MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN: Bigger than Ever

by Louis Bignami

Mammoth Mountain defines Southern California excess.  It’s so huge you could drop four or five East Coast areas.  If you unfolded the Trois Vallées and considered Mammoth Lakes a sort of California version of Brides-les-Bains you’d be in the ballpark. And what a big ballpark it is.  It’s so high, with a top elevation at 11,053 feet, that snow stays late, and there’s more snow here than in most resorts due to the open terrain to the West and a world-class ridge lift.  It’s so open that “runs” seems an obsolete term with massive bowls and downhill cruisers so wide skiers and boarders on the other side look like bugs.  It will soon have amenities to match the mountain that’s typically got enough snow to ski early in November.

For Mammoth Mountain is a resort in transition from the traditional weekend drive in skiers who might arrive in a Ford Woody with dual-purpose ski and surfboard racks.   “Old: Mammoth, with its scatter of lifts, interesting parking and rather an odd assortment of mismatched lodges, cabins, condos and resorts still belongs to the McCoy’s, the founding family, but a majority of the operation is owned by the same group that runs Whistler and Mt. Tremblant in Canada, two of the best ski resorts in the world.   

Most skiers expect the “New” Mammoth to reach this level based on the primary $130 million dollar upgrade about half completed.  A total of $750 million dollars is to be invested with over $500 million dollars earmarked to add accommodations for 10,000 more guests each day and for new base villages and rental areas. Mammoth Lakes, the nearest village, will spring for a $175 million dollar upgrade.  Each year brings new lifts, lodges, condos, shops and activities and the end result should be an American version of the Trois Vallées.  What you’ve got now is the Le Praz and Courchevel 1550 and start of Méribel.  The high end is going in.  Now’s the time to go so, decades hence, you can bore the teenagers with “I remember when.” 

As a result of this scurry to build, and Delta flights from Dallas scheduled to start in the 2002 season a great weekend resort is evolving into the world class destination resort that the topography and snow of this most magnificent of mountains deserves.  As usual some residents of nearby Mammoth Lakes would like things to rusticate, but the changes seem improvements for serious skiers and visitors who seek the best, and the Mammoth California Environmental Policy statement of the developer takes recycling, energy conservation, air-quality and habit protection as far as you might expect in evergreen California.  

Main Category: Skiing

At least 150 named “trails” up to three miles long and in some cases a half-mile wide, lace more than 3,500 acres of Mammoth Mountain.  However, only the lower wooded section has trails in the USA sense.  The massive upper bowls and peaks remind skiers of Courchevel 1850 or Tignes.  “Trails” at Mammoth Mountain may be half a mile wide; they don’t ski out in a couple of hours, as is sometimes the case with constricted runs. 

Experts and beginners each enjoy 30% of the terrain; Intermediates own the rest so the mountain seems well-suited to skiers and boarders at all levels as each has more acres of terrain and more miles of trails at their own level than would be the case at two or three typical-size resorts.  

With 300 days of sun yearly weather’s generally on the mild side if it’s not blowing.  That’s the question as it blows hard up on the Mammoth Crest that’s the first real barrier for Pacific storms.  Sometimes it blows hard enough to shut down the upper section of the mountain and wind crust can be a problem on north slopes.   With so many mountains9 it’s possible to work round to south or west slopes to find the best “mashed potatoes” spring snow.  The protected tree runs at June Mountain are only 20 miles to the north of Mammoth as well.  

It’s also possible to fry above 10,000 feet on those 300 sunny days, and industrial-weight sun block is a must.  On other days when it’s only blowing 20 mph or so, bundling up is advised, and it’s interesting that the rental shops rent one-piece suits, bibs and jackets.  Even so, on a calm April day, bikini skiing is possible.    

Rating note: it’s not unknown for skiing to run until the 4th of July weekend in big snow years and can be open early in November– hence the 1 for summer. 

Beginner Trails

 Difficulty increases with altitude so the 30% of the green beginner’s trails are all at the bottom off lifts like 7, 11 or 17.  Fortunately, that’s where 85% of the resorts snowmaking covers 20% of the hill and 22 trails.  The best green trails cluster on both edges of the area off lifts 7 and 17 at Canyon or at the opposite edge of the resort is the best bet.   These are out of the high-speed routes expert and advanced skiers sometimes use to bomb to the bottom of the hill.  

