Words: Ed Blomfield
Photography: Vernon Deck
So I’m sat in the back of a brand new Jaguar, squeezed in between three Yorkshiremen and a 16 year old schoolgirl. In the front is another teenager, and behind the wheel her older sister – she’s an African American soap star, a friend of Paris Hilton’s, and the daughter of Chaka Khan’s lead guitarist. We’re winding through mountains above the twinkling lights of Los Angeles, bound for an evening of glow bowling.
This is snowboarding in La La Land…
Landing in LAX, the first thing you notice is that it’s warm. Most times you go away on a snowboard trip you find yourself stepping off the concourse into the icy air of Lyon or Geneva. In Los Angeles, in April, it’s t-shirt weather. You feel like you’re going on a summer holiday, and it seems a bit absurd to be pushing your board bag around amongst palm trees and convertibles. Yet here we were, a crew of English snowboarders and a Kiwi photographer, landing in the Golden State to see if the videos were true. Is California really the spiritual home of snowboarding? Is it lined with powder and perfect parks? Does the place even exist outside of TV? I mean, how can so many hamburgers and perfectly shaped women coexist in one location? And Arnold Schwarzenegger – The Terminator himself – governing the place?! Surely it was all just made up in a studio somewhere…?
As soon as the terminal doors opened, a dreadlocked lady made a beeline for our group, introducing herself as “Lil’ Whoopie” and asking if we could donate some money to the homeless kids. Then her colleague came over, a real friendly guy dressed in a weird combination of shirt, tie and tracksuit top. He said he was “from the hood”, and hugged Colum Mytton like he was his brother. As it happened, Lil’ Whoopie and her friend were only the first of many odd American characters we’d meet on this trip. After parting with some freshly exchanged greenbacks we gathered at the rental car depot, jet lagged and disorientated, where the guy upgraded us to an absolute beast of a vehicle: a V8 Nissan Armada, silver and tank-like with a grill at head height, which predictably guzzled fuel quicker than a jumbo jet. Back home you’d be lynched by the green brigade for driving one of these about; here we blended right in, a giant chameleon in a background of big cars, raised pick-ups and SUVs.
Sticking the growling engine into ‘drive’ and heading out through the nightscape of L.A, it was still hard to get our heads around the fact we were going snowboarding. We were passing signs for places like Long Beach, Orange County and Inglewood (home to Samuel L. Jackson’s character in Pulp Fiction, if I remember right) and the wide streets were lined with billboards advertising ‘gentlemens’ clubs, giant donuts atop diners, and palm trees silhouetted against a darkening sky. It felt like the scene from Wayne’s World where they’re driving through the streets singing Bohemian Rhapsody, or a game of San Andreas on the Playstation, channel hopping on the radio through stations like KCRW and KPRM. Anything but the familiar road up to a resort.
Within an hour, though, we were out of the traffic and climbing rapidly. We passed marker points – 5000ft, 6000ft, 7000ft – negotiating steep hairpins until finally we emerged into a landscape of pine trees, boulders and cabin-like houses. This was Big Bear. Next up was to check into our hotel, ‘The Block’, a property owned by the Hispanic American pro Marc Frank Montoya. MFM was brought up in inner city Denver, and having switched his skateboard for a snowboard has become famous in the snowboarding world for his smooth riding and all-round gangster style. I like to think of him as the snowboarding equivalent of Tim Westwood. He opened his first ‘rider hotel’ in South Tahoe a few years back, before expanding the franchise in true American fashion to include this former motel in Big Bear. There are even plans for a European branch, to be located in Switzerland, and a reality TV show. MFM’s winning formula is to ask major brands to sponsor several ‘signature rooms’ and pimp them out how they like, with a bit of his own MTV taste thrown into the general mix. So for instance there’s the Spy room, the Nikita room, the Volcom room and the DVS room, all featuring individual decor. One room is reserved for the luxury poker table, while downstairs is a pool table, hot tub, communal barbecue and – yes – a giant silhouette of Marc Frank himself painted on the wall! The photographer Vernon Deck and I were sharing a pad with a PS2 and the biggest flat screen TV I have ever seen – 55 inches! The thing was like a bloody cinema. Games, movies and popcorn could be taken free of charge from reception. Settling down on my king size bed to watch America’s Next Top Model in billboard size, I reflected how snowboarding in California was already proving to be a different experience.
