Quiet Gem of the Sierras – Bear Valley

Bear Valley It is a crisp winter morning in the Sierras, and the sun is beginning to peak through the trees as we wind our way up into the high country along State Highway 4 on our way to Bear Valley. A fresh layer of snow clings to the towering pines, cedars and firs, weighing down their tops, causing them to lean into one another as if whispering the secrets of this place. We are scarcely aware of our elevation gain until we come around a bend and the forest gives way to a breathtaking view across a river canyon, revealing the sparkling white crest of the Sierra Nevada. We are nearly there! In a few short miles we will be greeted by one stunning scene after another, as the highway emerges into a magical valley at 7000 feet, then points us toward the Mokelumne River canyon, second only in depth to King’s Canyon in the southern Sierra. And finally, around our last turn, the treasure we have come for lies before us – Bear Valley Mountain – some of the finest skiing California has to offer. With the drive time clocking in at around three hours from the south Bay, it is definitely our closest ski resort. So why does it feel so remote?

You could be forgiven for thinking this place is isolated and difficult to reach. In winter, it is literally at the end of the road in the middle of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. For the outdoor enthusiasts who know and love Bear Valley, this is the essence of why they have been bringing their family and friends here for years. This place is a quiet gem waiting to be discovered. It is not the bustling tourist center of Tahoe, though from Bear Valley’s summit you can easily see the Tahoe area peaks. Just subtract the crowds and the five hour ordeal on the interstate, and instead find yourself here, in the middle of the beautiful Stanislaus National Forest.

Bear ValleyBear ValleyEbbett’s Pass, as this stretch of Highway 4 is known, is a national scenic byway and was named in 2010 as among the top scenic drives in the US. It is a showcase for the best the Sierra has to offer, beginning in the rolling foothills around the 2000 foot level and later topping out at 8500 feet along the crest of the range. Major John Ebbetts, to whom the road owes its name, was a California explorer who first traversed the route in 1851. Later, business interests from the bustling mining town of Murphys turned Ebbetts’ route into a wagon trail, and a toll station in the area then known as Grizzly Bear Valley was established. Luckily, transportation has improved a bit since then, and in a short drive from the Bay, you can be on the snow. The ski resort came into being in 1967, as the sport was gaining in popularity on the west coast. However, with the much larger resort developments in Lake Tahoe gathering notoriety just to the north, Bear Valley instead became a haven for those seeking a quieter, lower key, family-style experience. Those values are still very much a part of life here.

What’s different now, and irresistible, is the buzz swirling around this mountain mecca. Various owners during the resort’s 43-year history have schemed and dreamed of expanding the skiing terrain to its fullest potential and creating year-round amenities that will accommodate both adrenaline junkies and leisure specialists. But the resort and village always remained in separate hands until 2005, when they were combined by a partnership of local landowner Chuck Toeniskoetter, Dundee Real Estate and two Bay Area investors, Radar Partners. Several of the new owners have life-long ties to Bear Valley and it’s their goal to build this place into a vibrant mountain community that retains the slow paced, welcoming charm that drew them here in the first place.

But let’s talk snow. The Sierras received an impressive load of snow throughout the fall, setting Bear Valley up for epic early season powder, and we are headed into the newly opened 400 acre bowl on the mountain’s eastern face. This gorgeous stash of intermediate and advanced terrain has been a popular secret among locals for many years, who use the wide open bowls and tree runs to ski into the village below. It has always been within the resort’s “soft boundary,” (an area open to skiing, though not patrolled or maintained) but this is the first year the area will be officially incorporated into the trail system. And it makes sense, after all, because it is here that a long awaited ski lift bringing guests from the village below will soon be built.

