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DAY TRIP : Resort Offers Winter Wonderland : Recent storms have dumped plenty of snow on Mt. Waterman.

March 15, 1992|ANNE Z. COOKE | Cooke is a Venice-based free-lance writer. and

Bear Mountain. Snow Summit. Heavenly Valley. Most local ski studs have tried these California ski resorts. A far smaller number have matched wits with the black diamond runs at the little resort that's only a 45-minute drive from La Canada Flintridge: Mt. Waterman Ski Resort. But there may never be a better time.

Last weekend's storm dumped seven inches of new powder on Waterman's six- to nine-foot base, and the mountain glistens like an ice cream cone waiting to be tasted.

Waterman is small. With only 115 skiable acres, three chair lifts and no overnight accommodations, the resort doesn't try to compete with its bigger neighbors in the Sierra Nevadas and near Big Bear Lake.

But after six years of drought, this close-in resort, amid cedars and ponderosa pines in the San Gabriel Mountains, has some of the best spring skiing ever. At 8,000 feet, days are sunny, nighttime temperatures linger in the teens and lower 20s, and a series of February and March storms have dropped enough snow on Waterman and neighboring Kratka Ridge to last through April. (Kratka is a much smaller ski area three miles farther east on Angeles Crest Highway.)

The snow pack at Waterman is so deep, in fact, that each new dusting bogs the upper chair lifts down and, for the first time in many years, owner Lynn Newcomb and his crew have had to dig trenches underneath to free them. The sign, "Keep your tips up," means what it says.

But despite Mother Nature's generous bounty, there are some skiers who admit that they've never heard of Waterman. Or at least have never skied there.

"Waterman . . . is that the outfit on Route 2 with the little green shack at the bottom of a chair lift?" asked a friend. "Didn't look like much," he added.

Truth to tell, the regulars here would just as soon you went on by. "If you print our picture, don't say this is Waterman," pleaded teen-ager Travis Junge from Simi Valley, a former skier who has switched to the sport of snowboarding. "This place is sacred." Added snowboarder and fellow teen-ager Jason Klein: "This place is sweet."

There are always a few new faces on hand, such as members of the production crew from the TV show "L.A. Law," who skied here on a recent Friday. But most have been coming around the mountain for years.

"My first time here was in 1959, and I still ski three or four times a season," said Pasadena resident Sam Losh. "It's low-pressure, everybody's friendly and you meet people. The lifts have improved, but the place looks just the same. Lynn has been good for this area; he's not a flashy, big-production type."

Despite all this, the slopes are rarely crowded, with an average of 350 to 400 people on weekdays and a maximum of 1,500 on the worst holiday.

"Yo, no lines," crowed a man in fire-engine red coveralls as, on that same Friday, he swished down the moguls on Ram's Run and straight onto Chair 3. "Hey, wait up," shouted his partner, a tall blond woman with a nose smeared blue with sunblock.

While rubber-kneed experts thrive on the face of Waterman, hurtling down bumpy, narrow Wallbanger on one side, or bumpy, hair-raising Mixing Bowl on the other, sensible intermediates ski on the top of the mountain, where, unlike most ski resorts, all the runs are easier, rated advanced-beginner, intermediate and advanced-intermediate.

Rosemary Silva, a hot-shot skier from West Hills, spent most of her day skimming down the face. "I'd heard a lot about the terrain and all the moguls," she said. "What makes it great is that the mogul run is long, like the ones at Mammoth. You you can really get going."

Silva's friend, Dee McPeek from Canyon Country, an intermediate, said she was content to ski on top and ride the chair lift back to the parking lot at the end of the day. "This is my second time up here," she said. "We were cross-country skiing here two weeks ago."

All arriving skiers climb onto Chair 1 just above the road and ride up the face, high over runs, trails and moguls, and through tall, snow-frosted pines. The chair unloads in a small meadow next to the lodge and snack bar, ski rental shop and restrooms. From here, expert skiers (only) shoot back down the face, while intermediates head for easier terrain.

To get to the bottom of Chairs 2 and 3, a trail descends to a wide bowl halfway down to the bottom of 2, and from there to 3. Chair 2 feeds into half a dozen easy runs, such as Newcomb's Delight, Kiss-N-Run and Bottle-Neck. Chair 3 connects to several broad, steep runs named Ram's Revenge and Streakers.

Whenever Waterman is open, Lynn Newcomb is out and about in his rubber boots, with his radio-phone in hand and his dog, a chow, in tow, checking on Sno-Cats or conferring with the ski patrol.

He's been coming here, himself, since childhood, and his family harks back further than that, to the days when Los Angeles was a small town and people knew each other.

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