December 13, 2009

Mt. Baldy: Not Much Candy Today

As Forest Gump might say, Mount Baldy Ski Area is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to get. Made it up today for some early-season turns—or so I hoped. Turns out yesterday's storm rained ruthlessly on the mountain, coating everything with ice, ice, ice, including the chairlifts. Snowpack other than ice could hardly be called ample. There was quite a lot of bare rock, which blended nicely with the ice motif. I amused myself by playing around with my Canon Vixia HF200 (hence the HD footage) and testing out some new gear.

As the Ski Patrol worked to clear the lifts and get something—anything—open, and crowds of patient skiers and boarders milled aimlessly about the lodge, I took matters in my own hands and started hiking up. Got about 3/4 of the way up Thunder Mountain when a ski patrol was kind enough to tell me the lift had just opened. I topped out just to be thorough, and then skied a few runs. In between sheets of ice there were patches of some very nice and fluffy snow—fresh from last night, when the snow level dropped a bit. To be honest the patrol and ski area crew were working hard to shape things up today, including making a very focused grooming effort. Call me crazy, but there seems to be a spark of life about Mt. Baldy's employees this year. Maybe they're flush with cash after selling all those $49.00 ski passes. Or maybe it's the promise of an El Nino year.

Despite the ice, it felt good to get up in the mountains and get on some snow. When Mt. Baldy's (aka Mount San Antonio's) 10,000' summit popped into view, I saw what looked like very impressive coverage from about 9500' on up. For those of you thinking about hiking and/or skiing Baldy Bowl from the Manker Flat trailhead, be especially wary of ice. It's going to be a skating rink out there for a while, I fear. Manker Flat, by the way, was just about the start of the snow level. There is probably no skiing or even skinning possibilities below, say, the elevation of the Ski Hut. For now, backcountry skiers may want to look to the San Bernardino or San Jacinto Mts.


Andy Lewicky

ANDY LEWICKY is a Los Angeles-based writer and photographer who enjoys good books, jasmine tea, long walks in the rain, and climbing and skiing the big peaks of the California Sierra. email | follow

16 thoughts on “Mt. Baldy: Not Much Candy Today

  1. Dan Conger says:

    I’ve always wanted to ski Baldy. If it’s a good year, maybe I’ll make a trip down to So Cal to ski. Growing up near Mammoth I’m kinda spoiled, but with snow Baldy looks decent. Nice video.

  2. Andy says:

    Well…I do think everyone should try the Mt. Baldy experience at least once, but it is best to manage your expectations. That said, with snow Baldy services steep terrain that is competitive with anything in Tahoe…but maybe not quite Mammoth. :)

  3. Dan Conger says:

    What’s Waterman like? I’ve skied both Snow Summit and Bear Mountain and was thoroughly unimpressed. Mt. High and Snow Valley don’t look very impressive either.

  4. Colin in CA says:

    Andy,

    That ice is going to be nice once you get some new on top of it. Sucky.

    And Squaw probably has more gnarly terrain (although it’s generally in shorter pitches than Mammoth). Just saying.

  5. Andy says:

    Oh no — not a Squaw versus Mammoth Comparison! I’m going to have to come down on the side of Mammoth here, though there is nothing quite like the Palisades anywhere else.

    Dan, maybe someday I’ll do a “Ski Resorts of SoCal” series to run through the list down here. I haven’t skied Waterman, but I’ve skied Kratka Ridge right next door. Both are tiny and have character. Snow Summit is our most complete ski area, complete meaning offering the groomer beginner/intermediate experience that most people associate with Colorado resorts. Bear belongs to boarders now. Mt High is overpriced because it’s close to the city. Can be crazy crowded on weekends. Very forgettable terrain, though I do like the East Resort for cruising and powder days. Snow Valley is quirky but fun. And Mt. Baldy, of course, is the only place I know that can make a $49 season pass seem overpriced one day–and then shock you with mind-blowing skiing the next.

  6. Dan Conger says:

    Now I have to weigh in on the Squaw vs. Mammoth debate … anyone who has skied the Paranoids, Starchute, Phillipes, Warners Chutes, Balls to the Wall, Huevos Grande, or Hangman’s Hollow knows that Mammoth has the massively intense terrain. Many of the chutes I’ve just mentioned are not on the trail map and are known only to locals (I grew up in Bishop) because the ski patrol doesn’t want newbies trying to charge these things. Also, like Colin said, the pitches at Mammoth are seriously long. I love dropping in on Paranoids or Dragon’s Back on a big powder day and charging a solid 1,000 feet of vertical … all in bounds. Nothing like it! My two cents.

