Headed to the mountains? Tips on beating traffic, crowds and cutting lift ticket costs – San Bernardino Sun


The snow-capped mountains are beckoning – and Southern California snow-seeking crowds are answering the call.

Now that recent back-to-back storms have passed, for now, snow enthusiasts are flocking to local mountains to enjoy brisk, bluebird days just a few hours from the busy urban bustle.

But in mountain towns, visitors are finding it can be just as busy there.

Snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains sit behind homes Newport Beach, CA, on Tuesday, January 17, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

 

The front road to Big Bear, finally clear of chain restrictions following weeks of back-to-back storms, saw traffic jams last weekend that took travelers hours longer than normal to get home from the usual quick two-hour trek.

The crowd crunch in town the past few years has been noticeable, especially after the height of the pandemic restrictions, with bumper-to-bumper traffic, a lack of parking spots and long lines to get on shuttles.

“It’s just over capacity for the mountain,” said Big Bear Boards owner Vincent Padilla, who runs an equipment rental operation next to Bear Mountain. “Everyone has been coming up here like there’s no tomorrow.”

As owner of several small businesses in town, he’s benefited from the spike in year-round, steady surge in new business.

“It’s the same as when we have a big snow storm, but it’s all the time. It keeps the payroll running,” he said. “They are having a good time.

“I do like this flourish of new customers,” he added. “Everyone started coming to Big Bear.”

The increase in visitors can be overwhelming for longtime locals. Even Padilla was frustrated last weekend, he said, when he had to get down the hill for a family emergency, but got stuck in “gridlock for hours and hours.”

The crowds are not just around town, but local ski resorts are maxing out capacity. Both Snow Summit and Mountain High in Wrightwood sold out on Saturday.

Mountain High Chief Marketing Officer John McColly said conditions are so good, East Resort is opening this week, giving more terrain options for skiers and snowboarders.

“There’s a bunch of snow on the ground,” he said. “This was a very busy weekend, our first with sunny skies … we were packed.”

The resort is about 25,000 to 30,000 visitations ahead of this time last year, he said. Tubing operations have also seen a surge, up about 15,000 visits from the same time last year.

It’s hard tell if the increase in participation is from pandemic-era fueled interest in outdoor recreation or the recent snow storms that blanketed the slopes, he said.

Either way, there’s insider-tips to avoid the crowds, he said. The biggest one: Visit mid-week.

“Just like going to Disneyland, if you want to avoid the crowds, you have the whole place to yourself,” he said.

At all resorts, buying tickets in advance is also good, with prices online much cheaper than walking up to buy tickets the day you want to hit the lifts.

“At the ticket window, you will end up paying the most and it may be sold out,” he said.

Big Bear Resorts spokesperson Justin Kanton said post-holiday is a great time to get up to the slopes.  Snow Summit and Bear Mountain got about 2 feet of natural snow last week.

And with temperatures still cold, especially at night, the snow is sticking around.

“There’s still snow on roofs, trees and plenty of good terrain for people to explore,” Kanton said.

Another tip for saving money is booking an afternoon ticket, which costs a bit less if you don’t mind just a few hours on the slopes, Kanton said.

Another option for beating the crowds are the night sessions, available at Snow Summit, Snow Valley and Mountain High on select nights.

It’s a whole different vibe at night. Sometimes at Snow Summit, a local radio station plays music in the base area and people gather around fire pits and grab cocoa or coffee while the sun sets, Kanton said.

“It’s a cool setting, you see the whole lake and valley lit up coming down the runs,” he said. “It’s a cool visual, for sure. It’s a more mellow atmosphere.”

Another tip to avoid the traffic jams getting to or leaving from Big Bear – take the alternate routes.

Most people visiting from Los Angeles or Orange County are used to traveling up the front of the mountain, from Highway 330 to Highway 18 in Running Springs.

