Kids' Culture: Budget Friendly Snow Days
How many kids in California have never seen or touched snow before? More than a few, certainly. However, one advantage of California and the Bay Area is that a snow day is a short drive away, and families can be back into T-shirts and coastal weather by dinnertime. Northeastern California has many places where families can enjoy the white stuff without a hotel or a ski pass. Kids will love the chance to go to one of the many great destinations within a three-hour car ride where they can sled, tube, have snowball fights and make some snow angels.Starting with the closest place to play, check out Holidays on the Farm at the Dell’Osso family farm in Lathrop, near Tracy (holidaysonthefarm.com).For $20, you can go down Snow Tube Mountain as many times as you can cram into 90 minutes. There are also zip lines, ice skating (weather permitting), pony rides and a petting zoo. Open until January 2, 2017. Check the website for details.South Bay residents may want to head over to Strawberry and visit Leland Snowplay (snowplay.com).
Get some lodging and make a weekend of it. Enjoy snacks by the fire in the lodge while kids go bananas on the kiddie hill. Older kids can ride mini snowmobiles, and the bigger hills are lift served, so snow bunnies can ride and slide. Excellent weekday rates offer a great excuse for playing hooky from work and school. But don’t wait: Snowplay closes in
Tahoe is of course an obvious choice, just three hours from most of the greater Bay Area. Save the heavy spending on ski parks where little ones don’t have much to do, and have some family fun on the cheap at Adventure Mountain (adventuremountaintahoe.com). They sell snow tubes and sleds, but guests can also rent: a two-person sled for $10 a day plus deposit, a tube for $25 a day plus deposit, or snowshoes and poles for $18 a day. It’s just $25 per vehicle (not per person!) for an all-day pass, so cram everyone into the SUV and enjoy. They even have snow bibs, gloves, hats and boots for sale in the lodge in case you forget something at home.
Another Tahoe choice is Soda Springs (skisodasprings.com) near Donner Summit. Folks can ski here, as well as tube and snowboard. There’s even a program for parents ($10) and children ($30) to learn snow sport basics together. Helmets and equipment are included in the price. There is even a super-cool tube carousel.
Right near the Soda Springs park is Tubes R Us tubing center in Kingvale. A bit more low-tech and a bit more budget friendly, it offers groomed tubing runs with a magic carpet lift, as well as a day lodge with a snack bar and store. Hours: Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. All-day tickets for ages 6 to adult are $24; kids 5 and under are $8. Half-day session tickets are $18 for adults 13+, $15 for youth 6–12, and $8 for kids 5 and under. Parking fee $10. 53010 Donner Pass Road, Soda Springs. More info: (530) 426-3121. There’s no website, but check out Yelp for reviews.Way out east of Lodi, near Murphy, the central Sierras’ Bear Valley Cross Country & Adventure Company operates groomed sledding and tubing hills for families with children ages 3 and older. Hill access with sled rental $11 per person; with tube rental $16 per person; $2 access fee per non-sledder. You cannot bring your own equipment, unfortunately. Picnic tables, park benches and portable toilets are available. 1 Bear Valley Road, off Highway 4, Bear Valley. More info: (209) 753-2834 or bearvalleyxc.com.
There is also many an option to simply park and play. You won’t find many amenities or sometimes even restrooms, but bring a picnic and your own equipment and save a lot of money at the following snow play areas:
• Donner Summit (near Truckee off I-80)
• Blackwood Canyon (near Tahoe City off Highway 89)
• Carson Pass (off Highway 88)
• Echo Lake (off Highway 50)
• Iron Mountain (off Highway 88 near the Kirkwood ski area)
• Lake Alpine (off Highway 4)
• Meiss Meadow (off Highway 88 near Carson Pass)
• Spicer (off Highway 4)
• Taylor Creek (off Highway 89 near Fallen Leaf Lake)
• Yuba Pass (off Highway 49)
With so many destinations to play, what are you waiting for? Load up the kids in the car, pack a thermos of cocoa and get ready to get frosty. Pro tip: Bring a garbage bag to put wet clothes and boots into when you’re done, and bring some clean, dry layers to change into for the ride home. Your children will love the memories you make playing in the snow.
Haley Reen is a Bay Area-based freelance writer. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with comments.