OTT: Uphill Both Ways in the Snow on the Nitto Nomad Grappler
Nature: One minute it's all sunshine, cartoon squirrels, and musical numbers. The next, it's beating you like you owe it money. Guess which version we ran into on the Gold River Trail. Jump to the video.
Way back when, we'd been out to Big Bear's Gold River Trail with a trio of Toyotas. This time, we figured we'd hit a beginner's path on the trail with three crossovers. We figured wrong. The weather was perfect the day before, when we were in Pioneertown. Once we got going on trail day, though, a whole heap of snow befell the mountains and our intended beginner's trail became a class in snow-wheeling three crossovers on short notice. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Normally, Big Bear's Gold Fever Trail is an 11 mile dirt that's only accessible for high-clearance vehicles or four-wheel drive cars.
It follows the Holcomb Valley which was once home to the dreams of thousands as they searched the area for their fortune during the Southern California gold rush. You can still find a few signs of that time up there but not exactly a full ghost town. Mostly diggings, old cabins, and the occasional old saloon.
Our Intrepid Adventurers
Host Mike Sabounchi brought his 2018 VW Golf Alltrack. As usual, he started the day in high spirits, albeit despite the winter wonderland rapidly developing around him (or maybe because of it; some of us northerly types love playing in the snow). When you live in a place like Washington (like Mike does), you see a lot of different driving conditions and having something versatile like the Golf is a good plan.
That said, he still improved on the stocker with changes like a lift kit, reflash to the ECU for more power, and a set of brand new Nitto Nomad Grapplers to boot. Luis Nieto and Cody Rasmussen joined him for the day's excitement, both in Subaru Crosstreks. Luis' being a '19 and Clody's a '18. They also have lift kits but in addition, they're carrying recovery gear. And just like Mike's Golf, they're rolling on Nomad Grapplers.
Not only are the new Nomad Grapplers mountain- and snow-rated, they're also designed specifically with CUVs and SUVs in mind. Nitto took all of the experience it has with making awesome light truck tires and applied it to this design for a crossover/SUV tire that's a joy to drive on or off-road. Gold Fever Trail seemed like the perfect place to test the Nomad out on those three crossovers.
And They're Off
Gold Fever Trail is an ideal place for cutting your beginner's teeth as an off-roader. It's not too challenging but it's fun with some interesting sites to check out along the way. Checking the weather beforehand is always a good plan, as is having your adventure pass and other basics like a first aid kit, lunch, and weather-appropriate clothing. Now, we always check weather ahead of time. Sometimes, though, "winter" in Southern California can be unpredictable, like it was this trip.
Just the day before, the crew had met up in nearby Pioneertown. A town started by actor Dick Curtis in 1946 as a living 1880s Old West movie set and it still stands today. Lots of Western films and shows have been shot there. It's the perfect base camp for hitting the nearby Gold Fever Trail. And like we said, the weather was perfect. Then.
Freeway? We Don't Need No Stinking Freeway
The day started off perfectly, too. No clouds, 54 degrees F, and clear sailing ahead as we hit Burns Canyon Trail to Big Bear instead of taking the freeway.
And why wouldn't we? Great day, great vehicles, and great company all made for an awesome start for the trip.
By the time we were at Belleville Cabin, though, the honeymoon was over. Snow cascaded down from the heavens in a big way, it was no longer 54 degrees, and the party decided to wait it out for an hour as the storm passed. As Mike put it, "On this episode of On the Trail, six guys go to the forest to have a picnic." Which they did in the cabin nearby. Bellies full, they ran back to their cars to finish waiting. It turned out that the cabin was pretty short on heating and long on draftiness.
Uphill Both Ways, in the Snow
It turned out to be a legit, real-deal winter storm. Not the usual wimpy "Stormwatch 2022" rain sprinkle that the local LA newscasters try to ham up as some big deal. We're talking ice forming on vehicles, real cold, the whole party. I grew up in Alaska. I had flashbacks just watching this. On the other hand, if you're not going to tackle nature, why would you be off-roading? Unexpected weather can also be a chance to up your skill set. Mike and company would not be deterred. Nature said they'd be snow-wheeling? Fine, they'd go snow-wheeling instead.
Slip Sliding Away
At first the snow had been tight and compact but as the day worn on and snow turned to sleet, the ground morphed into a wet blend of dirt, snow, and water. The guys found themselves off-road drifting. If you're out in the snow like this, using 4-Lo and steady momentum (no sudden speed changes, up or down) is the way to go. Having the Nitto Nomad Grapplers was a godsend as they gave our team the better traction, even wear, and reduced noise that you want in winter conditions. However, even with a good car and great tires, there are limits. Having traction boards on hand gives that extra umph when you get stuck. Just make sure you know how to use them ahead of time instead of learning in the field.
Looks Like We Made It
Trail's end found the group in good spirits. Nobody got stuck or ran into problems. Conditions went from great, to snow, to icy rain but that didn't discourage the guys from having a terrific time. On top of all that, the Nomad Grapplers made that good time possible.