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EXPERTS ONLY : GO AHEAD, WE DARE YOU TO SKI THESE FIVE SOUTHLAND RUNS.

Byline: Brett Pauly Daily News Staff Writer

In skiing, nothing is more ominous for the uninitiated than the double diamond.

Inadvertently snowplow your way from a bunny slope to one of these experts-only runs and you could be in for one scary roller-coaster ride with an impossibly abrupt grade and a seemingly endless array of moguls. If you're lucky, you can correct the error of your ways in time; if not, you could be in for a headfirst tumble into the ``Twiwhite'' Zone and . . . well, let's just say it's a predicament best avoided.

Our assignment was to ski Southern California's double-diamond runs and rate them for difficulty. It's dangerous work, sure, but somebody has to do it. Advanced skiers can use the discourse to challenge themselves; beginners who have stared such a run in the face, given to deep contemplation and finally blurted, ``Not,'' can tuck it away as a present for graduating from stem christie to the parallel turn.

More than 50 of Southern California's most difficult runs were tackled and from that exhaustive research (it was!) a list of the top five was culled. Only established runs appearing on trail maps were considered. So, without further adieu (in ascending order of difficulty):

5. Olympic Bowl, Mountain High (east) Vertical drop: 425 feet. Length: 1,200 feet. Access lift: Mountain High Express.

The signs of a difficult run are tangled skiers and more people walking down than skiing. You'll see a lot of that here on this appropriately named run that narrows sharply a third of the way down and can harbor deep moguls that are cut sharply from many different angles.

Coverage is a problem, but it's just part of the Southland's challenging makeup.

4. Gunslinger, Mountain High (west) Vertical drop: 385 feet. Length: 800 feet. Access lift: Chair 5.

Heavy shadows in the morning and frequently windblown moguls make for a hard ride. Once warmed up, however, it affords shortly spaced bumps for the skier who can bounce quickly between them.

It was once the site of an Olympic-size ski jump, which apparently produced a world-record leap in the early 1930s - and offers a clue about its terrific pitch.

3. Pasadena, Snowcrest at Kratka Ridge Vertical drop: 630 feet. Length: 980 feet. Access lift: Chair 1.

Daunting might best describe this run as one peers up from Angeles Crest Highway. By the numbers, it's the steepest grade by a long shot. Underrated and terribly bumpy. You'll scale back your speed the first time you attempt this one, but it's too short to be rated higher. Just getting to it - via a narrow, frozen track called Exhibition - is a bear.

And the snow is so iffy. Break out your trusty mill bastard file and put some sharp on those edges; it can be a real icy dog. All part of the task, though.

A privilege of skiing Pasadena is that you ride up one of the last single-seat chair lifts in the country. Swingers take heed: ``Single'' isn't often heard in this line.

2. Nightmare, Mount Baldy Vertical drop: 900 feet. Length: 2,000 feet. Access lift: Chair 1.

``It's kind of unfortunate that a lot of people go elsewhere in Southern California and ski what they consider black-diamond runs at other mountains and think they can ski black diamonds here,'' said Mount Baldy ski patrolman Patrick Richardson. ``You get into something a little bit different.''

Talk about understatements; this run is definitely a bad dream. Wider than most on Baldy's face yet with more trees, it can gather lots of snow in good years. (So far, this isn't one of those years.) Tree skiing can be fantastic with the tremendous grade pushing you faster. In parts, it's steeper than anything in the region. Great for GS turns.

. . . and, the most radical run in the Southland is:

1. Bentley's Dream, Mount Baldy Vertical drop: 1,100 feet. Length: 2,300 feet. Access lift: Chair 1.

``Nothing comes close,'' said Ken Wayte of Costa Mesa, who has frequented Baldy for 20 years. Not only the toughest of the tough, but the longest and the biggest drop - the granddaddy of double diamonds.

A deep gully with sheer sides drives skiers into the gut. There's no escaping the formidable moguls that pile up in its center. Deep ruts in unforgiving ice. Short skis recommended. Don't ski alone . . . must warn others.

Best sign yet of an expert run: Skier lost his ski, twice; snowboarder scooted down on his tush the entire length, never once daring this ultimate test.

The stigma that Baldy is an expert-only ski area - reiterated by lift signs that read, ``No beginners,'' and by the vast number of people who opt to ride the lift down instead of ski to the parking lot - has kept it the Southland's biggest secret for decades. Unfortunately, after slaloming its Grade A runs, you ride a lift that might have the dubious distinction of being the slowest in the country - rickety, antiquated Chair 1, the real Nightmare.

Of course, the variables in the Southern California mountains are mixed and many - including snow conditions on any given day, terrain (groomed or not), coverage problems (snow or not), obstacles, pitch and length. Many slopes are too short to consider. Some runs and resorts weren't open during our review. (Mount Waterman was closed, as were the South Bowl Chutes and Holcumac at Mount Baldy and Ski Sunrise's Nightmare.)

And well-heeled skiers might consider rating difficult runs in Southern California somewhat of a contradiction in terms, because, in general, they pale in comparison to those at Mammoth Mountain, Lake Tahoe and many other major resort areas across the nation.

As Steve Caton of Studio City, an expert skier and Tori Amos' guitarist to boot, said during a recent Southland outing, ``You ski here to practice and stay in shape until you to go to a real place.''

But it's all we've got, and the good news is that the runs listed above can compete with the best of them.

Here are some others to consider:

Honorable mention: Morgan's Grove, Mount Baldy (precipitous ridge run, windblown, seldom skied); Quicksilver, Bear Mountain (double fall line - hill slopes to right, run tacks to left); East Slide, Snow Valley (small bumps hold edges on steep ice); Rattlesnake, Snowcrest at Kratka Ridge (four major turns create a fall-line free-for-all; don't get bitten).

Best mogul run: Rip's Run, Bear Mountain. Short and not much grade, but because gravity doesn't provide great momentum, the moguls appear even larger and are more troublesome to maneuver through. Perfectly shaped and spaced mounds, yet tough to find a good line.

Best lift: Bear Peak, Bear Mountain. This comfortable, smooth, speedy and infrequently used triple chair lift provides access to Geronimo, a low-end double-diamond run with 1,100 feet of vertical. You'll get more bang for the buck than any other chair in the region.

Biggest disappointment: The ski areas in the San Bernardino Mountains.

The resorts around Big Bear Lake might be posh, trendy and popular, but, in terms of difficult runs, they can't hold a candle to the San Gabriel Mountains.

Most overrated ski area: Snow Summit.

When we skied other resorts, skiers asked if we had attempted The Wall at Snow Summit. ``Wow, talk about a double diamond,'' they exclaimed. It seems to have become a fabled face in Southern California. Unfortunately, it's only a myth. When we schussed it, we found that the words of one knowledgeable two-boarder rang true: ``The Wall is small'' - and so are the rest of the so-called experts-only runs at Snow Summit.

CAPTION(S):

3 Photos, Map

Photo: (1--color) no caption (Skier)

Brett Pauly/Daily News

(2) Mountain High's Gunslinger run is short but steep. It once was the site of an Olympic-size ski jump.

David R. Crane / Daily News

(3) Mount Baldy ski patrolman Patrick Richardson carves a turn down Nightmare, which has a 900-foot vertical drop.

Brett Pauly / Daily News

Map: (color) DOUBLE DIAMOND ROUNDUP

The Daily News rated the expert-only ski runs in Southern California for difficulty. The top five are found in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Map Illustration byLen De Groot
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Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 10, 1997
Words:1356
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