This weekend we’ve spent some time exploring parts of the Angeles National Forest. It’s an interesting place that lacks the verdancy of the Oregon mountains we recently visited but still has sweeping vistas and good accessibility.
But there’s one thing it doesn’t have: snow.
The lack of snow was startlingly clear when we visited the Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts. We knew ahead of time that the lifts wouldn’t have snow, but as we paid for parking ($5) we struck up a conversation with one of the employees. He told us that in a normal year there would be skiing through April. One time, they even stayed open through May. And at this time of year, there should typically be at least five feet of snow still on the ground.
Instead, there was a sweltering parking lot filled with hikers wearing shorts and carrying extra sun screen. The temperature hovered around 80 degrees and I even left my lightweight sweatshirt in the car. California’s epic drought is apparently leaving the ski industry near L.A high and dry.
The manager told me that for the last four years the ski resort has received dramatically less snow than it used to get. For much of the season it was also too hot to even make snow.
Hikers like us generate some revenue when we pay to ride the one lift that stays open in the summer ($25 round trip), but as the employee put it, “nothing makes up for the winter.”
We eventually did see some snow while hiking much higher up, but after conversation down below it felt more like the scraps of a winter that barely was.
The result of years of bad winters is that the travel industry in this area does not appear to be doing well. While much of the surrounding community bears the hallmarks of a ski village — plenty of “lodges” with Alpine-style signage and architecture, for example — many places look like they’re falling apart, closed, or both. At one roadside stop, sleds hung in the beating sun like hides splayed out to dry.
The area isn’t dead, but the entire scene reminded me of they way Coney Island is sometimes depicted in photographs: well past its prime and in a state of perpetual decline. Even at the resort itself — which had descent crowds and is a worthwhile hiking destination — it was hard not to wonder how the faded signs, crumbling parking lot, and cardboard box of “gently used” snow pants for sale would have looked if California had begun to pull out of the drought this year.
Instead, hikers are using dusty, erstwhile ski runs as shortcuts up the mountain. As the employee told me before I began my own hike, “we’ll have to wait for next year.”
— Jim Dalrymple II