To those who have been Rocky Mountain skiing, Big Bear is "an alright place to go for a quick weekend trip." They talk about it like it's small, with decent but not desirable conditions. And maybe that's true. But for a girl who's never been skiing west of Michigan - a girl who's never skied a mountain taller than 1,300 feet, Bear Mountain (which sits close to 9,000 feet) is a skiing paradise, a mountain wonderland where it can actually take longer to get down the mountain than up.
As I was driving through town towards the mountain, I passed a truck transporting skiers and boarders standing up in the back, packed like sardines - sardines clutching skis and snowboards. I passed them and laughed out loud at the sight - but had no idea I'd be one of them fifteen minutes later. I was standing behind the cab of the truck on the driver's side as I watched Bear mountain unfold in front of me. But that's the thing about mountains - you can't really tell just how tall they are until you're standing on top of it.
It was a beautiful day - almost 60 degrees and sunny - and the lodge was packed full of people hanging out, drinking beer, and listening to the music blasting out of the DJ's speakers. But I didn't waste any time - I soaked in the map and jumped on the nearest lift that would take me up to what looked like a manageable intermediate run.
That was one of the first lessons I learned: the blue (intermediate) runs back home are a lot more tame than the blue runs out west. I had a pretty hard time getting down safely and even took a spill or two. In my head, I was blaming my issues on my recent wax job, but I think I was just really rusty.
After a struggle down the blue run, I made my way over to a lift that accessed more green runs and started having a blast. There was a small lodge at the top of that lift that just oozed west coast chill with reggae music and grill smoke wafting from its windows. So as soon as I got hungry, I headed that way for a made-to-order cheeseburger and a Bud Light while I texted my dad about how great the skiing was while I listened to Santeria and Buffalo Soldier.
Did I mention that I was skiing alone? And I didn't even care because I was having such a blast.
I squeezed in as many runs as I could before the lifts shut down and the mountain closed for the day. I'd like to think that I could have kept going, but my boots were starting to bruise my shins, and I had a boyfriend occupying himself at a nearby coffee shop and I honestly felt bad keeping him waiting any longer (if anyone has tips for convincing someone who hates skiing to ski, please let me know).
I met him back at the car, and peeled off the layers of ski gear that I probably didn't even need because the weather was so oddly warm. I felt the relief of being able to hinge at the ankle and move my toes again. I wiped down my skis before throwing them in the back, tousled my hat hair, and climbed in the passenger seat. We took the long way home - and it was so worth it.
It was the end of the day, but what I didn't realize at the time was that it was just the beginning of my passion for big mountain skiing. I got a taste of what it's like to really ski - and I found myself days, even hours later just thinking about when my next trip would be - WHERE it would be. Mammoth? Lake Tahoe? Jackson Hole? Park City?
Adrenaline is one hell of a drug, and I'm hooked.