  7. Scott says:

    So basically, the Squaw vs. Mammoth debate comes down to, if you’re from Bishop and know Mammoth it’s better, but the locals refuse to divulge any of the good secrets about Mammoth so if you’re from out of town you may as well just go to Squaw? :)

    What I want to know is, how much snow is beneath that ice and what’s it like? I’m really hoping I don’t get back to SoCal after New Year’s to find we’ve got two feet of depth hoar and a layer of ice with snow on top of that. I want to ski this winter, and I also want to live.

  8. Dan Conger says:

    LOL!!! OK, here are the goods. On the map you can find: Paranoid Flats, Phillipes, Kiwi Flat (in my opinion, the most challenging item on the mountain), Starchute, Huevos Grande, and Hangman’s Hollow. Others to get to through the map are Dragon’s Back/Tail, Wazoo, Hemlock Ridge (hike to) and the many chutes of Lincold Mountain (chair 22 … great on a storm day).

    Exclusively off the map: Directly in the cliffs off Mammoth’s summit block are Diving Board, Warner’s Chutes, and Balls to the Wall. As one rides up the gondola to the summit, Diving Board is the huge cliff directly under the lift line at the summit (I can forward a YouTube video of people hucking it), and the chutes are all carved into the rocks/cliffs dropping from the 11,053 foot summit of the mountain. They are very narrow, and some (like Balls) have mandatory air to complete. All of the chutes empty out onto Climax and Upper Dry Creek.

    Since Squaw Peak’s summit is 8,900 feet and Mammoth’s main lodge is at 9,000 feet, the resort also tends to get much drier, lighter snow due to the distinct advantage in altitude. I’ll be there next week for my first turns of the season. WOOT!!!

  9. Andy says:

    Dan,

    What’s the link for the video? I’d like to see that. :)

  10. Dan Conger says:

    So, I couldn’t find the one I’d seen before, but here is a video of some folks dropping in on Balls to the Wall off of Mammoth’s 11,000 foot summit. You can see that there is huge mandatory air in the chute. Some of Warners Chutes are visible as the very narrow, very hairy gullies on the right side of the screen. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gULvMHuRFUU

  11. Dan Conger says:

    Ha! Found it! Features cliff jumps from Dragon’s Back and the aforementioned Diving Board, Warner’s Chutes, and Balls to the Wall, as well as cornice drops on Dave’s run. Enjoy!!!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgVyGPJ2zT0&feature=related

  12. Dan Conger says:

    OK … one more. This is entirely shot in Kiwi Flat at Mammoth.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNKgyo_o-_s&feature=related

  13. Mike says:

    Classic Baldy! I miss her. Have not been since I moved to Mammoth 4 years ago. I love that you captured the ice scrape, the cat drunkingly grooming,the hiking while waiting for the stoner lifties to beat those old lifts into shape…great stuff man.

    Yeah ! please do a So Cal resorts series. Throw some history in there…would be amazing!

  14. Colin Chambers says:

    Went up to b/c at Baldy bowl 12/29 and yeah its got ice but corns up a bit in early afternoon, but watch for rock fall. the trees are better with quality snow starting about 3/4 way down. bad luck for me as a hit some ice, went down, released, and lost one Atomic RT 86 near the top of bowl just inside the trees. if seen or recovered please call 909-949-0069. Thanks and take care out there.

    Oh and a response to Mike’s post…true to all you say but is is slowly getting better at Baldy. Reinvigorated management and and influx of investment money is helping; snowmaking, 2 new cats, better service at he Notch. Chairs need work as I was stranded on #3 for 4 hrs and lowered off last week. Stoner lifties are now mixed with gang lifities and either stay in the shed or just get in your way (just like you remember I’m sure). Give it some time and it’ll change for the better. take care
    C

  15. Andy says:

    Colin, so sorry to hear you lost a ski! Can you give more specific directions as to where it might be — say in comparison to where the hut is? I’ll keep an eye our for it. Maybe it’s hanging out with my lost Spot Messenger. :) Be sure to post a notice at whitneyportalstore.com A lot of SoCal hikers monitor the boards there. also http://sangabrielmnts.myfreeforum.org/index.php

  16. Colin Chambers says:

    Went up the Baldy Bowl Sunday and found the lost ski over in a group of trees near where I released! No Spot however, sorry. The Bowl is still skiable but it is getting real mankey.

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