east of Los Angeles in the rugged San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear Lake provides the perfect weekend refuge for folks fleeing the crowded, smelly streets and smoggy skies of the city for a quick winter weekend of alpine skiing. In the summer months, it offers a respite of boating and swimming in one of California's most pristine alpine lakes. This week, however, the quiet resort with the picturesque lake and rugged snow-capped peaks may be providing the perfect hideout for a disgruntled ex-police officer authorities believe is holed up somewhere in its rugged backcountry after allegedly killing three people.
ABOUT THE AREA: Big Bear Valley is home to about 20,000 residents, including about 5,000 who live in the city of Big Bear Lake, a place instantly recognizable to visitors for its quaint village atmosphere that looks like it could have been time-warped from the 1950s. Until Christopher Dorner, the ex-cop, was believed to have taken refuge there, one of the biggest stories amid the souvenir shops, sports equipment rental outlets and modest family-friendly restaurants was word that the City Council was toughening the sign ordinance. On Sunday evening, the area made the news when a tour bus winding down a mountain road from the town crashed, killing eight.
GEOGRAPHIC FEATURES: Big Bear Lake, with 23 miles of shoreline, sits at an elevation of 6,750 feet. Surrounding mountain peaks rise to 9,000 feet and offer stunning views that, on clear days, extend miles away to the Pacific Ocean.
WEATHER: Unlike Los Angeles, the area has four distinctive seasons. High temperatures can range from the 70s to the 80s during the summer and plunge as low as the 20s in the winter, when snow blankets the area and gives downtown Big Bear Lake a postcard perfect appearance. A powerful snowstorm arrived this week, just after police believe Dorner did, and that could provide him with good cover as authorities search empty summer campgrounds, weekend cabins and frigid mountain trails for him.
WINTER AND SUMMER ACTIVITIES: The area's two major ski resorts offer more than 50 runs between them, all of which were open Friday as authorities looked for Dorner. Public schools were closed. Numerous campgrounds, popular in the summer, also dot the area. The lake itself is a hugely popular — and often crowded — summer attraction, so much so that Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny himself, once lampooned it in a song called "Big Bear Lake," in which he complained of the nonstop racket created by outboard boat engines.
HISTORY: The area was originally settled by Native Americans called Serranos, a name given them by early explorers using the Spanish word for mountain. Its first population boom occurred in the 1860s after gold was discovered. The area didn't become a resort destination until the 1880s when the construction of Bear Valley Dam created the lake. The first ski lift arrived in 1949.
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT THE MANHUNT: "A lot of people are frightened by it. A lot of people are at home locked in their houses and probably won't come out for a couple more days, maybe even longer," said Dennis Pitner as he scraped snow and ice off his car's windshield outside a pharmacy.
When Simeon Prophet visited some friends Thursday night, he noticed they were keeping guns handy, which unnerved the Big Bear Lake resident who says he doesn't own a firearm. "Then I went to check on a neighbor who I'm helping with a prescription. I walked up to his door and three SWAT guys came at me. Scared the crap out of me. So people are concerned."
Associated Press videographer Haven Daley contributed to this report.