Cal­i­for­nia’s many win­ter ac­tiv­i­ties pro­vide lots of rea­sons to get out­doors

Travel Guide to California - - CONTENTS - BY BILL FINK

No Time to Hiber­nate


Snow play isn’t usu­ally fore­most in peo­ple’s minds when they think of Cal­i­for­nia, but the state has some of the best ski­ing in the West, with the area around Lake Ta­hoe of­fer­ing more op­tions than any­where in North Amer­ica. A cou­ple and their dog cross­coun­try ski at Mam­moth Lakes, above. South­ern Cal­i­for­nia has long been known as a warm-weather win­ter va­ca­tion area, with sports and out­door ac­tiv­i­ties cen­tered in San Diego and Los An­ge­les and desert re­treats like Palm Springs. But the moun­tains of Lake Ta­hoe, Mam­moth Lakes and Yosemite and across the Sierra Ne­vada range beckon win­ter vis­i­tors who want to em­brace snow-based sports and recre­ation.


In win­ter, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia is still an oa­sis for out­door sports and adventure, from golf to ten­nis, hik­ing and horse­back rid­ing, whether in the still-bak­ing desert around Palm Springs or the per­pet­u­ally pleas­ant va­ca­tion­land of San Diego or Los An­ge­les. But for those seek­ing win­ter sports, there may be no bet­ter place on earth than the moun­tains sur­round­ing Lake Ta­hoe. The area hosted the 1960 Win­ter Olympics at Squaw Val­ley and con­tin­ues to be home base for many U.S. Win­ter Olympians who bang moguls, rip the half-pipes and race on down­hill runs at more than a dozen area ski re­sorts. For the non-ex­treme, plenty of begin­ner trails, group lessons and smaller hills of­fer a safe in­tro­duc­tion to the sport.

Ta­hoe ski re­sorts in­clud­ing Squaw Val­ley, North­star and Heav­enly also of­fer ice skat­ing rinks and in­ner tube runs for those look­ing for more mel­low ac­tiv­i­ties, best com­pli­mented with a fire pit and toasted

marsh­mal­lows and hot co­coa for dessert. Cross-coun­try ski­ing and snow­shoe­ing cour­ses dot the Ta­hoe area, of­fer­ing a brisk aer­o­bic work­out amidst pine forests and sweep­ing moun­tain scenery. South of Ta­hoe, Mam­moth Moun­tain boasts a world-class ski re­sort, while Bear Moun­tain of­fers ski­ing within a rea­son­able com­mute from Los An­ge­les, en­abling the highly mo­ti­vated to surf and ski in a sin­gle day. Out­side of the ski re­sorts, snow­mo­bil­ing pro­vides high-oc­tane mo­tor sport fun, while dogsled­ding is a way to en­joy a dif­fer­ent sort of ride with some furry friends. For the ad­ven­tur­ous, re­mote back­coun­try ski­ing, the in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar “side­coun­try” Alpine Tour­ing con­nected to the ski re­sorts, ice climb­ing and hut-to-hut hik­ing in the Sierra Ne­vada moun­tains can feed one’s win­ter hunger for adrenaline.

The Great Out­doors

Step away from or­ga­nized re­sort sports and there’s still a wealth of win­ter out­door ac­tiv­i­ties in Cal­i­for­nia. The bears may be hi­ber­nat­ing but that doesn’t mean you have to as well. Avoid­ing the hot sum­mer months means vis­i­tors can en­joy tem­per­ate win­ter hik­ing and camp­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in desert parks such as Death Val­ley, Joshua Tree and around Palm Springs (but be fore­warned that the nights can still get frigid). Prior to snow­fall, the Sierra Ne­vada moun­tain forests are ablaze with col­or­ful fall fo­liage, mak­ing a hike through the hills a prime “shoul­der sea­son” ac­tiv­ity.

Win­ter­time pro­vides an es­cape from the sum­mer crowds of­ten found in Yosemite Na­tional Park. Visit the near-empty wilder­ness to en­joy a quiet blan­ket of snow cov­er­ing tow­er­ing cliffs, the sun glis­ten­ing off frozen water­falls and the muf­fled clomp­ing sound of guided snow­shoe tours— and then re­tire to one of their lodges for spe­cial win­ter food and wine events. Hot springs around Mam­moth Lakes pro­vide toasty out­door re­lax­ation with a view of snow­capped moun­tains. Or, per­haps bun­dle up and climb a moun­tain for prime star-gaz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in the crisp and clear moun­tain air, then add a few more lay­ers and try some ice fish­ing on a high alpine lake.

Win­ter also is the time when vis­i­tors can spot many an­i­mals mi­grat­ing south to fol­low the sun. From mas­sive gray whales to minia­ture monarch but­ter­flies, flocks of birds in the cen­tral wet­lands and pods of seals come to mate on the shores of the Pa­cific, the world’s wildlife also seems to think that Cal­i­for­nia’s out­doors is a great place to visit in win­ter.

SKATERS EN­JOY the ice in Yosemite Val­ley, right; a snow­boarder gets some air above Lake Ta­hoe, bot­tom.

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