A Day At Big Bear | Our Journey From Sand to Snow

All in a day's work!
February 7, 2013

We had heard the glorious tale of San Diego winters many a time - taking a surf while enjoying the warm sun on the beach in the morning only to be zipping down a snowy mountain by afternoon. As with the elusive green flash, we remained skeptical.  After recently receiving a travel package for Big Bear Mountain Resorts, we decided that it was time put this beautiful So-Cal dichotomy to the test.  We made sure to visit the beach prior to our nearly 3 hour drive to Big Bear, and sure enough, you can play in the warm sand only hours before throwing a snow ball at your significant other (sorry Ness!).  We spent two wonderful nights on Big Bear Lake, skied Snow Summit Mountain, and enjoyed some tasty bites along the way.  Check out our experience and make some memories of your own!

Beautiful Big Bear Lake
We planned a midweek sojourn to Big Bear Lake in order to clear our minds with crisp, cool mountain air and get in a much-missed day of skiing. We decided that we would stay two nights, so that we could get an early start on the mountain, followed by plenty of beers and a soak in the hot tub.  Being from the east coast, our memories of snow mountains include the Poconos, upstate New York, and Vermont (if we were lucky), so we're used to bundling up for icy cold conditions on groomed mountains in sleepy ski towns.

Once you see this, get ready for the final stretch!
The drive to Big Bear from San Diego takes anywhere from 2 to 3-plus hours, depending on traffic and road conditions. We hit rush hour congestion at various times on our trip north, and once we got to the final mountainous approach, the drive became a bit windy and intimidatingly scary - especially in the pitch black dark of night.  We frequented the 'turnouts' to let the 'brave' ones pass and leisurely wound around the mountains, as I suggest any newcomer on this route does.

The view from our patio
We secured lodging at Lagonita Lodge, sitting directly on the shores of Big Bear Lake, only a couple miles from Big Bear Lake Village and a few minutes from Snow Summit Mountain.  Our room rate was $79 per night, a tremendous value compared to neighboring properties.  When we arrived, our friendly host discovered that it was our first trip to Big Bear, and hooked up us with an amazing set-up: a full, ground-level condo with a gas fireplace, full kitchen, free wifi (albeit spotty), a sprawling living room with pull out couch, modern bathroom, big bedroom, and a huge balcony less than ten feet from the pristine lake.  We were beyond thrilled.  We turned on the fireplace, had ourselves a celebratory IPA, and let our hunger set in until we were off to the village for dinner.

Don't be intimidated by Murray's!

On recommendation we went to Murray's Saloon & Eatery.  We ordered two beers from the lovely bartender and whispered over whether we going to commit to dining at this initially off-puttingly seedy establishment. "This is the best food in Big Bear," assured our eavesdropping bartender Jenny, "the cook is a trained chef."   Based on Jenny's emphatic assurances and the recommendations of a few trusted friends, our decision was made for us, and so we perused the reasonably priced menu.

Murray's is an endearingly dive-y establishment, with dollar bills plastered all over the walls, a free-play pool table, nightly karaoke, and an arcade-style claw machine filled with live Maine lobsters.  For $2, try to grab a big guy, and if you succeed, the chef will cook it up to your liking. We passed on tormenting the captivated crustaceans, and instead, checked in on Yelp for a free appetizer of chicken fingers, ordered the highly praised jalapeno and blue cheese stuffed bacon wrapped shrimp, and anxiously awaited our order while sipping on some Deliriums and watching the crowd build.

Both the chicken fingers and the stuffed shrimp came out piping hot, crispy, and served with a side of yummy fries.  Warning: As difficult as it may be with the tantalizing bacon before you, do not bite into the shrimp for at least 5 minutes - they are scalding and filled with volcanic, cheesy deliciousness.  An AMAZING comfort food, the bacon was artfully wrapped tightly around the ingredients and crisped to perfection; the shrimp was fresh and firm, and the filling was spicy and creamy.  As a chicken finger eater of nearly 30 years, I can also vouch for those bad boys.  They were thin and tender with a nice, light crust.  After snacking, we ordered another round of beers and a French Dip for the road (a scrumptious late night snack).

