My quest: ski and surf in one day

By Danny King
Danny KingLittle did we know it at the time, but that March 14 lunch my buddy and I had at Slater's 50/50 in Anaheim Hills, Calif., was an appropriate parable for what was (so far, at least) a once-in-a-lifetime and admittedly indulgent exercise in, well, exercise-related travel.

And while the restaurant's regionally famous (or infamous) half-ground-bacon/half-ground-beef burgers disappointed us a tad for their slightly Spam-y flavor (the beer cheese fries were outstanding), the day, which had been more than a dozen years in the making, unquestionably exceeded our expectations.

The goal was a simple one: to ski and surf on the same day.

It stemmed from adolescent reasoning that should have disappeared with street racing in an '86 Mustang, large (or larger) hair and beer bongs. In simplistic (i.e. manly) terms, the idea's genesis lay somewhere in that vast empty space that spans "because I can" and "because it's there."

More specifically, the idea harkened back to an assignment I oversaw while serving as managing editor of a local (and now dearly departed) sports magazine back in 2000, although the writer in question was about half my current age (and more than a few plates of beer fries thinner). And while I'd shelved the idea -- in fact, I'd shelved skiing altogether since 2001 as parenthood consumed my attention -- my impending 44th birthday seemed to be a good excuse to gain enough currency to get both the go-ahead from my wife, Rina, and shotgun duty from my lifelong friend Jordan.

While the idea may not be universally applicable in a geographic sense, there are in fact a number of regions both in the U.S. and abroad where the intrepid, curious and ADD-stricken can give this kind of snowsurfapolooza trip a shot.

But there are caveats. For example, Northern Californians can make the 190-mile trek from Lake Tahoe's ski resorts to the Bay Area in three to four hours (if they time traffic conditions right, of course). That said, paddling out at San Francisco's Ocean Beach or, on rare occasions, at Fort Point underneath the Golden Gate Bridge exposes the surfer to notoriously difficult surfing conditions as well as the possibility of being mistaken for lunch by the rather large Bay Area foodie sharks roaming the Farallons.

Go farther north to the Seattle area and, distance-wise, the attempt gets slightly easier, as just 159 miles of driving is required to go from hitting the slopes on Crystal Mountain Resort near Mount Rainier to paddling into the beach breaks at Westport, Wash. At which point not even a stiff cup of local java will stop you from becoming a human Popsicle.

And that metaphor probably applies for any New York-area folks who might have similar aspirations. Yes, you can start the day in the Poconos (Camelback Mountain Resort) or Catskills (Hunter and Windham mountains), then finish up 100 to 140 miles later at Queens' rock-rock-Rockaway Beach. The problem, of course, is that there's a pretty good chance the water at that legendary Ramones destination will be below the 50-degree mark.

Cross the pond and the distances shrink even further, as one can get from La Pierre St. Martin in the French Pyrenees to the pumping Atlantic Ocean surf of Biarritz by traveling a mere 150 kilometers (hey, we're in Europe now). But, of course, you'd have to put up with the French putting up with you.

So Southern California it was, with the appropriate dunce-cap-shaped triangle driving route set in stone: leave by 6:30 a.m. for the 100-mile trip from my Los Angeles home to Snow Summit Ski Resort next to Big Bear Lake; proceed another 100 miles from Snow Summit to Huntington Beach ("Surf City" to everyone except for some stubborn Northern Californians, who insist that Santa Cruz has first dibs on the moniker); then, stagger that final 40 miles back home. It was an audacious attempt, especially since my partner in crime was a whole 126 days younger than me. But we had a minivan at our disposal to stack the skis and longboards. And a Tom Petty CD. And a packet of dried mango from Trader Joe's. We were all set.

Were the conditions ideal? Well, if you're hard-core, not really. While Rocky Mountain-area ski resorts have had solid snow coverage all season, the West Coast mountains have been practically bone-dry, with resorts like Mammoth Mountain and the Tahoe area starving for white stuff. And while Snow Summit's snow-making efforts were admirable -- we Southern Californians are experts at using modern technology to make things look good where nature has fallen short -- there was no getting around the sub-two-foot snow base and the brown swaths that gave the face of Snow Summit that shortbread cookie-like striped effect.

And the same was true for the surf, as the 10-foot swells that had pounded the Southern California coast two weeks prior -- we're going to pretend for a moment that I would actually paddle out in 10-foot surf if it were available -- were long gone. In their place were fairly tepid 1- to 3-foot knee slappers. Factor in the wind that's typical for an afternoon paddle-out and Huntington Pier's breaks were pretty sloppy at the time.

Still, for a couple of guys who have long since replaced machismo with survival, there was nothing to complain about. Four of Snow Summit's chairlifts were up and running, and the thin crowd enabled us to ski right onto the chairlifts and get in more than a dozen runs down the resort's well-groomed, intermediate-level slopes between 9 a.m. and noon. The only issue was the spring-you-out-of-your-boots slush we'd hit at the bottom of the mountain, but that's a minor quibble, and it added some humor to the mix.

After that, gravity helped speed things up on our trek from 7,000 feet up to sea level, but Friday early-afternoon traffic and that 50/50 burger (which my buddy was seriously regretting once we hit the water) ensured that we didn't get to the coast until late afternoon.

That said, we still managed to get about two hours of surfing in before calling it a long and grin-inducing day at about 6 p.m. My more-novice-surfer-than-I partner was given both pointers and encouragement from a group of preteen grommies who provided entertainment (with minimal shame) with their small-board wave-shredding.

More importantly, the weather posed no problems and gave adequate ammunition to anyone who ever joked that Southern California has no seasons.

Snow Summit, the only local ski resort that was open, was clear, sunny and a balmy 62 degrees, warm enough for us to ski in thin jacket shells while witnessing more than a few folks on the slopes in shorts.

As for Huntington, my friend's concerns about only having a spring wetsuit at his disposal (the nearby rental shop shut down at 4 p.m.) were unfounded, as the water temperature was, yes, 62 degrees.

Our escapade complete, we capped the day grabbing dinner with my father, who was clearly amused by the exercise and agreed with me that it should become an annual tradition.

And while my dad ordered up fish tacos and banana cream pie as a sort of Dinner of Champions, my buddy had another menu in mind: beer and Advil.

Email Danny King at dking@travelweekly.com or follow him on Twitter. 
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