Berkeley goes skiing: Bay Area residents revel in rare low-elevation snow

A man on skis stands amid a light coating of snow. Evergreen trees are in the background.
Jay Sayre, a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley, does a bit of skiing in Berkeley on Friday after snow fell not far from the city’s downtown.
(Alexandra Arjo)

When Jay Sayre heard there was a chance for snow just minutes from UC Berkeley’s campus, he readied an old pair of skis.

The doctoral candidate and his girlfriend decided to venture up to Tilden Park in the Berkeley Hills early Friday, where he said they were pleasantly surprised to find even more than a dusting.

“Who would have thought there was going to be snow?” Sayre said. “It’s just wild to see snow in the hills.”


With about 3 inches on the ground to work with, the avid skier explored the slopes — er, hills, delighting others out reveling in the snow and hamming it up for his girlfriend’s videos.

“Who else is going skiing in Berkeley?” the 29-year-old asked. “It was such a fun experience.”

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Getting in some skiing near Berkeley

Jay Sayre, a doctoral candidate at UC Berkeley, hit the slopes, er, hills, of Berkeley after rare snow fell not far from the city’s downtown on Friday.

Residents across Northern California woke up Friday to fresh snowfall, including at unusually low elevations, making for an exciting day: People built snowmen, captured images of blanketed scenery and even attempted snow sports. Minor accumulation from the monster storm hitting California was reported at elevations around 1,500 feet, and as low as 700 feet in some places, the National Weather Service said. Total snow accumulations were estimated at 3 to 6 inches for areas above 1,500 feet, including Tilden Park near Berkeley.

Although Sayre said it was a novel adventure, he admitted it wasn’t the best skiing — especially compared with his typical routes at Tahoe. But he said it was hard to beat the convenience.

“I don’t think I’ve ever left our home in Berkeley, gone skiing and had a 20-minute round trip,” he said. “It’s certainly better than the three-hour [drive] from the Bay Area to Tahoe.”


Lower elevations saw only minor snowfall, often melting by the afternoon, but it still created roadway disruptions, including stuck vehicles and closed roads. In the mountains, where the snowfall was much heavier, there were also downed trees and power lines and major interstates closed. Many in the Santa Cruz Mountains got a hint Friday morning of what island life would be like: All major roads in and out of the area — Highways 17, 9 and 152 — were closed because of accidents or roadblocks.

A historic winter storm is gaining moisture as it taps into an atmospheric river system and dumps precipitation on Southern California.

Feb. 25, 2023

For longtime Berkeley resident Julian Liu, Friday was a day he’d been awaiting for decades. Those of older generations often recalled the 1976 snow — possibly the last time the Bay Area had significant snowfall and the year he was born. So when he heard the storm was coming, he planned to wake up early to catch the snow, worried it might melt by later in the day.

But then, he said, “I almost didn’t get out of bed,” convinced there wouldn’t actually be snow. When his friends drove up toward Tilden Park just after 7 a.m., he said, they turned a corner, “and suddenly there was so much snow.”

“Lo and behold, we started seeing accumulation,” he said. “It looked like the Sierra.”

He said as they hiked to Vollmer Peak — the park’s highest peak at just under 2,000 feet — it started snowing even more.

Tilden Park near Berkeley
Snow-covered Tilden Park near Berkeley.
(Julian Liu)

“I was totally expecting just to see little patches, but it was definitely a so-called winter wonderland,” he said. “It was like snow snow.”


Liu laughed as he recalled a trip the previous weekend with friends to the Sierra. His friends’ young kids were going to see snow for the first time. But they had to drive high up the mountain to reach the white stuff, and it turned out to be old, packed and icy.

“Today there’s so much more snow in Berkeley than there was when we were staying in the Sierra,” he said. “Fresh, powdery, beautiful.”

Liu wasn’t alone in the day’s excitement: People shared images online of accumulated snow across the region, in Napa, Los Gatos and parts of Marin.

Residents were warned Friday night, however, to take care amid hazardous conditions. The weather service issued a freeze warning for much of the Bay Area, warning that roads could again become dangerous and asking people not to travel into the mountains, if possible.

Times staff writers Summer Lin and Susanne Rust contributed to this report.