Sleepy Hollow and Lupin trails out of Juniper Springs Base Camp, with lovely morning sun, are the spots to start on warm weekdays, but it gets crowded on weekends.  It it’s crowded, or boring here, simply slide over to the Canyon Lodge lift complex on Swell and stick with Chair Seven to the twin trails, Hansel and Gretel.  There are some very easy blue runs in the area too.    

The best runs out of the often-crowded main lodge area are Sesame Street, Road Runner and Gus’s Pasture.   

Snowfall radically effects difficulty and after a nice dump of soft snow beginners to the stable wedge turns stage and above can ski a number of the easier blues.  Still, beginner trails do ski out fastest so an eye on snowfall and snowmaking is recommended. 

Intermediate Trails

Intermediates should flock into Mammoth Mountain after a big snow dump, for with two or more feet of new snow, decent intermediates can manage most of the black diamond chutes up top.  Otherwise it’s the blues down around Mid Chalet and over on the Tamarack side.  If you factor in the bottom ten percent of the black trails that most decent intermediates can ski in reasonable conditions, and the top 10 percent of the green beginner’s trail, it’s clear intermediates can enjoy about 60%, rather than 40% of the mountain.

As is the case for beginners starting at Juniper Springs away from the main lodge crowds works best.  Get to Chair 15 or 25 early and zoom down to Chair 25 from the bottom of Holiday to runs like Repeat 22.  Then it’s time to slide over to Canyon Lodge on Swell and Clover Leaf that, if they’re not groomed early in the day can produce powder pleasures.  Then it’s the high-speed quad Chair 16 o Roller Coaster and a net of trails that, with good management can drop you back at Chair 2, AKA the “Stump Alley Express” up to the bowls just below black diamond country.   Tip: Stay off Broadway unless you like mobs, and dodge around to the bowls instead.  If you do get stuck Road Runner’s the easy green route back to the base. 

A number of slopes such as Easy Rider and Downhill offer great intermediate runs.   With good snow, intermediates can ski most of the mountain as the big bowls with clear run outs at the bottom are more forgiving than the steeper, winding rock and tree bordered trails typical of may other resorts.  

Rating note: Skiing can start in early November and run until the 4th of July in big snow years. The resort usually closes from lack of “surfer interest” rather than lack of snow.  

Advanced/Expert Trails

Like everyone else, follow the sun with a Juniper Springs start up Chair 15 or 24 to Chair 25 and the transitional advanced runs like haven’t the Foggiest.  As legs warm and ambition permits hide from the crowds on Chair 22 to shoot the chutes like Shaft or aptly-named, Avalanche. Bail out of this complex on the blue Repeat 22 over to Chair 9 and the summit bowls. 

 Scotty’s, Dave’s Run and Dropout Chute deserve their double diamonds, and the entire crest delivers up at least 16 other black diamond runs.  From the bottom of Dave’s Run there’s a nice shortcut through Rooster Tail into the Christmas Bowl and down into the Lower Dry Creek Area before resting legs on Easy Rider.  The Dropouts, if skied 3, 2 and 1 deserve an hour if you include recovery time and fearful pauses at the top. 

Granted some of the blacks get pretty blue when there’s a lot of new show, but add the backside blacks, and some of the tighter single blacks on the military crest above Mid Chalet and there’s enough to keep any expert occupied.  Certainly there are crowds, but even then White Bark Bowl and Chair 12 runs rarely mob up.  The backside of the mountain is obviously the solo spot, and there are a huge number of off-piste options available for those with the proper skills and gear. 

TIP: Avoid the Gondola and use the “quick in crowds” combination of Chair 19 and 25 to get up to the top and a selection of big bowls.  

The only real Mammoth Mountain drawback is wind.  If it blows hard enough up top to close the lifts the secondary single black diamond slopes can fill fast.  And it does blow across the Mammoth Crest.  One can only hope that, eventually, there will be Funitel or other wind resistant lifts to offer black diamond skiers full slope value even with 70 mph winds – Squaw Valley has one – hint, hint!  Of course, one can always hide from the breezes at June Mountain. 

Rating Note: Start in early November and run to past the 4th of July when lifts switch to hauling mountain bikes up the hill and it’s still possible to hike to runs with snow.  Hence the “2” rating. 

Racing Trails

Two slalom trails courses that can be skied through the poles or as downhill or GS wait over on Far West and Fascination.  While both are fairly short, lines are rarely long.  Over the season World Cup Telemark, Master’s and other competitions take place.  There are also special racer’s clinics and longer programs. 

