Snow: It's an atmospheric anomaly in Los Angeles, and something that our So-Cal editors seldom see. So when we had the opportunity to test Subaru's Forester and Mitsubishi's all-wheel-drive Outlander, we sought out the white stuff, and got more than we bargained for. A lot more.
At 9000 feet in elevation, Mammoth Mountain -- in the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountain range -- is a Mecca for snow skiers, boasting an average of 385 inches of the white powder each year. As luck would have it, meteorologists predicted arctic air from Alaska would collide with a Pacific warm front, bringing the snow level down to 4500 feet within the first 24 hours of our trip. We packed the long johns, filled the roof racks with toys, and hit the road.
Heading out of Los Angeles proper, the clouds darkened quickly as we sped across Highway 395, cutting through the heart of the Sierras. We stopped in the town of Lone Pine for a photo shoot in the Alabama Hills, made famous as the location for the movie, Gunga Din and a whole bunch of other westerns. After the sun had set, we watched the alpenglow flicker off the mountains, then made our way back to town to down some chow at the "We toss'em, they're awesome" Pizza Factory, and hopped in the sack for a few hours of sleep.
The following morning, we were greeted with sub-zero temperatures, and an ever-darkening sky. "Snows gonna hit soon," the innkeeper groveled as we checked out. "You can feel it in the air." With our warm breath steaming up the windows faster than the defroster could keep up, we headed north toward the town of Bishop - the last major unit of civilization before starting the 40-mile climb toward Lake Crowley. Fueling up, the heavens opened with a light sprinkle that within a few miles turned into heavy rain showers.
Crossing the 6700-foot elevation level, Mother Nature teased us with rain and light sleet, slowly forming a slick crust on the highway. Pulling into the Mammoth Mountain Chalets' parking lot, Photog Kiewicz surveyed the landscape: three feet of packed snow covered the trails to the A-framed chalets, and a few white flakes began to fall. Kiwi asked the manager if we could drive on the network of trails for photos, and he replied, "Sure, and I have a Snow Cat to pull you out when you get stuck!"