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Further Afield
Going Further Afield: Mount Baldy - LA’s Old-School Ski Area Where It’s Always 1978 5
Author thumbnail By Robbie Allen, DCSki Columnist

As always, I am seeking out the small ski hills where old school ski culture still lives. Imagine my surprise when I found such a place just 45 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, California. Grab your straight skis, a pair of Vuarnet sunglass, throw on some neon and head to this hill! This place is an old school as it gets!

Mount Baldy Resort is just 50 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Robbie Allen.

The Mount Baldy ski lifts have been turning since 1952 and not much has changed. Located adjacent on the highest peak in Los Angeles County, the ski area is classic old school cool. Just some ancient lift towers holding four fixed center pole double lifts, serving 26 named trails across 800 acres with 2,100 feet of vertical in play. This area is steep and compact, containing a mix of open bowls, tight chutes, tree runs and a few groomers. Hot Dog the Movie was not filmed here but it could have been. It’s that kind of place.

Photo by Robbie Allen.

The set up here is also a bit different than your run-of-the-mill ski area. Parking and ticket sales are at the end of the Mount Baldy Road, 1,000 feet below the main lodge and trail network. To reach the trails, you must take Chair 1, a very slow double up to the lodge. I waited almost 45 minutes to take the 15-minute ride up. The wait is compounded in the morning by the age of the lift and the lack of downhaul traffic, thus they can only load in groups of four chairs. Load four chairs, four chairs open, repeat for two hours until downhaul traffic grows. The chair rides up a shaded valley which does not see the sun until mid-day, so it’s a long, cold wait followed by a long, cold ride. But in 1978, we didn’t know better so we probably liked it!

Photo by Robbie Allen.
Photo by Robbie Allen.

On top is a different world — an alpine oasis in the heart of the Southern California desert. Bright sunshine quickly replaces the valley cold. The old school stone lodge and rental shop are located here at the top. Mount Baldy also sells tickets for Chair 1 as a scenic (but cold) ride to the top. So once on top, there are many people milling around enjoying the snow in a large snow play area.

Photo by Robbie Allen.

Skiers and boarders can slip quickly away from the crowd and on to a compact but very enjoyable trail layout. The trail layout is kind of a giant Y. Other than a few long cruisers around the edge of the trail map, most of the trails are steep and twisting. Portions of the ski area face south and other portions face north. Chair 3’s slopes are north facing, and hold snow the longest. The slopes off Chair 4 face south, thus get more sun. But this is SoCal, so skiing these trails is best done in a t-shirt! Just tie your jacket around your waist and have a go.

The Mount Baldy trail map. Image provided by Mount Baldy Resort.

At the end of the day when conditions are right, you can ski back down the Chair 1 valley to the parking lot. Even the parking lot has an old school vibe. At the end of the day, SUV tailgates were popped open and folks pulled out lawn chairs, popped open some beverages, and recalled their day on the hill.

Photo by Robbie Allen.

Of the three major ski areas around Los Angeles, Mountain High is known for its park culture, Big Bear is unfortunately known for its crowds (it is on the Ikon pass), and Mount Baldy is known for being… well, not open. Let me explain.

The drought years were very hard on Mount Baldy. Limited water resources meant limited snowmaking. Only 20% of the hill has snowmaking, and this is mostly the beginner terrain. Just like in 1978, they are highly dependent of natural snow. Ten years ago, when I first lived in SoCal, I purchased a $99 ski pass at the ski show. I was never able to use that pass because they never really opened beyond the bunny hill!

This year was different as an atmospheric river planted itself over the LA basin and dumped over 30 inches of snow on Mount Baldy. The day I visited coverage was outstanding. Southern California had seen a week of rain, which at 8,000 feet above sea level, fell mostly as snow. The area was 100% open and 100% in play. The area was “sold out,” but I never waited more than five minutes in a lift line.

Photo by Robbie Allen.

Overall Mount Baldy remains trapped in 1978, but in a good way. A lot of East Coast skiers could compare Mount Baldy to Mad River Glen in Vermont. Both are old school places with steep terrain, limited snowmaking, limited lifts and limited grooming — yet offer a distinct old school flavor. Like Mad River Glen, Ski Mount Baldy if you can!

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About Robbie Allen

Robbie Allen is an avid small hill skier. He has written several articles on the many small hills he has sought out.

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Reader Comments

4 months ago
Member since 02/24/2015 🔗
98 posts
If you want 1978, you can get it a lot closer to home - just go to Seven Springs. =)
wfyurasko - DCSki Supporter 
4 months ago
Member since 07/27/2014 🔗
353 posts
Mt. Baldy has always intrigued me for some reason. I've never even been to L.A., but I think seeing that in a road atlas long ago got me interested. It's on my skiing bucket list. Great write up!
JimK - DCSki Columnist
4 months ago
Member since 01/14/2004 🔗
2,987 posts
Nice, especially to catch that mountain in such great snow coverage.  That last photo is impressively WHITE.
Denis - DCSki Supporter 
4 months ago (edited 4 months ago)
Member since 07/12/2004 🔗
2,342 posts
I spent a day there a decade ago enroute from Salt Lake City to Pasadena for a science meeting.  Spent all day on chair 3.  I love Baldy.  If they have snow and you’re in SoCal with skis or board don’t miss it.
pagamony - DCSki Supporter 
2 months ago
Member since 02/23/2005 🔗
928 posts

Well, I am now really intrigued.  Time plan a visit to my cousin in LA !!  
Robbie thanks very much for the Further Afield reports, I have enjoyed all of them. 

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