In the middle of January each year, just as the height of the snow season bludgeons California's Sierra Nevada range, hundreds of 4x4 owners bundle up and converge on the Gold Rush city of Grass Valley. Nestled in the foothills between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, Grass Valley is headquarters for the annual winter snow run held by the California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs. For a good reason too: Grass Valley offers a wide variety of outdoor recreation areas mixed with picturesque mountain passes and endless trails.
The event was organized to suit all the participants' needs, with runs for every type of vehicle. From unmodified SUVs to wild Top Truck Challenge hopefuls, a fun-filled day of snow-packed 'wheeling was available to all comers. This year, Winter Fun Fest featured 14 different trail rides from which to choose, all with varying degrees of difficulty.
We don't get a lot of snow here at Four Wheeler World Headquarters in Los Angeles, so the opportunity to join in was too good to refuse. We scammed a ride and went along. We decided to try our chances on the most difficult of the runs available to us-Frostbite Express. The guys from Foothill Off Road in Auburn, California were on hand to help out as support crew for Frostbite Express, which traced a path over Henness Pass Road near the Pliocene Ridge area, which is part of the original Emigrant Trail followed by early California pioneers. Our group consisted of 23 well-equipped trail machines and four support-crew vehicles. Our trail leaders were Rick Bernard and Tom Grancey, who led the pack through a fresh layer of sugar snow.
It was incredibly scenic, but it wasn't easy. We stopped more than once to back up and make second attempts at areas where sun-warmed snow created hidden sink holes. The lesson of the day: Snow can be a ton of fun one minute, then the next you're hopelessly stuck waiting for a fellow 'wheeler to give you a tug. That's the fun and the challenge of it.
The day's most common activity? Winching. It was as common as round headlights in our predominately Jeep convoy. Our leaders moved along at a steady pace, and then, as quickly as the snap of an axle, everyone stopped, and out would come the straps. We made good progress, though, and as we did, several sections of the tree-lined road opened up to stunning views punctuated by vast open areas where participants could push their vehicles' limits on the frozen terrain. As we approached the fourth hour of the trail ride, most of the participants turned around to retreat to the warmth and festivities provided by the Grass Valley Four Wheelers at the Nevada County Fair Grounds. Dinners were provided for all, and a raffle gave everyone a chance to win 'wheelers' prizes. Later that evening, the inside of the dinner hall looked more like 'Vegas, as the evening's "Monte Carlo Night" theme gained momentum.
The California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs has been organizing Winter Fun Fest for 22 years, and the winter run has been around for seven years. The club emphasizes family fun, as well as the promotion of responsible trail etiquette. It's all right up our alley.