First thing in the morning Vernon took the monster truck back down the hill to visit the Volcom headquarters in Newport Beach, leaving the rest of us to find breakfast and get to the mountain under our own steam. Rich Kostas, the manager of the hotel, seemed a little dubious at the idea of us walking to the nearest diner. He insisted on phoning ahead to check the place was open because he didn’t want us “to walk all that way for nothing.” ‘All that way’ turned out to be about two hundred yards! This really is a country of cars. Combine this attitude with the kind of food on offer when we got there (mounds of eggs and meat) and it really is no wonder there are so many balloon-like people over here – in fact what’s more surprising that there are almost as many fitness fanatics. Waddling back from the diner we found we’d missed the infrequent shuttle bus (I don’t think they really do public transport over here) so we hitched a ride into town, first with a tow truck driver, then up to the lift station with a chilled out dude in shades and a sunhat who cleaned pools and spas for a living. “They won’t want me to park here,” he said as we pulled in front of the ticket office, “but they can kiss my ass!” Sure enough a jobsworth was straight over to give our driver shit, so he threw him a good old American finger and sped off with his cleaning equipment bouncing around in the bed of his truck.
Back in the day Snow Summit was the resort for of choice for the American superpros, its legendary park featuring in almost every Mack Dawg and TB movie in the mid to late ‘90s. In 2002 the decision was made to purchase neighbouring Bear Mountain and the park was shifted across, freeing up Summit to become L.A’s family skiing resort. With a whole mountain to play with, Bear has gone from strength to strength and is now one of the most incredible freestyle destinations on the planet. Unlike Europe, where terrain parks are something of a sideshow to be tolerated by the skiing majority, Bear Mountain has given up every strip of snow to its arsenal of kickers, rails, jibs, logs, boxes, whoop-di-doos and banked turns. “We just try to make the most of the snowfall and the terrain we have,” the resort manager Marty explained to me when we arrived (as if it was the most natural thing in the world to be so snowboarder-friendly). “We try to be cutting edge too, and we’re lucky cos it’s 90% snowboarders here.” The five of us headed up the main chairlift, staring slack-jawed at the obstacles and already planning imaginary tricks. All those boxes were too much for Stu Edwards’ X-scape raised brain to handle, and by the time we were deposited at the top the boy was a drooling mess.
At Bear Mountain there are basically lines of hits everywhere. And I mean everywhere. The buzz word for the place seems to be “FUN” – you just can’t help smiling as you boardslide, butter and air your way down the hill with your friends, one after another. The French resorts could really learn a lot from this place – not just the way snowboarders are accepted as a revenue stream but everything down to the jumps themselves. For instance, as well as the giant flagship booters there are dozens of smaller, poppy jumps that are super fun to ride. The transitions seem steeper than back in the Alps and offer more hangtime, while every taste in rail is catered for. I’ve never been to a place where you’ll see a knee-high grom in a helmet boardslide over a little box, to be followed by a grey-haired, mustachioed rider in his fifties. The old guy clearly had one of those sunny, ‘Have a nice day’ mentalities for which Californians are famous, a kind of naïve chirpiness that grates on us cynical Brits. But when you see snowboarders of all ages hucking themselves around like this you can’t help but be sucked into the spirit of it! And with so many kids killing it too, it’s no wonder the country produces so many good riders.
Still, while we all got into the positive attitude of the locals, it was a little harder to take their fashion sense seriously. They say that where California leads, the rest of the snowboard world follows; well if this is true of the latest fashions we saw then god help us! In spring 2006, the look of choice was either ridiculously baggy trousers (like, “I’ve got no knees” baggy) combined with triple XL football shirts and bandanas, or the “tight pants, wide stance” emo style that’s come over from skating (many a gangly Sid Vicious look-a-like was spotted on the rails). On the plus side there were plenty of hot snow bunnies in both flavours, their bubblegum smiles belying a serious dedication to freestyle.
