Every January the California Association of 4WD Clubs holds an event in Grass Valley dubbed Winter Fun Festival. Volunteers get permits from the Forest Service, rent out the Grass Valley Fairgrounds, collect entries, cook meals, and lead many runs, from the historic to the scenic to the nearly impassable. After all these years the Winter Fun Festival has become a well-oiled machine, even when handling over 600 participants.
While the event is always held in January, there isn’t always an abundance of snow. That part of the equation is up to Mother Nature. In 2017 she delivered in a big way. Storms battered the Sierra Nevada with several feet of snow in the week leading up to Winter Fun Festival. Then something amazing happened. The storms broke on the day before the event, making way for sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s.
In addition to a night run on Friday and a host of trail options on Saturday and Sunday, Winter Fun Festival also includes plenty of festivities at the Grass Valley Fairgrounds, which serves as a base of operations for the event. RV facilities are located on site, along with plenty of parking space for tow rigs. A silent auction, raffles for kids big and small, and vendor booths filled the hall at the fairgrounds. Hot meals were available to warm you up and give you the energy needed to play in the snow. All this and your rig is still clean after a weekend of wheeling! We can’t promise that Mother Nature will cooperate in 2018, but we will be back at Winter Fun Festival to find out.
What to Bring Winter Wheeling
Snow wheeling has unique requirements. In addition to the typical tools and spare parts that you bring along on any trail, there are some extras that you will want to have with you when you venture out in winter.
• Snow shovel
• Wide base for jack
• Traction mats
• Warm boots
• Hand warmers
• Thermos of soup or hot cocoa
• Sleeping bag
• Extra water
• Energy bars
• Propane or other fuel-based heater
Each trail run begins with a drivers meeting. There were plenty of volunteers along on the runs to lend a hand, each in a vehicle that clearly identified them as part of the trail crew.
The deep snow this year led members of the Grass Valley 4Wheelers and Madhatters 4x4 clubs to run the trails prior to the event to break the trail. This allowed the groups to cover more ground—until they got to the fresh snow. Then progress was measured 5 feet at a time.
We have wheeled with Ray Sarkin in the snow before, and his 4Runner goes everywhere he points it. The lightweight Toyota still runs a 22RE engine, but 1-ton axles have been added to allow the use of 38-inch Goodyear MT/Rs without fear of breakage.
Getting stuck is part of snow wheeling. In the morning when the snow was light and dry even the lightest wheelspin would result in sinking your rig. Recovery points front and rear are a Cal4Wheel requirement for Winter Fun Fest, and for good reason. Nearly everyone on our run needed to use them at least once.
The Grass Valley Fairgrounds played host to the event, where volunteers from the Sierra Treasure Hunters served up warm meals and local vendors showed off their wares. Jackcovers, Metalcloak, and Snevey’s Offroad were amongst the vendors offering great deals in their booths.
While Winter Fun Festival was primarily made up of Jeeps, plenty of other brands were represented as well. The friendly rivalry between Jeep, Toyota, Suzuki, and Ford made for plenty of trash talking when someone got stuck.
Paul Cromwell’s LJ went everywhere he pointed it in the snow. The siped 39-inch Super Swamper Iroks were aired down to single digits to float on top of the snow. Cromwell also knew how much momentum to carry through the snow and got off the throttle as soon as progress ceased.
Metalcloak is headquartered in Rancho Cordova, just down the road from Grass Valley. As such, the company had a big presence not just in the vendor area but also on the trails, where Metalcloak employees piloted many JKs and TJs to demonstrate the effectiveness of their products.
Bryan Crofts threw a hard top on his wicked Wrangler, but he was at the event representing Spider Web Shade. In addition to mesh tops that the company is best known for, it also offers heavy-duty trash sacks that Crofts was giving out to Winter Fun participants.
Remember to lock the hubs and air down prior to hitting the snow. We wanted to adjust our tire pressure from 6 psi down to 2 psi, but doing so required some digging and scraping.
Cal4Wheel gets permits to use the Forest Service roads run at Winter Fun Festival. In summer the roads are easily passable; in winter, not so much. The views are stunning during any season.
Nate Davey served as our trail leader for the Frostbite Extreme run. The veteran of snow wheeling makes it look easy. He attributed much of his success to airing the 37-inch Goodyear MT/Rs down to 5 psi. Walker Evans beadlock wheels keep the tires on the wheel rims where they belong.
We brought our big ol’ Ford out to play in the snow. Ultimate Adventure alumnus Jimmy Jack served as our stunt driver while we snapped photos. The 41-inch Pit Bull tires did an admirable job of keeping the 6,900-pound truck moving forward through the deep snow.
The LJs were out in force on Frostbite Extreme. Eddie Vandervoort’s Jeep was built by GenRight and features the company’s suspension, armor, and fuel tank, amongst such other top-shelf components as King coilovers and 42-inch Goodyear MT/Rs.
The run called Siberian Express used the same trail as Frostbite Extreme; the group just followed after the snow had been packed down. There were still opportunities to venture into the deeper snow without too many consequences.
Even with relatively small 33-inch -tall Toyo Open Country M/Ts, Jeff Dax went everywhere in his long-wheelbase SJ410 Samurai. The lightweight rig uses a 1.6L engine and Lock-Right lockers in the axles.
Snow wheeling isn’t the sort of thing you want to do alone. A simple tug of the strap from another vehicle can save hours of digging and winching. Everyone we met at Winter Fun Festival was friendly and happy to lend a hand to their fellow wheelers.
In the afternoon when the weather warmed up, the snow was heavier and wetter. This gave Bryan Crofts the opportunity to open up the LS3 under the hood of his LJ. King coilovers and bypass shocks at each corner sucked up any bumps without issue.
A silent auction is held at the Grass Valley Fairgrounds to raise funds for Cal4Wheel’s land-use advocacy. Donors included Quadratec, 4Wheel Parts, Advance Adapters, and BFGoodrich, amongst others.
The Winter Fun Festival takes place in the heart of California’s Gold Country. Our run ended in the tiny mining town of Alleghany, population 58. That is enough to support Casey’s Place, the local watering hole. The Sixteen-to-One Mine has been in continuous operation in this area since the Gold Rush.
Ace photographer Chris Collard was on hand shooting photos for our sister brand Jp. We will let you in on a little secret: Collard actually drives a Toyota! He spent more time hiking than driving, though, in search of the perfect shot.
Snow conditions varied greatly on our trip. In the shadows the snow was icy and hard, providing less traction than the wet, heavy snow in the sunshine. Slight grades uphill or downhill also made a big difference in how much throttle could be successfully applied.