Central Valley

Valley families find plenty of pleasure in Sierra frost and cold

The crunch of powder under a brand-new boot.

The scrape of ice against a rented skate.

The giggles and shrieks of too many teens on a sliding board.

The Sierra Nevada, draped in dress whites, beckoned Sunday and families heard the call.

In crisp mountain air under a buttery sun, well-wrapped toddlers waddled hand in hand with grandparents onto the frosty plains. Tweens chased friends, skidding fearlessly across icy asphalt. Parents found a way to bond with teenagers. Romances budded. Far-flung relatives got reacquainted.

At a snowy patch east of Long Barn in Tuolumne County, the families of Bruno Marín of Atwater and Juan Mendez of Delhi gathered around a buffet lunch spread out on a pickup tailgate. They came "just for fun — just to get wet," said son Jose Marín, 11, with a laugh. He planned to fill the pickup bed with snow to take back to Atwater.

Farther up the slope, the family of Jesus Marín of Tracy (no relation), sat in folding chairs watching children play and admiring their "artwork," a giant snowman trimmed with twigs and cones. "We're having fun just for today," Marín said.

Peggy Kistner of Columbia brought her grandson to see the snow. Eight-year-old Nicholaus Kistner, who lives in Sacramento, delighted in pelting his grandmother with snowballs. "We had snow — almost 6 inches (with the last storm). But, of course, he missed it," Kistner said.

Columbia, at 2,100 feet, likely will miss the snow again tonight, as winter officially kicks off with a National Weather Service forecast of snow showers as low as 4,400 feet. Rain is expected late tonight and early Tuesday at lower elevations.

In Long Barn, where snow was only ankle deep, Aashish Mehan, 20, waged his first snowball fight against Daniel Castro, 22. Both men were from Mountain View and had just come for the day. "This is my first snow," Mehan laughed. "It's very cold," he added, extending a dripping, thinly mittened handshake.

Skating the day away

At the Long Barn ice rink, 10 members of the McAllister family from Galt and the Hitchcock family from Peta- luma celebrated Jessica McAllister's eighth birthday. Eight children, ages 1 to 11, braved the ice or snoozed on shoulders in commemoration of Jessica's day.

Jordan Roberts of Escalon and friend Megan McCormick of Ceres, both 12, skated out into the mellow circular flow.

"It's hard," said Megan, on ice skates for her first time. "It's fun," Jordan said with a grin.

"You have to keep moving," advised Jordan's mother, Becky Roberts. "Relax and keep moving."

The next activity for the trio would be hot chocolate, all three agreed — "with whipped cream. And marshmallows. And some chocolate," added Jordan.

Ice rink manager Caitlin Powers said first-time skaters just need a hand to hold. "It's really fun," she said. "This is the best way to get out some energy."

For Ashley Funderburk and daughters Celeste, 11, and Delia, 14, of Castro Valley, this was the best way to reconnect.

"It's great. For sure it's better than video and computer games," Ashley Funderburk said. "We're on vacation. I picked a place with no cell reception so we can't be texting all day," she said with a meaningful look at her daughters.

"It's awesome," Celeste said.

"I loved skiing, and I'm actually good at it," Delia said. "The air here is easier to breathe."

"It's crisp. Even water out of the tap is colder. Just those little details you never think about," said Ashley Funderburk. "We've had a ball, skiing and sledding, just hanging out. It's been a blast."

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