Big Bear Adventure – San Diego Metropolitan

A Glorious Weekend at the Best
Ski Resort in Southern California

By Marlise Kast-Myers

The year was 2008 when I met the man who would be my match. My list of relationship requirements spanned from traveler and linguist to musician and artist. Near the top was a passion for snowboarding and surfing, two sports I considered life giving. 

Having checked every box on my wish list, my man sealed the deal in 2011 with marriage and a honeymoon that took us surfing in Mexico and snowboarding in Mammoth. 

Now 10 years later, we longed to return to where it all started. The only caveat was that our lives had adopted something called “responsibility.”  With full-time jobs, a fixer-upper property, and a hobby-turned-business antique store, we had little margin for active getaways.

When my husband suggested we celebrate our anniversary in Big Bear, it sounded completely doable. And it was. Departing Thursday after work, we made it from our home in San Diego to our hotel in Big Bear in just over two hours. 

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Big Bear Lake

Framing the banks of Big Bear Lake, this small SoCal town first lured us over a decade earlier with its rugged trails in the San Bernardino National Forest. We weren’t the only ones. 

In 1845 a group of renegades stole a herd of cattle, only to be chased by Benjamin Wilson who served as Justice of the Peace. In his quest for the thieves, he discovered a forest alive with grizzlies, soon labeled “Big Bear Valley.”

Fifteen years later, prospector Bill Holcomb struck gold in nearby Holcomb Valley. News spread and population grew, eventually leading to infrastructure of roads, dams, and mountain communities. The real “gold” however, came about in 1938 with the opening of the area’s first ski lift. 

At the time, the town itself — originally called “Pine Knot” — was nothing but a lodge and a small cluster of camps. That year, the name was officially changed to Big Bear Lake, and those camps marked the early center of the community. 

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Bear Mountain

Big Bear continued to grow over the years, now drawing over six million annual visitors who rub ski poles with 5,000 permanent residents. We too are part of that six million, naming Big Bear as our home mountain. The proximity makes it a no-brainer, and the fact they have two ski resorts under one lift ticket keeps us on winter repeat. Every season, we hit both Snow Summit and Bear Mountain on the same day, admiring each resort for its distinct personality. 

Family-friendly Snow Summit is like the tame sister — structured, orderly, and predictable. With plenty of beginner-to-intermediate slopes, she teases with a few back-country challenges worth exploring on powder days. 

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Big Bear Slope

Bear Mountain ski resort is like the rebellious brother with a bounty of terrain parks, halfpipes, and steep groomers to boot. His followers, immersed in their own selfie-stick world — adorned in baggie pants and layered hoodies — capture nearly every GoPro jump and jib as if stars of their own movies. 

Admittedly, we love them both equally. 

These sibling mountains didn’t always get along, however. In 2002, the former competitors —j ust two miles apart — came under the same umbrella to form Big Bear Mountain Resorts. In 2014, they were adopted by new parents, this time by Mammoth Mountain for $38 million. Three years later, Mammoth sold to Alterra Mountain Company, making all three California ski resorts part of a conglomerate of more than 15 resorts across the U.S.

Although Bear and Summit may not be physically connected, a free shuttle transports the masses between the two resorts every half hour. The rewards for hitting both peaks include 438 acres, 26 lifts, 55 runs, 8,805 vertical feet, and an average snowfall of 100 inches. 

The 2021 season was percolating at 120 inches so we knew it was time to pay Big Bear a visit. Our only problem was that we didn’t have a friend with a cabin. If you love the mountains, always have a friend with a cabin. 

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Big Bear Lake Village

Big Bear has over 300 of them available for rent, and come winter, the majority flirt proximity at a price. During the holidays, expect to pay five times the standard rack rate, plus a three-night minimum as part of the commitment. Hotels are not far behind, unless its midweek late season when prices drop by nearly half. 

From April through November, Big Bear becomes financially fair. Tack on a fourth day, and it’s not too painful on the budget. 

While the majority of visitors come to ski, there are still plenty of activities to keep families entertained including tubing, bobsledding, bowling, helicopter tours, and a zoo that rehabilitates local Alpine species.

When winter melts into spring, this four-season escape doesn’t disappoint. Close to Phoenix, Vegas, and Los Angeles, it makes for easy summer getaways where fishing, boating, golfing, ziplining, and biking are all on the mountain menu. 

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Considered the jewel of the San Bernardino National Forest, it beckons hikers to the famed Pacific Crest Trail running 40 miles through the Big Bear Valley. In the past, my husband and I had rented snowshoes, trekking from the Discovery Center to the PCT that merges with Cougar Crest trail. 

