Words & Photos: James North
This article first appeared in People – The Reason 5.4 in 2014
You’d be forgiven for thinking that organising a trip that involves a bunch of different riders, a photographer and more, coming together in a specific place, at a specific time, for a few short days would take a fair amount of organisation. This one, however, just fell together into place at the last minute. I had flown out to Lake Tahoe, California to shoot, shred and party with some old friends who had made the permanent move to America and during my two weeks there, the idea was spawned to do a girls’ trip somewhere else in California.
Getting it together was easy as I knew there were some of the UK’s finest out in the US for the winter, so I got straight on Skype to Orla Doolin and Isabel Jones who were in Bear for the season, along with Katie Blundell, Helen Fox and Charlie Witts who were over in Breckenridge. These five girls would make a good pool of talent to shoot with, and a bloody good crew for après hangouts. Back and forth, we settled on the Bear as the destination. With an amazing park, soft snow and sunnies it was the obvious choice. Unfortunately Charlie and Helen hit a few hurdles, leaving just Katie, Orla, Izzy and I to get it done.
We decided to take the long, yet scenic route down the Pacific Coast Highway and I can safely say it’s one of the best drives you can do. With various random stops at crazy golf courses, fast food outlets and some mind-blowing beaches, every mile was worth it. Arriving in Santa Monica, our motel had the original Ghostbusters car parked outside it. After drooling over it for some time, we headed out for some lager beers before getting up in the morning to collect Katie from the airport.
The drive up to Big Bear Lake is a good one. If you are used to the meandering drives through the Alps, while the temperature drops and snow surrounds you, then picture a dusty trail, approximately 1.5 hours away from one of the world’s busiest cities, driving with the windows down wearing sunnies, t-shirts and a smile…
If you land in LA, firstly you deal with the sprawling city traffic and in turn always grateful that you are driving an automatic… the stop start driving takes its toll after a long haul flight or too much time in the car already in our case. However the sights and sounds of this city keep you alert and the prospect of getting up to Bear keeps you motivated. Once you get a little further out the city, the traffic frees up allowing you to settle into some seriously lazy driving, cruising the wide lanes, American style.
An hour or so will pass when all of a sudden, you hit the base of the San Bernardino mountain range. It seems to come out of nowhere, like bumping into a really old acquaintance. Stoked to see them with that element of surprise thrown into the emotion cauldron. None the less, you start to climb along the dusty trail, up route 18, as for mentioned…
Elevating through the pass you don’t quite realise how high you have come until a few openings in the road allow you to soak in a truly awe-inspiring vista. Here you are, on a quite road surrounded by silence, looking down towards a heavily populated human existence. It feels nice to be stripped away from it, sometimes it takes a view like this to realise it.
When you finally hit Big Bear lake resort, its like arriving in a modern day Wild West film. One long, straight road slices through a sleepy town, featuring a bowling alley in place of a saloon bar, a 7/11 serves as a public convenience store and of course, there are the obligatory Golden Arches, you can’t escape those bastards in America. There is also a mixture of other retail outlets and food stores which look like they have been designed to fit in with their surroundings, mostly being made out of wood, matching the tree lined avenues peeling off the main strip. Lastly… the lake, a feature that is hard to miss and a treat to the eye.
With the sat nav fuelled with our destination, we soon found ourselves pulling up onto the drive of the house, fully laden with UK residents out for the winter. Home for the next six days.
Greeted by Orla and Izzi, we lumbered our heavy bags indoors, ate some grub and revelled in some serious sitting down while catching up with everyone. It was nice to not be moving. Engaging in conversation about what’s in store up the hill, the girls informed us that the park shapers had been busy switching everything up. A new jib line beyond comprehension awaited us. As always… Bear get it right.
After some heavy zzz’s we woke early eager to head up the mountain. Jumping into the rental around 9am, it was already warm. I was quickly reminded why I love shredding in Southern California. Don’t get me wrong, riding pow in blistering cold conditions is the dream, but when late season hits… hoodie shred is the one.
The San Bernardino mountain range that features the tallest peak in Southern California, the San Gorgonio Mountain that tops out at 3503m. Bear itself has 198 developed acres and amongst other lifts, two high speeds quad chairs. One of which elevates you to the Goldmine peak sitting at just over 2570m, going straight over the park offering potential for some real turbo laps. Pulling into the car park, excitement builds when you see the bottom of the rail line while lacing up. A short turn around time from locking the car and sorting passes meant we soon found ourselves on the Bear express chairlift giving you a bird’s eye view of the set up. Now, I could bore you to death if I listed all the features that were at our disposal underneath us, but the short of it is, every rail, job, bonk, wall ride, jump and transition to suit all abilities was present.
Bear is known for having one of the best parks on the planet and this year was no exception. After one lap, you are knackered but stoked for more. The rate of progression from riding here daily is next level and Orla and Izzi had been honing their skills, while Katie had been taking things to the next level out in Breckenridge. It was obvious how good they had all got after only the first run, I knew instantly that we were going to have a good week and stack some hammers. The girls were hungry for it, which was a pleasure to see as a photographer.
Normally you take an hour or so to scope features and get used to the set up before doing some lens work, but in this instance it was only second run when I got the camera out. With this many features to choose from, you can work your way down the park, hiking features and bagging tons of shots in a short space of time. The ladies we putting down trick after trick and after the first day, I was spoilt for choice on shot selection. The next few days played out the same, we hit all the rails in the park until we had felt that most of it had been covered. Time to move onto some other features…
Bear had built a huge booter, named Gambler. , which left me a little sceptical about running in at Mach 10, however hailing from Breck and riding pristine kickers all season, little Katie was not shy. Before long she was sending some huge back ones over this thing, inciting knuckle dwellers below to start whooping. We then moved onto the Red Bull Plaza, which is a huge set up, littered with different lines and options for the taking. Izzi got to work on a big close out, while Orla was gapping over a rail into a large wall ride. Needless to say I was suitably impressed and stoked to watch these girls ride.
Toward the end of our time, I had managed to capture plenty of shots and footage to choose from along mildly burnt face to take back to the UK. Leaving Orla and Izzi behind in Bear to ride out the rest of the season, Katie, Si and myself headed back to the bright lights of LA. Dropping Katie back off at the airport, we said our goodbyes before Si and I headed into LA for some epic people watching at Venice, beach hangouts in Santa Monica and plenty of partying. A great end to a great month, living the dream in the US.
Southern California is a unique spot, there are not many places in the word where you can shred an amazing park and in the same day be down at the beach, surfing, skating or chilling. It really does have it all.
Bear itself is a place that every snowboarder should visit at some point. They have a reputation for one of the best parks on the planet and truly live up to that rep. Not only that… the vibe, the location and the people are all so good it makes it a place like no other. It’s coined ‘The Peoples Park’ for good reason.
Thanks to Mindy Clark and Thea Hardy at Bear Mountain Resorts for helping us out