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We Hit The First Big Snow Of The Season At The Winter Fun Festival

Posted in Events on March 7, 2016
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There are certain events that trigger an irresistible urge to dust the summer grime off our rigs, load up the Gore-Tex, and head for the hills. It is usually sparked by reports of an early fall storm, and in a moment we find ourselves dropping commitments, honey-doos, and feeding the dog. In January, after two years of drought, news of three feet of fresh powder in California’s Sierra Nevada had us heading for the Gold Country town of Grass Valley for the Winter Fun Festival (WFF). The event offers over a dozen runs ranging from high-country treks near the infamous Fordyce Trail, to narrated historic trips through some of the region’s most iconic mining camps. Since WFF spans three days, we decided to do a little of both.

At 0600 the air had a bite to it, and steam swirled from our coffee into the chilly morning light. After a home-cooked country breakfast of bacon, eggs, and biscuits, several hundred rigs rolled out of the Grass Valley fairgrounds to their various staging areas. We jumped in with the Sierra Treasure Hunters, who lead the historic trek, and soon found ourselves passing through the 1860s mining towns of Rough and Ready, French Corral, and Bitcon Springs, and historic points of interest such as Bridgeport, which features one of the last covered wooden bridges in the West.

Though historic and SUV runs usually don’t include overly challenging terrain, the takeaway is a wealth of local knowledge. Throughout the day trail boss Ron Kellogg chimed in on the CB, sharing information on everything from local legends to contemporary specifics. The group stopped in Forest City for lunch, where the Treasure Hunters laid out a spread of hot chili and dogs; perfect for a cold snowy day. The “City” portion of the name is a grand hyperbole, as at any hour of the day, any day of the week one could roll a bowling ball down Main Street with a clear path to the end of town; save disturbing a sleeping dog or two. Glen Sundstrom, the local docent, opened the dance hall and shared rich accounts of the district’s heyday.

Our next venue was in the high country with the crew from Glacier Assault. Old Man Winter was repenting for two years of drought, and obliged us with a healthy dousing of the fluffy white stuff. With hubs locked and tire pressure below 10 psi for maximum floatation, we rolled off the pavement near Nyack, elevation 5,000 feet.

The snow depth increased with the elevation. When the existing tracks disappeared, progress slowed and the rigs blazing trail began to get stuck. Such is a day on the snow; break trail, get stuck, pull out the shovel, break some more trail. The rigs in the back had a much easier time, so long as they stayed in the existing path. If you didn’t have good tires or got sideways and off track, there was a good chance you would be getting the hook from a buddy.

Winter days in January are short, and when the light began to fade we were hightailing it for the WFF saloon. Back in Grass Valley the mess crew was preparing a delicious ranch dinner with all the trimmings. The barkeeps (Highlanders 4WD club) served up libations while over 500 people gathered for a first-rate raffle. Lucky ticket holders walked away with prizes donated by Warn, ARB, BFGoodrich, Powertank, KC HiLiTES and dozens of other generous sponsors. The event wrapped up with music and dancing, and a good time was had by all. The Winter Fun Festival kicks off the snow-wheeling season each January and is one of the West's premier family events. For information on the 2017 Winter Fun Festival, check out: www.cal4wheel.com or call 1-800-4x4-FUNN.

The route to the high country traversed the steep canyons of Nevada Country.

Trails were passable for most 4x4 vehicles, but there wasn’t much room to pass so single file was the rule of the day.

Historic Run trail boss Ron Kellogg shared rich accounts of California’s Gold Country.

Entering Forest City is like stepping back in time. Old wooden and brick buildings line the street and the smell of wood smoke drifts from rusting chimneys on battered tin roofs.

French Corral was one of the early European settlements in the region. It became a hub for hydraulic mining and transportation of gold ore.

The wooden covered bridge in Bridgeport is one of the last of its kind in California. During a heavy winter storm, floodwaters washed it down the river. When the townsfolk dragged it back into place, the north end was swapped with the south.

The Forest City Dance Hall, built in 1883 after a fire destroyed the original structure, was the center of social events and featured a saloon, dance floor, and a Vaudeville style stage.

We joined the Glacier Assault crew for a trek through deep powder in the high country.

With this classic Bronco leading the way, the snow hadn’t gotten too deep by this time.

Soon though, the snow was up to the skid plate, as this shot of a Nissan pre runner shows.

The great thing about Winter Fun is that you don’t need an “extreme” rig to participate. Though they weren’t breaking trail, our run had a number of lightly modified Toyotas Tacomas and Nissan X-terras.

A Bronco followed by a Suzuki followed by a Toyota truck followed by a Jeep. The eclectic mix of vehicles meant that this is a run that can be done by all.

Proper air pressure is just as important in the snow as it is in the sand!

Evening festivities include a small vendor show, music, saloon, and dancing.

Back at HQ, the Winter Fun raffle dished out loads of off-road gear from BFGoodrich, Warn, KC HiLiTES, Red Peak, and Advanced Adapters.

If anything, the snow was deeper on the way down than it was on the way up.

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