Boarders enjoy a 10-week Vans Unbound Freestyle Series with all-round and individual triple air, boardercross, Skiercross and halfpipe competitions that runs from early in December until April Fools Day as well as seasonal national and international events like the Gravity Games. 

The AJ KITT Ski Racing School and Speed Camps in November, February March and April offer six hours of coaching with GS gates and hot video plus a day with free high performance, advice for improving skills and a certificate.


Resort Base: 7,953 feet
Base of Lifts: 7,953 feet
Top of Lifts: 11,053 feet
Mountain Top: 11,053 feet
Skiable Vertical Drop: 3,100 feet 

Four base stations access the lower wooded and protected runs and another series of lifts pushes skiers to vast open and totally treeless bowls or to a series of subsidiary peaks at altitudes where altitude sickness may be a problem for those tired from the trip or unused to thin air.  Winds, that in summer are called Santa Annas, and the weather that dumps over 32 feet of snow (382 inches) a season can blast the bowls and personalize “chilling out.”  Extra bibs and jackets can be rented, and close attention to wind chill is required for those who ski above the Mid Chalet at 9,500 feet. 

The result, however, is a ski playground only rivaled by the biggest European resorts such as Courchevel above 1850 or Chamonix’s Mer du Glace sans crevasses. Up top there’s more time downhill and less time traversing than usual with high-speed lifts to insure instant replays.  Even so the best approach is to use the lower slopes for warm-ups to loosen legs and to see how much air you need before heading up into the thinner stuff.  


“To hill, or not to hill” that is the question as boarders who remember their leashes can unleash their skills at three separate terrain parks groomed nightly and during the day with the Super Pipe Dragon and Park Bully Snowcats or opt for up top open bowls or lower elevation tree-kissing options.  Any of these choices could fill a weekend, or a week.  Boarders do better here in Southern California where surfers transitioned early to the white stuff.  Skills seem to transfer, and the only problem is where to go when the big winter storms bring surf up at Dana Point and powder on the Mammoth Crest.  Tip: Mammoth Mountain has one of the two or three best freestyle teaching programs in the USA.  

Canyon Lodge Unbound Fun Park on School Yard lift is the first timer’s choice with a halfpipe and a number of tables, volcanoes and other features sized to suit those new to boarding.  This is the spot to introduce a friend or take an affordable introductory course.

Unbound South Park on Roller Coaster West may get less traffic than the other two parks as boarders seem, at least in their minds, to jump from beginner’s to expert. The half pipe and other features here are a nice size for moderately skilled riders.  This is a usual size and style park typical of parks elsewhere.

Main Lodge Unbound’s is the famous, even infamous site of the first winter Gravity Games, Snowboarder Magazine’s Super Park and much else collects what the old timer’s called “surfer dudes.” It offers the choice of a monster halfpipe or the Superpipe with some gigantic tables and other features aimed at big air.  How challenging are these?  Part of the 25 plus boarder crew always seems busy filling in Sitzmarks. 

There’s a 10-event evening Vans Unbound Freestyle Series with all-round and individual triple air, boardercross, Skiercross and halfpipe competitions that runs from early in December until April Fools Day.  It’s a freebie for the public and a spot where filmmakers like Mack Dawg or Torey Piro look for new talent.     

Up on the mountain boarders sometimes outnumber the skiers on the long blue cruisers and, from the dinged boards outside Tamarack Lodge some dodge trees, well at least most of the trees down low.  Best of all, boarding starts early and stays until well after the resort closes and hikers clump up into the high north facing peaks to find snow all summer.   Then too, June Mountain’s tree sheltered runs, pipes and Boardertown, site of the 1994, 1996 and 1997 U.S. Snowboard Championships are but 20 miles north on Highway 395. 

Rating Note: If Mammoth ever gets the lights back for night skiing and boarding everything would kick up a rating point. 

Night Skiing 

There used to be fairly decent night skiing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, but apparently some locals complained the lights kept them from seeing the stars.  Only in California where you can’t often see many stars from smoggy LA!  So night skiing is currently not offered.  Maybe they can ski under the full moon, as is sometimes the case in Europe. 


The nearest heliskiing may be at the north end of Lake Tahoe.  According to local PR types, “We’ve got nothing like that, and we suspect residents would complain about the noise if we tried to get a heliskiing program off the ground.” 

