Surrounded by towering pines, with skies above the shade of bluebirds and cold, powdery white stuff beneath your feet, the slopes at Dodge Ridge Ski Area are the place to be this weekend.
Or any weekend during ski season.
January is the official Learn to Ski and Snowboard month. With the resort's skilled and friendly instructors, nobody has an excuse for not attempting the slopes at least once in a lifetime.
The annual Family Winter Carnival takes place Jan. 26-27, concluding National Safety Awareness Week. Each year at this time the ski resort conducts programs educating visitors about snowsport safety.
Throughout the weekend a variety of activities are planned for skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels, beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday. Friendly competition ensues in a slalom race, one-legged race, obstacle course, scavenger hunt and a kids' freestyle show. Event registration is free.
Also on the calendar this weekend -- and every Saturday in February and March -- is an interpretive snowshoe hike led by Marie Malo, a U.S. Forest Service interpretive specialist. Snow shoes are available for rent at the resort.
On selected Saturdays during the next two months Skiing Unlimited gives disabled children and adults a chance to experience the thrill of skiing. With modified equipment and the help of trained volunteers, most persons with disabilities are able to enjoy this sport. There is no cost to participants, although the resort is seeking volunteers and donations.
With more than 850 acres of terrain and a 1,600-foot vertical drop, 67 runs crisscross the mountainside. Stagecoach is the longest run, stretching for two miles.
To get people up the mountain, the resort operates eight chairlifts, one T-Bar, one rope tow and two conveyors. Lifts are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day.
Several terrain parks offer family fun for snowboarders, with banks, rails, rollers, hips, boxes, jumps and more. Big air and big tricks await adventurous souls.
Current snow depths are from 32 to 42 inches.
Dodge Ridge is challenging enough for serious skiers, but designed with families in mind.
The Purdy family opened the resort in 1950 based on core family values. The current owners and operators, the Helm family, maintain those values along with the commitment to expand and improve the resort.
In the 63 years of operation, renovations have been made at a continual rate. A $6 million expansion project added the 16,000-square-foot Family Lodge, housing the Children's Snowsports Center, ticket sales and guest services center, day-use lockers and the North Fork Bistro.
More events are scheduled this season. Visit www.dodgeridge.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (209) 965-3474 for details and lesson reservations. Call (209) 536-5300 or check the website for current snow conditions.
At Dodge Ridge, great skiing at affordable prices is only 89 miles from Merced. Take State Highway 59 north to Highway 108/120, go east through Sonora to Pinecrest, and exit at Pinecrest Lake Road.
Lucky and Save Mart grocery stores have discount lift tickets available for purchase.
While traversing down a mountain in the pure air encompassed by gorgeous scenery, the word that typically comes to mind is "exhilarating." As any great skier or snowboarder will tell you, humans were never meant to hibernate. Dodge Ridge has much to offer winter sports buffs.
Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at email@example.com.