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Squaw Valley
Snowboarding at Squaw Valley is one of many activities available at a dozen ski resorts in the North Lake Tahoe area. Recent large snowfalls have created ideal conditions. Courtesy photo
Arts & Entertainment Columns Hit the Road

Hit the Road: The month for gray whales, ski resorts and catamarans

Whales ‘n’ snow. That’s what February in California is all about.

Regarding the former: It’s that time of year when thousands of itinerant gray whales pass through our coastal neighborhood heading south to the warm waters of coastal Mexico. You can meet some of these leviathans up-close-and-personal by hopping aboard Oceanside Adventures50-foot catamaran, homeported in Oceanside Harbor across from the lighthouse.

“We are at the peak of the gray whale migration,” says Carla Mitroff, manager and spokesperson for Oceanside Adventures. “We’ve been seeing them consistently, and we always see lots of dolphins, too.”

The southern migration begins in December and lasts until the end of April, but the trip north to their feeding grounds off the coast of Alaska can begin as early as February.

Gray whales
Gray whales are plentiful off the coast of Oceanside at this time of year. Most are heading south to the warm waters of Mexico, but some have already begun the return trip north. If you’re lucky during a whale-watching cruise, you’ll see the giant mammals swimming both ways. Photo courtesy of Oceansidewhalewatching.com

“In fact, at some point in February, we’ll be seeing the whales going in both directions,” Mitroff says.

For the uninitiated, you should know that gray whales:

  • Load up on food while spending summers off Alaska’s coast. Once migration starts southward, they swim continuously and never eat.
  • Breed and give birth off the coast of Mexico.
  • Grow to 50 feet long and weigh up to 36,000 pounds.
  • Have baleen, not teeth. Whales feed by scooping up giant mouthfuls of krill and other tiny sea life from the ocean floor. The baleen acts as a filter, leaving only the krill.
  • Have a double blowhole (dolphins have one), and spouts are about 15 feet high.
Oceanside Adventures
Oceanside Adventures’ 49-passenger catamaran takes 24 passengers out of Oceanside Harbor for whale watching. February is the high season for the gray whale migration. Photo courtesy of Oceansidewhalewatching.com

Oceanside Adventure cruises also may encounter minke, humpback and fin whales, and one or more of the four types of dolphins that live off North County’s coast.

According to COVID guidelines, the 49-passenger catamaran sails with only 24 passengers and follows a protocol that includes mandatory masks for passengers and crew.

To see what happens in the warm waters of Mexico’s San Ignacio Lagoon, check out this video from Todd Nordness. The preserve ranger for the Center for Natural Lands Management in Carlsbad visited the whale’s playground in February 2011.

Heading in the opposite direction…Our recent rains have translated to tons of snow in California’s mountains, and they are doing the happy dance at the state’s 35 ski resorts. Nearby Bear Mountain and Snow Summit at Big Bear Lake, and Mountain High at Wrightwood are open, as are the dozen ski resorts in the North Lake Tahoe area, which “boasts the highest concentration of ski resorts in North America,” according to GoTahoeNorth.com.

The COVID-19 pandemic presents challenges when it comes to opening ski resorts this season, but officials at North Tahoe say they are ready.

“…Our business community, residents and visitors have quickly adapted to new protocols in support of our tourism-based economy,” said Andy Chapman, president and CEO of the Incline Village Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau. “The businesses in our region are incredibly resilient and have put tremendous thought and effort into ensuring they can operate safely this winter.”

Area resorts and merchants feature new hand-sanitizing stations, more outdoor seating and takeout food, electrostatic sanitizing sprayers, RFID lift gates to provide touchless scanning, and “care teams” responsible for resort sanitation and cleanliness.

Reservations and face-coverings are required everywhere, including for activities like ice skating, sledding, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Guests also must practice social distancing throughout the resorts, businesses, on trails, public lands and other recreational areas.

Have an adventure you want to share? Email [email protected].

For more travel photos and discussion, visit www.facebook.com/elouise.ondash.

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