Snow Conditions 

Even with over 32 feet of snow a year, Mammoth Mountain covers a critical 432 acres and 38 trails and 25% of the runs that includes lift transfer points, heavily traveled areas that ski out, and beginner’s runs where extra soft snow eases falls.  Since the mountain faces east, and there are only a few peaks between the Mammoth Crest and Pacific storms the area gets more snow than most others in the sierra.  Most of the ski terrain faces west with some southeastern runs many skiers overlook, and the top of these overlook the wonderful climber’s country of the Minarets.  

Grooming, it should be noted, is exquisite given the size of the mountain and very careful attention is paid to beginner and intermediate slopes that are groomed before expert runs.  Most nights some of the 1,600 Mammoth Mountain employees groom 60% of the slopes an evening, and only rarely as needed during daylight.  The grooming for boarder’s pipes and parks seems to be done by employee’s who board and know where to set tables and how to plumb pipes. 

In most years the season runs from November until June when lack of skiers when summer surf’s up, rather than lack of snow, closes things down.  In big snow years, year-round snow waits those who chug up the hill.  Otherwise it’s mountain bike downhill time. 

Summer rank is okay if you figure skiing lasts until the 4th of July some years and can start in early November.  Ranks seem right. 


If anyone teaches it anywhere they teach it at Mammoth Mountain where one of the best introduction to skiing programs in the country has operated.  The resort does especially well with children through the day car system or the graded program, and with the typically athletic LA hard body who can transition rapidly from inline skates to cross-country or downhill skiing, and from surfing to boarding.  But they also teach classes blind and other challenged skiers. The only drawback is weekend crowds.  Ratings would be a couple of points higher during the week, and a week’s lessons and practice really equate to a season’s progress for modestly fit and motivated skiers and boarders.  

The special downhill racing schools, and the very, very popular boarding classes cover downhill and freestyle techniques.  The latter are an excellent choice on windy days for those who otherwise might be up on the black diamonds.   

While day lessons help, skiers who stay for a week with daily morning lessons and daily afternoon skiing can expect the progress that might otherwise require a season of weekends. 

Instructors come in enough flavors so German, Spanish, French, and Portuguese and probably Italian, Japanese and other languages are available for small groups or individuals with enough notice.   With hundreds of instructors from which to select, and dozens of programs from which to choose, everyone should find something to suit. 

Tip: Be honest about specific ability and fitness levels. Second trip skiers and boarders aren’t exactly “intermediates” and second seasons rarely come with black diamond expertise save for the fortunate few who ski daily. 

Equipment Rentals  

Everyone from small shops in Mammoth Lake to the mountain resorts rents gear with some of the best deals, if smaller selections, in town.  Everyone takes credit cards; most require some sort of security deposit.  There are special rates for multiple days with gradually increasing savings, packages that include lift tickets and more different kinds of hot performance gear, demo days and more than anyone but the compulsively upgrading need.    

Shops in town and on the mountain offer performance skis and carvers as well as high-end boards for 25 to 35% more than the usual basic package or parts. Performance skis should, it must be noted, be paired up with performance boots and poles for a complete test. At $10 a helmet is a great investment for a “let it all hang out” performance test day.  

Rental bibs, one-piece suits and other clothing are available in larger numbers and more sizes than anywhere else in the USA as the typical LA resident is better dressed for surf than snow.  Watching teens who grew up with sneakers, sandals and bare feet on the beach clump out of rental shops with a first pair of ski boots does offer a bit of humor on a day when rental lines are long. 

Mammoth rental gear operations, like those at most major resorts do remind some of herding cattle, but the result is skiers with gear that’s properly fit and matched to ability levels – given, of course, skier’s don’t fib about double blacks when they’re barely blue.  Mammoth seems good about changing out gear that, for one reason or another does not suit.  

Those smart enough to arrive a day early to acclimate to the altitude and scope out town can do well at local alpine shops with, in particular, x-c rentals.   This is a recommended procedure on big holiday weekends were smart visitors from LA and other drive-in venues can rent gear for the weekend near home and avoid the Saturday morning sizing scene.  Note: many urban ski shops will let you rent skis for the weekend with a Thursday, or even a Wednesday, night pickup and a Monday or Tuesday return.  If they don’t ask!  

Rental skis can be had as late as the 4th of July and as early as the November in big snow years. 

Lift Facilities 

30 lifts
2 High Speed 8-Passenger Gondolas
1 Six-Pack
8 High Speed Detachable Quads
1 Standard Quad
8 Triples
6 Doubles
2 Pomas
2 Carpets
53,000 rides an hour

Last year gondolas went from six to eight passengers and continued improvements are planned.  There are no problems for beginners and intermediates on the bottom and middle of the mountain, but high winds can close to three mail lifts up to the double black diamonds.  So expert and advanced skiers need to consider the weather.  Of course, the blue cruisers through the trees are a nice way to slide out a day. 

