December 16, 2012

December in SoCal

One of the weirder things about Los Angeles is that it's edged by some rather imposing peaks, such Mt. Baldy (10,064 feet), the high point of the San Gabriel Mountains that run west to east north of the city. 

The San Gabriels are actually mostly too steep for conventional skiing. There's one successful conventional ski slope on the north side, Mountain High, but the other ski slopes are scratch affairs. Back at the turn of the century, a guy who was on my high school debate team bought one, Mt. Waterman, scraped through some dry years, and then in the big snow year of 2005, he was happily skiing down his mountain while getting it ready to open, when he hit a tree and was killed.

Mt. Baldy is remarkably close to L.A. You take the 210 freeway to about 20 miles east of Pasadena, get off at the Claremont Colleges, then it's about 15 miles straight up into the mountains. Well, not exactly straight up. What's less straight than a hairpin curve? A bobbypin curve? There's a tiny ski resort 6,500 feet up Mt. Baldy that makes the dilapidated one in Hot Tub Time Machine look like Aspen, with a 39-year-old chairlift up to 7800' elevation, where there's a restaurant. 

I first rode up it in June 1977. I recall that the restaurant back then made a big deal about having a live rock band weekend nights. A dude who worked there explained it was a good deal because at that altitude you got wasted faster, which made a lot of sense in 1977. How that was good for driving later back down to the city was not a topic that came up, because it was 1977.

We then hiked to the top of Mt. Baldy up the Devil's Backbone trail (above, in Michael Gordon's winter photo). We came down the face of the Baldy Bowl, a vast 35 degree slope of ping-pong ball sized pebbles. You basically ran down in this kind of moon-walking style, flying about 15 feet with each step, then skidding for about 10 feet in a mini-avalanche before another big step. 

Nobody seems to run down anymore. As far as I can tell from the Internet, these days people either stick to the trail in summer, which seems boring, or ski down the couloirs in winter (such as Girlyman), which seems like a manifestation of mental illness.

Thirty-five years later, in October, my wife bought a $29 Groupon deal for two to ride up plus $20 off lunch, expiring Saturday, December 15, 2012. (Groupon is basically a sort of legal loanshark serving small businesses. Groupon keeps half the $29, but pays out fast. If you are a ski hill that was barely open last year due to a lack of snow, you could really use that $14.50 in October.)

Being terrified of chairlift rides since I fell off getting onto one when I was 7 and had to ride down alone, I of course procrastinated. But she prudently didn't tell me she'd only spent $29, so, me being a true believer in the Sunk Cost Fallacy, off we finally went. 

The guy working at the lift looked kind of like the guy I had talked to 35 years ago, and the music in the restaurant hadn't changed -- heavy on Foreigner. (Maybe they were his 8-tracks?) There was about a foot of new snow, covering all the trees, very Winter Wonderlandy. The hamburgers at the restaurant were surprisingly delicious and $20 bucks covered the majority of the cost. The chairlift ride down, however, turned out to be exactly as terrifying as I'd assumed it would be.


DaveinHackensack said...

"Groupon is basically a sort of legal loanshark serving small businesses."

Never heard it put like that.

How is the weather in the Los Angeles basin now? Rainier than typical for this time of year?

Anonymous said...

How that was good for driving later back down to the city was not a topic that came up, because it was 1977.

Was drunk driving more common back then? Was it more acceptable?

Anonymous said...

There are reports of businesses getting royally screwed by using Groupon. They take a huge percentage and won't cap the number of coupons sold.

Fisk Ellington Rutledge III said...

I have never been so happy.

You brought up the Sunk Cost Fallacy.

I have never been a believer in that fallacy. For example if I pay for a movie ticket and I discover that the movie is a celebration of lively, vibrant diversity, I will LEAVE and eat the cost rather than suffer through the lies and simple-minded nonsense that follows.

My wife on the other hand does not understand my thinking at all. But then she seems to enjoy the moviegoing experience as an experience that is valuable and enjoyable in and of itself regardless of what happens to be gracing or defiling the screen.

We usually compromise; she stays and I go.

Anonymous said...

Was drunk driving more common back then? Was it more acceptable?

Both. It wasn't heavily penalized.

Anonymous said...

Re Groupon as loan shark:

"Groupon is not an Internet marketing business so much as it is the equivalent of a loan sharking business. The $21,000 that the business in this example gets for running a Groupon is essentially a very, very expensive loan. They get the cash up front, but pay for it with deep discounts over time."

Anonymous said...

There are reports of Groupon demanding 100% when customers pay less than $10:

"I assumed Groupon would take a percentage, but that it wouldn’t be that huge… maybe 5-10%? I spoke with John, a Groupon rep, and we started formulating the idea. He didn’t have to sell me on the concept, I understood and thought it was genius. Then we talked pricing. We were going to offer a $6 for $13 (pay $6 and get $13 worth of product) because John told me people really respond to deals that are over 50% discount. It wasn’t starting off as that great of a deal for us, but we kept talking. Then we talked the percentage split. John told me that when the consumer pays less than $10, Groupon usually takes 100% of the money. What?! He reassured me that most customer buy more than the $13, and that we would never have to advertise again after taking advantage of their network. In my mind I thought “false. You can never stop advertising as a business,” but outloud I said, “Ok, let me think about it.”"