By the time the lifts closed in the afternoon, conditions were as slushy as they come and our legs were burning from doing constant circuits. We spent the evening touring K-Mart and other such American delights (where Stu, seemingly keen to blend in with the local yo boys, purchased a retro brown tracksuit for 20 bucks). Then, back at the Block, we fired up the barbie and swigged 40 oz bottles of Bud on the porch like Ice Cube in Friday. Matchbox apartments in Tignes or Morzine seemed a million miles away as we shifted operations to the poker room with a bottle of Jack Daniels and some fat cigars – by now thoroughly converted to MFM’s way of doing things. Colum ‘The Fold’ Mytton proved to be easy pickings for the rest of us until he finally passed out with his head on the cushioned table rim, an attractive string of drool hanging from his lips.
Fat food, fat jumps, fat cars
Day Two in Big Bear dawned damp and miserable. We drove the Chelsea tractor to the nearest Denny’s for breakfast, where we were confronted with a ridiculous choice of artery clogging food, usually involving a combination of ham, sausage, bacon, eggs, hash browns, potatoes, pancakes, maple syrup or all of the above – naturally washed down with a pint of Coke. Dom Harington and Col polished off the so-called ‘Ultimate Breakfast Bowl’, which was basically a trough of fried food. So wrong!
By the time we arrived back at the mountain it was approaching lunchtime (almost time for more fried meat!) and things were looking grim. With mist and wet snowfall covering the piste it was hard to believe this was the same sun-drenched hill we’d been riding the day before. In fact it was a reality check to see that it snowed up here at all (somehow I still couldn’t believe that the hills above L.A were cold enough – surely the snow just magically appeared overnight?!). We passed a crusty old dude on his way back to the carpark, whose assessment of the weather matched our own. “Don’t go up there man, it sucks!” We persisted anyway, struggling through gale force winds at the top and making the best of it – even discovering a few new obstacles looming in the fog (proof that in this place you really can’t move for fun stuff). The boys sessioned a tree jib in the soaking conditions until Stu landed the shot of the day in his luminous jacket, then we bailed early for the warmth of the hotel.
Our final day in Bear saw a welcome return to blazing sun and bluebird skies. Vernon was now in full photographer mode, leading us round the mountain’s best hits systematically – first the wallride, then the hip, then the evil S-rail (where Stu landed nastily on his coccyx before Dom finally nailed the bastard topless). Later in the afternoon we saw MFM himself cruising through the park with a posse of masked riders, hitting each of the baby jumps in turn and trying to out-do each other. It was a fitting end to our visit, and pretty much summed up the atmosphere of the resort: fun times to be had, whatever your riding standard.
That evening, having topped up our daily junk food allowance at the all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurant, we were settling down in front of our absurdly huge TV for another game of Tiger Woods when up to the room came Susan. Susan was this cool chick from reception that Colum had been trying his luck with until he discovered a) she was only 16 years old (still jail bait in this state!) and b) she couldn’t understand a word of his Halifax accent. She’d brought her riding buddy Gabrielle to meet us all and generally marvel at our Englishness, and Gabrielle had in turn brought along her snotty older sister Amanda. Amanda, clad in a beret and Louis Vuitton, was quick to confirm our suspicions about her preppie appearance with the following information:
• She lives in Beverly Hills
• Her dad was the lead guitarist in Chaka Khan’s band ‘Rufus’
• She’s friends with Paris Hilton and likes to go out partying with her
• She’s a model (“I do a lot of red carpet work”) and an actress. She’s starred in various soap operas and her latest role is in a sitcom “about a white guy with jungle fever” (i.e. he falls in love with a black girl).
• She’s proud of her mixed race features, which she believes mark her out as more beautiful than most black women.