Lines do get very long when the upper mountain closes in wind too.  Lifts can operate very late in the year and spring seems the best time to ski corn snow without crowds.  Once the snow goes it’s time for mountain bikers. 

The only complaint about lifts, aside from lines during big holiday weekends and such are the Draconian checking of lift tickets due, one supposes, to the multiple base stations and, at least in part, to the unfamiliarity of typically laid back LA beginners with the idea of tickets.   Something electronic seems in order here, as elsewhere. 

NOTE: No zero for summer with a season until July and opening in early November, right!

Lift Tickets 

Given the size of the hill Mammoth offers decent value and what may be the best deal on adult season tickets at least for the 2001-2002 season at $399 with the Value Season Pass purchased before the 4th of July.  You can even buy it very early in 2001 and use boarding or skiing for the tail end of the 2001 season.  It also includes deals on golf, the bike park with transportation to the summit and half off on a Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center Season Pass.  Then of course, you get 25% off lodgings at Mammoth Mountain Inn, Juniper Springs and Sunstone Lodges in summer, 35% on winter midweek and a batch of other discounts. Finally there’s 50% off on for a five-day stay at other Interwest Resorts excluding June Mountain, -- think Mt. Tremblant or Whistler! 

This goes up to $1080 in September and tops out at $1620 after that.  Kid’s and seniors Value Season Passes at $175 sing too.  There are family passes, midweek passed, spring passes and other ways to cut costs too. 

Coupons are king with Mammoth deals the run through local packages, ski shop discounts or the Winter of Adventure Coupon Booklet.  There are Mammoth Ski Vacation packages that save about $40 over list, and, at least in 2000,2001 a $7.25 discount coupon that only required advance purchase.  

Coupon challenged pays the following:  

Beginners of all ages can start with a $25 lift ticket to chairs 7, 11 and 27
Kid’s six and under ski free and senior’s 65 and ski for the child’s rates
Basic rates for adults run $43 a half day and $54 a full day, Juniors pay $44 Teens pay $41, and seniors and children pay $27 Rates gradually decrease on a per day basis up to five days and then additional days are added at just about the half day rate.   
June Mountain day passes run about $10 a day less with all sorts of multiple day and other options available.  Of course, these can and will doubtless change without further notice.

Category: Other Outdoor Activities 

Cross-country and Norpine back in the Sherwin Bowls compete with snow hikes, rock climbing, snowmobiling and once the roads clear some practice street luge, plus, as snow melts, some very challenging mountain biking.  Locals run to fitness and multiple people-powered sports so there’s something going on all the time here.  It’s not unusual for runners, mountain bikers and blade skaters to be in full flight at the bottom of the hill when skiers schuss the top.  Fishing is possible all year as well. 

The most unique activity is Mammoth Balloon Adventures with 30-minute, hour and two-hour flights along the scenic escarpment of the Sierra. 

Cross-Country Skiing 

Tamarack and Sierra Meadows are the main track settings. Tamarack has over 15-miles of groomed track with both diagonal and skating lanes, plus all sorts of lessons rentals, meals and lodgings. Tamarack Lodge, built in 1924, offers an interesting $125 add-on to the budget $399 Mammoth Mountain passes that lets you onto their groomed trails for the season.  Easy tracks round Lake Marry with some higher blue loops and the hard climb and swoosh return down Mineshaft to Twin Lakes the expert choice.  Both Tamarack and Sierra Meadows offer lessons.   

Sierra Meadows is just a mile or so south of Mammoth lakes on a big meadow – what else? – With killer views of the Sherwins, Whites and Mammoth Mountain.   

The United States Forest Service sets trails and a number of locals freelance to the same backcountry tracks with the Deadman Summit and South June Lake trails towards Lee Vining on US 395 the choice.  Thee are a number of fairly flat trails around the town of Mammoth set by locals who know the weather’s less demanding here than up in the Mammoth Lake Basin.  The 8-K Inyo Craters Trail that leaves the Scenic Loop Road from town about 3 ½-miles out is typical.    

Besides the set tracks on Tamarack’s groomed trails, and the options at June Lake, the Lakes basin offers action up the right hand side of Mary Lake Road just off of Tamarack’s groomed trails with modest altitude changes, nice views of lakes and the Sierra and enough choices for a week.  

