Big Bear Lake offers a Southern California
Snow-cation for Families

by Carmel L. Mooney

Just a little over an hour and a half from Anaheim in the beautiful San Bernardino mountains Big Bear Lake, California awaits families who want to experience a magical, location for the ultimate family snow-cation.

Much more than an ordinary ski or snowboarding destination, Big Bear Lake has all the bases covered when it comes to an all-inclusive destination for family memories of the snowy kind. Boasting Southern California’s two premier ski resorts Big Bear Lake attracts all levels of skiers and snowboarders. One of its gem ski resorts is even an “All Mountain Terrain Freestyle Park.”

For years, southern California residents have enjoyed vacations year-round to Big Bear Lake but now Northern Californians are realizing that this magical little mecca nestled high in the mountains overlooking Los Angeles, is convenient and close to all their other favorite destinations in the area such as Universal Studios, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Hollywood.

Big Bear Lake is truly an all-season resort with wonderful outdoor activities all year round such as fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, boating, hiking, and camping but winter and spring skiing and snowboarding are one of its best-kept secrets which only adds to the long list of reasons why so many people from the northern portion of the state are discovering Big Bear Lake.

With two major ski areas, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain, any Northern California traveler will appreciate the small-town feel of skiing at Big Bear Lake. With short lines, friendly and helpful staff, beautifully manicured slopes, and talented ski instructors, visitors feel like they have stepped back into a simpler time when more time was spent skiing and less time was spent waiting to ski. And speaking of spending more time skiing or snowboarding and less time getting on the slopes, you’ll want to rent equipment from locally owned and operated Goldsmith’s Board House where Fred and Linda Goldsmith offer complete service, sales, and all your family’s rental needs as well as accessories for other winter sports. They offer personalized small-town service and expertise and won’t steer you wrong on your trip down the slopes.

Bear Mountain photo by BurtonbluntsnowboardIn Big Bear Lake and at Snow Summit, the kids’ ski programs and school are outstanding so mom and dad can ski or snowboard knowing the children are having a great time and learning their moves under the supervision of wonderful and caring instructors. Snow Summit’s smaller crowds and family conducive atmosphere will make smaller skiers and snowboarders feel less intimidated and more comfortable branching out away from mom and dad.

When descending the mountains in the powdery stuff, the views are every bit as spectacular as Lake Tahoe up north with less than half the crowds or waits. Besides everyone at Big Bear Lake is on “Big Bear time” so there’s never a need to hurry anyway. You can feel yourself decompress and relax just by driving up the mountains to Big Bear Lake. Once you arrive you’ll be on Big Bear Time too.

Big Bear Lake has wonderful mid-week ski packages. Big Bear Lake Resort Association CEO Ken Brengle says, “Our midweek packages are the best way to save money. The objective this winter season is to allow our customers to save money during this economic crunch.”

Are people friendlier at Big Bear Lake? Well, lots of folks think so and why wouldn’t they be? With lots more to do than just skiing or snowboarding, gorgeous views everywhere, fantastic eateries, more than 300 days a year of crisp clear blue skies, and fresh clean air, it doesn’t get much better.

So your clan likes to snowshoe, cross country ski, sled, savor delicious multi-cultural cuisine, shop, visit zoos, take adventure off-road tours, snow tube? Great; they’ve got it all and then some. Even an Alpine slide and snow tubing, are both at Magic Mountain, along with go-karts and waterslides. Winter tubing has never been so fun. A Magic Carpet Ride to the top of the slope eliminates the stress of climbing the hill to enjoy the groomed tubing slopes and evening tubing is even available on the weekends at Magic Mountain.

“With our Magic Carpet lift you can get more tubing in an hour than you would get in a whole day if you were walking,” says Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain General Manager Bruce Voigt.

