Big Bear Lake: Southern California's Winter Playground -

There are two resorts at this popular lake, a vacation zone for Southern Californians for many years. Snow Summit was among the first of the local resorts, founded by Tommi Tyndall, a legend in southland skiing. He was tragically killed while grooming his slopes. Tyndall is credited by many as the guy who truly invented and started to use snowmaking guns to guarantee skiing in shaky winters.

A scenic view of Bear Mountain Resort, California

Bear Mountain, its nearby sister resort, has a totally different flavor, catering to Southern California's "skateboard in the mountains" culture of snowboarding. The combination is wonderful for the whole family and the resorts are just two miles apart, so you could even meet for lunch via a free connector bus if you split the terrain and style picks.

Snow Summit sits at 7,000 feet and is a full-service winter resort with all types of lodging accommodations available nearby, shops, full-service restaurants, and after-ski entertainment. The Wall, Dicky’s, and Olympic runs serve up challenging, steep terrain for advanced skiers and riders when there are fresh tracks to be had. Miracle Mile and Log Chute are terrific intermediate cruisers. Snow Summit also has several freestyle parks including Ego Trip, the Skyline Creek Fun Zone, and Westridge. There are 14 lifts.

A skier gets air in Snow Summit, California

Bear Mountain is a haven for a rabid cadre of snowboarders and freeskiers who play in the area's three terrain parks and pipes along with a double black run sure to get the most adventurous freeskier's blood rushing. The prevailing vibe is so boarder-centric that the area also fields its own pro snowboard team.

The Park at Bear Mountain was the nation’s first all-mountain freestyle park. It's big – spread over 198 acres – and innovative. There are 150-plus jumps, 80-plus jibs, a superpipe, standard halfpipe, and other, strategically signature features. There are 12 lifts.

The park staff at Bear Mountain keeps it fresh by regularly redesigning and upgrading everything.

Don't forget, it's easy to drive by Snow Valley Ski Area, about 15 miles closer to L.A. at Running Springs (near Lake Arrowhead). Missing it might be a mistake for families, as Snow Valley offers plenty of fun and friendliness in its own right.

Big Bear Lake itself is one of those old-fashioned mountain towns where Grandma and Grandpa used to come every summer with the family. It has that look. But, don't be fooled. There are good restaurants and some lively nightlife.

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