More serious vertical skiers can do well up in the Sherwin Bowls off the above-mentioned trail past the Mammoth Pack Station.  Off trail, and in particular, backcountry skiing options suggest the need for working avalanche beacons, probes and full survival gear.   This is best done on spring corn snow.   

The total number of miles/kilometers of trails varies wildly, but 60 miles or 100 kilometers seems a reasonable estimate. 

For details on the hundreds of other options here consider Skiing the High Sierra Crest by Mike Harris or Ski Tours in the Sierra Nevada, Volume 4 by Marcus Libkind.  To stay out of trouble off tracks it’s wise to check with the ranger stations and to file routes and expected return days. 


Lovely country for snowmobiles runs off both sides of Highway 395 and locals have set up a program to help the U.S. Forest Service improve the Inyo County trail system and it’s dozens of improved trails in one of the biggest systems in the US.  There are thousands of acres of backcountry available for those who have the proper skills too.  Rentals at the mountain and in at least a half dozen shops or services at the lakes or in town come by the hour, two hour or daily rates are available for both guided and unguided trips.  Some trips can extend to several days with stays at backcountry cabins and lodges.   

First timers do best with $45 one-hour introductions. Typical rates run from about $45 an hour single, $75 double with guides up to $185 and $260 for three and a half hours.  Self guided tours run from two hours at $85 single to a half-day double at $240.

Mammoth Mountain seems more careful than most not to mix cross-country (x-c) skiers and snowmobiles as a safety measure, but a lot of x-c skiers use snowmobile tracks as routes home. So it’s important to keep an eye out and, even more important to stay out of the backcountry without the right skills and gear. 

Ice Climbing  

There’s some of the best rock climbing in the world on the great granite of the Sierra Nevada and a fine local climber’s rock but, according to the Mammoth Mountain spokesperson, “no ice climbing.”  Part of this is doubtless due to the wet snow of the Sierra that tends to stick to rocks so that crisp ice can’t form.  However, given the number of climbers in the area, it’s likely that private arrangements could be made.  Check with Mammoth Mountaineering School at 


Tub and toboggan types had best be prepared to hoof it up the hill.  Mammoth Mountain no longer runs a tube lift.  There’s one lift served tubing just outside the resort that, according to locals, “May or may not be open depending on the snow, phases of the moon or whatever. “  This is, after all, Southern California where “tube rides” suit surfers. 

Seems rather strange with Mammoth Mountain the home of so many top class street luge types.  Note: dragging tubes and toboggans behind vehicles can be dangerous, even deadly and can get you a major ticket too!  

Ice Skating/Ice Hockey  

Mammoth Lakes has a seasonal ice skating pond that’s popular with locals.  There is sometimes a pickup hockey game, but there’s not the kind of organized skating and hockey that you’d expect at more developed resorts such as Squaw Valley, Aspen or Courchevel. Given safe ice there are a very large number of lakes to skate in the Eastern US – check with the US Forest Service for conditions or skate where you see ice anglers.  

Sleigh Riding

According to Mammoth Lakes’ spokesperson, sleigh riding isn’t currently on the mountain menu, but with the number of horse operations and packers in the Sierra it could be soon as new activities go in each year. 

Dog sledding is apparently available through Dog Sled Adventures at the Mammoth Mountain Inn next to the Main Lodge, prices and trips vary with the moonlight ride during full moon nights up towards Minaret Vista a best bet. 

Snow Hiking  

A pleasure of paths around Mammoth Lakes, a network of tracks and trails around Tamarack Lodge and the nearby bird’s nest of frozen lakes and a tangle of locally-set spots offer more snow hiking than anyone can measure.  With snow deep on the mountain and rather scant around town, snow hikes are ubiquitous.  The U. S. Forest Service offers trail maps and does some trail clearing and Mammoth Mountain helps more tracks. Snow hiking can be particularly good very late in the season in June and July – some passes up high still have snow as late as August in big snow years – and in November when just enough snow falls to improve the décor without the footing becoming a slog.  TIP: Bring mosquito dope.  When weather warms the infamous “Sierra snow mosquitoes” are out for blood.  

This is one of the best places in the Sierra to hike with peak and lake vistas and the odd steaming vent or hot springs to remind one of Yellowstone.  


Some of the best hiking and backpacking areas in the Eastern Sierra offer far too many choices for most beginning as early as the first part of November.  Start with the level walks around the frozen lakes in Mammoth Lakes Basin before you transition to some of the steeper venues over in the Sherwins or Bloody Mountain.  Join the dog sled mushers with a slog up to Minaret Vista – smart snowshoe types often slog up on shoes, but carry cross-country, Norpine or even downhill skis for the schuss back.  There are even a large number of fitness fanatics who make a game of running on small competition-type shoes.  

