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The L.A. Snow Day: No Shoveling, but Try Finding a Parking Spot


Last week, the San Gabriels shone against the bright blue sky, white-capped and majestic like the Alps. From my front porch, it seemed you could reach out and pull back an icy handful of real winter. So my friend and I decided to take our children to see the snow. Both of us are from the East Coast, so saying, "Let's go see the snow" required some mental readjustment. In my experience, snow was something that came to you, and at its own leisure.

As a child, I prayed for traffic-stopping, school-closing snow; as an adult, I prayed as well, for weekend-only, pretty snow, the kind that turned trees into fairy bowers and melted as soon as it hit the road. In neither case did prayer prove an effective meteorological tool. Snow came and went as it would, and we mere mortals were simply expected to cope.

So the concept of visiting snow, as if it were a theatrical release or an ailing relative, took some getting used to. Then we had to figure out the logistics of the thing. We planned to go into the Angeles National Forest and, according to news reports, sudden storms the previous weekend had left motorists struggling to get off the mountain, so we contemplated getting chains.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 22, 2001 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 1 inches; 18 words Type of Material: Correction
Drive Time--The column in Wednesday's paper mentioned an incorrect route number. Route 39 was used for a trip to the mountains.

Here, our previous snow experience proved a hindrance--in snow country, you just get snow tires in early November and leave them on until the daffodils bloom. I don't know from chains. We decided to leave that decision up to our husbands--"if snow chains aren't a husband job," Suzann said, "I don't know what is."

One husband is an L.A. native, the other a 40-year transplant, so it isn't surprising that after a brief discussion about where one would get chains--no, Home Depot doesn't carry them--they opted to risk it. "If it starts to snow," my husband said, "we'll turn around."

On the morning of the journey, it was 65 if it was a degree at our house, but into the car went the fleece and the wool and the extra pants, the hats and the coats and enough food to keep Jeremiah Johnson alive for a fortnight, and off we went. We had almost passed the ranger station on Route 38 when I remembered that we would need a wilderness pass--the handful of folks with placards protesting the relatively new fee reminded me. Also the disconcerting lines of cars.

I approached a very nice ranger who informed us that we couldn't see snow today because too many people were already up there. "No parking," she said. "Come back tomorrow."

"The snow is closed," I told Suzann, who had just joined me.

"How can the snow be closed?" she asked.

"No parking."

"I can't believe this is happening," she said as we trudged back to our sweatered and sweltering children.

The next day, we had our passes by 9:30, but my enthusiasm was considerably damped. "I bet there's no snow," I said to my husband as we commenced the ascent. "I bet those people yesterday used it all up."

Just then a pickup truck full of snow passed us.

"See," my husband said. "There must be some left."

"And they're taking it," I said. "People are stealing the snow."

The road was clear and dry and soon we were high enough to see that there was plenty of snow on the hillsides. And already the parking was tight. We found a less crowded spot and soon my kids, Danny Mac and Fiona, and Suzann's daughter, Bailey, were building their first snowman. Or rather watching while their mothers built a snowman. For an hour or two, we all stomped and slid and fell in snow-holes, threw snowballs and rode on makeshift sleds, and watched in admiration as more experienced snow visitors had elaborate picnics--one of them including a barbecue.

When it began to rain, we headed home--chainless; we didn't want to push our luck should the temperature decide to drop suddenly. Stripping off jackets and sweaters, we descended into a balmy Los Angeles day and I remembered life with "real snow"--all those hours shoveling the driveway, scraping the windshield, navigating treacherous roads. Frankly, it's nicer to just visit.

Even with the parking problem.


Mary McNamara can be reached by e-mail at

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