It’s February and in many regions of the United States that means it’s the dead of winter. For those of us in many parts of California or other regions that don’t quite experience all of the seasons, it’s easy to forget that it’s winter! Luckily, the Winter Olympics are in full swing so we have an inspiring reminder of winter sports that we might have forgotten about or didn’t know existed! In the spirit of the Olympics, here’s a list of winter pursuits that will enable you to get outside and enjoy this special time of year.
There are just a few places in the United States where you can wake up at the beach and be on the slopes (or backcountry cross country ski trails) by lunchtime. Whether you’re waking up in Santa Monica or San Francisco, in three hours or less you can be rolling into a world-class ski resort. Northern California is home to Squaw Valley, the host of the 1960 Winter Olympics. Squaw Valley is just one of a handful of resorts in and around Tahoe. Badger Pass in Yosemite National Park is California’s oldest ski resort and one of only three lift serviced ski resorts in a national park. Less than 100 miles from the beach, Mountain High is Southern California’s closest ski resort (and it’s where gold medalist snowboarder Chloe Kim got her start). A little further away lies Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort, home of the highest summit elevation in California. The next time you’re trying to think of a fun day trip, grab your winter clothes and head to the mountains! Be prepared to cough up $100+ more for a single lift ticket. Do a quick internet search before you purchase your lift ticket to see if you can find a deal.
Gear: Many outdoor recreation stores like REI rent downhill skis, cross country skis, and snowboards so if you’ve got a roof rack on your car, you can rent the gear before you head out of town. For slightly more money you can rent the gear at the ski resort. If you don’t have ski/snowboard pants or gloves, borrow from a friend or scour the racks at stores like Ross and Marshalls. Don’t have a waterproof jacket? Throw your waterproof rain shell over your winter jacket. Check the weather before you head out; it’s possible you won’t need a jacket and can hit the slopes in ski pants and a t-shirt…California style!
2. Ice Skating
If you’re lucky enough to live where lakes freeze over, then you should take advantage of ice skating with a view! In places without skateable lakes, outdoor rinks pop-up around Thanksgiving and stay open through January. Put it on your list for next year’s holiday season. If a frozen lake is hard to come by and you missed the holiday rinks, there are plenty of indoor rinks where you can try skating.
Gear: Skates can be rented at every public rink. Wear pants, a sweater, and gloves if you’re prone to getting cold hands.
In my opinion, snowshoeing is one of the most underrated winter sports out there. Put on your snow clothes and a pair of waterproof boots, strap your feet into a contraption and hit the snow-covered trail! No lessons, no high flying lift, and no real skill needed. Snowshoes allow you to keep hiking through the winter. It is a great low-impact aerobic activity! Check out REI’s Beginner’s Guide to Snowshoeing for more information. California’s Sno-Park program provides winter recreation with marked trails for snowshoeing and cross country skiing at places along the Sierra Nevada.
Gear: Wear waterproof boots and layers with a waterproof or water resistant outer layer. Don’t forget gloves, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Rent snowshoes at Adventure 16, REI, or outdoor recreation shops near ski resorts. If you’re a student or a member of a university recreation center you might be able to rent gear there (ex. UCLA Rec or Stanford’s Outdoor Center). Some choose to use poles so you can rent those too if you want them.
If you’ve never been sledding or haven’t been since you were a kid, I suggest you give it another try. Believe it or not, sledding is fun as an adult and may even get more fun as you age. There’s just something special about flying down a mountain on a sled! Some sledding parks might have a pulley system to take you up the hill. If you’re not at a sledding park, be prepared to get a work out as you hike up the hill while carrying or towing your sled. Ever wanted to try bobsledding? Southern California residents, you’re in luck! Check out the Alpine Slide at Big Bear.
Gear: Wear waterproof boots and layers with a waterproof or water resistant outer layer. Gloves, a hat, and sunscreen are also a good idea. Shops close to ski resorts usually rent sleds or you can purchase saucers or sleds at a shop in the mountains.
5. Fat Biking
Fat bikes have tires that are usually 4 in. – 5 in. wide and are designed specifically to traverse sand or snow without sinking. The wide tires function with lower tire pressure than the standard-size tire which enables them to basically float on the snow. A fat tire bike allows you to cover great distances in the snow and is an alternative to cross country skiing. The fat bike as we know it today was developed about 13 years ago. Today there are about a dozen different companies that make fat bikes and I’ve been told that the sport is blowing up. Learn more about the history of fat bikes by reading the Adventure Cycling Association’s article titled, “The Brief History of Fat Bikes”. If you live in a location with a lot of snow, you might have seen some people riding fat bikes as they commute to work in the winter!
Gear: Google “fat bike rental” and you’ll find shops that rent them in Mammoth Lakes, Bear Valley, and Lake Tahoe. Be sure to wear a helmet and dress in athletic clothes that you’d wear to go for a winter run.
Tips for Staying Safe
Hopefully you’re inspired and ready to hit the snow! As you get ready for your winter adventure and head out into the elements, it’s important to be adequately prepared. If anyone has advice for staying safe this winter, it’s Allen Giernet, Snow Technician and Mountain Guide of So Cal Snow Avalanche Center and Further Your Adventure. According to Allen, here are the three most important things people should keep in mind when heading out on an adventure in the snow:
- Do some pre-trip planning – Know the weather forecast and the snowpack conditions i.e. if there is an avalanche center consult that or contact a local guide service for information. Also with the access to information online there are a number of places for trip reports etc.that will give you a better idea of what current conditions are like.
- Be Prepared for Changing Conditions – Be sure to have extra clothing to adjust for unexpected changes in weather (no cotton), bring extra food you burn more calories to stay warm, and bring plenty of water even though the temperatures are cold you will need to remain adequately hydrated as we transpire moisture through breathing and sweating during outdoor activities.
- Always Stay Alert – Be aware of changing conditions in the snowpack as you change elevation or as weather conditions change. You can easily step from soft powdery snow onto an icy area by simply moving around the terrain. If you are going to be spending any amount of time in the winter mountains to get a minimum of basic avalanche training.
It is important to assess conditions and have alternate plans so as to easily adjust your agenda according to what the mountains are telling you.
Head out there and have fun! Remember that the Olympic athletes you see speeding down the hill (or skating around a rink) have been training their whole lives. If you’re trying a winter sport for the first time, prepare to fall. Get out there anyway and take advantage of the season before it’s too late!