The soft boundary concept is a significant asset for Bear Valley, and one the resort is now trying to promote more widely. Anyone who knows the mountain knows Grizzly Bowl – referred to as “the lower mountain,” for its location underneath and out of sight from the more obvious intermediate slopes above – conceals some of the best black diamond terrain this side of the Rockies. However, for those with a good knowledge of avalanche avoidance and the willingness to do a little work (read: hiking through powder to get back to civilization), the mountain can nearly double in size and offer some spectacular backcountry skiing and riding experiences. Luckily, to make the out-of-bounds experience safer and more accessible, local guide service, Mountain Adventure Seminars, has set up shop inside the main lodge at the resort. With twenty years experience in guided climbing, backcountry travel and avalanche safety instruction, owner Aaron Johnson and his team offer everything from private tours of hidden powder, telemark clinics, as well as single and multiday avalanche training sessions.

Bear ValleyWhen the snow melts and summer arrives, Bear Valley serves as an access point to camping, fishing, biking, hiking and mountaineering in the Stanislaus National Forest or for travel into two of California’s spectacular wilderness areas; the Mokelumne to the north, and Carson-Iceberg to the south. July brings the world famous Death Ride nearby, a 100 mile cycle race through five different passes. Or, if you are looking for something more cultural, come in August for the Bear Valley Music Festival, a two-week show of orchestras, soloists and legendary entertainers. Throughout the season, the BVSafe summer camp program offers an array of outdoor youth sports instruction, from soccer and tennis to archery and mountain biking. Athletes of all disciplines have discovered that when the August temperatures soar into triple digits in the valley and foothills below, the weather here at 7000 feet is ideal for long days training in the alpine sun.

A short drive back down the road from Bear Valley, the alpine landscape opens onto the rolling hills of Calaveras County wine country, fast becoming a renowned destination for top quality boutique wines. The county is bordered on the north and south by world class whitewater in the Mokelumne and Stanislaus rivers, and tucked away in the hills between, a year round hot spot for biking, climbing, caving and horseback riding. On the cultural side, you’ll find a patchwork of farms, state parks and small towns where you can browse antiques or contemporary art while sipping your locally roasted espresso. Agriculture has played a big role in the culture and economy of this region, and this year it will be a feature on the menu at Bear Valley as well. In a unique partnership with local food producers, the resort will be offering locally grown products whenever possible and turning its commitment to healthy foods up a notch with fresh vegetarian fare.

While these communities of the Ebbett’s Pass corridor have had their share of economic challenges over the years, they now find themselves in a unique position to offer many of us exactly the kind of experience we are looking for. The blend of year round healthy outdoor lifestyle, food and wine, and vibrant communities have created a new challenge – finding a way to stay longer.

Finding the Meaning of Life in the New Year

Finding the Meaning of lifeSince the beginning of time, people have prophesized about the meaning of life. What is the point of our existence? How does one find purpose? Is inner peace obtainable? Why didn’t I invent Facebook? The question is as simple as it is complex. Ultimately, it would seem logical that we all desire a certain amount of joy and happiness in our lives. Whether your spiritual inspiration is Freud, Nietzsche, Mandino, Budda, Yoda or Zuckerberg, our search can be a lifelong journey or enlightenment can be just a paragraph away. Who knew I was so deep, right?

During my pursuit of enlightenment, both spiritual and intellectual, I have recently unlocked the meaning of life. How? Where? When, you might ask? Let’s just say I attend the church of common sense on a regular basis and this epiphany came to me several weeks ago. Not being one to selfishly hoard a hidden treasure such as this, my New Year’s gift to all of my readers (both of you) is sharing this profound, yet oddly uncomplicated, secret. Ready? Are you sitting down? Life is about the pursuit of happiness and happiness can be found by appreciating simple pleasures. Simple pleasures can be found each and every day in every aspect of our lives if we just take the time to acknowledge them when they occur.

No one person lives life attending a non stop party filled with attention, adulation and admiration, but we all have simple pleasures that fill our heart and recharge our emotional battery. No amount of money, fame, career success, recognition, good health, sports accomplishments, religious purity or sexual conquests can sustain a person for a prolonged period of time. However, if one embraces the simple pleasures in their day to day routines, these flashes of joy and contentment add up to a lifetime of happiness.