But on this anniversary trip, we had boarding on the brain. With one foot in winter and one foot in spring, we held out for midweek March and paid a reasonable $150 per night at Holiday Inn Resort The Lodge. The free slope shuttle service and proximity to the Village won us over. Within walking distance of our hotel were 120 shops, restaurants, and bars that made up Big Bear Lake Village, the commercial area.

We purchased lift tickets from the new-and-improved Big Bear Visitors Center, complete with touch-screen kiosks and live wildlife cams. It’s the go-to spot for local weather, road conditions, upcoming events, cabin rentals, and everything in between.

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Dinner and Drink

After settling into our hotel, we walked to the Village for dinner at The Bone Yard Bar & Grill. Charbroiled burgers, ribeye steak, and baby back ribs fed the après ski masses. With options like “redneck tacos” and collard greens, it’s only logical that country music, televised sports, and 44 beers on tap should put a bow on the ambiance. Albeit far from romantic, it’s where we went to fuel our day on the slopes. 

Late to bed, early to rise, Snow Summit had us carving corduroys by first bell at 9 a.m. We hit far left, claiming intermediate-and-advanced runs to ourselves before day-skiers arrived from LA and beyond. Making up roughly 70 percent of the runs, experienced riders have plenty of cherries for the picking, best explored post-storm or early-groom. 

At Big Bear, bluebird days after a “dump” are epic, and when they happen, it’s definitely worth skipping work. You’ll be snaking between Chairs 11 and 7. Beginners and park rats can claim Summit Run, as well as the freestyle terrain parks peppered throughout the slopes. 

We tapped it all, hitting nearly every run by late afternoon. There were no lift lines or chair-strangers to speak of; it was just the two of us, reveling in the moment of being 40-ish and free on a Friday. 

Lift conversations covered the spectrum of achy muscles, random contrails, real estate, and returning for Oktoberfest. During the fall, Big Bear takes German tradition to 7,000 feet with live music, a vendor village, fun zone, and plenty of brats and beer to make it official. This 50-year Big Bear tradition was still going strong and we wanted to be part of it.

In the meantime, we would act our age at Sweet Basel, the closest thing to fine dining Big Bear had to offer. White linens, candle-lit tables, and soft music set the stage for our romantic evening. It was intimate in a town of tourists, with just 13 tables where signature lobster and gorgonzola-stuffed filet mignon were served. We indulged in the homemade doughnuts and tiramisu, knowing both would be burned off at Bear Mountain the following day. 

And they were. But this time, we were not alone. We were joined by the young LA aggressors, living out their personal music videos, feeling invincible in a plume of smoke and vapor. Unlike family-friendly Snow Summit, “Bear” felt different, smelling of barbeque, Red Bull, marijuana, mountain air, and a smack of cocksure adolescence.

Skiers were clearly outnumbered. From the parking lot came hordes of snowboarders, rising from tailgate parties, accessorized in everything from bunny ears and Mohawk helmets to Captain America capes and football jerseys. We felt rather drab in our normalcy. But alas, we were there to ride and literally approaching the “hill” (thankfully, not yet over it). 

Like the bulletproof crowd, I too tackled slopes, jibs, and jumps I probably shouldn’t have. From the double black Geronimo peak at 8,805, to the box rails in the terrain park, I too — for just a moment in time — longed for a helmet cam. 

Blame it on that maverick mountain that makes one come alive and do dirty tricks that battle the body. My heart said “yes” but by legs paid the price, reminding me come sundown, that I was 40-something. Of course, my husband played the wisdom card and relaxed lodge-side with a cold one. At least one of us was acting our age. 

By 4 p.m., we were back in the car, and by dinner time we were trailing at the coastline. That’s what makes Big Bear so magical. From mountain to beach, there are few destinations where one can technically snowboard and surf in the same day. With my head against the window, I thought for a split moment if I should give it a try, perhaps add it to my bucket list and give it a go someday. 

We pulled into the driveway, and my husband turned off the ignition. Turning toward him, I exhaled deeply and smiled. 

“Happy anniversary,” I said. 

And there it was — that moment when you realize that a weekend at the best ski resort in Southern California, is just exactly enough. 

About the Author

Marlise

As a journalist and author, Marlise Kast-Myers has contributed to over 50 online and print publications including Forbes, Surfer, SD METRO Magazine, San Diego Magazine, and Union Tribune. Her passion for traveling has taken her to 85 countries and led her to establish short-term residency in Switzerland, Dominican Republic, Spain, and Costa Rica. In her capacity as a travel journalist, Marlise has co-authored over 20 Fodor’s Guides including books on Mexico, San Diego, Panama, Puerto Rico, Peru, Corsica, Sardinia, Vietnam, Los Cabos, and Costa Rica.