• She “adores white guys” – as evidenced by her clinginess to anyone that would let her i.e. Colum!
Feeling like we’d been beamed into an episode of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the four of us Brits joined the girls for an evening of wholesome American entertainment – glow bowling. It was at this point that we discovered Amanda drove a Jaguar (most likely purchased by Daddy) though ‘drove’ is probably a generous description for her particular brand of travel. She tore that thing around the bends with a mobile clamped to her ear in true Clueless fashion, and later took Stu and Col for a private spin several Jack Daniels to the good – leaving us wondering how her sister Gabrielle could be so down to earth. No doubt escaping L.A for the mountains had kept the younger girl sane. Such childish pursuits as bowling turned out to be below Amanda however, and as the rest of us pissed about in the alley she sat at the back of the lane with a bored look on her face. “What kind of stuff do you prefer to do then?” I asked her after a while. “I chill, I party”, came the terse reply.
A Mammoth Drive
America is a big country. It gets said a lot, but if you’re ever planning a trip similar to this one it’s worth remembering. California alone is the size of the UK, and setting out for Mammoth the next day we were faced with an 8 hour drive – just to rejoin the same mountain range nearer the middle of the state. Soon we were crossing L.A towards Pasadena, fighting with crazy freeway traffic and smog before emerging from the urban sprawl into green hills, then flat desert. This was proper ‘road movie’ country, with a long, straight interstate disappearing into the horizon and the occasional signpost advertising ‘Real Good Fresh Jerkey, 50 miles’. We stuck the beast into cruise control and put our feet up on the dash, enjoying the authentic road trip vibe. Some way into the desert, around the time we were passing a signpost for ‘Death Valley, Next Right’ (when a passing tumbleweed wouldn’t have looked out of place) Colum leaned forward from his seat in the back and asked, “Are we still in L.A?” Haha! This might have been his first trip to the States but we didn’t let him forget that one in a hurry.
The road continued, relentless, passed an aircraft graveyard filled with abandoned jumbos and 737s. We could see the names of companies like KLM and Delta tattooed on the tailfins; apparently many of these planes had been placed into storage following the 9/11 attacks, awaiting brighter business times with plastic over their engines to protect them form the sandstorms. It was an eerie sight and we moved on, stopping only to check out some weird rock formations that looked to have leapt straight off a Marlboro billboard, where we let off some steam ragging the Nissan around the dusty carpark.
All this time the mountains were a distant ridge on either side of the desert, but around 7 in the evening we found ourselves thrust into the hills and right in the middle of a blizzard. Mammoth was enjoying its finest season in years, and up at our apartment the snow was drifting as high as the rooftops. The ‘4×4’ turned out to be useless at handling anything but tarmac (note to Nissan: automatic gearboxes are shit for low traction conditions!) and we had to push the thing across the drive to get it into the garage. By now all the meat we’d been consuming over the past few days was having a strange effect on Colum, who immediately retired to the bathroom and christened our new toilet with “the greatest shit of my life”.
It was April 17th when we awoke the next day – full-on late season – so bluebird skies and a foot of fresh powder were a welcome surprise. We decided to make the most of it, shooting a few pow turns on the edge of the boundary rope but not going further until we’d sussed out the lay of the land. While Dom headed straight for the legendary Mammoth superpipe, Col and I went on a quick two-man mission to score some more fresh lines. We’d spotted some interesting terrain at the top of the mountain that had remained closed all morning while the ski patrol bombed and prodded it. At last they deemed the section safe and the pair of us climbed aboard the gondola frothing at the mouth. As we exited the mid-station however, we noticed that all was not well – a massive slide had been triggered just below, which the guy beside us insisted hadn’t been there on his previous run. Our faces were pinned to the glass trying to assess situation when the woman opposite proved her total idiocy with the jovial comment, “One man’s peril is another’s entertainment.” I felt like giving her a slap. Arriving at the summit things were in total chaos. Pisteurs were shouting at the bemused crowd not to ski down and asking people with transceivers to switch them to ‘receive’; a desperate guy was asking about his 9 year old son, who was last seen heading down the face with a ski school; and everywhere were onlookers standing on the ridgeline gawping at the debris field below. Several groups of ski patrollers could be seen digging and probing, and within minutes various rumours began circulating as to the number of people buried. The avalanche had clearly taken everyone by surprise. It was in-bounds, in an area that had been thoroughly checked over, and by the time of the slide the face had been tracked out by dozens of people. In the end only three people were buried, and all were successfully rescued, but such was the level of panic that the authorities decided to shut down the entire mountain while the situation was resolved, which turned out to be the rest of the afternoon. Was this a sensible precaution, or a decision driven by fear of legal action? I didn’t know, but it was something I’d never experienced in several seasons of living in the Alps.