The 30-kilometers of Blue Diamond Trails that are marked, but not groomed are particularly nice. The beginner’s choice is popular, and well traveled by x-c skiers and snowshoes, Shady Rest Trail which loops through a forest of Jeffrey Pines for a bit under four miles, and there’s a shortcut to cut off a mile or so.  Knolls Trail north of town offers steeper trails and better views, and there are at least a half-dozen others. 

Alpine shops in town and rental shops on the mountain offer rentals, directions, maps and, if needed, escorts and tours.   

Given the early, late and long season snowshoeing can overlap into summer.  

Main Category: Children   

Kids do well at Mammoth Mountain that was, after all, a family-run resort for decades.  Two centers, Woolywood at the Main Lodge and the new 4,000 foot Canyon Kids and Canyon Lodge with its climbing tree and other kinder friendly attractions.  Both centers feature free early drop-offs, lessons, rentals, and special all inclusive, all day packages from ten to four that include a five hour group lesson, lunch, lift tickets and rentals at $99 for 4-6 year olds and first time 7-14 year olds and for $121 for 7-14 year olds on second visits and on.    

Programs divide into ski and boarding groups with six or seven skill levels in each.  There are all sorts of private lessons so popular so advanced reservations seem in order.   The latter is particularly the case on the board side, as this seems the craze these days.  Maybe it’s the baggy pants. 

Childcare services for children and infants who don’t ski are available.  The transport system around the resort, and the shuttles to town for the older children all seem well-managed and you get the impression that everyone at the resort is keeping an eye out for the kids – particularly the lift attendants who try to screen the ambitious from the skilled on lifts to blue and black slopes 

As you might expect from a resort family-run for decades, Mammoth Mountain is “kid friendly” and the only drawback is the size of the resort that can make tracking the small fry “interesting.”  There are wonderful kid’s activities during summer as well. 

Main Category: Après-Ski 

After ski activities seem surprisingly modest, but most visitors are LA residents spoiled by Wolfgang Puck’s pizzas and Hollywood and Mammoth Mountain is only lately becoming a destination, rather than a weekend resort.  As a result decent dining and a modest collection of bars ends the day, and winter activities off the slopes seem to be rather low key when, and where, boarders boogie. 

Dining Out

Up on the hill the Mountainside Grill is open for three meals a day in the Mammoth Mountain Inn with ski-in/ski/out and a free ski check.   Talons at Little Eagle are, at the base of the new Eagle Express runs to lunch barbecues and candlelit dinners.  Parallax is the top restaurant at 11,053 with a view much like that of the restaurant overlooking Mer du Glace above Chamonix. 

In town Crevino’s Cuisine of Northern Italy and the Restaurant at Convict Lake won Wine Spectator Magazines Award of Excellence in 1996 and 1997. Ocean Harvest Restaurant has won the local best seafood award 12 years in a row.  Mongol Restaurant is still the best steak house after 24 years.   Try the Matterhorn for wild game and consider the Chart House for American standards like prime rib with nice touches.  

At the “budget and booze” end Grumpy’s Saloon and Eatery runs to quick food like dogs, dips and BBQs, or their $7.25 half pound burger an a background of big TVs and pool and other hustlers. Too tired to cook?  Doorstep Dinners of Mammoth Lakes can deliver.  

You can find all the usual fast food outlets as well.  Ratings reflect rather a paucity of choices, on an individual basis the best of the above deserve an 8 or low-9.  

Cafes/Pastry Shops 

On the hill the Mill Café at the base of Stump Alley and Gold Rush Expresses warms wind-chilled skiers with hot chocolate and a fire pit -- on one of the advertised 300 sunny days the decks a good spot to check out the action.   

Yodeler Bar and Pub seems a pretty good spot for a break, although the decent cheesesteak sandwiches seem more Philly than Swiss save, of course, for the cheese.   

Off the hill Schaps in Mammoth Lake is a favorite local bakery with homemade bread, donuts and pastry and a favorite spot to bag up breakfast for the condo set.  Sierra’s Best Coffee runs to morning pastries and soups with, of course, all sorts of coffee.  