When we returned to Lagonita Lodge, we eased our frigid bodies into the steaming lakeside hot tub for a long, pleasurable soak, then called it a night, hoping to carve out first tracks at Snow Summit in the morning.

The next morning we arrived at Snow Summit in minutes, and parking was easy as pie.  After securing lift tickets and snow blade rentals (also easy as pie), we headed up to the summit on one of the resort's high speed quads - a breathtaking ride.  It was a beautiful sunny day, unlike any I can recall in all of my experiences skiing (and I've been skiing since I was 4 years old). Coverage was great, the snow was well groomed and icy areas were few and far between.  Like the ride up, each run boasts a panoramic view of Big Bear Lake, the surrounding mountains, and bright blue skies contrasting the pure white snow.  After a few relaxing runs down the Summit Run trail (see video below of me following Ness down), it was already past noon, so we decided to grab a couple of beers and take a moment to take it all in on the sprawling sun deck at the Bear Bottom Lodge at the base of the mountain.

Snow Summit recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.  While the mountain is somewhat small (and therefore super manageable), lift tickets include access to neighboring Bear Mountain, with shuttles to transport riders back and forth between the mountains throughout the day. The resort boasts two mountain top eateries - Summit Haus and View Haus, both featuring a back sun deck with full views of the mountainside.  While food options were rather limited for our taste, we did find some fresh options.

For lunch, we soaked in the sun at the back patio of mountain top View Haus.  I enjoyed a roasted turkey breast sandwich while Ness had the daily special of roasted chicken atop a creamy pasta, served with a side salad and garlic bread. Both were nourishing and satisfying to our ravenous appetites (skiing makes us hungry!), but certainly nothing to write home about.  We hear that they step up the culinary output during the weekends.    

After lunch, we made many more treks down the mountain, exploring the terrain park as well as the family fun zone.  At about 3pm, Ness took to the sun deck to catch some rays and the margarita special ($3.50), allowing me to go all mammal for the last hour on the slopes.  I checked out two of Snow Summits' double black diamonds - The Wall and Side Chute - which were challenging and, fortunately, not iced over despite the afternoon's substantial temperature drop.

Once the resort closed down and we returned our rentals, we headed to Big Bear Village to scope out some potential dining options.  Sadly the village was a desolate collection of touristy gift shops, and the restaurant we went to check out (Himalayan Restaurant) was closed on Wednesdays.  Presumably this adorable little village livens up on the weekends, and cannot be judged on this midweek jaunt. We resolved to return to the condo, order some take out and enjoy the fireplace and hot tub once again. Fortunately for us, Yelp led us to Dynasty Szechuan for some authentic and comforting chicken and vegetable Szechuan, and, though take out service was very, very slow, Yelp did not disappoint. We picked it up, popped a bottle of vino, and ate ourselves into a sweet, sweet slumber.

While it was nearly 3 hours to travel to Big Bear Lake, we did ignorantly depart San Diego at 4pm on a weekday.  The return home was much shorter (a little over 2 hours), less hectic, and  the daylight revealed that those once foreboding roads toured through breathtaking mountainous terrain with lush green valleys and views for daysss. Although we had an amazing day, even resulting in a facial bronzing, I cannot wait to return to Big Bear Mountain Resorts for some night skiing and to experience the mountain and surrounding village enlivened by the weekend's influx of people.  The ease with which we traveled north, ascended the mountain, and scurried about Big Bear from food to bar to mountain is a HUGE convenience and an advantage for which we will surely return! Thank you Big Bear for opening our eyes and minds to the wondrously appealing opposite end of the spectrum. But for now, we beach.