The following two days were spent shredding Mammoth’s impressive array of jibs and kickers. Like Big Bear, Mammoth is renowned in the snowboard world for its terrain park (strictly speaking, two terrain parks) and counts the likes of Shaun White, John Jackson, Eddie Wall and Danny Kass amongst its season pass holders. Pick up any copy of Transworld and you’re guaranteed to find several shots with the tell-tale pink logo in the background. Like Bear Mountain moreover, the place is a magnet for trendy park rats in smurf hats and face scarves. Earwigging on the lift can be a funny – it’s all Bill and Ted sterotypes like “Dude, I’m having the best day!” and “Yah bro, it’s like, soooo dope today!” I had to admit though, it certainly was a pretty nice day, and about the most perfect location for a park you could imagine – with dappled foresty bits, wide open sun-bathed bits and beautiful landscape everywhere. For rest of our stay we fell into a daily rhythm: breakfast, ride, lunch in the amazing mountain buffet, ride, ride some more, hot tub, slap-up dinner downtown, watch classic basketball matches on ESPN, sleep.
Three things of note happened over the next few days: Dom got so many sick shots in the pipe Vernon was free to sell a bunch to Animal for this year’s ad campaign, we saw the future of American snowboarding: a 13 year old kid called Tyler Flannigan who was busting out insane 900s over the biggest kicker in resort, and I ate a burrito that was larger than my own head. Oh and one more thing – I saw a rider get his pass taken away for throwing a snowball! We were getting off the chair when a liftie clutching a butterfly knife walked passed us in the direction of a teenage snowboarder. Apparently he’d thrown a snowball at a lady (and missed) but the lady had complained. The liftie dragged the hapless kid over to apologise, then proceeded to cut off his lift pass with the knife. Be warned: don’t have too much fun with the snow in America!
The Grenade Games
Wikepedia.com defines the significance of “420” as follows:
For some people (particularly some of those within cannabis culture, but also more widely), the number 420 (pronounced four-twenty) relates to the consumption of cannabis as a drug, and elements of its associated culture. The exact origin of the term is unknown. Cannabis users gather on April 20 (“4/20″ in the United States dating shorthand) every year to celebrate and consume cannabis. 4:20p.m. (or even a.m.) is also a popular time to consume cannabis.
With this in mind we had a good idea of the relaxed vibe we could expect at the Grenade Games, an event organized by Mammoth legend Danny Kass for April 20th. Last year’s inaugural Games, planned as a simple gathering of friends, had taken place at the neighbouring resort of June Mountain just after it had closed for the summer – the lift having been reopened and the park reshaped especially for a handful of riders. Apparently things had got out of hand that year, as word of the get-together spread and crowds of snowboarders turned up at the base station to join in the party (rumour has it Torah Bright and Nico Müller were among those trying to persuade the staff to let them on the lift). This year the Grenade family seemed to be preparing for something a little less private; flyers were pinned up around town picturing the Olympic rings in rasta colours, and June was selling hundreds of lift tickets for the special price of $10 each. Unfortunately the authorities seemed to be stepping up operations themselves, and on the short drive over we saw several snowboarders pulled over and spot searched by the side of the road. In the lift carpark, hordes of riders were queuing for the rickety old chairlift and checking each other out, trying to see who might be famous, while Grenade’s Australian team manager-cum-court jester ‘the Dingo’ was marching about in a turban and barking instructions through a megaphone.
