They whiz down the hill, rosy-cheeked and squealing, sometimes making it to the bottom and sometimes not, their sleds in one direction, their giggling bodies in another. The magical mixture of snow, cold air, velocity, and the unknown makes snow sledding and tubing endlessly enticing; skiing is great, but sometimes there's nothing quite like good, old-fashioned sledding. And lucky us: even though we live in Southern California (where sleds are more often used on sand than on snow), we can still partake in this splendid winter adventure.
Below is a list of established snow play destinations as well as off-the-beaten-path places to try. Most of the established spots are open on Christmas day. But remember: decent snow for sledding means possible snow and ice in the roads as well. Check the local weather and road conditions (or call 800.427.ROAD) before heading out, as you may need chains for your tires. If mountain roads look bad, you can always get your cold fix at sea level with CHILL.
- Wear layers so that you can start warm and peel off clothing as needed. Waterproof clothing is best.
- Bring a change of clothes; sledding and tubing can make for wet clothing.
- Wear sunscreen. UVB rays are stronger the higher the elevation. Even though it may be cold outside, the winter sun still reaches your skin.
- Stay hydrated and nourished.
- Have fun!
1. Mt. Baldy Snow Tubing Park
Angeles National Forest
Near the border of Los Angeles and San Bernadino Counties
6777 Mt. Baldy Rd.
Mt. Baldy, CA 91759
Hours: Four 90-minute sessions daily, from 8:30am-4pm
Prices vary by day ($22-$40); buying in advance online gives the best deals. Must be over 36" to ride.
Multiple tubing lanes? Some as long as 150 feet? What's not to love? Especially since it's the closest skiing/tubing resort to LA.
2. North Pole Tubing Park at Mountain High
24510 State Highway 2
Wrightwood, CA 92397
2-hour sessions: adults $20, kids $15
Hours: 8:30am-5pm daily through Jan. 3; then open only on week-ends and holidays through March.
Season passes available
Heralded as Southern California's closest winter resort with no mountain driving, Mountain High is worth a visit. The Tubing Park—Southern California's largest facility—is located at the North Resort. Moving carpet lifts are available to avoid lugging up the hill. Check out the real-time cameras. (While you're at it, check out our review of Mountain High's Children's Ski Academy).
3. Snowdrift Snow Tubing Park
34600 California 18
Green Valley Lk, CA 92341
(Near Running Springs)
Hours: Mon-Fri 10am-4pm; Sat-Sun & Holidays 9am-5pm
$15/hour per person. Children under 36" free with paying adult.
No fancy lifts here, but there are stairs for your climbing convenience. Snowdrift claims to be Southern California's largest and oldest tubing park. Follow the friendly rules, and you're in for a blast. Note that parking costs $5.
4. Alpine Slide at Magic Mountain
800 Wildrose Lane
Big Bear Lake, CA 92315
Hours: Daily 10am-4pm; Fri-Sat evening sessions from 5pm-9pm
$30 for all day pass; $25 for evening pass. Children 2-6 ride free with paying adult.
Sledding luxury? The Alpine Slide just might have it. What could be more welcoming than a Plexiglas covered (i.e. toasty warm) Magic Carpet lift that carries you back up the hill after your ride? And lights for evening sliding? This tubing destination requires a longer car ride, but thanks to regular snow (and the natural stuff) the conditions are almost always fine. Added bonus: you might get to see a bald eagle overhead.
5. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to Mount San Jacinto State Park
1 Tramway Rd
Palm Springs, CA 92262
Mon-Fri Trams depart every half hour starting at 10am; Sat-Sun & Holidays first tram at 8am
Adults $24.95; Children (3-12) $16.95
Prices and hours of operation subject to change without notice.
Hop aboard the Tram in the desert and take a truly breath-taking slow climb up the mountain with a 360-degree panoramic view of Palm Springs and beyond. Arrive in an Alpine winter wonderland. Bring your own sled and run and romp to various make-shift hills. Snowman building and snowball throwing encouraged.
6. Pittsford Park
21701 Pittsford Dr
Lake Forest, CA 92630
January 23, 2016. This is a one day only opportunity in Orange County! Bring the family to Pittsford Park for a day of snow play. Sleds and saucers are provided. Pre-registration is mandatory, starting January 6. $7 wristbands must be pre-purchased at Lake Forest Community Center.
7. Laguna Mountain Lodge
10678 Sunrise Highway
Mt. Laguna, CA 91948
It's a bit of a trek. But hey, there's lodging, ample space for stomping, and sledding.
Make Your Own Trails
Save a little money, perhaps, or avoid possible crowds and lines by seeking your own hilly sled trails. Here are a few options:
1. Palomar State Park - Los Padres National Forest
19952 State Park Rd.
Palomar Mountain, CA 92060
Acres and acres (more than 2,000) to roam and sled and cross country ski. Check the website for specific spots to head for. A Forest Service Adventure Pass is required. Passes are $8 per day, $30 for the season.
2. The Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club suggests these snow play destinations.
3. For folks willing to trek farther afield, check out a few other recommendations.
Things to Bring and Consider
Safety: Sledding is usually harmless, and when you're on your own without a tubing attendant, common sense keeps it that way. Make sure you know the sled's path, so you don't end up colliding with a tree, rock, or fence. And always monitor your kids for fatigue and cold. Have water and snacks handy; trudging through the snow builds an appetite. Have a blanket in the car in case traffic is thick on the ride home (and kids are cold or wet). Otherwise, throw caution to the chilly wind and let the snowy decline carry you away.
- Make sure there is snow. Snow levels and conditions vary day to day. Call ahead to make sure snow cover is adequate for sledding.
- Sports stores and Target sell inexpensive sleds, tubes, and saucers. But you can also get creative and supply your own. Cafeteria trays work (I’ve used them) as do boogie boards and trash can lids. A piece of thick cardboard will even do in a pinch.
- What's sledding without hot chocolate? Here's a recipe you can make yourself. Bring it in a thermos with some extra cups. And don't forget the marshmallows.
Looking for kids' ski schools near Los Angeles? Or Skiing opportunities around the country?
Originally published December 23, 2011