Three Men & a Comedian Hit the “California Double”
For adventure enthusiasts, the prospect of touching sand and snow in the one day seems unlikely at best, and a pipedream at worst.
In January 2016, hurricane swell ripped through Southern California, coinciding with an El Nino pattern that blanketed the state in snow; in fact, Big Bear, the closest skiable resort to Los Angeles, welcomed three feet in 24 hours three days prior to the journey. The closest ski regions to LA and San Diego are typically for “desperates only” or skiing noobs, but this season had even the most ardent critics crawling back; in early January, the Big Bear mountain area had received 75% of the previous year’s snowfall.
On Tuesday, 12 January I received a message from good friend David “Diso” Paradiso—owner of Paradiso CrossFit that boasts a 500-strong community across its two gyms in Venice and Marina del Rey—that such an adventure was on the cards if I was interested. The following day, an hour before the crack of dawn, we met at Diso’s house and were joined by comedian Eddie Ifft and CrossFit athlete/coach Jeff McKinney.
This wasn’t a search for the biggest waves or the deepest powder. This was a bucket list adventure taking in several factors, the most important being “time”, to combine the best conditions of each that we could find in close proximity.
After the 30 minute drive up the PCH from Venice, we arrived at busy point break Sunset (where PCH meets Sunset Boulevard). It looked promising, but we headed further north to tempt our luck.
We arrived at Malibu First Point, just behind the Pier made famous by Laird Hamilton in 2014. The conditions had dropped from the huge swell that whipped much of the Californian coastline into a frenzy just one day earlier, but gentle 3-4 foot beauties broke majestically as the sun rose to our left. In the right spot, we’d have one hell of a morning.
Packing a 3/2mm wetsuit that had served me well in LA’s typically mild winter, the 6°C (43°F) air temp was a little brisk, with an icy breeze dampening our enthusiasm ever so slightly. My three buddies were well equipped; their surfing booties were held up like a newborn, and when donned seemed to eradicate their cold feet, both literally and metaphorically. In contrast, the only accessory I had was a shark repellent magnet wrapped around my ankle that made me feel like a criminal fleeing house arrest, and a GoPro clipped onto my surfboard, neither of which were going to provide much in the way of warmth.
An older woman pulled up next to us, kitted out like an astronaut, and strode off to catch some waves. That seemed like a sign from the big man upstairs, so we walked up to Third Point to see how we could start the day.
The biggest sets arrived early, and fortunately there weren’t too many people out. The mid-week mission was seemingly the best bet to avoid crowds at both locations. Jeff had only been surfing once prior, so sought waves more befitting of his skill level. Diso, Eddie and I spent the next two hours just south of The Colony, enjoying the waves and the banter.
Photo: Maxx Buchanan
After a fun session, we walked back to the car. The water 15°C (59°F) had been warmer than the air, so chills came surging back to my extremities, rendering them entirely numb almost immediately.
We changed into dry clothes and bid farewell to Malibu, a brilliant start to the day. After a pitstop for burritos and coffee, we headed to Mountain High for the second part of our adventure.
The car conversation ventured into pretty much every topical subject, from the war on drugs, to social media relevance, to America’s geopolitical strategy, and was humorously spliced with tales from Eddie’s 20 years on the road working the comedy circuit.
As we approached what can only be described as the middle of nowhere, surrounded by desert aside from the odd rundown domicile (owned by local meth cooks, we agreeably speculated), Eddie mentioned that we were about to run out of fuel.
Fuel was a fairly critical component of this trip, so we made a brief navigational amendment and were back on track shortly after.
While there wasn’t an abundance of snow on the ascent, there was enough. Complemented by snowmaking facilities we would have a sufficient base for us to fulfill the second part of our mission.
Photo: Mountain High
For USD $90 I was able to secure a lift pass for the day and could hire skis/boots. After clipping in to my rental gear at the base of the Blue Ridge Express quad, I looked around – I was the only skier in our group, and one of only a few on the entire mountain. This was definitely snowboard turf.
There wasn’t enough snow to support the backcountry, so we stuck to the groomers. The Mountain High resort caters for those who are easily bored with groomers, dotting various jumps, grind boxes and other treats along the trails. Everyone at the resort seemed to be in good spirits, and there were a few outrageous fashion stylings getting around. This close to LA, how could there not be?
Due to the complete absence of lift lines, we enjoyed the snow until 3:30pm, at which stage we called it a day and reflected over an Allagash IPA. One thing I did notice about Mountain High was that they were very strict on identification to avoid fraudulent purchases, and even had a specific tent where someone would watch your equipment for a small fee, presumably because they have a big problem with theft.
We got back on the road and sought sustenance at the nearest In-N-Out Burger. LA traffic during evening rush hour was always going to be brutal, but it was a penance we were happy to pay.
We dropped Eddie to The Townhouse speakeasy at Venice so he could record an episode of his podcast and then perform his standup routine while the rest of us returned home, exhausted.
The surfing had been fun, and Malibu is widely regarded as one of the most rippable breaks on the Californian coastline. Of course you could find better skiing if you travelled to Mammoth, Salt Lake or Jackson Hole, but that would put much more stress on the journey and in all likelihood would afford you a mere hour (at best) on the mountain.
Today was all about the California Double and it’s a day I’ll never forget.
Photo: Ali Mirrasekhian
Take on the California Double
Depending on your time constraints, you’ve got serious options on both the surf and snow front. Surfers can enjoy any break from San Diego to Santa Barbara, with a roughly similar ETA to the ski resorts that mostly congregate around the Big Bear region.
San Clemente: Sleepy town, but a huge surf culture, and one of the most consistent waves in California.
El Porto: Generally a bit larger swell than other spots in the area, El Porto straddles idyllic Manhattan Beach. Also very close to LAX for out-of-towners.
Venice: Still in its gentrification phase, these days Venice is more Silicon Beach than Dogtown. There are still rippable waves off the Breakwater or the Pier in front of Washington Ave. You’ll also want to get back for sunset on the Erwin Hotel rooftop.
Malibu: In 2010 Malibu’s Surfrider Beach was named the first World Surfing Reserve. It’s a bit further north, but on the right day you’ll be happy you made the effort.
Mountain High: Seriously close to the city, making it an easy option for those wanting to maximize their time on the slopes. Also offers night skiing seven days a week.
Snow Summit / Bear Mountain: Separated by a 10 minute shuttle, both resorts are adequately prepared for beginners. Those looking to test their skills in terrain parks should head to Bear Mountain.
Mammoth: A five hour drive from most parts of LA (traffic-pending), but the best skiing in a driveable distance from LA, period.