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Weekend Escape

In Big Bear, twin peaks for snow fans

Snow Summit and Bear Mountain have teamed up, but each now appeals to a different winter sports set.

January 05, 2003|Michael Wolffe | Special to The Times

Big Bear Lake — Picking a favorite ski resort, like naming your favorite Beatle, is a highly personal decision.

Some resorts come across as brash and their guests loud, maybe a little arrogant, like John. Other resorts are more easygoing, with crowds that seem a touch more family-friendly, like Paul.

Which should get your hard-earned money? Here in Big Bear Lake, you no longer have to choose.

Snow Summit acquired longtime rival Bear Mountain in October. The resorts, less than two miles apart, have since begun operating as a single entity. On most days a single lift ticket provides entrance to both resorts, and a free shuttle runs guests back and forth. (Peak periods are excepted, but more on that later.)

The big news for skiers is that, now that the resorts don't have to compete, they have been revamped to appeal to different crowds.

Bear Mountain aims to attract the rough and rowdy: primarily younger skiers and snowboarders seeking wild thrills on freestyle terrain. That leaves Snow Summit to be calmer and quieter, appealing to families with young children, beginners, and skiers and snowboarders seeking traditional downhill runs.

Luring the hard-core

The storm that pummeled the Southland two weeks ago dumped roughly 2 feet of snow in the San Bernardino Mountains -- the perfect excuse to explore Summit and Bear and find out just how different they have become under the same owner.

I arrived Saturday at Bear Mountain, which now bills itself as an "all-mountain freestyle park." That means every run may contain terrain features such as jumps, bumps, rails and boxes, which look just like they sound. Brochures take great pains to lure hard-core snowboarders and skiers with promises of a freestyle paradise.

I have my own snowboard and rate myself as intermediate, but because this was my first trip of the season, I strapped in and started out on the easy Old Miners run, which I had ridden in past seasons. Yup, there were a couple of jumps that weren't there before.

In the name of research, I gamely attempted one -- and crashed in a painful, vertebrae-jarring heap. Note to self: You're 33, not 17.

Next up was Claim Jumper, a nice, long run that extends nearly from the top of Goldmine Mountain to the resort's base. The upper section had been sprinkled with small bumps that were a joy to ride, followed by a variety of jumps and rails in the lower section.

Snowboarders with more forgiving spinal columns whooped it up as they jibbed, fakied and stalefished their way down the hill -- moves that are as fun to watch as they are to say.

The remodeled Quiksilver Terrain Park is concentrated with freestyle features. Loudspeakers blasted the Strokes and Red Hot Chili Peppers while fearless boarders shot themselves skyward. Some landed solidly. Others pinwheeled straight into the snow. Everyone seemed to be having a blast.

Down at the resort's base, I watched an amateur competition while munching on overpriced fast food from the Silver Mountain Eatery. Teenagers tried to slide their boards down rails set on the hillside.

If they pulled it off, the crowd cheered. If they ate snow, the crowd cheered.

I wanted to get in a couple of more runs, so I rode a lift to the top of the intermediate-rated Exhibition run. It was relatively steep and conventionally groomed for cruising. Likewise with Showtime, an even steeper black-diamond run.

My legs and stiffening neck were done for the day. After dinner at Village Pizza in the town of Big Bear Lake, I headed to the Wildwood Resort, on the main highway just west of the village. It has 32 motel rooms and cabins that sleep two to 12 people, with prices ranging from $85 to $250 plus tax per night.

I had reserved a room for $95. But when I, a light sleeper, expressed concern about being directly above the lobby, the proprietor (not knowing I'm a writer) offered a detached cabin at the same price. It was small but cozy, with a heater, fireplace, microwave, mini-refrigerator and king bed. While the temperature outside dipped into the teens, I dreamed of gliding down giant slaloms and flying off cliffs.

A calmer counterpart

Sunday, with lift ticket in hand and snowboard on foot, I headed out for another day of comparison skiing.

It's no surprise that lift tickets are pricey: Regular all-day admission is $43 for adults, $35 for ages 13 to 19, and $14 for children 7 to 12. During holiday periods (including Jan. 18 to 20 and Feb. 15 to 17), rates rise $7 to $15 -- and you get access to only one resort. (Dual-resort access also is restricted Saturdays in January and February to reduce crowding.)

That flexibility can be important, given the differences in terrain and ambience. Whereas Bear Mountain now calls to the wild, Snow Summit has moved closer to the mainstream. Terrain features have been removed from some trails, and parts of its popular Westridge Freestyle Park are being converted into conventional runs. No music on the slopes either.

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