Winter Fun Festival 2004

Article by: Harry Wagner

Photos by: Mike McAndrews and Harry Wagner

Winter Fun Festival 2004

Our group of Winter Fun participants.

California is often associated with its environmental extremism, which was partly responsible for the previous energy crisis and recent forest fires. This may cause people to mistakenly think that motorized recreation is dead in California, but nothing could be further from the truth. After all, California is the most populous state in the nation and home to such famous trails as the Rubicon and Johnson Valley, to name a few. Many of the four wheelers who regularly traverse these trails belong to the California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs (Cal4Wheel), which fights to maintain legal access to public lands and also hosts some of the best four wheel drive events in the country. Sierra Trek, Panamint Valley Days, and Winter Fun Festival are just some of the long running Cal4Wheel events that are held not only for recreation, but also as a valuable source of fund raising for the Association.

I have enjoyed Cal4Wheel events for a number of years and appreciate knowing that my money is being used to keep trails open. With this in mind, I set off for the Grass Valley Fairgrounds over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend (January 16-18) to attend the 22nd annual Winter Fun Festival. January is not often considered a peak four wheeling month, but you could hardly tell from the turnout for Winter Fun. Over 700 people showed up for the event, with nearly all of the 13 scheduled runs selling out well in advance. One of the reasons for Winter Fun's popularity is the diversity of the event. There are trails ranging from dirt roads with a light dusting of snow to passes where the drifts are several feet deep.

The event started on Friday night with a tasty turkey dinner served up by the Sierra Treasure Hunters. For those who just couldn't wait to get out on the trail, there was a night run on Friday as well. I was signed up for this run, but the open top Land Cruiser I was driving did not have a heater so I decided to skip the night run. Children's games, informational booths, and the abundance of friendly wheelers made me soon forget the night run.

As with most runs at Winter Fun, the historical run was filled to capacity.
This covered bridge was one of the many landmarks encountered.

The "main event" was on Saturday, when nine different runs were in progress throughout the Sierra Nevadas. The less difficult trails traveled to local sites of historical importance and were suitable for any vehicle equipped with four wheel drive. These runs were led by Jim Brahman and Warner Anderson, both of whom have extensive knowledge of the mining history of the area. Cal4Wheel is making an effort to educate the growing population of SUV owners on the joys of responsible four wheeling as well as the legal battles we all face as off highway enthusiasts. Runs such as these are instrumental in accomplishing this goal.

The Saturday historical run covered over 100 miles, though much of it was on paved roads. Participants were treated to sites such as the Holbrook Hotel, the oldest continuously operating hotel in the state of California. Other points of interest included the home of Lola Montez and French Corral, where the first long distance telephone lines were used. Great weather, stunning views, and friendly and well prepared trail leaders ensured that the ranks of four wheelers grew on this day. Several people for whom this was their first organized four wheel drive event were overheard commenting that they would be back next year, perhaps even to try a more challenging run.

My chosen trail for the run was Frostbite Extreme, a new offering for 2004. This trail, like most others, was only open to a limited number of vehicles (20 in this case) and sold out months before the event. The word "extreme" gets thrown around a lot in these days of X Games and Mountain Dew, but Frostbite Extreme lived up to its name and definitely did not dissapoint. The trail seperated "the men from the boys" right at the start. Those without lockers couldn't even get out of the icy staging area and those will little experience wheeling in the snow soon found themselves stuck. Trail leader Rick Bernard ensured that everyone had a good time and no one was left behind, while still allowing each vehicle to travel at its own pace. As with many other Cal4Wheel events, former Top Truck Challenge and Ultimate Adverture participants were present on the run, as were editors from some of the top four wheel drive magazines.

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Fun on the Frostbite Extreme run.
Powertank to the rescue!

Although there was no new snow in the days leading up to the event, the volunteers at Winter Fun Festival managed to offer a trail with snow that was several feet deep. Low air pressure was the key to staying on top of the crusty snow, and too much throttle meant that participants were calling for the strap. Four pounds of air pressure seemed to be the magic number, although those without beadlocked wheels sometimes rolled the tire bead off the rim at this pressure. My Powertank CO2 air tank proved very popular during the run and was used to reseat several blown beads. Luckily no other breakage was encountered on the run.

The scenery was beautiful with the granite and pine trees of the Sierra Nevada blanketed in a cover of white snow and visibilty for miles. The warm weather made for enjoyable wheeling, even in the open topped Land Cruiser. The only downside I could find to the warm temperatures was the varying snow conditions based on the sunshine or shade. This proved quite deceptive and took some getting used to.

Monte Carlo night was just part of the Saturday night festivities.

Once returning to the pavement the hubs were unlocked and the tires aired up. By 4 PM on Saturday I was back at the Grass Valley Fairgrounds, but the fun was not over yet. The Motherlode Rockcrawlers served a delicious steak dinner, which was just the beginning of a event filled evening. Following dinner was the children's raffle and an informative speech by Cal4Wheel Natural Resources Consultant Don Klusman on the history of Winter Fun Festival. After Don's speech came an exceptional raffle that included a Warn winch, Pro Comp tires, and a Detroit Locker, among other prizes. Cal4Wheel also had separate raffle tickets on hand for the built Jeep Wrangler scheduled to be given away in February at their annual convention and a display for the "Making the Grade" oil recycling program, for which they received a grant from the state of California. For those night owls looking for even more fun, a Monte Carlo casino hall ran well into the night.

Sunday morning started as the day before with breakfast in the hall. Unlike in years past, there were no River Bottom Games on Sunday. The games were moved to the Fairgrounds last year following conflicts at the River Bottoms with four wheelers not associated with the event. This year the games were discontinued all together due to logistics and lack of popularity. In their place, three additional runs were offered for those who did not get enough four wheeling on Saturday. With delicious food, flawless organization, excellent company, and great wheeling there is little excuse to miss Winter Fun Festival.

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