Anonymous said...

Is there a Groupon for group sex?

Discard said...

Back in 1977, you had to have a blood alcohol level of .15 to be guilty of drunk driving. Now it's .08, just over half as intoxicated. That's fine with me. Drunks hurt innocent people.

Anonymous said...

I love Mt. Baldy. An hour and change drive, a 15 dollar plastic sled and a 5 dollar wilderness pass and any LA family can have fun in the snow in the campground just below the ski area on a snowy weekend. The photos we send always baffle the Midwest relatives, who don't associate Los Angeles with winter snow.

And for a few bucks more you can ride the terrifying lift to the notch along with the Asian families and Mexican guys wearing t-shirts.

Anonymous said...

Back in 1977, you had to have a blood alcohol level of .15 to be guilty of drunk driving. Now it's .08, just over half as intoxicated. That's fine with me. Drunks hurt innocent people.

It was also common for people to enjoy drinks during their lunch hour.

Shouting Thomas said...

I never thought of you, Steve, as a guy who would enjoy Hot Tub Time Machine.

So, I'm assuming you also enjoyed its companion flick, Zak and Miri Make a Porno?

Anonymous said...

I went to graduate school in Claremont in the mid 1990s. By then, the LA smog problem was a lot better than it had been in the worst years of the late 60s and early 70s. But there were still some summer and September days when you could not see the mountains at all. Given how close they are--like a backdrop painting to the colleges--it was spooky.

More than one person who had been in Claremont in the 60s-70s told a story of arriving in August and not realizing that there were mountains there until November.

Anonymous said...

"Was drunk driving more common back then? Was it more acceptable?"

It's quite interesting to consider how radically American views on drinking change over time, swinging almost pendulum-like between carefree acceptance and stern disapproval.

The great American historian W.J. Rorabaugh wrote an article about changes in the way drinking was depicted in the six "Thin Man" films between 1934 and 1947. (The first films were made just after the end of Prohibition, but were set in pre-Prohibition America.)

To quote from Rorabaugh's description of the fourth "Thin Man" film (made in 1941):

"...a well-soused Nick drives around San Francisco drunkenly weaving, speeding, and singing. Drunk driving is portrayed as a sign of carefree lightheartedness and personal liberty rather than as a menace. In 1941 many members of the audience would have thought a scene about a drunk driver to be very funny; today, it is appalling."

Anonymous said...

Or it's other companion film Rudy?

Anonymous said...

Groupon's not a bad deal if you run the sort of business where adding a few more low-paying customers doesn't cost you much. Let's say you run a yoga studio that charges $20 for a series of group lessons. You add a few Groupon-ites for whom you're getting $5 each (they pay Groupon $10 and you get half). So long as they're not filling the studio and causing you to turn away some full-fare customers, or requiring you to hire another instructor, you come out ahead even if you disregard the benefits of Groupon's short term financing.

On the other hand, if for example you run a restaurant with substantial food costs, accepting Groupon might be a much worse idea.


Mike said...

You basically ran down in this kind of moon-walking style, flying about 15 feet with each step, then skidding for about 10 feet in a mini-avalanche before another big step.

The Brits call this Scree Running.

Lots of fun.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

You ran down the Bowl in winter? Dude. Nuts. I climbed UP it once in winter (sticking to the bands of rock mostly), but I came down Devil's Backbone. Not as fun as canyoneering down the river from the ski hut.

These days, there are a lot of Asians on the trails. Asians, especially the older generation, love the outdoors. And, man, they love their gear. They'll be on the Ice House Canyon trail in winter, and it's like they're heading up Mt. Everest. But I watch them, chattering away in Chinese or Korean, sliding their crampons on expertly, following proper trail etiquette, smiling politely at the SWPLs walking by, and I always think, "Man, I'd much rather be surrounded by this than, well, what I'm surrounded by when I go to Pomona." Not all immigrants are created equal. Never is this seen to be more true than when you spend an afternoon on Baldy and then head down for a burrito at Alberto's.

Anyway, Steve, if you head back up there any time soon, make sure to time it right so that you're coming down through the bowl around dusk. There's a family of bighorn sheep that comes down to drink by the Sierra Club ski hut on a semi-regular basis.

Londoner said...

Does anyone bar whitey frequent the SoCal mountains (or any other US mountains) in numbers worthy of note? Do the Scotch-Irish reconnect with their ancestral memories of the Cairngorms, Slieve Donard and Schiehallion, or are the snow-capped peaks a bit out of their vibrant metropolitan comfort zone?

agnostic said...

Someone slips Inspector Gadget a mickey as he pursues Dr. Claw; lighthearted drunk driving follows.

That was a cartoon for little kids in the early-mid 1980s, not like the adult-oriented Looney Tunes.

My parents said when they look back on their house parties or dinner parties from the late '70s and early '80s (before family life began to take over), they realize that a good fraction of their guests must have driven home drunk, but they hadn't thought anything of it at the time.

