Saturday, April 5, 2014
China Peak, near Fresno, California
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.