1.26.2013

L.A. Ski Snobs Missing Out

A flask of Dewar's and a scenic ski lift - life is good

Snobbery is built into the world of skiing. In the great Aspen vs. Vail debate, where a five-figure amount is needed to make it through the weekend, hordes still flock to the even newer hotspot, wherever it happens to be that winter. Some years it's Sun Valley, others it's Jackson Hole. For Hollywood, it's Park City during Sundance. For old money, it's Switzerland.


In L.A., there's even a local-based hierarchy. It just so happens that the farther a resort is from Los Angeles, the more it's revered.  At the top of the heap is Lake Tahoe, for the jet set who need to be back on Monday morning. And a jet is necessary, since it's an 8-hour drive. Mammoth Lakes is 5 hours from Los Angeles, and skiers who slog north for that weekend trip claim bragging rights over the skiers at Big Bear, which is 2.5 hours from LaLa Land. Scraping the bottom is Mt. Baldy.

that orange glow is the Pacific Ocean

Why are so many Angelenos prone to eye-rolling at the mention of Mt. Baldy? Perhaps because the peak is visible from Los Angeles. After the rains clear, it's the one snow-capped mountain standing majestically to the East. It's only an hour away, so perhaps it feels too accessible, not exclusive enough.

Mrs. Unruh, all 79 years of her, rocking out

Admittedly, the "lodge" served greasy food and had no lounge area. The "bunny slopes" were terrifyingly inappropriate for "bunnies" and a lot of the kids running it had brushed-forward Beiber hair and bad attitudes. But the lift was gorgeous at sunset, where the Pacific Ocean, visible to us, glittered a tangerine reflection of the sun. Our ski instructor was friendly and the fresh air was exhilarating. But the best of Mt. Baldy was not the skiing experience. It was the Buckhorn  Lodge and Motel. Sure, the motel rooms are tiny cinder block squares cluttered with plastic flowers and creepy dolls. But it adds a certain strangeness, as if you were 600 miles from Beverly Hills, rather than 60. And if you want to catch up on your reading, you won't be distracted by the TV because there isn't one. But I should also mention that there weren't trash cans. Doesn't seem important now, but wait until you're standing in the bathroom holding a Q-tip.

the lodge has a roaring fireplace and festive mantle

Nothing beats the Buckhorn Lodge though. Built in 1910, it's a cozy, wood-paneled restaurant that serves killer fried chicken and baked potatoes. A live band plays at night and drink specials abound. You will find yourself surrounded by voluptuous photos and artwork of a young Mrs. Unruh. She's the owner, and while she's on the cusp of  80,  she sings and shimmies on stage with a slit to her thigh and a red feather boa. I love it. I love the fact that she holds onto her old married name from the 1960's, even though she remarried and is twice widowed. She was married to Jessie Unruh, who worked with the Kennedy family. She holds on tight to the glitz of her past, nailing it to the wall and printing it on the menu. I love that she high kicks, and that the wives of her bandmates and townies gossip about her. How many 80 year-olds can rightfully claim that they are still scandalous? It's inspiring.

the creepy doll and plastic flower altar

I like that after a night of lounge-singing and rock-and-rolling, Mrs. Unruh is the maid that comes in the morning, to clean the cinder block rooms cluttered with plastic flowers and creepy dolls. I love all of it, and I will be back.

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