Big Bear Lake, named for the grizzles that once roamed its woods, now is populated by different kinds of visitors – couples, families, and lots of kids, from across Southern California and beyond, for some of the area’s best snowboarding and skiing, at Big Bear Mountain Resorts.
Though the region has gotten little natural snow this season, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit have been pumping out mountains of it at night when temperatures dip below freezing, making for excellent conditions on the slopes. Besides the deep base of manmade “real snow” that the resorts are famous for, they are also renowned as a great family friendly place for kids to learn to ski and snow board.
Location, Location, Vacation
When roads are clear, Big Bear Lake is an easy drive of less than two hours. Visitors can find lodging to suit every taste and budget at the website for Big Bear Lake Resort Association. A find for our family was the mom-and-pop owned Mountain Vista Resort, directly across from Bear Mountain.
Our spacious three-bedroom, two-story condo boasted beautiful views, with a balcony overlooking the slopes. The rooms were basically furnished, which suited us fine, along with a flat screen TV in each room and free wi fi. We bought two bundles of logs for $5 each from the lodge’s friendly front desk staff, and my city boy son was thrilled to help tend the embers in the first real fireplace he had ever seen.
Perfect for economy travelers, the kitchen had all the necessities to eat in: a fridge, range oven, microwave, dishwasher and basic dishware and pots and pans. We brought our own hot cocoa mix, fruit, snacks, oatmeal and chili. We went to the local grocery for frozen pizzas and salad kits, and we were set for the weekend.
One thing visitors should bring along is bottled water, as the water supply on the mountain has an iodine taste. At the 7,000-feet elevation, it’s a good idea to keep hydrated, so come prepared.
It’s all Downhill from Here
The kid’s ski and snowboard lessons at Big Bear are reputed as the best around, and after my four-year-old son had just a single lesson, I saw why. After a three-hour class, my son was transformed from a newbie to a confident downhill ace. He became one of those poleless wonders who zips by you on the slopes in perfect form, delighting in every moment. Another great thing about Big Bear Mountain Resorts is that there are plenty of beginner and intermediate runs, including a Family Park at Snow Summit that offers slower runs for learners.
The lesson not only put my son on the path of being the next Shaun White, it gave me time to get in a few runs of my own. It’s not hype; it’s absolutely true that despite the lack of snowfall this season the snow pack is ample and the skiing is fabulous.
The resorts are also reasonably priced. An adult lift ticket is $56 during the week and $69 on weekends. Passes for children 7 to 12 are $25 for weekdays and $32 for weekends. Young children under 6 are free with a paying adult. Rentals are $30 for a complete adult package or $25 for kids. For a slightly higher cost high-performance packages are available. There are also discounted half-day and night rates for lift tickets and rentals. A convenient feature is that the lift passes are interchangeable for both resorts, and rental returns are accepted at either location.
For more family fun, Big Bear Snow Play (http://www.bigbearsnowplay.com/directions.html) is just down the road from Bear Mountain. The tubing park features about a half-dozen side-by-side runs, some steeper and with more woo-dee-doos than others. There’s no skill involved; just grab a vinyl-covered inner tube and cruise up the Magic Carpet conveyer belt to the top of the runs and plop on your ride. Younger kids can ride on your lap. An all-day pass is $25 per person for ages 7 and up, and children 2 to 6 are free with a paying adult.
When to Go
Peak weekends in the middle of the season are the most crowded at any mountain resort, so if you want to avoid long lines and busy slopes, go weekdays early or late in the season. If the weather cooperates, the season begins in December and ends late April. The Big Bear Mountain Resorts site posts conditions daily and a list of peak dates.
For the best experience, arrive early. That way it’s more likely the rental shop won’t run out of your size boots, and you will get in plenty of runs for the day.
Way to Go
The official sponsor car of Big Bear is KIA, and fittingly, we drove up in one. My Dad used to say, “You get more car for your money when you buy American,” but the sleek KIA Sorento proves that Father may have known best back in the day, but times have changed. This Korean-made SUV rocks. Its amenities rival those of today’s hottest-selling imports, at domestic prices, with a total MSRP of $30,6000 for a loaded-to-the-hilt version.
Along with GPS navigation system, Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, heated front seats and power everything, the Sorento features Downhill Brake Control, a Traction Control System and Electronic Stability Control – essentials for confident mountain driving.
The convertible third-row seating in the back is a great feature for family vacations. With the seat down, we were able to pack in three large suitcases, two coolers, my son’s portable Trunki toy chest, along with our skis and other gear with room to spare. For extra passengers, having two back seats is very handy. Using a transitional child car seat like the Evenflo Big Back High Back Booster ($29.50 at Walmart) my son was comfy using the full seat for the long ride to and from the mountain, but for short jaunts around town we used the booster seat alone which made access to the third row seats easier.
The Sorento got exceptionally good gas mileage, and we made it to Big Bear using less than three quarters of a tank of gas.
A perk of the light snowfall this year is that roads are clear, which means no tire chains required. Also, the mild temperatures, in the 50s by midday, are perfect for whine-free days on the slopes with the kids. Though winter at Big Bear Mountain Resorts is fantastic, our family is equally excited about coming back to the mountain in spring. After all, with fishing, zipline tours, biking and hiking trails, horseback riding, parasailing and other warmer weather outdoor activities, snow adventures are just the tip of the iceberg at Big Bear.