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SpotCheck | Skiing around Los Angeles

After the ski tour, a beer on the Pacific beach.

by Stefan Siegel 03/29/2017
In mid-October, I packed my bags and moved to Los Angeles. My company had recently opened an office in Hollywood and, motivated by the thought of exploring the Rocky Mountains this season, I brought all my ski equipment with me to the city of palm trees, movie stars and surfers.

On a clear November morning, I saw the snow-covered mountains behind downtown Los Angeles and decided to start my season in the nearby ski resorts around Mount Baldy, Mountain High and Big Bear. The journey, which takes between 30 and 90 minutes depending on the resort, takes you either through the spectacular Mojave Desert or the flat areas around San Bernardino before you reach the mountains after a short time.

Very few people know that Los Angeles is surrounded by three mountain ranges (San Gabriel, San Jacinto and San Bernardino) - all of which rise well over 3,000 meters above the desert. After my first autumn turns, my eyes wandered to the mountains around me and it became clear that freeriding here could be not just an exotic hobby, but a world-class sport.

Soon after, I discovered Andy Lewicky's 'Sierra Descents' website. Andy is a 'journeyed skier' from Flagstaff, Arizona, who has been gathering a handful of ski tourers, climbers and freeriders in Los Angeles for years to climb and ski the relatively unexplored areas. His film 'Couloir To Nowhere', a documentary about a first ascent of Mount Iron, not far from the beaches of Venice Beach, was even selected for the International Mountain & Adventure Film Festival in Graz:

After my first season in Los Angeles, several ascents in the San Gabriels and fantastic descents with views over downtown LA and the Pacific Ocean, I realized that skiing here is something very special. It's easy to go on a ski tour in the morning and then glide over Malibu's Pacific waves to the sunset on a surfboard. The mixture of sun, beach and snow-white mountains in the background is breathtaking and can only be recommended to every freerider.

Where should I go?

The classic in Los Angeles is Mount Sant Antonio (Mount Baldy for the locals) - the summit you can see from Hollywood. The south-east flank ('Baldy Bowl') below the 3,000m peak is probably the best-known destination for freeriders. The slope can be reached via the Devil's Backbone Ridge' trail directly from the ski area in around 2 hours on foot. Various, sometimes very steep couloirs can be reached from the bivouac hut below.

I recommend Mount San Gorgonio (3,500m) to more ambitious mountaineers, which can be reached via the Fork Trailhead in the San Bernardino mountains. And if you want something even more exotic: from the historic vacation resort and capital of modern Bauhaus architecture, Palm Springs, you can reach the San Jacinto peak via cable car and a ski tour, from where you can ski back down a very steep 2,500m north face towards Cocktails by the Pool far above the desert.

What do I have to watch out for?

Despite the 'tropical' climate in Southern California, the risk of avalanches is omnipresent. However, the sunlight is so strong that the snow layers have usually stabilized two days after the precipitation. In March and April, you have to watch out for wet snow avalanches and fishmouths, especially on south-facing slopes - so be sure to get out early.

However, the two biggest dangers come from the ice and the wilderness. On the one hand, the combination of warm, humid Pacific winds and cold, starry nights is a problem for steep N/NW slopes and traverses, which in the worst cases resemble ice skating rinks.

On the other hand, the complete wilderness in these areas can be the undoing of mountaineers and freeriders. Despite the deceptive proximity to Hollywood's Walk Of Fame, you are in very rugged areas without any mobile phone reception - in a completely untouched landscape that is home to snakes, coyotes and cougars. At this point, I would also like to mention two climbers who did not return home due to an icy traverse the day before our ski tour from Devil's Backbone Ridge towards Mount Baldy.

Practical information:

There are hardly any documents and reports. Louis W. Dawson described Walter Mosauer's first ascent of Mount Baldy in the book 'Wild Snow'. Mosauer also built the bivouac hut below the summit in 1936. Andy Lewicky's website is the best source of information for your first ski tour in Los Angeles, and he will certainly be happy to provide you with tips and tour recommendations.

All further information at:

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This article has been automatically translated by DeepL with subsequent editing. If you notice any spelling or grammatical errors or if the translation has lost its meaning, please write an e-mail to the editors.

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