Relationships: No relationship is perfect and every relationship has its challenges. Regardless how your relationship is defined; friendship, dating, betrothed, civil union, partners, a married couple, roommates, co-parents or estranged exes, the key is to appreciate the simple pleasures. Too often, young couples expect the honeymoon to never end and are disappointed or disillusions if there are days, weeks or months of strife. A more rewarding approach may be to focus on the simple pleasures that bring you moments of joy. My wife appreciates when I unload the dishwasher or do the grocery shopping. I, on the other hand, enjoy when we read the Sunday paper on the back patio or when I find my favorite new songs uploaded on my ipod. My worst day at the office can be erased if she greets me with a supportive hug when I arrive home. Our simple pleasures include walking the dogs, going to the movies or enjoying a nice bottle of wine. Neither of us it perfect and at times we seem disconnected, but we do our best not to take each other for granted as that’s a simple pleasure in and of its own.

Parenting
: Being a parent is hard and I don’t recall getting an instruction manual when we left the hospital’s maternity ward. Babies cry too much, toddlers toddle too busy, tweens whine too much and teenagers are too moody, rebellious and prone to making bad decisions. However, parenting can also be the greatest job in the world if you take time to appreciate the simple pleasures. Contrary to popular belief, in affluent communities the latest, greatest or most expensive next big thing isn’t what makes a child happiest. A child will likely respond most favorable when a parent is involved, engaged and invested. Holding hands with my daughters is still precious. Hearing usually combative sisters laugh and giggle warms my heart. I love when they’re beaming with pride as the result of bringing home a good grade or accomplishing some athletic feat. I especially like our conversations right before bed time. If I died tomorrow, my heart would be filled with the memories of the simple pleasures we’ve shared together.

Some of my fondest memories I have as a child are of simple pleasures spent with my parents. I remember wrestling with my father in our back yard; seeing my mom’s smile whenever I donned my Cub Scout uniform and the comforting reassuring hugs they both dolled out whenever I was sad or down.

Career: In a perfect world, we would all win the lottery and either not have to work or be allowed the privilege of pursuing the career we choose, not the one we’ve fallen into. What’s the old saying? Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. Sadly, most of us do what we do because it’s either too late to change careers or the career we want wouldn’t pay the bills. So what choice do we have except to find that simple pleasure in our Monday through Friday, nine to five routine? If you’re the boss (owner, manager, supervisor or chief) isn’t it rewarding when an underling accomplishes a task or completes a project to your satisfaction? It’s especially rewarding if you’ve trained this energetic, enthusiastic, eager-to-please employee to succeed? At the same time, if you’re a workerbee, you’ll undoubtedly agree how nice it is to get praise or recognition from your superior. Closing a sale, providing great customer service, addressing a company need, concern or problem can be incredibly rewarding if you recognize your own contribution as a productive member of the team. When you apply yourself and do your best, you’ll be surprised how fulfilling work can be thanks to recognizing the simple pleasures your role plays within the organization.

The end of the year is a chance to reevaluate where we are and where we ant to be over the next twelve months. The New Year brings everyone a new beginning, a chance to reinvent ourselves. This year, my lone resolution will be to truly appreciate life’s simple pleasures. If we learn to appreciate the simple pleasures in life, we can assuredly enhance our level of happiness as we endure our suburban existence. I may not have invented Facebook, but I may just post this life altering mantra for all my friends to read.

“Lighten Up” & Move Forward—Mind, Body, Spirit


As an artist and a creative Clinical Hypnotherapist, I’m a fan of the philosophy that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” For this reason, various visuals (2 and 3 dimensional) are some of my favorite teaching tools. For example, when working with clients who are seeking stress management help, I offer an illustrative symbol for stress that sits on a table next to my chair. The symbol is a small figurine that I repeatedly reach for while talking with clients. The figurine is of a man carrying a large sack of coal on his back. The man is bent over beneath the weight of the coal-filled sack.

