The Winter Olympics are the quintessential Olympics. Sure, track and field has its place, and the sheer danger of gymnastics means plenty of high-drama spikes, but gearing up in Gore-Tex, goggles and gloves to do battle in icy conditions? Now that is simply marvelous to watch.
What’s even better than settling in to watch speed skiers come whooshing down mountains or ice skaters unfold into their beautiful routines? Getting in on the action yourself. And since we’re lucky enough to live in a state that has access to snowy mountains and simulated cold climates — just a few hours away in pretty much any direction — getting your winter sports fix is easy. Here are some of our picks for getting into the winter spirit.
Snowboard like a pro up at Mammoth Mountain’s Unbound Terrain Parks
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that snowboarding is still a relatively new sport, but Mammoth Mountain prides themselves on becoming a leader in the space over the last two decades with their Unbound Terrain Parks. While very few of us have the skills of, say, Shaun White, you don’t have to be a three-time gold-medalist to appreciate the thrill of shredding fresh powder. The quickest, most direct way to get to Mammoth from Los Angeles is by car; it’s about a five-hour drive, and you’ll probably want chains or a four-wheel drive.
Once you make it up to Mammoth, though, life is good. There’s an emphasis on “shrediquette” — a.k.a. safety and respect for all those around you — and extra awareness for the potential dangers that come along with spending a day out in the snow. Mammoth’s Slope Style course also includes a 22-foot and 11-foot halfpipe, so there’s something for everyone, from veterans to newbies … to Olympians. And if you end up wanting to stay the night, for extra rest or extra time out on the slopes, they’ve got you covered with a list of recommended hotel options for well under $200 a night, too.
Strap on your ice skates and run through some figure skating routines at The Rinks
Who hasn’t fallen in love with a masterful ice skater out there alone in the rink, spinning in tight circles and landing impossible tricks? Well, that might not be the level you’re at (hell, any of us are at), but it’s easier to pretend if you’re actually out there on a sheet of frozen water yourself. For this winter sport, check out a couple of ice skating rinks from local purveyor The Rinks, who offer up ice with public skating hours down near Long Beach in Lakewood and over near Disneyland in Anaheim.
While public skating times are usually offered in multi-hour chunks, if you’re serious about the world of figure skating, the Anaheim rink offers lessons and camps for singles, paired skating, ice dancing, and even synchronized skating or theater on ice. Down in Lakewood, they’ve taken things to the next level technology-wise, by offering Cosmic Skate Sessions (read: it’s the only rink around with sound-reactive LED lights in their ice). Both rinks are about an hour- to two-hour drive from LA proper, and offer skate rentals — along with skate aid rentals for children or special-needs skaters.
Try out cross-country skiing in Big Bear at the stunning Rim Nordic Ski Area
Since Big Bear is only a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, it’s easy to see why the area has become such a haven for winter sports enthusiasts. Cross-country skiing is not for the faint of heart, but it does work pretty much every muscle in your body, and, if you’re up in Big Bear at least, it can afford practitioners with some pretty amazing views.
Big Bear’s offerings are geared more toward beginners, with a quick .25-mile loop for the rookies; the Vista trailT, which is at a lower elevation and only one mile; and the Lower Country Road Trail, which is a full two miles. Experts can check out Big Cedar Trail, which clocks in at one and a half miles with inclines and sharp turns, or the narrow but scenic Upper Vista trail. To all my fellow non-Olympians, make sure to plan a long, hot bath after a day of cross-country skiing — your legs will thank you.