When we arrived at the top of the hill, things were a lot more peaceful. The incredible park was almost empty (most of the other riders had gathered at the halfpipe) and we sessioned the place all morning with only chirruping birds for company. If anything the set-up was better than back in Mammoth, including some cool barrels and steel spheres to bonk and spin over. Dom couldn’t help letting out an excited “woohoo!” as he jibbed 360 over one of the balls. The rest of the park consisted of lines of kickers, a gnarly gap jump and a boardercross to finish. It was all too perfect, but eventually we figured we should quit doing laps and join in the festival atmosphere back at the pipe. Crowds of people were chilling out, throwing snowballs (without getting their passes taken away – stop the press!) smoking weed, drinking beer and hiking up the coping for the occasional shred. Ordinary riders were mixing it up with the likes of Mason Aguire, Giacamo Kratter and Mr Kass himself, while five bands (all sporting leather jackets and with a fine line in apocalyptic death metal) took turns at playing on the make-shift stage. “We’re from FUCKING Vermont you FUCKS!” announced one of the lead singers, “and you’re all gonna FUCKING die in a FUCKING nuclear war!!” I believe the name of this upbeat group was Kill All Cheerleaders. It was an odd soundtrack considering the ‘peace and love’ spirit of the day but what the heck… As the hours drifted away and the pipe got slushier, we strapped our boards on one last time and pointed them homewards.
Colum Takes A Juicy Log
Hungover and groggy following the Grenade Games afterparty, our final day looked set for a wash-out. I had vague memories of cops giving us “final warnings” outside a club, of meeting some airheaded Budweiser girls and Stu getting lary with a shovel back in the apartment until we gave him such a massive wedgie his boxer shorts were literally torn apart. Yet despite my aching head and the poor weather, Colum had other ideas. He’d spotted a crazy-looking tree stump on a hill behind some houses and fancied building a kicker to clear it. The idea seemed bonkers. The thing was hollow, about 20 foot high with shards of wood sticking up, was squeezed between two taller giant redwoods and had a flat landing to boot. And it was in someone’s back garden. We agreed to humour him for a while though, and mustered up the energy to drag ourselves over and help build this death jump.
It was half past two before we even began cutting blocks of snow, and gone four when we were finished. The transition was an insanely steep and narrow booter wedged between the trees, and just to make things sketchier we’d had to construct a huge mound of snow for a landing – using guesswork as to where he might actually land. It was approaching darkness by the time Colum finally hiked to the top – now blatantly crapping his pants but way past the point of no return. His first attempt saw him fail to commit, brushing the right hand side of the stump and stacking in a heap. Two more efforts went the same way, and the light was now fading fast. Still, he hadn’t killed himself yet, and with a little more confidence he hiked back up for a fourth and final go. As cheesy as it sounds, a patch of blue actually appeared in the sky as he was strapping back in. He negotiated the tight run-in, launched over the stump and found the shifty he’d been looking for – just as Vernon’s flashbulb popped, right on queue. Then, even more amazingly, he hit the sweet spot of the landing and stomped the thing perfectly. It was the shot of the trip, and the cover of this magazine.
There was time for one last adventure before departing the States for England, and naturally, one more burger. We repeated the long drive across the desert, heading for the fabled “O.C” south of Los Angeles, and the surf town of Huntingdon Beach. On the way we pulled into In n’ Out Burger for lunch, a fast food chain that enjoys a cult following in the States for its 50s vibe and handcooked fries; people will drive from miles around to visit this place, where they eat out of packaging that hides biblical references (like “John 3:16” printed on the bottom of your milkshake cup, or “Revelation 3:20” on your burger wrapper). The company’s loyal flock of carnivores seems happy to tolerate this kind of subversive preaching, just so long as the high priests of meat keep serving up good old fashioned burgers. In the queue I heard one large American comment to his buddy, “I’ve tried the triple burger triple cheese, might have to go me the quad.” What would Jesus say to that I wondered?
