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Winter Twirls and Whirls

It's time for the five S's: skiing, sledding, snowboarding, skating and snowshoeing.

January 10, 2002|DIANNE BATES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Even if the mercury only drops to about 50 degrees in Southern California's version of winter, that doesn't mean Southlanders have to forgo fun in snow and ice. Either we drive up to the mountains to get our snow and ice, or like our film industry, we manufacture it.

Sledding remains one of the most exhilarating activities non-athletes can enjoy. Pack some warm clothes, find the old sled in the garage and head up to Wrightwood in the Angeles National Forest--about a 90-minute drive from Los Angeles. Take some hot cider in a thermos for the little ones, but serve it sparingly. (Anyone who's tried to get a kid out of his snowsuit in a hurry for a bathroom break knows what I'm talking about.)

Skis, snowshoes and snowboards can be rented at Sport Chalet locations throughout the Southland, though be warned that the one in La Canada often runs out. A two-day snowboard rental will set you back $45. REI and Adventure 16 stores are also good places to buy snowboards and snowshoes.

Up past the snow level in the Angeles National Forest, almost any place where there is safe parking is good for snow fun. Call ahead to check snow conditions, or check the National Weather Service Web site at www.nws.noaa.gov. More than one parent has had to drive a carful of sulking kids home from a snowless outing.

Also, don't forget the sledding safety lecture during the road trip: Watch for posted signs on private property, and don't sled in heavily forested areas. If you don't have a sledding accident story of your own, feel free to use mine to impart the hazards of the sport.

One harsh winter, my sister was pushing me on an old, splintered, wooden sled across our frozen backyard. I put my legs down, suddenly stopping the sled, sending my sister crashing into it. By the next day, Sis had taken on a sort of Frankenstein appearance with her stitched lip and all. Through the years, her scar got smaller, but the story got bigger and more ghastly.

Wrightwood's ski resorts--Mountain High East and West, and Ski Sunrise--all offer snowboarding, snowshoe hiking and "playing in snow" activities. No sled in the garage? Mountain Hardware in Wrightwood sells saucer sleds starting at $8.37 and the toboggan-like "torpedo" for $11.16.

Big Bear Mountain Resort in the San Bernardino Mountains has the highest elevation around and therefore is most likely to have good snow. Tubing (riding large inflated inner tubes) has been popular for years at the resort, where skiing lessons, cross-country skiing and sleigh rides also are offered.

Alpine Slide on Big Bear Boulevard is a popular controlled speed toboggan-style slide.

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For winter fun a little closer to home, the Pershing Square Ice Rink in downtown Los Angeles will be open until Jan. 21. Skate rentals are available in case you left yours back East when you moved here. If you close your eyes, you can almost pretend you're in a Hans Christian Andersen ice world. Wait, don't close your eyes.

Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Vickie Israel thinks even Midwesterners can get that real winter feel at the rink. "It's been cold here this winter," she said cheerfully. "You can actually put on hats and gloves!"

Once you've mastered skating, check out how the pros do it. Qualifiers for the 2002 Olympic Figure Skating team are expected to participate in the "Chevy Skating Spectacular" on Sunday night at Staples Center. Next Thursday is Family Night at the Los Angeles Kings game, and "Stars on Ice," featuring Katarina Witt, Kurt Browning, Tara Lapinski and Kristi Yamaguchi, hits the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim on Jan. 19 and Staples Center on Jan. 20.

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