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Swarming the Slopes

Recreation: Abundant snow draws flocks of skiers to Southland resorts, which just weeks ago were complaining about the dry weather.

February 18, 2001|JASON SONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Noel Aguirre was hoping to be skiing by 9 a.m. Saturday. But the Long Beach resident overslept.

Big mistake.

By the time Aguirre and a friend got to Wrightwood's two ski facilities about 10:30 a.m., the roads and slopes were clogged. Mountain High Resort, the pair's first choice, seemed too crowded, so they went to Ski Sunrise instead.

"It was my alarm; it didn't go off," said Aguirre pleadingly to his friend's back as they waited in a long ticket line.

Encouraged by storms and the long weekend, Southern Californians headed to the slopes in droves Saturday. By midmorning, the runs were dotted with skiers while cars circled the lots below, searching for parking spots.

Not everyone was thrilled by all the snow, however. Two men and one woman who work for nearby Snowcrest Snow Park had to be evacuated by helicopter Saturday afternoon from their small station near the top of the mountain where they had been trapped for a week without electricity.

The three, who were uninjured, were retrieved by a Los Angeles County sheriff's helicopter crew about 3 p.m., said Sgt. Richard Gurr of the sheriff's Aero Bureau. It was the agency's second snow rescue in as many days.

Some supplies had been airlifted to the trapped workers during the week, but with as much as 8 feet of snow blanketing the area, there was no way for them to get out, Gurr said. "It was one of those things that could turn really bad," he said. Rescuers hoisted them into their hovering aircraft.

Because of crowded conditions, many skiers Saturday resorted to parking along the road and clomping up to the slopes.

Chris Nelson's face was the same color as the red jacket tied around his waist as he trudged uphill toward Mountain High.

"Look at the snow; it's perfect," he said, breathing heavily. "Gotta hurry."

Although Saturday's figures were unavailable, Mountain High is on a pace to break its season attendance record of 430,000 skiers, said John McColly, marketing and public manager for the facility.

Mountain High's full parking lots persuaded some people to try the lesser known Ski Sunrise, less than a mile away.

Unlike its neighbor, Ski Sunrise has limited ability to manufacture its own snow. In the previous two seasons, the facility has been open only 35 days and in early January the staff was anxiously watching the skies.

But thanks to the storms, two of Ski Sunrise's four lifts have been open for almost a month.

"We're almost getting too much snow," said slope manager Darrel DeFreitas.

Still, Saturday's busy scene was a welcome change from six weeks ago, when the slopes were nothing but dirt.

"This is good," DeFreitas said, with a hint of satisfaction in his voice.

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