Backcountry Skiing – Mt Baldy

Mt Baldy Village, CA
Family Friendly?:  Yes
Age Range:  Teens and up
Recommendations:  This is a real alpine environment so use caution. The bowl allows you to choose relative levels of difficulty but it is definitely possible to get yourself into trouble up high. Recommended for advanced skiers and riders only.

Mt Baldy

Mt Baldy

Most people would find it hard to believe that there is some legitimate backcountry skiing only about an hour from the warm breezes and swayingpalm trees of Los Angeles. Those mountains you see in the background are the San Gabriel mountains and in a good year the higher elevations get buried in snow. The biggest of them all is Mt San Antonio, locally known as Mt Baldy, and it offers big mountain skiing topping out at over 10,000 feet above the coast far below.

There are a few approaches to this winter wonderland but we chose the Manker Flats route because it is the quickest way to the skiing. The parking area was pretty crowded but we knew that most of the people were there to play in the snow near the road and that proved to be true. Be aware that you need a National Forest Pass to park here. However, they are cheap and may be purchased at any ranger station or in the village. After a bit less than a mile of walking on the road, we took the ski hut trail another couple of miles past the hut, across the bowl and up the ridge to the summit. The total walk was about 4 miles and gained well over 3,000 feet according to my watch, which is only accurate in the general sense when it comes to altitude.

A word of caution, even though you are in sight of LA these are real mountains with real dangers. Avalanches and serious falls are definitely a possibility, so prepare for a backcountry ski trip here as you would in more remote areas.  In my opinion, the best time to ski the bowl is in the spring when the snow crusts up overnight but softens up to a nice corn surface by late morning.  I have not skied it after heavy snow, and would be reluctant to do so as it would be a very bad place to be in a slide.

From the top of the bowl, we were presented with a choice of everything from narrow chutes to wide open bowl skiing on silky smooth corn snow. The pitch approached 45 degrees in some of the chutes with a good 1,500 vertical drop. Being as we were planning to do as many yo-yo runs as our legs would allow, we decided on a high-speed cruise down the center of the bowl to loosen up. We quickly picked up speed on the smooth corn and it was all over in what seemed like a few seconds. With huge smiles we climbed back up to do it all again.

For the second run, we choose one of the steep narrow chutes to skiers right. I’m not sure of the name of the chute but it started with a near vertical drop in of about 6 feet, followed by a very narrow 40 degree-plus section, before opening out into the apron below. It looked pretty impressive from the top, but with the hero snow the run was easier than it looked. Our only map of the chute names was a page out of an old Couloir magazine but I forgot that in the car, so we just skied whatever caught our eye at the time.

After a brief stop for some food, we enjoyed another two runs before our legs turned to jello. The last run was another cruiser down the middle doing high-speed figure eights just missing each other by inches (or so it felt). We planned to hang out at the bottom of the bowl for a while but in spite of a thick layer of sunscreen, we all were a bit more crispy than we would have liked. We made our way back to the car thoroughly satisfied and looking forward to our return.

If you find yourself in need of an outdoor adventure in Southern California, a backcountry ski trip to Mt Baldy will definitely scratch that itch!


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