by Chris Collard

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. This 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 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 3 days, we decided to partake in a little of both.

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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, Bitcon Springs, and historic points of interest such as Bridgeport, which features one of the last covered wooden bridges in the West.

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Though historic 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 served up libations while over 500 people gathered for a first-rate raffle. Lucky ticket holders walked away with prizes donated by Warn, BFGoodrich, Wilco Offroad, Snevey’s Offroad, 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 (January 13-15), check out: www.cal4wheel.com or call 1-800-4×4-FUNN.

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Sierra Snow

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About the Author: Chris Collard

Chris spent his formative years riding dirt bikes with his dad in the deserts of Southern California and Baja, Mexico, which led to a lifelong quest for adventure. He is handy behind a viewfinder and at the keyboard, and brings four decades of international travel experience to Overland Journal as Editor-in-Chief. His career, which includes work for National Geographic Adventure, Four Wheeler, Hot Rod, and Autoweek, has taken him through 50-plus countries and to every continent. He has also served as correspondent to magazines in a dozen countries and in as many languages. In 2013 he was part of the Expeditions7 team that crossed Antarctica and he has recently been inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame as a pioneering journalist. When not behind the camera Chris can be found on The Office (his sailboat), or undertaking meticulous “research” for upcoming articles in locales such as Tequila, Mexico.