As the weather heats up, more and more people are heading to the high country to recreate in the region’s forests, rivers and lakes.
The Bear Valley Adventure Co. (BVAC) caters to these outdoors enthusiasts, providing a variety of services for locals and out-of-towners alike.
The company rents flat-water kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and canoes for use in nearby rivers and reservoirs. It also rents bikes for touring the network of trails in the surrounding forest. BVAC also sells and repairs bikes and kayaks, and offers biking and kayaking lessons and guided tours.
Additionally, the company rents fishing poles, discs for the 18-hole disc golf course in Bear Valley Village, and sells retail clothing and accessories and fishing and camping supplies.
Bear Valley Adventure Co.’s headquarters, just off Highway 4 in the Bear Valley Village, is part outdoor recreation store and part gas station and mini mart – a one-stop shop that provides gas to get there and gear to use when you do.
Officially known as Bear Valley Cross Country and Adventure Co., BVAC also runs the cross country ski area during the winter months. The company goes by Bear Valley Cross Country in the winter months, and then converts into Bear Valley Adventure Co. for the summer months.
The cross country ski area first opened in the late 1960s, in tandem with the downhill ski area.
Several years ago, the operators of the cross country area began to offer services for summer recreation as well, which included kayak and bike rentals.
In December of 2018, the entire operation was acquired by the Bear Valley Mountain Cooperative, a member-owned co-op that seeks to “move Bear Valley forward while preserving its unique characteristics through community leadership and investment,” according to its website.
This has led to an infusion of capital, allowing the company to expand and improve the services that it provides.
While the summer season has been slow to get started following an especially wet winter, it is quickly kicking into gear. Although the store was quiet on Sunday afternoon, the day before had been a busy one.
“Yesterday we rented all of the boats and several of the bikes,” said Brian Wold, who was working behind the counter. “Lake Alpine just opened last weekend, Spicer Reservoir is now open, and Utica Reservoir opened two days ago to camping and kayaking.”
Having worked at the store for a year and a half, Wold has noticed significant changes since the Bear Valley Mountain Cooperative took over the operation.
“These cash registers are brand new,” he said. “They replaced ones from the 1980s that looked like they were from the olden days. They are remodeling the kitchen in the back, and planning on installing new gas pumps that allow people to pay at the pumps.”
These are just some of the improvements the new management has planned.
“One of our main goals is to expand summer capabilities and offer more services, including more cycling events and food services,” said Steve Troyer, president of the Bear Valley Mountain Cooperative.
Aaron Johnson, the marketing and events manager for BVAC, was hired following the change in ownership. He jumped at the opening, saying it was “a unique opportunity to work for a co-op that wants to do cool things in Bear Valley.”
“Bear Valley Adventure Co. has more resources now,” Johnson said. “The company is less financially constrained, and the cooperative can take things to the next level.
“Kayaking is the most popular activity we offer in the summer, with the proximity of Lake Alpine, and Union, Utica and Spicer reservoirs,” he said. “People are looking to get out into the water and escape the heat.”
Johnson said that Bear Valley offers unique experiences for outdoors enthusiasts.
“The scenery is gorgeous,” Johnson said. “The area offers the ability to get up into a high alpine lake, away from the crowds and away from people, just off the highway. You don’t have to get out very far to feel like you have the whole place to yourself.”
Johnson went on to say that BVAC accommodates people with varying levels of experience with adventures “right off the highway or deeper in the wilderness.”
The bike rentals have increased in popularity in recent years. The company is currently partnering with Bear Valley Trail Stewards to improve and expand the network of biking trails around Bear Valley.
“There are a lot of biking trails in the area; the trick is connecting them,” Johnson said. This year, the company will begin offering electric bike rentals, which will “allow people to get higher into the Lake Alpine trail system with less effort.”
It is also looking into providing shuttle services for bikers, which would “take mountain biking in the area up another level,” Johnson said.
Since he started working for the company, Johnson said that he is impressed with the number of people asking about ideas for outdoor activities. “The old owners really created a default adventure information center here, and we want to continue that,” he said.
Although winter is still the busiest season for the company, summer activities in Bear Valley are increasing in popularity.
“Right now, winter is more popular and stable, but summer is quickly catching up,” Johnson said.
While the crowds were light at Lake Alpine on Sunday afternoon, most of the weekenders having headed home, several groups of people fished, boated and picnicked along the shores of the lake. Several children threw snowballs from patches of snow that had yet to melt.
Carlos Soto remarked on his surroundings as he and a friend hoisted their kayaks into the back of his pickup truck.
“It is really beautiful here this time of year,” Soto said. “There is a lot of snow runoff, and the lake is high.”
Although he lives in Lodi, Soto visits Lake Alpine twice a year for weeklong camping trips.
“Lake Alpine is something special – and I’ve camped in a lot of places,” he said. “To me, this is paradise.”