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TRIED & TRUE : Postcards From the Edges . . .

January 06, 1994|PATRICK MOTT | Patrick Mott is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition

Sick, sick I was of all the sniggering coming over my phone lines from absent friends. Sighing contentedly and watching the first gentle snowfalls of the Christmas season from places like Upstate New York and Vermont, they were twisting the knife as if it was a Cuisinart blade.

There I was, they said, sitting in the middle of wintertime paradise, dodging bullets when I wasn't mired in traffic and watching the economy/infrastructure/schools concept of civility and the good life decay.

They, on the other hand, were positively delighted to be cocooned in Gore-Tex until May. "Well, gotta throw another log on the fire and heat up the spiced cider. Keep your head down, yuk yuk."

I needed ammunition.

Nobody who lives surrounded by permafrost was going to tell me I wasn't residing in the best of all possible worlds, even if bulletproof vests were getting harder to find. I needed to resurrect the most devastating boast of all in the Southern Californian's quiver: that one can frolic in the snow in the a.m. and can be strolling airily on the beach before the sun goes down. A one-day blitz through two distinct macro-climates.

What was more, I was going to prove that you didn't even have to alter your daily life significantly in order to do it. None of this getting out of bed at 6 a.m. for a pre-dawn banzai run to the mountains. No, I was going to miss the traffic on the side of the angels, leaving Santa Ana at the far more civilized hour of 9:45. Which I did.

And it was lovely. Cool, slightly overcast, a bit breezy--just enough to call for a ski sweater. And the traffic on the Riverside Freeway was humming along crisply, as if there had never been such a thing as the morning crush.

I got off the San Bernardino Freeway at Orange Street and headed for the misty foothills. It had gotten colder, but my window was still open, a sure sign of climatic superiority, of the unique victory of man over nature that is at the core of every Southern Californian's world view.

On the trip up the hill to Running Springs, however, I began to get nervous. There were no trucks slowing me down, true, but there was also no snow. I couldn't have a Holy Quest without snow. But then, just as the sign for the Running Springs turnoff appeared, so did patches of white along the highway. They got bigger and more frequent and brighter. Real snow.

Greedy by this time, I decided to find as much snow as I could, as quickly as possible. I turned east and headed toward the ski area at Snow Valley, about five miles away.

The parking lot at the lifts was nearly empty, even though the mountain was covered with snow. Much of it was man-made, but so what? It was beautifully groomed, and the few weekday skiers who were gliding around on it grinned a lot.

I ordered a hot chocolate at the lodge and spent a half hour sitting on the deck watching the mountain. The sky was almost blindingly bright.

Fulfilling a crucial part of the Great Boast, I made a few snowballs out of parking lot snow and flung them around indiscriminately. I'd forgotten how cold bare hands can get while making snowballs. No matter. I'd be wrapping them around a margarita (rocks, no salt) at the Cannery in about three hours.

First, however, I stopped at a Czech restaurant on the highway in Arrowbear ("Czech Restaurant," the sign said with fine simplicity) and had an entirely satisfactory goulash and dumplings, real winter food. Then I pointed the car down the mountain and toward the beach.

Wisps of cloud snaked across the highway from time to time, but I would be coming out of it soon, I knew.

Only, as I rolled through Redlands and Riverside, the sky got nothing but grayer.

At the Orange County line at Green River Golf Course, it began to rain. Big drops. By the time I made the Costa Mesa Freeway, my wipers were slashing water off the windshield in long, splashing sheets. This was not in the script.

Maybe, I thought vainly, it's just a squall. Maybe Newport Beach is wreathed in sunshine . . .

But no. Newport Beach was even more sodden than Anaheim.

Balboa Island was all but deserted, even the frozen banana joint closed tight. Still, there was no wait at the ferry landing, and the short cruise to the peninsula was, as always, a fine little marvel. The beach, however, might as well have been attached to Long Island: deserted, except for a few people wearing what looked like Gore-Tex.

The made-to-order margarita at the Cannery was tasty, though. And I actually felt overdressed in the ski sweater.

Oh, well, the sun will come out for the Super Bowl. I'll call Vermont during the game and gloat.


Snow Valley ski area is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, and from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. all other days of the week. For snow conditions and other information, call (909) 867-2751.

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