This was my third visit to Mammoth. Mammoth mountain is located in the California Sierras, about 45 minutes south of Lee Vining, where the road to Tioga Pass, the east portal to Yosemite, leaves US 395. We took the approach to Mammoth used by most coming from a distance: We flew into Reno and took the 3 hour drive down US 395, passing Mono Lake and occasional entrances to passes over the mountains that are closed during the winter. As on past trips, I had arrived just at the March/April border, usually a time of great snow conditions.
Mammoth is a mountain that lives up to its name. It is enormous. Located in the beautiful Inyo National Forest, it boasts a great assortment of terrain, satisfying the expert and novice alike. It has lots of black and double-black stuff off the 11-thousand foot top ridge, leading into open bowls and into well-spaced glades for tree skiing. It has 3 terrain parks offering jumps and half-pipes. It has 28 lifts, including the first high-speed 6-seater I’d ever seen. And many, many runs of all descriptions. Aggressive grooming makes sure that there are runs for everybody.
But the skiing gods were unhappy with me, and we had unusually bad conditions. (I had friends with me who ski Mammoth every year and had never seen such bad conditions.) On the first day, the temperature at the base rose to the 50s, and the previous day had been warm as well. To keep things from getting too bad, the groomers had spread salt on the slopes the previous night. As a result, the groomed slopes were mostly OK, and in the afternoon, even tree skiing was fine, if a bit mushy. But then it got colder and extremely windy. For the remainder of the week, skiing off-trail was not fun, since the ungroomed snow had become “sierra cement”. Furthermore, high winds closed much of the mountain for a few days. Fortunately, mid-week saw a 4-inch powder dump, and everyone had a great time chasing that for awhile.
Despite these unusually bad conditions, I had a good time. Mammoth is huge, and skiing only groomed slopes was still a very nice.
Wherever I ski, I eat lunch on the mountain, and was pleasantly surprised at that experience on Mammoth. The food was unusually good and inexpensive as such things go. One day, my wife and I split a $10 meal, and we were both full. I recommend eating at the Canyon Lodge, which is airy, has plenty of room, and has good food offerings. Don’t miss the killer chocolate cake.
Like most people, I stayed in the town of Mammoth Lakes; the lifts are a 5 minute bus ride away. (There is also some lodging right at the slopes.) The town has many restaurants, has lots of sporting goods stores, and the other shopping as well. A free bus system will take you around the town, to lodging, and to the lifts. If you find yourself looking for lunch in town, try the Good Life Cafe, a place for great food at a reasonable price and offered in a nice atmosphere.
Mammoth Lakes is a real town, and is quite laid back. Mammoth gets a large portion of its business from the LA area, with people driving up for long weekends, so it is not as overrun with tourists as one might expect. This also means that the slopes are not crowded. I never saw a serious lift line for the entire week. There were times when I could spot no other skiers, even on big open trails with lots of visibility.
If you want a change of pace one day, consider going to the Tamarack cross-country ski center. On a previous visit, I went there. In addition to offering rentals, the center is the gateway to many groomed cross-country trails (the brochure advertises 45km of them). The setting includes lakes and forests against a mountain backdrop.
Despite the disappointing conditions, I enjoyed my stay at Mammoth, and am looking forward to the forthcoming creation of a nearby airport that reportedly will handle full-size jets.