It never snows in LA
My father is a ski bum.
Well, scratch that, he was a ski bum. His days of trekking through the Sierras and Rockies are now long gone; he gave that up back in the early ‘80s, along with his Tom Selleck mustache and penchant for neon-colored clothing.
Anyway, for a time, many years ago (sometime around the rise of Memorex, if my memory serves me correctly) my old man was a genuine ski bum. After he graduated from college in Ohio, he hit the road, bent on exploring all the best ski resorts on his way out to Los Angeles. From what I remember, he did it all on a rather shoestring budget, but he managed to ski quite a bit. I’ve always kind of pictured him as trudging along with a bindle stick all on his lonesome (cue Lonely Man theme song from The Incredible Hulk), but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case.
Anyway, because of his wayfaring years, my dad has a pretty extensive knowledge of lesser-known ski resorts—especially around Los Angeles. Case in point: Mt. Waterman.
Mt. Waterman’s only about an hour and a half from the Valley, out towards La Canada. It’s a small mountain with only a handful of chairs, and it’s where I learned how to ski. Honestly, it has quite a bit of history: According to the Los Angeles Times, Mt. Waterman lays claim to having built the first chair lift in California (back in 1942).
And speaking of bygone eras, the whole mountain kinda feels like you stepped into some sort of time warp: most of the chairlifts (I think) are still diesel-powered, the “lodge” has a menu of only manly lunch staples (burgers, hot dogs, etc.), and there’s always someone tailgating in the parking lot (the beer-oriented variety, not the road-rage kind). The locals are friendly, and to boot, the prices for lift tickets are always reasonable. It’s almost as if the mountain exists in some sort of space/time bubble where it’s still 1972: gas costs $.10, Joe Walsh is all the rage, and a man can walk into a liquor store and buy a can of Billy Beer. It’s honestly very endearing.
Yes, Mt. Waterman does exhibit a rather unique persona (one that’s very different from Mammoth mind you), and part of that is because its owners (the Newcombs) tried to keep it that way. From the 1920s up until the 2000s, the mountain was family owned—which in itself, is a pretty impressive feat. When the family put it up for sale in 2004, several local skiers banned together to buy Mt. Waterman, and fortunately, they’ve still been able to promote that same sort of casual atmosphere.
Mt. Waterman will always be one favorite spots in So Cal, partly due to my memories of learning how to ski there with my dad, but also because of its overall vibe. I hope you all get a chance to check it out next season. For more info, check out their website.