Login to Claremont COURIER

We Love mountain snow, if only we knew how to enjoy it

It’s no secret that Southern Californians have a complicated relationship with snow. We love it, hate it, ski and sled in it, slip on it, try to drive in it, and even wait in huge traffic jams to be near it. Many people move to Southern California to get away from it. But for those of us who have lived here a while, we just don’t see a lot of it. And that probably won’t change for future generations.

When it snows however, and snows a lot, the masses head up to mountain country like the next California gold rush. So as last week’s winter storms dumped over two feet of the white stuff, it literally shut down the roads leading to the Mt. Baldy ski lifts. You know there’s a problem when you cannot find a parking spot along miles of roads leading up to the mountain.

When it gets this crazy, the California Highway Patrol boldly attempts to curb our enthusiasm by closing the road up to the snow, in an effort to clear the roads as people return home. But so many people had already purchased lift tickets, they felt obligated to let them pass.

With cold temperatures even by mountain standards last week, once the warm sun dropped below the tree level, the road became too slippery to drive without chains, thus closing the road above the 5000 feet.

Since many drivers were totally unprepared for driving in slippery conditions, it simply was too dangerous to let them down the mountain. Some motorists even ran out of gas because their cars were left running all day. Others had no food or water. Some even didn’t have proper clothing for freezing weather. I personally saw a pickup truck filled with snow, stuck with no gas. It was a mess—although there was a great snowball fight.

So what’s the real problem? Why does snow make us crazy with excitement? Well for one, you would be surprised how many people have never seen, touched, or rolled down a snow-covered hill. And there’s no charge for stopping your car to get out and just play. Don’t ski? No problem. Just find a hill.

The fun stops however when playing in the snow can be downright dangerous, especially for the kids. When drivers park on the road, blocking traffic on a two-lane highway, people get hurt. Two people have been killed recently along highway 330 leading to Big Bear by sledding into the road.

Along Baldy Road, the main reason for gridlock occurs when drivers literally park on the road blocking traffic. How many times have you seen a car stuck, inching sideways, wheels spinning. Mudslides also become more frequent when people climb up steep hills along the highway.

So what can you do to enjoy the snow? Four wheel drive vehicles help, but carrying chains and actually using them can make the difference between watching or playing in our winter wonderland. There are no gas stations up Baldy Road, so make sure your car has a full tank with plenty of water and blankets.

Plan on leaving early! If I had to sit and wait in my car, I’d rather do it up in the mountains, than in gridlock on a road to the mountains. Finally, be aware there may not be much snow until 7000 feet elevation or higher. That means a trip on ski lifts to reach that elevation. The top of the Baldy Notch is 7800 feet for example, but the ski lift parking lot—and the end of the road—is only 6300 feet.

The best suggestion when planning a mountain trip may actually be the simplest. Waiting a day, or traveling on weekdays, is the best advice for anyone new to winter in the mountains. Roads will be passable, ski lifts and other businesses will be open, and the weather will be less of an issue. It’s always risky to drive up to the mountains in the middle of a storm. Any highway patrolman will tell you to just chill and let the storm pass.

It’s easy to understand our excitement when looking north to beautiful snow-covered mountains. As a tot, I remember begging my father to take me up there to play. But I also remember waiting hours for a tow truck when our car rolled over large rocks on the road. It ruined what normally would have been a fun-filled day.

As I write this column, the rain is coming down and the mountains have disappeared into the clouds. I’m sure somewhere above 7000 feet it’s snowing. But I think I’ll wait this one out.