This is a good analogy for the stress management work that I do with clients year round. For example, I ask clients, “What are you carrying on your back that feels like a burden?” Then, our work often consists of hoisting the sack off the client’s back, and onto the floor between us. We “metaphorically” let the sack’s contents gently spill onto the floor allowing the coal pieces to receive some light. From this higher perspective…we let the exploration begin.

The client and I sit patiently together, identifying, sorting, and clarifying what each piece of coal (or burden) represents. The process often uncovers guilt, shame, and regret. I also find that many clients are carrying burdens for other people—burdens over which they have no power to change. If they determine they are carrying a burden that is truly someone else’s responsibility, then they can consider “energetically” (sometimes during hypnotherapy) giving the piece of coal back to its rightful owner. This personal inventory process offers my clients an opportunity to strengthen their boundaries and choose to address burdens that are appropriately within their realms of control.

One of my clients, Celeste, carried the burden of continually worrying about her older brother. She expended lots of energy trying to help—as well as trying to “fix” his problems. She researched and offered professional resources galore. Unfortunately, there was no appreciation or follow-up on the resources by her brother (as he continued self-destructive behaviors). Several times, Celeste organized an intervention with a skilled therapist, other family members, and several of her brother’s friends (who were in recovery already). Unfortunately, her brother was unwilling to receive any treatment.

Eventually, through her own personal growth work, Celeste learned that she didn’t need to continually carry another adult’s burdens or suffering. Realizing this was a pivotal moment in her life. It was a moment when she came home to herself. She made her own health, well-being, and personal growth major priorities in her life. And, she finally brought the focus back to issues within herself that were in need of emotional healing. Celeste focused on areas of her life where she did have power and could create healthy change…and cultivate personal fulfillment.

I often see a recurring gift that clients receive after they’ve gone through this process of sorting through their “coal sacks” with me. Once a layer of the emotional exploration is complete and they have clarified and compassionately released burdens that are not appropriately theirs to bear—a clearing appears. After they’ve created some space and added breathing room, they then have an opportunity to invite in what they need in their lives today.

This process of lightening up and moving forward can be a great way for each of us to update our internal landscapes and continually clear out heavy burdens we have no control over. We lose emotional weight, which then often inspires losing physical weight (an added benefit). As a result, we no longer need to “feed” the sack of stress-full burdens!

And, while I’m on the topic of lightening up, if emotional eating is a challenge and a habit in your life—then join me January 11th in Walnut Creek for a workshop (details below). It’s the first workshop on this topic where we are inviting men to attend at the Women’s Health Center. Due to many requests by men to attend, I am delighted to include both men and women. I hope to see many of you ALIVE readers at this event!

Finally, when we dive in and embrace, renew, or release, both physically and emotionally, we are honoring who we are in this precious moment—mind, body, and spirit. And, from this recharged, lighter place we can declare that we are ready to move forward…and wholeheartedly savor this New Year!

Trina’s Inspiring Workshop: Managing Emotional and Compulsive Eating—for Women & Men—John Muir Women’s Health Center: Tuesday, Jan 11, 6:30-8:30 pm. 1656 N. California Blvd., Suite 100, Walnut Creek. Seats are limited—register today: (925) 941-7900 option 3. For more info, go to www.TrinaSwerdlow.com & click on “Private Sessions & Workshops”

Trina Swerdlow, BFA, CCHT, is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, an artist, and the author of the 2-CD Set, Weight Loss: Powerful & Easy-to-Use Tools for Releasing Excess Weight. Her artwork and personal profile are included in Outstanding American Illustrators Today 2. She is the author and illustrator of Stress Reduction Journal: Meditate and Journal Your Way to Better Health. Trina has a private practice in downtown Danville. She soulfully shares her creative approach to personal growth and passionately supports her clients in reaching their goals. You can reach her at: (925) 285.5759, or info@TrinaSwerdlow.com.

Certified Clinical Hypnotherapy services in California can be alternative or complementary to licensed healing arts, such as psychotherapy.