If you enjoy running your rig through the best and worst that Mother Nature has to offer during the winter, then the Winter Fun Festival is the event for you.
The California Four-Wheel Drive Association has held the Winter Fun Festival annually for the last 18 years in Northern California. For the last few years, the main staging area for camping, vehicle safety checks, registration, and great food has been the Grass Valley Fairgrounds. As for the trails, they change according to the type of weather the northern end of California is experiencing. The terrain and level of difficulty you find can change daily.
No matter what the conditions are, however, the Winter Fun Festival is bound to test your driving abilities and provide entertainment for your whole family from beginning to end. Snow, mud, rock - this event has it all.
This year's Fun Festival ran from January 14-16. When the trail crew checked the trails the week before the main event, there was very little snow to be found. On the 15th, though, a snowstorm blew in at around 6,000 feet and changed everything. By Saturday morning, as vehicles began hitting the trails, conditions were changing by the hour. Fresh powder is always fun and made for some fantastic 'wheeling.
The three runs below the snow line were hit with rain, which added mud to go along with the snow on the trail and created a serious challenge for a couple of the rigs. With trail conditions under the control of Mother Nature, great 'wheeling skills were required. Thanks to the excellent trail crews at this event, everyone kept moving in a timely manner. Without a doubt, everyone had a blast.
The first event, the night snow run, was set to leave the staging area on Friday at 9 p.m. After all the preparations were made, the group met at the trailhead and 'wheeled through the night in near-freezing conditions. Even under the best circumstances, 'wheeling at night is challenging. But doing it in fresh snow, with your headlights creating reflections and deep shadows, is a totally different experience. If you're into adventure, then this is a trail run you will remember.
The SUV historical trail ride ran through light to moderately deep snow and was open to all 4WD vehicles. No matter what your 'wheeling experience entails or the capabilities of your rig, this is a great run to take for beginners, as well as hard-core enthusiasts. It is not hard on the vehicle or the driver, but it is heavy on the area's gold mining history and how life has changed since the end of the gold rush.
The long-wheelbase trail ride ran through moderately deep snow, and high-clearance 4WDs with oversized tires were recommended. With the trail conditions changing overnight, the wide mix of vehicles made the run without problems. They started out at just a little after 9 a.m., heading into the high country. Just a couple hundred yards down the trail, they hit a solid path covered in 1-2 feet of snow, with the trail climbing higher into the Sierras.
About a third of the way through the run, they ran out of snow and into water and mud. Now it was time for the real hair-raising fun to begin. The mud was slick in some places, but it proved to be easy to 'wheel through for most of the rigs. The rest of the trail was a cross between patches of mud and snow, with the snow reaching depths of 2 feet in places. By the time they arrived at the end of the trail, everyone had enjoyed themselves, whether they were looking to play in the snow, water, or mud.
Without a doubt, the top run of the event was the Avalanche Express. It ranged through patches of snow as deep as 8 feet; it was only for high-clearance 4WDs with winches, and special equipment was required.
We decided to run this trail this year and hooked up with our good friend Warren Story and his custom-built CJ-5. The trailhead was covered in about 4 inches of snow, and as we traveled up the run, it got steadily deeper. After slogging through the snow for about two hours, we reached the temporary base camp where the crew set up the tarps and the coffeepot for these snow-addicted 'wheelers.
The plan was to blaze new trails in the powdery snow until 2 p.m. and then regroup for the run back to the main camp. After a quick cup of hot coffee, we hit the trail and the fun began.
The powder was deep in places and we blazed a few new trails. After, we ran across Mike Stump and crew playing on a flat area of fresh powder and joined him in the fun. After playing for awhile, we decided to follow him into the deeper snow with his Warn Diamond setup.
My chauffeur, Warren, was keeping up in the powder when the next snowstorm hit. At this point, base camp called up on the CB and told us the fun was over. As always, safety comes first.
We all headed back to base camp for a head count and then journeyed back to the main camp. The timing of the recall by the trail crew was perfect. If we hadn't left the mountains when we did, we would have had to spend the night in the snowstorm.
After this group of rigs made it back to the main camp area, you could see that they'd had a blast playing in the snow all day. If you enjoy the heavy snow runs and have your rig built for the rough country like these rigs, then this is the run for you to hit next year.
In addition to all the great trail rides, there were also family games for everyone's entertainment. The evening events at the camp were held just after the fantastic meals that Ray and Vic De Long helped to prepare. These events included music, dancing, and a raffle on Saturday night.
With the support of national companies such as Warn and local companies such as J&W Auto Wreckers, there were more than 200 items to give away for the raffle. Prizes ranged from Hi-Lift jacks to full winch systems. This drew members of the crowd to the edge of their seats, consulting their tickets each time a number was called. After the raffle and dancing ended, it was time to call it a night and get some sleep before the river bottom games planned for Sunday morning.
The river events are one of a kind, and for those who were up to it, they were the chance of a lifetime. These games began with runs across the river and back while clearing three cones as quickly as possible. They also included driving a course blindfolded while your trusted passenger gave you driving instructions. When the games ended Sunday afternoon, the event was brought to a close and everyone got ready to head home.
For more information on this event, contact the California Four Wheel Drive Association or Ray De Long at (530) 432-8952. See you at the Winter Fun Festival next year.