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Catch the Winter Wave in California

From surfing powder to high-altitude hot tubs, California boasts an array of splashy wintertime activities for the whole family.

Feb 1, 2015
Outside Magazine

With a strong El Niño on its way, it looks like the wave could be a big one this winter in California. The swell is already arriving in the mountains, with plenty of early-season snow across the Golden State, there’s never been a better time to play outside. From snowboarding and skiing at world-class resorts to snowshoeing and ice skating in pristine mountain wilderness, we’ve got tips on how to best catch the wave this winter.

1. Ride a Fat Bike
Fat biking is experiencing a recent surge in popularity. At Tahoe Mountain Guides, guides will outfit you with a bike, then escort you through snow-covered trails and offer instruction—not that you’ll need any. “If you can ride a bike, you can ride a snow bike,” says Ken Long, owner of Tahoe Mountain Guides. “If you’re in a mixed condition situation, like snow and dirt where you can’t possibly snowshoe through it, that’s perfect for a fat bike.”

2. Snowshoe Amongst Towering Sequoia Trees
At Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, you can take a snowshoe walk in the shadows of giant pines and sequoias. Rent snowshoes and head out on your own, or sign up for a ranger-led, two-hour trek that comes with free snowshoe rentals. Naturalists from the Sequoia Natural History Association also lead guided snowshoe walks and help you spot wildlife tracks and local vegetation.


3. Dance to a DJ on a Snowcat
There’s no après-ski party quite like the Unbuckle parties every winter weekend at Heavenly’s mountaintop Tamarack Lodge. Complete with hula-hooping Heavenly Angels and half-priced cocktails, you’ll also find a DJ spinning tunes on a retrofitted snowcat. You’ll hear the party: The cat, a former Heavenly grooming machine turned party vehicle, is outfitted with 52 speakers and 12,000 watts of amps.


4. Soak in a Mountaintop Hot Tub
Located at High Camp, Squaw Valley's Swimming Pool & Hot Tub is one of the state’s most scenic spots to swim and relax. A 2,000-foot tram ride whisks you up to the mid-mountain complex of pools and hot tubs (there are also lockers, showers, and a changing room), where you can take in the views of the Sierra and sip a cocktail from the Umbrella Bar.


5. Go Fly a Kite
Imagine ocean kite surfing but on snow, and you’ll have an idea of what snowkiting looks like. At the Sierra Snow Kite Center—California’s only snowkite facility, which is located near Sugar Bowl ski area—you can sign up for an intro to snowkiting lesson, where you’ll learn the basics of wind-powered snow sliding, or a multi-day backcountry snowkite adventure with a snowkite champion as your guide.


6. Ice Skate Under Half Dome
Yosemite National Park doesn’t close in the winter; in fact, it’s a beautiful time of year to visit, with fewer crowds and spectacular snow-capped granite faces. Grab ice skates and twirl beneath views of Half Dome and Glacier Point at the Curry Village Ice Rink, an historic outdoor rink that’s open from November to March. Afterward, you can roast s’mores at the nearby outdoor fire pits.

2010/2011 Season

7. Ride a Tube Down a Mountain
Kids love Tube Town, Tahoe’s snow tubing epicenter at Soda Springs Mountain Resort—California’s longest-running ski area, which first opened in 1935. Twenty separate lanes offer high-speed runs in a giant inflatable tube, while a 400-foot moving carpet brings you back to the top of the hill.

8. Get Towed by a Team of Huskies
At Mammoth Dog Teams, just outside the town of Mammoth Lakes, enjoy a sled ride through the woods led by a litter of Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies with names like Chugach and Thunder. Sign up for a day dogsled tour amongst the rugged peaks of the eastern Sierra or opt for an overnight snow-camping trip where you’ll learn to work with the dogs and dine on hot meals under the stars.


9. Zip Through Snow-Covered Treetops
At Action Zipline Tours in Big Bear Lake, you’ll off-road a Jeep three miles into the forest, then spend a couple of hours touring a treetop adventure park like no other—with nine high-slung ziplines ranging from 120 to 860 feet long, plus a suspension bridge. You’ll reach speeds of up to 45 miles per hour as you whiz through the snow-covered treetops. The place is open all winter long, weather permitting.


10. Cross Country Ski at North America’s Largest Nordic Resort
Royal Gorge, located atop Donner Summit outside of the town of Truckee, boasts 200 kilometers of groomed trails for Nordic skiing across 6,000 vast acres, making it North America’s largest cross-country ski area. With eight warming huts, you can spend days here without skiing the same trail twice. Sign up for a lesson, rent classic or skate skis, or explore on your own.

Catch the Winter Wave: For more fun ideas and tons of info about how to play outside this winter in California, head over to visitcalifornia.com.

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