A few hours later, as we cruised down the palm-lined boulevards of Orange County, I was reminded how diverse this corner of America is. Out in the Pacific Ocean, surfers were catching a few last waves before sunset, while on the shoreline rollerbladers and pedestrians threaded between open topped cars and a circle of bongo players. It was like the California of TV, dreamy and clichéd – and about as far from snow-capped peaks as you can get. An Apu-like character in the local grocery store pointed us in the direction of a cheap motel, and that night we hit the tiles of Huntingdon Beach where we found ourselves surrounded by plastic Barbie girls and guys straight out of Saved By The Bell: buff and tanned with short-back-and-sides and those blank, jock expressions. It was hard to strike up conversation with any of them – I mean, what do you say to these people? As familiar as it is from the silver screen, America really can seem like a different planet sometimes, inhabited by alien life forms.
The next morning the five of us rented surfboards and took to the famous break beside Huntingdon’s pier. Colum and Stu got an absolute beating in the whitewater, which was funny for me to see because I’d spent the last ten days bowing down to their superior board skills. To add to his misery, Col has skin more sensitive than a vampire’s, and within half an hour of sunshine his face looked like that Nazi at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Meanwhile Dom joined me out the back and the pair of us bagged a couple of nice waves. By the end of the session he was properly buzzing, making noises about getting himself a board and driving to Hull on his return home (I didn’t have the heart to tell him the East Yorkshire surf scene was probably a bit murkier).
The town was alive with beautiful people now, but having ‘done lunch’ and grabbed some last-minute shopping (what a bunch of women we are!) we were back in the familiar limbo of LAX airport all too soon and saying our goodbyes. It was sad to end this amazing, varied road trip. We were leaving behind the beaches, the babes, the perfect smiles and perfect parks, and were bound for the ‘real’ world – April in England. I climbed into my seat on the plane, heavy with the prospect of the summer ahead (and yet another Whopper, churning in my stomach). Until the next time… brah!
Cali Superparks: How to ride them yourself
All the major airlines fly into LAX – try www.ebookers.com for the latest fares and book early for the best deals. We flew with Virgin Atlantic for £300 return. Granted that’s more than your average easyjet deal to Geneva, but then you don’t get parks like this in France. Plus you can stock up on cheap iPods while the exchange rate is favourable…
Once you’re in the States, a vehicle is absolutely essential. www.enterprise.com offer some of the best rates. A week’s rental for a minivan or 4×4 planet killer (big enough to take 4 riders plus kit) should cost around $280 (approx. £150)
Rooms at The Block in Big Bear vary according to how pimp you want to go. Expect to pay around $100 per room, per night for something basic, and close to $200 per room for one of the themed room (most rooms sleep 2).You can take a tour of the place and book your stay at www.the blockatbigbear.com. There’s also a branch in Lake Tahoe – www.blockattahoe.com
In Mammoth there are tons of options for accommodation. We stayed in a self catering apartment booked through the resort’s Central Reservations. A week’s stay cost around $1500 (£800), but bear in mind you can cram to 6 – 8 people in those bad boys. Visit www.mammothlakes.com
Day Passes at Bear Mountain cost $49 in regular season, $62 holidays and peak season weekends. If you’re a 13 – 21 year old whippersnapper they’ll knock around 10 bucks off that. Tickets are also valid for Snow Summit.
Mammoth lift passes vary between $63 and $78 a day (£32 – £40) according to the time of season. June Mountain, around half an hour’s drive down the road, is owned by the same company. It only has a few lifts, with passes coming in at $60 a day, but its amazing funpark alone is well worth the visit.
The Bottom Line
With a bit of planning it can be affordable to go the independent route and organize your own Californian road trip. With 4 of you splitting the cost of a 10 day holiday, you’re looking at a total of about £1200 each, with fuel and all the beef jerky you can eat thrown in. More than Andorra for sure, but less than that dream freeride trip to Alaska!