Marc B said...

The downstream drainage from the mountain is called the Mt. Baldy Pipeline. It is one of greatest structures ever created for adventure skateboarding. It's a mildly a down-sloping pipe, transitioning into a large-height half pipe with lots of vertical surface ending with a six foot gap notorious for eating skateboards. A few top skaters have pulled the "El Rollo", circling the entire tube of the full pipe. Skaters have been risking incarceration for a few moments of hyper-dimensional skateboarding glory since the mid-1970's.

That's as close to Mt. Baldy as I ever made it. We sucked it up and drove to Big Bear when we wanted to ski or snowboard.

bugspray said...

"Groupon Sex"--I think that could be a worthy album title for use by Keith Morris's new Calicore supergroup

Norville Rogers said...

the music in the restaurant hadn't changed -- heavy on Foreigner

At 20-30 miles outside the metro (it's the same radius effect up north, just drive about an hour east or north of Oakland) one notices how weak the persistence of fashion is. In fact you can observe this as near as Ventura County. BTW this is the premise of David Brooks's career

Anonymous said...

Scree running. I remember Ben Nevis in Scotland one summer - 5 hours up, 45 minutes down !

Anonymous said...

Plz go back to old format

Whiskey said...

Good point about Groupon.

Snow Summit. Its fantastic. Baldy is just ... terrifying. Mountain High gets all the trash from LA, every banger and lowlife who boards, the snow gets chewed up mogul style very fast, and you have to take a bus to the other mountain because the Forest Service won't allow an 800 feet connector trail. Sigh.

So Summit, the "back way" up Highway 38 in Redlands (the front way up Highway 15 and then through Running Springs is just scary, deep cliffs and lots of traffic). I used to leave OC, at around 4:30, and by 7 AM get to Summit, ski until about 4, 4:30 or so, with a break in the parking lot for lunch, with my own damn packed lunch, good times. Summit is easy cruising, lots of easy green/blue trails, nothing too taxing, and beautiful views. Of Big Bear Lake.

God I love SoCal's geography. I just wish half of Mexico wasn't here.

Anonymous said...

"Does anyone bar whitey frequent the SoCal mountains (or any other US mountains) in numbers worthy of note? Do the Scotch-Irish reconnect with their ancestral memories of the Cairngorms, Slieve Donard and Schiehallion, or are the snow-capped peaks a bit out of their vibrant metropolitan comfort zone?"

The Santa Monica mountains are very white (and Asian). But hike or bike in the San Gabriels and you'll see a surprising number of Latino people from the Valley below, especially on the easier trails. There are even some black people from nearby Altadena (nicknamed Afrodena by locals for having the only concentration of blacks in the local area.)

It looks like middle class NAMs are slowly gaining a love of the outdoors, at least in SoCal. The downside of this is the HUGE amount of graffiti (much of it Spanish language), garbage, and low-level vandalism in popular spots like Switzer Falls.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Claremont for ten years. Driving up to Baldy is one of those rare LA treats. You go from a blazing metropolis to a breezy mountain village that looks plucked out of the 1950s in a ten minute drive.

Anonymous said...

Groupon also can work if you have a new business and are trying to build a customer base. It will bring in customers, albeit ones not paying full fare, and of course there's the upfront money. What you hope is that a substantial percentage of the Groupon customers like what you have to offer, and become regular, full-fare customers.


Anonymous said...

The Mexicans only venture as far as the easy foothill slopes and waterfalls, where they leave lots of trash. Check out Lower Cucamonga Canyon; HBD in action.

They also venture to the snowline in winter, where they fill their pickups with snow to bring back down. Every winter, lots of Mexicans driving around the IE with pickups full of snow.

David Davenport said...

Steve, it's good that you're getting out of the house. Seriously, congratulations!

Next, Steve gets a tan!

robert61 said...

In Tucson, Mexicans can be found in numbers in the trailhead parking lots and roadside parks. Back in the mountains it's pretty white, with many of the people looking like they might be affiliated with the U of A. There's a bimodal distribution of ages: students and faculty. UCC sweatshirts are overrepresented (there's a congregational church close to my favorite trailhead).

I often see a tall, exceptionally beautiful, athletic looking young Native American man, probably Tohono O'odham, ranging far and wide in the Rincons. He is the exception to the rule, however. The Pimas are famously squatty and overweight, and were the subject of an early study on obesity that Gary Taubes takes up in his books on diet.

Anonymous said...

Ok Steve your #1 critic here, I say "so close yet so far". When I started reading your piece I felt for sure you were going to get to the Tragedy of the Commons, since you mention it in other articles.

What you article is really about is how with population growth a common that used to be able to be freely utilized, suddenly needed rules to allocate the scarce resource and to prevent people from destroying it. And as it always turns out rules require people paid to enforce them.

But here is the curiosity I have. Maybe the people bringing in hordes of immigrants are the kind of people that can only survive by allocating the scarce commons as they do not produce anything. Allocating scarce commons is not possible without the scarce part and trying to restrict access to Baldy was not possible with only the pre 1965 demographics, so they increased demand with immigrants.