With such beautiful alpine scenery, such spectacular climate, and great accessibility for residents and visitors, it’s no wonder Big Bear Lake draws international attention for the wide variety of events it hosts each year. Oktoberfest, Music Festivals, Fourth of July, Miner’s Days, Auto Shows, Ski Races, Snowshoe Races, and New Year’s Eve events are just the highlights that draw appreciative travelers from around the globe. Why not plan your trip around one of these Big Bear signature events?

Big Bear Lake’s history is nothing short of fascinating and a great way to learn about it is to make it with a unique backcountry experience by boarding a heavy-duty four-wheel-drive all-terrain vehicle and enjoying an interpretive and entertaining guided tour with Big Bear Off-Road Adventures.

Winter horseback riding is another way to enjoy and explore the tranquil scenery of Big Bear Valley. There are horses and trails to meet the level of every individual rider in your family.

Moonridge Animal Park is a beautiful zoo/animal park that is open all year round—even in the snow. The whole family will enjoy the unique opportunity to view the animals in their natural winter climate. How often can you watch a snow leopard romping through the snow or a bear family or fox playing in fresh powder?

On snowy days, you’ll be hard-pressed not to find a family or two building a Big Bear snowman at one of Big Bear Lake’s gorgeous parks along the lake. Grab a scarf and some mittens and join the fun, and while you’re at it don’t forget to make a snow angel.

Looking for another way to enjoy Big Bear Lake without a lift ticket? Try a snowshoe tour at the Big Bear Discovery Center. Tours for beginners are even available. A trek into Big Bear Lake’s picturesque winter wonderland, guided by a naturalist will prove to be both breathtaking for the intellect and the body. Big Bear Discovery Center Executive Denis Thomas says, “We want people to know there are other winter activities in Big Bear besides skiing and snowboarding. Snowshoeing in the backcountry is an absolutely breathtaking experience.”

Sound like all this fun outdoor activity might be creating quite an appetite? No problem in Big Bear Lake. Well, the problem might be just where to eat when there are so many wonderful choices to whet the appetite and tempt the palette. When the endless winter activities leave you famished, Big Bear Lake has many favorites with locals and visitors alike. If mouthwatering hearty steaks and stick to your ribs dinners are what’s on the menu for your hungry clan then the Cowboy Express Steak House is where you’ll find the locals eating right along with you. On Lakeview Drive, right near the heart of town, this well-loved eatery will leave you satisfied as long as you can find a parking place. Come early to get good parking because this place is a must for a great kids’ menu, steaks cooked to perfection, and all the sides and trimmings sure to satisfy hungry tummies of all sizes. The service is outstanding and the ambiance is pure cowboy fun.

For breakfast, lunch, or dinner, a long-time local eating establishment, the Old Country Inn is another locals’ favorite and you’ll soon agree. With seafood, steaks, ribs, chicken, gourmet sandwiches, salads, wraps, and unique sausage and German dishes, you’ll want to work up a hefty appetite before dining here too. Specialties are various German Sausage plates. All sausages are handmade and brought in by an authentic German Sausage Maker. Each is served with real German potato pancakes and authentic hot potato salad. You won’t leave hungry or disappointed.

Where to stay? Big Bear Lake leaves nothing for want in this category with a multitude of wonderful choices in all areas. Luxuriant bed and breakfasts, vacation home rentals, condos, cabins, lodges, or hotels, there is something for everybody’s budget, family size, and needs. Boulder Creek Resort is one such affordable family-friendly condo rental that is central to everything Big Bear Lake offers.

Take note that Big Bear Lake is less than two hours from Disneyland and LAX or Orange County airport. With the great specials, Southwest airlines are offering along with some fantastic specials Disneyland is running, it’s easy to combine the two into an affordable and frugal all-in-one Southern California family vacation.

When visiting Big Bear Lake in the winter, remember that mountain weather can change quickly so keep abreast of chain control warnings. For road conditions call: 1-800-427-ROAD.

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Carmel L. Mooney is a fourth-generation Californian, travel author, and radio talk show host.

Bir Bear lake in winter