Anyone who has seen the web edits or ridden a chairlift here knows that Bear Mountain is a rail rider’s Mecca. It’s tiny by West Coast standards, gets very few powder days (if you can even call them that), and is overrun by Inland Empire gangsters. Even with these disadvantages, Bear has become without question the most fun mountain to ride on a non-powder day. This is because the immaculate park runs top to bottom, is groomed multiple times a day, and is constantly updated with new rails, wallrides, tubes, stairsets and all sorts of other creative setups. As an added bonus it’s almost always sunny and spring-like conditions here. Bear Mountain is a Southern California must; snowboarding in a hoodie and sunglasses with a couple mandatory bloody mary’s in one of the most fun parks in the US is not a bad way to spend a day at 8,805 feet.
Mountain High, similar to Bear, offers a well maintained top-to-bottom park right in the backyard of LA. The selling point for Mountain High is night snowboarding, with most of their terrain operational under lights. This year Mountain High is adding to their terrain park four new “Los Angeles Features,” which are exact replicas of famous LA spots. My favorite feature is the “Wedge Quaterpipe,” which I’m sure will make all the boogie boarders who snowboard here feel right at home. In addition to the bigger setups, a beginner zone and some other creative features are scattered about the hill for less experienced riders to progress on. Whether you’re learning how to snowboard or just looking to take some laps in the park, Mountain High is worth a visit.
Mount Baldy is a paradox. Located just outside of LA, Baldy has been known to host powder days completely misrepresentative of the region’s climate. The cat is out of the bag regarding California’s weather and waves, but powder days here is Southern California’s best-kept secret. Baldy is mellow, quiet, and even with its proximity to LA, the lift lines are rarely long. Here, the classic ski-area scene made up mostly of grandpas and bearded-men is a nice change of pace from the surrounding mountains. Established in 1944, Baldy boasts the steepest vertical drop in Southern California and an elevation of 10,064 ft. I know, I double-checked this fact, and it’s true.
You either have heard of it, have ridden here, or you live under a rock. Located in the Eastern Sierras, a six-hour drive from LA, three hours from Reno and five minutes from the Mammoth Airport, the town sits atop one of the thinnest layers of the Earth’s crust. That means an abundance of hippie-occupied desert hot springs for afternoon AprÃ¨s-ski. As one of the first mountains to open and last to close for the season, this “mammoth” size resort offers plenty of freeriding, steep terrain and one of the most famous parks in America. Oh yeah, and it’s sunny all the time, unless of course it’s dumping snow. Mammoth is a freak of ski area nature; if it’s not accumulating multiple feet of snow, it’s bluebird. However, Mammoth is not perfect; it’s isolated, expensive to stay and ride, very crowded and the small town is frequently pushed beyond its capacity with Southern Californians who don’t know how to drive their luxury SUV’s in the snow.
June Mountain was once one of California’s best-kept secrets, until the mountain started consistently appearing on covers of snowboard magazines. June Lake’s peak tourism season is summer (fishing) so the town is very sleepy during the winter. June gets the same storms as Mammoth, being that it is only 15 minutes away, but none of the crowds. Your cell phone will probably not work and there is no Internet, so status updates about how many fresh tracks you got until your legs gave out will have to wait until you get home. If it’s not snowing, June boasts a park that rivals Mammoth; huge jumps, small jumps, a somehow always spring-like pipe, creative setups and baby stuff; the variety leaves nothing to be desired. At the end of the day, there is a way to ride from the top of one of the chairs into town via a high-speed burm track through the woods. It is the most fun run in all of California, and best of all, waiting for you at the bottom is the stiffest $3.00 drink you’ve ever had at the Tiger Bar.