Los Angeles conjures images of year-round tans and palm trees more than fresh powder and ski tracks, and for good reason. SoCal’s year-round Mediterranean climate and California’s recent droughts are more conducive to bluebird days than deep powder. When Angelinos do hit the slopes, they’re typically making the trek to destinations like Mt. Baldy, Big Bear, or even Lake Tahoe. But starting tomorrow, a locals-favorite ski slope tucked away in the San Gabriel Mountains just north of the city is throwing the doors wide open.

The grey, snow-dusted summit of Mt. Waterman in Angeles National Forest in the San Gabriel Mountains overlooking Los Angeles is ringed with wispy clouds tinted pink by the sunset, which lights the whole sky in pastel lavenders and dusty rose, and contrasts with the dark shadow of the mountain in the lower third of the shot,
Mt. Waterman was originally named Mt. Lady Waterman for the first non-indigenous woman to traverse the San Gabriel Mountains © Patrick Walsh via Getty Images

Mt. Waterman is the closest ski destination to the Los Angeles metro area, but if you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry. This eighty-year-old slope opens only when the conditions are just right, keeping it a favorite of long-time residents rather than recent transplants or visitors. And starting MLK weekend of 2020, the snow base was deep enough for Mt. Waterman to turn its lifts back on.

This ski season is shaping up to be a winter sports lover’s dream throughout the western United States. Slopes in the Pacific Northwest have benefitted from storms that have dumped snow on popular spots like Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood. Southern California hasn’t been left out, either. A series of fronts have blown in from the Gulf of Alaska causing snow to pile up in the San Gabriel Mountains which sit between LA and the Mojave Desert.

Two men and two boys in dark colored ski apparel raise their hands and ski poles in excitement as they coast down the slope of Mt. Waterman on a groomed ski trail
These skiers raised their poles in celebration after Mt. Waterman reopened in 2008 following a four-year closure due to drought © Robert Gauthier via Getty Images

That's great news for powder hounds eager to get in their weekend turns, and for fans of Mt. Waterman eager to return to these classic runs. A ski destination since the 1930s, Mt. Waterman is a small-scale, old-school facility with three chairs surrounded by the Angeles National Forest. The majority of Waterman’s 27 trails are best suited to advanced skiers more eager for long, winding tree runs than après amenities. There are intermediate and beginner-friendly trails and, near the top of the hill, a warming hut is available with a fireplace as well as food and drink offerings. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, paying a visit to Mt. Waterman is a fun tradition in part for Los Angeles natives because its opening is so dependent on weather variables. There’s no snowmaking equipment on site, and while some seasons have seen epic snowfall (like a several-year span in the 1960s), others like the 2011-2012 season were too dry to ever get the lifts running. When word gets out that Waterman is open, it’s a winter highlight big on both stoke and nostalgia.

You might also like: Powder on your doorstep: ski adventures close to US cities

A member of the Mt. Waterman ski patrol in black snow pants, a red ski jacket with a white cross on the back, red boots, and a black fanny pack climbs snowy steps in front of a brown warming hut that reads Aterman in white san serif letters. A snow hill free of tracks rises above the patrolman
Mt. Waterman is full of winding, long tree-lined runs favored by advanced skiers © Robert Gauthier via Getty Images

Even if you've never skied here before, however, Mt. Waterman offers nostalgia of a different sort to anyone tackling its runs. Although waits are longer and lift tickets pricier than ever at many popular ski slopes coast to coast, Mt. Waterman offers a rapidly-vanishing glimpse at what small, family-run hills coated in all-natural snow used to be like from SoCal to Colorado to Vermont.

If you plan on taking advantage of Mt. Waterman’s powder this weekend, you’ll want to bring your own gear. While there is a ski and board school, as well as a ski patrol, there is no gear rental available on the mountain. Instead, head to local ski shops like Summit Ski and Cycle, Ski and Snowboard Outlet in San Gabriel, and Val Surf, or one of several REI stores with snow gear rentals in the LA area. Keep in mind that you may need to call ahead, and pick up your gear the night before as you should probably head for the slopes earlier than shops open on the weekends.

Double check the latest conditions at Mt. Waterman on their website or by calling 818-790-2002. For season passes, call 619-708-6595.

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