RUNNING SPRINGS, Calif. — Remember that gorgeous backdrop of snow-covered mountains you saw while driving down the 405 on your way to work Friday? Remember that Saturday weather report trumpeting sunny skies, glistening snow, a great day on the opening day of the ski season?
It was foggy. It snowed, rained and snowed some more. The cold was nearly impossible to describe.
And, you guessed it--skiers, that rare breed of sports people who wave off such misery with the brush of a heavily gloved hand, had fun during all this gloom.
They were psyched, waiting for the unleashing of their school- and office-bound personas. They hooted as they bounced over moguls. They wore expensive outfits. They laughed as snowflakes clung to their tongues.
Running Springs' Snow Valley ski resort in the San Bernardino Mountains, with nine of its 13 lifts open and a breezy 28 degrees near its 7,840-foot peak, was where it was happening.
Santa was there, dapper in his Yuletide red and whites, with his woodsman white beard, little wire specs and gentle pot belly.
"You know what, Santa!" 3-year-old Ryan Smith of Redondo Beach hollered at William Swinnerton, 53.
Santa skied on over to find out what.
"You know what," Ryan repeated for emphasis. "I slipped."
Santa says that comes with the territory, especially since this was Ryan's first time on skis. Ryan's mother, Christine, conceded that her son's performance on the slopes "hasn't been too hot."
Just a few feet away, Ginger Carson, 18, of Anaheim Hills, was having her own troubles. One of her rental ski boots was the wrong size, an inauspicious beginning for a woman who said that "skiing is going to become my life."
Carson wore big hot pink earrings and a powder pink ski jacket. She explained that she hasn't fared too badly on her two previous skiing outtings. She had drinks, apres-ski, with two different guys and dated both of them back on the flatlands.
"Well, what you do," she said, "is, like, when you're going down the slope, you kind of look over, you know, and, like, if he says something, you act like you don't know what you're doing, you know, like you play dumb."
But she offered a word of caution. "Some of them, like the ones in the full ski suits, are stuck on themselves."
Carson's neighbor in Anaheim Hills, musician and aspiring rock star Steve Dijiambattista, 22, said there really is an easier way.
"You just fall down and pretend that you're hurt," he said.
Ah, but the snow, the cold, the hours of driving with not enough sleep, attract all kinds.
There was Tom Hobbs of Costa Mesa, manager of the University Athletic Club, standing red-eyed and scraggly-haired in the snow-covered Snow Valley parking lot just after 7 a.m. He said he's a 26-year-old "ex-jock," an advanced, dedicated skier.
No other diversion for him but the swoosh of snow under his skis as he slices down the mountainside. He has come to Snow Valley with a male friend and fellow ski freak. Hobbs attempted to describe the exhilaration he would feel as he raced down the slope.
But right now he looked like he should go back to bed, or at least, comb his hair.
Up on the slopes, the looks can get even wilder. The bizarre human menagerie is outfitted in everything from polyester through acid-washed blue jeans to Hawaiian floral shirts over Pendleton plaid.
Given the otherwise unbearable cold, anything goes. Heads are covered in tight-fitting hoods, ski masks, fluffy fake fur, or wet and icy globs of hair.
Chad Hobart, 16, who was slaloming at the age of 7, took a deep breath before hurling himself off the side of a mountain. He lives around these parts and claims not to be bothered by the near-blizzard conditions.
"I feel great," he said. "I'm numb. I can't feel a thing." His short red hair was standing on end, encased in ice.
With that, a ski patrolman whished by. Then he was back to introduce himself, Mr. December.
"Oh, you didn't see the calendar?" he asked, referring to the 1988 "Men of Snow Valley" calendar on sale in the lodge. "Check out December. That's me."
But at the moment, 24-year-old Bill Evans was wearing a raccoon hat, an animal head come to life with fake little ears, raccoon eyes and whiskers. Mr. December, as pictured in the magazine, was topless, with a Santa stocking cap on his head and a teddy bear in his arms.
Mr. December is a paramedic from the San Bernardino Fire Department, one of the resort's 60 ski patrol members. You name it, he and his ski patrol pals have seen it: people falling out of lifts, crashing into trees, sudden death collisions and accidents.
"It's just like the freeway, " said ski patrol paramedic Terry Kirely, 29. "If you can imagine the 405, but instead of cars, people on skis. It's just like that."
Added ski patrolman Chris Servasi, 25, a.k.a. Mr. June: "Next time, we'll have ski-by shootings. It's coming."
One conceded that on these 230 acres of San Bernardino National Forest, indeed, most anything seems possible.