Thursday, January 30, 2014

Skiing Old Saddleback,... revisited

In the Feburary 2014 installment of my monthly, "Ask the O.C. Answer Man" column in Orange Coast Magazine, I wrote that our local Santa Ana Mountains (and specifically Old Saddleback) were no place for skiing. I stand by my statement and continue to recommend against such activity. But apparently -- if you're determined -- it can, under certain rare circumstances, be done. Sort of.

Alert reader Ryan Lawler writes,  "...You are partially correct when saying the terrain is not at all suited to skiing... but since there are dirt roads carved into the side of the mountain which fill with snow, it IS entirely possible to have a downhill skiing experience in Orange County."

He also provided me with a link to the YouTube video you see above. You'll notice that the only place to ski is on the ten-foot-wide fire roads. (More on that later.)

"This year," he continued, "I plan to actually scout some suitable terrain for a proper downhill experience on an open slope, if we get enough coverage. Stay tuned!"

Good luck with that.

In the meantime, I thought I should do more digging to see if anyone else had tried doing this. It turns out O.C. Register columnist David Whiting also tried to ski Old Saddleback, back in December 2008.

He had to hike all the way up (partly on snowshoes) and had a good deal of trouble skiing back down because the roads weren't steep enough. He could only get up a little speed when the sun went down and the snow crusted over with ice -- allowing him to slide along the surface.

Whiting also noted that the "fire roads in winter are a mix of ice, heavy snow, light powder, fallen trees and buried branches," and are too narrow for a skiier to "carve a series of turns to slow down" or swivel their hips to come to an abrupt halt.

If one did pick up some speed, I would assume the switchbacks on those roads could come as a rather ugly surprise.

"...You stop skiing by either heading smack into the mountain side, or heading toward the other side of the road – a really steep drop off of snarled bushes," Whiting wrote. "Still, you could say I skied Saddleback. No one would call it graceful. No one should call it sane."
I also found another guy, "Rodngun762" who posted a video (shown below) of his own ski excursion down Old Saddleback. He too stuck mainly to the fire roads. And once again, grace and sanity did not seem to be the words to describe this activity. It reminded me a bit of the skateboarders who frequent the parking lot outside my office: They alternate between falling, balancing unsteadily, waving their arms around wildly, and falling more.

So, can you ski on Old Saddleback? Maybe so. But it's hardly recommended. And if you insist on trying it (assuming we ever see precipitation again), keep some pliers and a gallon of Bactine handy for encounters with cactus and other unfriendly flora. Also consider a helmet.

Or better yet, go to the beach.


Anonymous said...

I wish Whiting would stop calling it "Saddleback Mountain"

"No place in Orange County is held in greater affection by oldtimers than Old Saddleback. From El Toro to Coyote Creek its twin domes are a stable, ever-present heritage on the eastern horizon.... The name Saddleback has been usurped by commerce and industry, but no paisano would ever think of shortening the name. It is always OLD Saddleback to those who love the country, and been so called for more than a hundred years." -- Don Meadows, Historic Place Names in Orange County (1966)

Chris Jepsen said...

Funny,... Just last night I included a snipped of that very line (cited, of course) in an article I was writing.