Winter Fun Fest Is Snow Fun For Jeeps

Frostbite Extreme

Chris CollardPhotographer, Writer

In the northern Sierra Nevada, between the kaleidoscopic hues of fall color and emergence of spring grasses, winter months provide copious opportunities for good romps in the snow. When January weather reports indicated the region would be hammered with up to 8 feet of the fluffy white stuff, we headed for the Gold Rush town of Grass Valley and the 35th annual Winter Fun Festival (WFF). The forecast was spot on, and after the deities of weather blanketed the high country, the skies cleared for two perfect days of winter wheeling.

The early morning air was below freezing when we pulled out of the Nevada County Fairgrounds at 0600 for Frostbite Extreme, a trail that follows one of the 1850s emigrant routes backwards toward Nevada. Prerequisites for this run were 35-inch tires, front and rear lockers, a winch, and recovery gear, as well as sleeping bags, emergency food and water, and a tent. The possibility of spending the night sounded like fun, so we tossed in a few Presto logs and MREs.

By the time we reached 5,000-feet elevation, the snow was deep, hubs were engaged, and we had a line of Wranglers, Cherokees, and Grands in tow. In conditions like this, the modus operandi is to follow the guy in front of you until the existing tracks end, then take turns blasting through virgin snow, which usually happens 20 feet at a time while the tach needle bounces off redline. We played this game of vehicular leapfrog into the late afternoon until progress was reduced to a few feet with each assault and our stomachs were growling.

In the lower elevations, participants on a narrated SUV tour visited lonely Gold Rush settlements with colorful names like Rough and Ready, French Corral, and Moonshine. By the time the sun dipped below the horizon, more than 400 snow seekers were back at basecamp for an evening of socializing at the saloon, music, and a ranch-style steak dinner (we opted for steak over a tent and cold MREs).

The night wrapped up with a sweet raffle filled with Warn winches, BFGoodrich tires, and more than $10,000 in other off-road swag. The Winter Fun Festival, which includes 13 separate trail rides (and a night run), kicks off California’s snow-wheeling season each year, and is one of the West's premier family 4WD venues. For information on the 2018 event go to cal4wheel.com.