Southern California Ski Area

Area Profile
Winter Activities
Summer Activities
Après-ski
Transportation
Housing
Employment

Southern California Ski Area Profiles

Most people think of sunny skies, warm weather, and crowded beaches when they think of Southern California, but in fact there are several sizable ski resorts right in Los Angeles’ backyard, in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains.

These two mountain ranges provide some great slopes and surprisingly high elevations (some peaks rise over 10,000 feet) very near San Bernardino. Mt. Baldy and Mountain High are the closest ski areas to Los Angeles; Mt. Baldy is only forty-five miles east of downtown, and Mountain High is on the opposite side of the same mountain near Wrightwood, though the drive from Los Angeles takes an extra half-hour.

Further east, near the mountain town of Running Springs, is Snow Valley, another day-use ski area, and at the eastern edge of the San Barnardino National Forest, near Big Bear Lake, are Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. These two areas get slightly colder temperatures and more reliable snow than the resorts further west and attract more overnight visitors. The town of Bear Lake serves as the base town for both Snow Summit and Bear Mountain, and is home to about 18,000 year-round residents. Big Bear Lake and Big Bear City are both in the Big Bear Valley, an attractive resort area situated on the shores of Big Bear lake, and are about 100 miles east of Los Angeles and thirty miles from San Bernardino.

Winter Activities

Despite their high elevations, these resorts all have fairly inconsistent snowfall, and what they get is usually wet. To alleviate this problem, most of these ski areas have snowmaking covering at least some portion of their skiing terrain.

Mt. Baldy is primarily a daytime ski area since there’s not really any lodging next to the mountain. Baldy is mainly an expert’s ski hill, with steep, rugged slopes and sometimes windy conditions making for a real challenge. Baldy has no snowmaking equipment, so a good ski day is never a sure thing, but when the snow’s good at Baldy, skiing on its 2,100 vertical feet is really good and favored by serious skiers.

Nearby Mountain High boasts eleven chairs including one high-speed quad, and snowmaking covers 95 percent of the area, ensuring decent conditions for most of the winter. Mountain High has terrain for all levels, and a lot of beginners learn to ski here before tackling resorts further north like Mammoth Mountain. Mountain High provides night skiing seven nights per week.

Snow Valley runs thirteen chairlifts and provides enough acreage so that everyone has plenty of elbow room. A family-oriented ski area, Snow Valley emphasizes its beginner and intermediate slopes, and is popular among area snowboarders.

Snow Summit is probably the most popular Southern California ski area and attracts more overnight and weekend visitors than most other resorts, though it’s still primarily a day-ski area for commuters from San Bernardino and Los Angeles. Snow Summit has an excellent snowboard freestyle park and half-pipe served by its own chair. The base of Snow Summit is less than one mile from the town of Bear Lake. Bear Mountain is located very near Snow Summit and only two miles from Big Bear Lake. Skiing is similar to Snow Summit, though it offers a bigger vertical drop, four separate ski mountains, and lots of glade skiing when the natural snowfall is adequate.

None of the Southern California ski areas offer reliable cross-country skiing because of poor natural snow conditions. But if snow conditions are right, Mountain High and Bear Valley both offer decent cross-country skiing.

Summer Activities

The San Gabriel mountains are a popular daytime retreat for southern Californians eager to escape the summer heat. A number of lakes offer boating and swimming opportunities, and hiking is a very popular area activity. Nevertheless, most of the local ski areas are fairly quiet in the summer.

Mt. Baldy offers hiking, mountain biking, and several concerts each summer. The number one (highest) lift runs on weekends and holidays for bikers and hikers. Mountain High has run lifts in the summer in past years but new forest service regulations may close mountain bike trails this summer.

Snow Valley runs lifts in the summer starting July 4 and offers mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding.

Most activity in the San Bernardino Mountains (home to Snow Summit and Bear Mountain) centers around Big Bear Lake, where the large lake and surrounding mountains offer a variety of water sports and alpine hiking and climbing. Snow Summit and Bear Mountain are both popular spots for mountain bikers and Snow Summit hosts a series of mountain bike races during the summer. Only Snow Summit runs lifts for bikers and hikers, but Bear Mountain does allow bikers on their ski area. Sailing and boating events take place throughout the summer, including a huge Hobie Cat catamaran regatta in July.

Après-ski

Most of these ski areas don’t have a base village, and since a large city is so close by, many skiers simply go home at the end of the day.

Snow Valley skiers do enjoy some nightlife at The Golden Elk in the town of Running Springs, though, and the ski lodge hosts bands on weekend evenings. At Mountain High, some skiers stay in Wrightwood and visit the Blue Ridge Inn for good dining and the Wrightwood Inn for a pub atmosphere and live music. Locals like the Raccoon Saloon for cheap beer and light food.

Skiers at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit drive the short distance to the town of Bear Lake, which is big enough to offer a fairly diverse nightlife and plenty of lodging for overnight visitors. Popular nightspots for the young ski crowd include Chad’s Place with nightly live music, and Tale of the Whale, a popular bar and restaurant on the shore of Big Bear Lake.

Transportation

As in most of southern California, you really need a car to reach any of these ski areas, though bus service does reach Wrightwood, about five miles from Mountain High. The nearest major airport to all five ski areas is the Ontario Airport east of Los Angeles, and of course the Los Angeles International Airport is near downtown Los Angeles. Following are driving directions from Los Angeles to the five ski areas:

Mt. Baldy: Take I-10 east to Ontario, then go north on Highway 83 and Mt. Baldy Road sixteen miles north to the resort.

Mountain High: Take I-15 north to Highway 138, go eight miles to California Highway 2, and travel west five more miles to the ski area.

Snow Valley: Follow I-10 east to San Bernardino, turn north on Waterman Avenue, which eventually turns into Highway 18. Highway 18 winds up for about thirty miles to the ski area, which lies about five miles past the small town of Running Springs.

Bear Mountain and Snow Summit: Both bases are located within two miles of the town of Big Bear Lake. To get to Big Bear Lake, take I-10 east to San Bernardino, Highway 330 to Running Springs, and then Highway 18 east to Big Bear Lake. Big Bear Lake is about thirty miles from San Bernardino.

Housing

None of these resorts supply employee housing, and most are close enough to the Los Angeles suburbs that employees simply commute from the valley. Some workers at Mountain High live in nearby Wrightwood, and Running Springs is a popular place to rent among Snow Valley employees. The village of Mount Baldy, about six miles from the ski area, houses about 600 full-time residents, but most employees live further down the road in San Bernardino County.

Most employees of Bear Mountain and Snow Summit live in the town of Big Bear Lake, which is big enough to provide amenities and entertainment. Housing is slightly cheaper here than in the Los Angeles area.

Southern California Ski Area Employment

None of these ski areas hires a significant number of summer employees, but all hire quite a few people in the winter. Most jobs are at the ski areas themselves, since there are not many lodging and entertainment facilities nearby. These resorts can be ideal employers for skiers already living in the Los Angeles area who want to work weekends or evenings on a ski hill.

Employees at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit don’t have too much trouble finding summer jobs in Big Bear Lake. Many ski area employees work at area marinas, horse stables, Magic Mountain (a water slide, not the amusement park), or in construction. Some Bear Mountain employees work for the nearby golf course also run by Bear Mountain.

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