Sierra snows; skiing, boarding, XC, snowshoeing or sledding, just two hours from Stockton!

A family of five enjoys the snow and the Sierra scenery in the Boulder Creek Canyon area of Dodge Ridge Ski Area.

 

For Christmas, perhaps you received new skis or a snowboard, snowshoes or cross-country skis and want to try them out. Or, now that the holidays are past, you finally have time to get up to the Sierra snow country.

From Stockton, the two “closest snows to home” are Dodge Ridge Ski Resort 30 miles east of Sonora on Highway 108, and Bear Valley Ski Resort, 50 miles east of Angel’s Camp on Highway 4.

From my home in North Stockton, Dodge Ridge is 98 miles, Bear Valley, 106 miles – considerably closer than other options in the Sierra and Lake Tahoe areas. Each resort is family-friendly, generally less expensive than resorts in the Tahoe area, offer good conditions at this point in early January – with each only about two hours from Stockton or Modesto.

Bear Valley Ski Resort is just off Hwy. 4, sports a top elevation of 8,495’, a mid-way day-lodge at 7,750’ and bottom elevation (the Grizzly Chair) of 6,595’.  Bear offers 1,680 acres when fully open; with 8 chairlifts (one a high-speed quad) and two carpet lifts, with snow-making on some of its upper slopes.  Currently Bear has a 34+ inch base, is running six chairs and is about 47% open with packed powder conditions.
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For scenic runs, try several off of Bear Top, where views can stretch south to Dodge Ridge and down into the Mokelumne River Valley.  Additionally, the Bear Valley Cross-country Center at Bear Valley Village (el. 7,100’) offers XC skiing and snowshoeing; they also rent platters, tubes for snow play.

Bear Valley spokesperson Rosie Sundell notes that “excitement is in the air, with recent new ownership by Skyline Investments.  Despite just acquiring the ski area, Skyline has invested in additional snow making equipment and has moved quickly to offer live music each weekend (Tracy native Megan Slankard plays on the Martin Luther King weekend; see Bear’s web site for a listing of coming events)”.

Bear Valley offers a variety of food and drink choices at its mid-way Day Lodge, including delicious outdoor BBQ when we visited last week.  Several dining options are offered nearby.  In Bear Valley Village, the Lodge offers light fare in the Grizzly Lounge and steaks and seafood in the classy Creekside Dining Room and has recently updated the Lodge’s Trattoria, with pizza, pasta and libations, for taking a large family with big appetites! 

A bit closer to the Valley, one can find numerous dining options in Arnold, and even more good eats in Murphy’s, including the highly rated Alchemy Restaurant and the historic Murphy’s Hotel.  Arnold and Murphys both offer a variety of hotels and motels for overnighting.

Dodge Ridge Ski Resort is just off Hwy 108 above Pinecrest Lake, with 8 chairlifts (one quad), one T-bar, two carpet lifts and a rope tow, a top elevation of 8,200’, base of 6,600’; 67 runs and 862 acres when fully open.  Earlier this week, the area reports sunshine, packed powder, plenty of groomed runs and 75% of their terrain open, including chairs 7 and 8.

Spokesperson Sean Waterman notes the area was “delighted to have opened on December 17, and experienced a fun and busy holiday season”.  He notes that the mountain is gearing up for several events, and the fast-approaching Martin Luther King’s birthday weekend. “Bring the family, we look forward to seeing you”, he adds!

Dodge Ridge prides itself on being a family-focused area, further enhanced when it opened its new Family Lodge a few years ago.  The area offers a variety of gentle slopes for beginning skiers and snowboarders and challenging “double black diamond runs” off Chair 8 in the Boulder Creek Canyon area. Check the stunning scenery serviced by Chair 8, with both easy and energizing runs and a view north into the Sierra that is spectacular.  Graceland is a favorite run, scenic, rated “blue” (more difficult) and a family favorite for both schussing and photos!

A number of cross-country ski trails emanate from the Dodge Ridge base area and access road. The resort is not permitted for sledding or tubing, but you can visit the Family Lodge, have lunch or hot chocolate and consider skiing, snow-boarding or a fun lesson. 

Clarification: The first version of this feature read: “Dodge Ridge’s access road also offers several places where you can use those sleds or inner tubes!”. Dodge Ridge management wanted to clarify that sentence, along these lines: “Under Dodge Ridge’s permit agreement with the US Forest Service we can not have any sledding within our permit area. That area extends down Dodge Ridge Road to the big rock and the area extends well beyond this section of Dodge Ridge Road”.  I would also add that sledding and snow play areas can be found in the Pinecrest Lake area (below Dodge Ridge) and at Leland Snow Play area, about seven miles further east of Dodge Ridge off Highway 108.

Dodge Ridge offers a number of dining options at the ski area, including the Creekside Lodge and Café, with a large variety of food and drink. On weekends and holidays, the North Fork Bistro in the Family Lodge is a great place for families to dine, and slopeside dining is also offered at Local’s Café, with tasty BBQ at the bottom of Chair 7.

Other reliable dining options are found nearby: The Pie Pizza in Sugar Pine, Mia’s Italian in Cold Springs or The Steam Donkey (steaks, seafood, pasta) in Pinecrest. Overnight lodging is found at Pinecrest Lake Lodge or Pinecrest Chalet in Pinecrest, the Christmas Tree Inn in Mi Wuk Village or the Long Barn Lodge in Long Barn, all along Hwy 108. 

If you are seeking snow play, with sleds, tubes or platters, you can find areas on the approach to both ski areas; however snow levels can vary by the day.

How to get there: The start of the route from Stockton is the same for both destinations; take Highway 4 east to Copperopolis.  There, to reach Dodge Ridge, go right/south on O Bryrne’s Ferry Road, then left/east on Highway 108 to the ski area. For Bear Valley, stay on Hwy. 4 all the way to the ski area.

What to take: Pack cold weather gear, binoculars, camera, snacks for the trip and chains are always advised for winter weather.

What’s nearby: Calaveras Big Trees State Park along Hwy. 4; Columbia State Historic Park just off Hwy. 49 (a Gold Rush town preserved) and Jamestown’s Railtown 1897 (the Sierra Railroad) just off Hwy. 108.

For more information: Bear Valley Ski Resort, www.bearvalley.com, 209.753.2301; Dodge Ridge Ski Resort, www.dodgeridge.com, 209.965.3474.

For additional travel destination inspiration, see my blog: http://blogs.eSanJoaquin.com/Valley travel; to contact me, tviall@msn.com.

Think snow, and happy winter travels in the West!

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