5 Perfect Winter Outings in the Sierra Nevada
The mountains are home to some of the best ski resorts in the country. But you can still fish, climb, soak, run, and ride all winter long.
Winter just might be the ideal time to get outside in the Sierra Nevada. While deep snow is piling up for skiers and snowboarders at higher altitudes, if you keep an eye on the weather you can still mix up your outdoor pursuits beyond the lifts. Plus, the crowds of summer tourists chasing watersports have long since vamoosed. Here’s how to squeeze in some multisport fun when you aren’t shredding powder—and cap off the adventure with the mountain range’s namesake beer.
Soak and Stay Outside of Mammoth
The greater Mammoth area is rife with backcountry hot springs, but after a day of winter shredding, you’re better off extending the tub life and staying the night in the ranch house at the Inn at Benton Hot Springs, some 50 minutes east of Mammoth Lakes. Unlike their wild counterparts, the resort’s nine spring water-fed tubs feature hot and cold taps for temperature regulation in a scenic setting ringed by old-growth cottonwoods. The entire place has a welcoming and freewheeling vibe, and pets, tent campers, and RVs are all welcome.
Après Tubbing Is Best Paired With: All that warm water and cold air might make you a little sleepy. The dry-hopped, aggressive but balanced Torpedo Extra IPA should perk you back up.
Run Donner Pass
The Donner Party? Getting lost in a storm and cannibalizing each other never seemed like much of a party to us. Better to head out on the same terrain for an hour-long winter run. The high-country running stays accessible longer than you might think—especially if you’re willing to run in studded “microspike” shoes or with Yaktrax (chains for your shoes). So says Jackie Cianci, shoe buyer with Tahoe Mountain Sports in Truckee. “Going up high is the most fun,” she says. “I’d send people to the Judah Loop. It’s about five to six miles, with views of Donner Lake, Castle Peak, and Sugar Bowl. If it’s too snowy, you can always head to lower-elevation meadows and run the boardwalks.”
Après Trail Running Is Best Paired With: The Celebration IPA. Don’t be fooled by the name or the label, which features a snow-covered cabin. While it’s a holiday beer and is typically available only from November to January, you won’t find any nutmeg or cinnamon here. True to form, it’s a classic American IPA—that just happens to pair perfectly with your post-run feast, be it turkey or fish and chips.
Cast for Golden Trout
Need to mix up the fishing between fly-casting and rod and reel to keep the family happy? You’re not alone. And the Sierra has you covered. After November 15, most of the golden trout fisheries are closed for the season, but sections of the Kern River (it flows out of Sequoia National Park in the southern Sierra) remain open year round for catch and release (with barbless hooks only.) The kids can fish nearby reservoirs all year long. High Sierra Outfitters in Lone Pine will set you up with the right knowledge and gear for both. Ask for Tackle Dan. “We’re the building with the giant fish on the roof,” says Dan. “The fish has been up there since 1947. And it’s never been caught.”
Après Fishing Is Best Paired With: You released the trout you caught. But you can still serve Sierra Nevada’s Hop Bullet Double IPA with tonight’s grilled salmon. A startlingly bold 55 bitterness units cut through the salmon’s rich, fatty aftertaste.
Sport-Climb a Year-Round Crag
Driving Highway 395 outside Bishop, you’d never imagine the Owens River Gorge was there. Unless, that is, you’re a rock climber who’s keen on the ravine’s single- and multi-pitch sport climbs on vertical to overhanging volcanic tuff. “It’s different than most of the rock in the area,” says Jessica Ary, with Sierra Mountain Guides in Bishop. “The orange hues light up at this time of year, with the sun low in the sky. But the bottomland by the creeks stays green and lush late into the season. We climb all winter in the gorge.” Newbie sport climber? Sign on with SMG for a six-to-one client-to-guide-ratio outing with all the gear.
Après Sport Climbing Is Best Paired With: The Hazy Little Thing IPA, an unfiltered IPA that has a golden luminosity not unlike the cliffs you just scaled.
Bike the Sierra’s Gravel Roads
Want to get in an easy spin to let your ski legs recover? Winter is the perfect time of year to ride some of the Lake Tahoe area’s lower-elevation gravel roads and trails on your mountain bike or gravel/adventure bike (essentially mountain/road hybrids). If there’s too much snow above 5,000 feet, a typical winter outing for Tom Giller, lead mechanic at High Sierra Cycling in Reno, and his brothers involves heading south to Carson City and linking a mix of pavement and packed farm roads. (Scope your route on Trailforks.com.) But, for hero dirt wait for the snow below 6,000 feet along Highway 395 (to the north) to melt and then head out when the dirt refreezes. “It’s perfect frozen hardtack,” says Giller. “If you plan it correctly,” says Giller, “you’ll spend your time on ranch roads, gravel, and doubletrack.” Stop in at the shop for route advice. And don’t fear recent snow. “It gets mild quickly after storms,” says Giller. “We’ve had winters where we’ve ridden up high straight through February.”
Après Ride Is Best Paired With: Sierra Nevada’s original Pale Ale, on account of the refreshing hints of light citrus from the American hops, which are as perfectly balanced and precise as when the beer debuted 38 years ago.
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Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., is for the outdoors. For lost signals. Starry skies. Wild places waiting to be explored. They’re for sequoias as tall as skyscrapers, conferences around the campfire, and sunsets so beautiful, they’re hard to capture in a single frame. Sierra Nevada is for the mountains that call to us, taking our adventures to new heights, reminding us that sometimes it’s our own batteries that need recharging, and that getting lost is the best way to be found. It’s why they make beer. Beer that brings us together. The kind that refreshes the spirit, and proves the strongest connections are made offline. So as long as we have wild places to explore, and an independent spirit to guide us, Sierra Nevada will continue to forge their own path, and simply enjoy outdoors.