Saturday, April 5, 2014

China Peak, near Fresno, California

China Peak was a mixed bag.  I had several experiences here, both good and bad.

First the big surprise. Fresno is a big place, criss-crossed by at least 3 major multi-lane freeways.  It seemed larger and busier than I expected.  Traffic moved fast at about 75 - 80 miles per hour.

The road to the ski area, highway 168, began as a freeway, and traffic was moving so fast that I expected to cover the 50 miles in maybe 45 minutes or less.  But, the road soon narrows down to just 2 lanes, and then it gets very serpentine and hilly, forcing one to slow down to just 30 mph or less.  Thus, the whole trip took about an hour and a half.

All the way from Fresno, there were no signs anywhere for the China Peak ski area.  Only signs for Huntington Lake.  As it turns out, China Peak is within a couple of miles from Huntington Lake, but how would a visitor from afar know that?  The ski area could definitely use some more signage.

Even along the mountainous road, there were no signs to reassure you that you are on the way to China Peak, and one does need reassurance, because the road seems to hit a peak and then starts descending down the other side of the hill, and I wondered whether I might have missed a turnoff to the ski area.  The only sign I saw finally was a very small one, placed just 2 or 3 miles before the ski area, after many an anxious mile.

Thinking it would be a short trip from Fresno, I wasn't concerned that my gas tank was less than half full.  But by the time I got close to the ski area, the warning light came on, telling me I probably only have another gallon left in the tank.  I was in trouble.  I couldn't simply coast back down the hill toward Fresno, because the road went both up and down several hills.  Fortunately, I was able to get gas from a snowmobile renting outfit just 2 miles from the ski area, but they charged me $5.99 per gallon, at a time when the price of regular gas was around $3.80 or less.

Then came the most unpleasant surprise:  I couldn't get a free lift ticket as per the Powder Alliance deal because it was a Saturday (the one black-out day of the week)!  I had completely forgotten about that little detail.  I had originally planned this trip very meticulously to avoid visiting a Powder Alliance ski area on a Saturday.  But, my plans were messed up when ski areas started closing everywhere.  I was forced to come up with an alternate plan.

When Angel Fire (NM) and Arizona Snowbowl were both closed, I decided to ski Santa Fe (NM), Ski Apache (NM) and Sunrise Park (AZ) instead.  The reason I chose to replace 2 closed ski areas with 3 was that Sunrise Park was open only on Friday, Satruday and Sunday (this late in the season), and it was only the beginning of the week, so I had to fill in the days with other ski areas so I could hit Sunrise Park on Friday.  That worked well, but I forgot that this would place me at China Peak on a Saturday.

On some level, I can understand that the Powder Alliance ski areas would want to have Saturdays as black-out dates, but on the other hand, it seems a little pointless and even mean to do that.  The Powder Alliance ski areas are located so far apart from each other that it's very unlikely that anyone would simply hop over for just a weekend of skiing.

It is much more likely that someone like me would be on a long distance tour to take a look at all (or at least some of) the Powder Alliance resorts. In my own case, I had already traveled about 4,000 miles, and my last leg of the trip, from Sunrise Park (AZ) to China Peak (CA) consisted of about 12 hours of driving.

So, it came as unpleasant cold shower to be told that I now have to pay the full lift ticket price just because I didn't get there fast enough to make it on a Friday instead of a Saturday.

But I was there, and I didn't have the luxury to wait another day, so I paid the lift ticket and went to check out the ski area.

Some of the lifts were already closed for the season.  Another cold shower, ... but I was used to that by this point, as several other ski areas along the way were also only partially open.

One other unpleasant surprise was that China Peak has installed one of those infernal moving carpets at the loading station of one of their lifts.  It's supposed to facilitate loading, but it is awkward even for advanced skiers.  The carpet is made of non-slippery material that grips your feet and you can't simply slide your ski sideways if you lose your balance. Well, at least they stopped at doing this to just one of the lifts, as compared to Bridger Bowl, Montana, which installed these moving carpets on all their lifts. I really hope other ski areas will NOT follow suit.

China Peak seems to have lots of glades open for skiing.  There were glades everywhere.  But, there were also many tree stumps showing, as well as some downed trees.  One would have to be here on a really good snow year, when all these obstacles are well covered up.

There are lots of blue cruisers as well.  It was a warm, sunny day,  and it was almost surprising that there was still so much snow left despite the heat.  Down in the Fresno to Sacramento valley, the temperature was approaching 80 degrees, and even here at China Peak, it was in the high 30s.   And yet the snow stayed quite good, at least on the groomed slopes.

Huntington Lake was quite visible in the distance from the upper half of the ski area.  It is about 2 miles away, but it looks closer in some of the photos, due to the compression effect caused by the zoom lens.

There were lots of people on the slopes, but it didn't feel over-crowded.  People gave each other enough space so one didn't feel in danger of colliding with another skier or snowboarder.  In fact, there was a somewhat relaxed atmosphere, with people enjoying the sun and each other's company.

I would love to come back here again at a time when there is more snow on the ground, when all the lifts are open, and when there is enough snow coverage and good powder that one could ski all the glades and other ungroomed terrain, which there is plenty of.

No comments: