John Boston | Snowshoeing on Christmas Day With My Pops

John Boston

I’ll take it but it doesn’t seem right. The high in Santa Clarita for Christmas Day is supposed to be a blistering 73 degrees, sunny and one degree above perfect. It’s predicted to dip down to an arctic 52 for the nighttime low. Fifty-two. Who can survive? Honestly? There have been Julys here colder. And wetter. 

Science has made amazing advances in my lifetime. But, I can’t recall any invention that can bring snowfall to our permanently beige high desert valley. My dad, Walt Cieplik, made his transition nearly a decade ago. For years, we shared a Christmas tradition. After the presents were opened, dishes washed and trash taken out, we’d exchange the real presents. We’d climb into the truck and disappear. Around much of the nation, people were shivering in single-digit temperatures. Dad and I? We’d drive up to Mt. Pinos and snowshoe into the back country. Daft or romantic, couldn’t tell you. 

I don’t know the science behind it, but your problems just disappear when you’re crunching through fresh powdery snow in the pristine wilderness. It’s not like the Tehachapis have never been explored. They’ve been tromped on more than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But, there’s something so glorious about being that first person to walk upon an untouched blanket of freshly fallen snow.  

Really. It’s just water, frozen delicately. Some warmer years, we don’t even get that luxury of a single postcard view of the Life Alpine. The phrase, “foot of snow,” is best left for adventure books. In December of 1931, silent screen star William S. Hart measured 14 inches at the base of his ranch smack dab in the middle of downtown Newhall. It was an interesting few years of winter for us. We had a big snow storm in 1929, another in 1930, the 14-incher of 1931 and an even bigger snowfall in 1932. Downtown Newhall was covered — COVERED — in snow, not overnight, but for two weeks. Our big snowfall of 1945 was described by Signal Editor Fred Trueblood: “When the big flakes stopped falling, Newhall and its surrounding hills and mountains took on an Alpine appearance, with everything blanketed in virgin white.”  

And that was nothing compared to one of the rarest storms, possibly in the last 500 years here. Hard to believe, but in early January of 1949, we looked more like Mammoth Mountain than Saugus. The thermometer dipped to a low of 13. For three straight days, light snow fell on the Santa Clarita — more than 3 feet in some of the higher inland canyons, nearly 2 feet in Downtown Newhall. Drifts were measured in yards. Actually, in that Storm of ’32, most of that snow fell in just one night. That front came and went quickly. It did ruin our citrus and ag crops. 

The strange thing about the 1949 storm was that very little snow fell on the Ridge Route, Castaic and upper Saugus. In that weird anomaly, it rained at the higher elevations and snowed in the lower. For the first time in centuries, it snowed in Long Beach, Santa Monica and on the beach in Malibu. Up here, the snow caused a run on everything from tire chains to gloves for snowball fights and snowman making. Local stores ran out of something many younger souls have never seen: camera film. Hart High had to cancel a home basketball game for the first and only time because of snow. The white stuff just wouldn’t leave. That next blizzard of Jan. 9, 1950, was the fifth major snowstorm in a row. The icy roads also caused several accidents. Want to know what was the No. 1 injury treated at the local doctors’ offices? Sore butts and bruised tailbones from slipping on icy sidewalks. 

There was a big snowstorm here in 1962, then the blizzard night of January 1970. The Ridge Route was closed — at Roxford. Two feet of snow fell in spots around Santa Clarita. Visibility was zero in places and the valley was cut off from the rest of the world. Commuters in the San Fernando Valley and L.A. couldn’t get home and had to spend a couple days in hotels, offices or work places. My two baby sibling-like substances snuck out to make a snowman, only to see neighbor Andy Allensworth knock it over in his VW Bug. Joe and Hondo quickly rebuilt the snowman, this time around a steel trash can filled with rocks. On his return trip, Andy dented his Volkswagen’s front end attempting to plow it over. Three years later, 1974. Another blizzard, a valley littered with hastily constructed snowmen. 

Odd fact? We made major snowfalls for years ending in “7” for 1927, 1937, 1947, 1957 and 1967.  

One writer from the Auto Club wrote in the early 20th century that people who traveled on the early Ridge Route (I-5 today) who survived wrote adventure books about their voyages. I remember such a story, about some Newhall outdoorsmen back in 1922. They motored up to Frazier Park for a sunny Christmas snowshoe trek. A blinding storm rolled in from nowhere and their Model T was mired in the blizzard. They had to hike miles to a primitive line shack in the woods. I don’t know what they did for food, but they camped out on the floor, in front of the fireplace, for a full seven days before snowshoeing down to civilization, which then was the forest ranger’s station at Lebec. Counting being marooned in the cabin, they figured it took them eight days to make the round trip back to Santa Clarita.  

Now that’s being stuck in a storm. 

Snow in Santa Clarita proper? It’s beyond rare. I still smile, thinking about a father and son’s tradition — snowshoeing in the cold and passionately quiet, cheeks and noses rosy red. I have a funny feeling that right now, Dad’s somewhere, having a Merry Christmas, smiling about it, too… 

John Boston is earth’s most prolific satirical writer. Visit is bookstore at Snow or not, still time to Christmas shop…

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