But there’s two more options that may be longer in distance, but could shave off time on those busy weekends, Kanton said. “The shortest way isn’t necessarily the fastest.”

Highway 38, the back road into Big Bear, is a bit longer and takes drivers through Redlands, but has less switchbacks and is typically less congested. Highway 18, from the 15 Freeway, is another option with the least amount of mountain driving.

Another tip: Turn off your GPS and follow the signs in town.

“It’s going to tell you to cut through,” Kanton said. “(But) you will end up back where you were or further back.”

If you’re a season pass holder to BBMR, you will now have access to Snow Valley starting Feb. 20, with news announced last week that the resort in Running Springs has been added to the Alterra portfolio, which also includes Mammoth and June mountains.

Passholders should give themselves a bit of extra time. They will have to get a ticket voucher at Snow Valley to ride, and Snow Valley passholders have to sign a new waiver to get on the slopes.

Snow Valley Rim Youth Program snowboarders follow their instructor during a class at Snow Valley Mountain Resort in Running Springs on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. (File photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Snow Valley Rim Youth Program snowboarders follow their instructor during a class at Snow Valley Mountain Resort in Running Springs on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. (File photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

If you do have a Snow Valley season pass, make sure to cash in on a free ticket being offered by the new company to check out Bear and Snow Summit. Next year’s BBMR season pass will include all three resorts, Kanton said.

If you want a bigger mountain experience, Mammoth Mountain – about five to six hours away from Southern California – is a favorite among skiers and snowboarders.

Fermin Leal, of Orange, measures the snowbank with his body and snowboard at Mammoth Mountain on a recent day. If you're heading up to the mountain town, make sure to pack chains and be prepared for parking impacts due to the high snow levels. (Photo courtesy of Fermin Leal)
Fermin Leal, of Orange, measures the snowbank with his body and snowboard at Mammoth Mountain on a recent day. If you’re heading up to the mountain town, make sure to pack chains and be prepared for parking impacts due to the high snow levels. (Photo courtesy of Fermin Leal)

This year is the second snowiest January on record, with current snow totals following the recent series of storms tallying 381 inches at Main Lodge and more than 500 inches at the summit. Areas mid-mountain have a base of 450 inches.

“Every run is open, every lift is open,” said Lauren Burke, director of communications for Mammoth Mountain. “The extended forecast shows nothing but sunshine. We’re looking forward to this next week of blue skies.”

While skiing conditions are “unreal” at the moment, it’s nice to have a little break in the weather, she said.

The town has been buried in snow, not unusual for the high-altitude resort town, but getting 17 feet in 16 days requires all hands on deck, around the clock, Burke said.

“Everyone has been pitching in, shoveling and assisting where they can,” she said. “It was a real team effort to get the mountain open every day.”

The best tip she can give is to plan ahead.

“Be prepared and it will help make your experience much more enjoyable,” she said. “Look at the weather forecast, look at road conditions, carry chains and know how to use them.”

Evan Freedman, from Los Angeles, puts snow chains on his vehicle as heavy snow falls on Highway 2 near Wrightwood on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)
Evan Freedman, from Los Angeles, puts snow chains on his vehicle as heavy snow falls on Highway 2 near Wrightwood on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022. (Photo by Will Lester, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/SCNG)

Even during these blue sky days, conditions can change at any moment.

Use shuttles around town if possible to avoid parking troubles and driving on icy or snowy roads.

“Snow banks are so high, they are covering signs and taking up parking spots,” Burke said. “Try to have patience when you’re going out for dinner, if you’re looking for places to park, know that things can change really quickly up here and the town and the mountain workers continue to work around the clock to dig out, even a couple weeks later.”

With the heaps of snow already dumped on local resorts this season, most are expecting to stay open through April. Crowds start to thin on those warmer, slushier snow days in spring.

Mammoth Mountain could even have skiing through Memorial Day or even up to the Fourth of July holiday if conditions hold up, Burke said. “I see summer skiing in our future.”



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