Snowmobiling in California? Not only is it good, it’s great. Think about it. Spectacular mountain scenery and huge amounts of snow, minus the below zero temps you have to battle in other parts of the country. And right in Calaveras County’s backyard along the Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway, are some of the state’s best trails.
We recently talked to Sandy Price of Bear Valley Snowmobile to find out how people can take advantage of this family-friendly winter sport and what makes the Ebbetts Pass area so unique for snowmobiling.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about Bear Valley Snowmobile?
A: Bear Valley Snowmobile has been around since 1967. We’re a family-run, full-service Ski-Doo dealer and repair shop, as well. Of course rentals are our biggest focus. We’ve got over 50 machines in our fleet, and we’re the second largest snowmobile operator on the West Coast.
Q: Why is Bear Valley such a great snowmobiling destination?
A: The thing that’s most enticing in terms of people coming to Bear Valley is the fact that this is the only trail system in California where you can go out in the wilderness without a tour guide. It’s very unique what we offer here.
And you have the Scenic Byway, which tells you something right there. There are only 150 in the United States, and we’re one of them. So the nice thing is if you’ve seen it [Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway] in the summer in your car, it’s such a new and different experience to see it in the wintertime when it’s covered with snow. It’s gorgeous.
Q: How do snowmobile rentals work?
A couple of different ways. Either folks call us to reserve over the phone, or you can reserve online. We have three trail systems. Here in town, in Bear Valley, you can tool around for an hour if you want to play local. And then our second trail system is the Spicer Trail System, which is nice. Our third trail system is the Lake Alpine Trail System, and that’s our most popular because it’s the longest and the most beautiful.
Q: And that would be an all-day rental?
A: You have choices. If you’ve never snowmobiled before, I strongly encourage folks to go for two hours because more than that may be too much, especially with kids. And we do strongly encourage kids. We have kids as young as two allowed to go on our machines.
Q: So it’s a good family activity?
A: It’s an awesome family activity. In fact, parents of teenagers want to come and have some fun, and this is one of the few things that you can actually do as a family because you’re sticking together the whole time, and you’re out in the wilderness.
For older folks, if the knees might be hurting or you’re just really sore from skiing the day before, cross country or downhill or whatever…snowmobiling doesn’t take any effort. You just sit on it and you go.
Q: What kinds of things are people saying to you after they’ve taken out a snowmobile for a day?
A: It goes from the religious, “Oh my God” kind of experience, to “Wow, that was absolutely amazing.” All of us employees talk about “the glow.” You get these really stressed out cranky families, parents…they’ve got this edge about them. They head out, and when they come back it’s amazing. You can just tell they’ve got the glow. And you can tell they’ve really had a life experience. They leave stressed out, and they come back relaxed. They had fun and they have that happy glow.
Q: What about longer trips? Do people go overnight?
A: We do allow that, but only here in town in Bear Valley. Basically, they shut down Bear Valley in the wintertime and it’s a snowmobile-only community. Not many people know that. And there are not many snowmobile-only communities in California, so if you want to have that unique, rent-a-cabin and snowmobile to it kind of experience then Bear Valley is your best option.
Q: I would think some people would be nervous about snowmobiling. What kind of knowledge do you need to have to operate a snowmobile?
A: We get a lot of beginners here because most people don’t think about California for snowmobiling. If you were back east, you’d be raised with snowmobiles. It’s just like having a car. But for Californians it’s a very different experience. So for those who are a little nervous or not so sure they want to be on a machine, I try to explain to them that it’s easier than driving a car, but harder than riding a bike.
Q: Where do you recommend first-timers go?
A: If you have only one trip to Bear Valley, then by all means the Lake Alpine Trail. That’s because of the views out there. You can just see forever. And it’s great.
NEED TO KNOW INFO…
3 Bear Valley Road
Bear Valley, CA 95223
Located in the Bear Valley Lodge (NEW LOCATION!)
Snowmobile rentals are available by the hour or the day. Check out Bear Valley Snowmobile’s reservations calendar for date-specific costs. Group discounts available on 5 or more snowmobile rentals.
Got kids? Ask about Bear Valley Snowmobile’s “kid limos,” a fun option for families.