Clubs and Bars  

After après ski; only three main choices suggest that nightlife isn’t the focus here.  Part of this relates to the historic position of the resort as a weekend spot from LA.  If you drove up on Friday and back on Sunday, only Saturday nightlife obtained, and once a week spots don’t keep the doors open.   

Today the High Sierra Rock N’ Grill runs to the younger set, and louder than usual music.  Whiskey Creek collects the 30ish set with some wonderful wines and other options.   Clock Tower, a brewpub, collects the few Europeans and the odd Aussie “footie” fans who stray into Mammoth with a couple of dozen beer brands. 

While this isn’t Aspen, there’s more than enough action at the slopes and in down to fill a varied week where skiing a vast amount of terrain, and vertical is the game plan.  


Three screens – two at Minaret Cinemas and one at the Plaza Theater on Old Mammoth Road offer decent, usually first run films.  Mammoth Mountain is, after all, filled with LA types from the movie industry.  In addition, there are periodic ski and board film showings at local area lodges.  Mammoth Mountain is, of course, a popular venue for ski filmmakers that’s appeared in dozens of films by Warren Miller and others. 

Performing Arts 

The Mono Country Arts Council brinks in classical musicians such as the Felici Piano Trio several times a year, and the Music Society of the Eastern Sierra runs a traditional Christmas celebration.  As a rule any potentially slack time gets a concert or festival and, of course, seasonal musical offerings put on by local groups try to collect extra customers during peak population periods on the mountain.  

Local and other groups such as the Wild Mountain Tyme Band offer Christmas and Celtic concerts and Mammoth Mountain Music serves up the monthly Mammoth Mountain Concert Series during the year.  Three or four clubs and bars run to weekend live music and Mammoth Mountain concerts may, at times, be loud enough to eliminate the need for the ski patrol to test for avalanches. 

Main Category: Other Attractions 

During winter there’s not that much to do nearby.  In summer Bodie’s Ghost town is about an hour away, as is the entrance to Tioga Pass over the Sierra Nevada to Yosemite Valley.  Neither Bridgeport an hour north at the Sonora Pass, nor Bishop, the traditional portal into the Mt. Whitney golden trout country offer many other attractions.  

There is a bit of ice skating on local lakes and pickup hockey games on the town rink, and some outlet shopping along with the usual shops one finds at ski resorts, but that’s about it.  The local library is larger than you might expect for the size of Mammoth Lakes. 

Festivals and Events 

There’s something several times a month all year at the mountain or in the village.  During summer the Mammoth Lakes Jazz Jubilee in July hits its 14th year in 2002, and seems worth a visit for the music and the unique Jazz Memorabilia Swap Meet and Musical Instrument Petting Zoo as well as the 2,000 piano CDs on sale at the Jubilee Store.  There’s a June Motorcross and a fleet of fishing, tennis, mountain bike and other festivals, contests and outings run which through summer, and September starts the monthly music festivals for the winter. 

In November there’s USSA/Far West races and the Thanksgiving Arts and Crafts Show with a mass of Master’s ski events.  In December at least a dozen Christmas events and festivals gang up around the holiday January runs to more ski and snowboard. January runs to the Mammoth Mountain Concert Series with jazz, reggae, guitar and other musical offerings as well as Telefest and on and on.   

Check for the best advice before you visit or ask at the tourism office after you arrive.  


Bridgeport, an hour north on Highway 395 does have a couple of fair Basque restaurants, and Bishop 40 miles south offers a Kmart.  It’s three hours to Reno, two and a half to Carson City. Note: Highway 395 runs just east of the uplift, steep side of the Sierras with wonderful views and, usually, better driving conditions than you find up in Sierra passes.  When the Tioga Pass is open six months or so in summer, it’s about an hour to Yosemite.   Visiting Yosemite and the wonderful giant sequoias are worth losing a couple of days of skiing.  San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas are all a day’s drive away too. 

Summer does offer up Devil’s Postpile, with its unique basalt pillars and Red’s Meadows, a popular provisioning point on the John Muir and High Sierra Trails.  There’s Mono Lake with its tufa towers just 30 miles north with ranger and other tours.   The nearby Minarets and Mt. Whitney suit backpackers and trout fishing is good in most local streams and – absent opening day mobs – in Crowley Lake that, like most of the lakes in the Owens Valley, waters Los Angeles.  


Shopping’s rather expensive, as is usually the case at ski resorts, in the many shops and boutiques scattered around the resort and another grab-bag of shops in town also offer arts, crafts, T-shirts and sporting goods.  Mammoth Memories, for example, can fill any logo needs, as can Canyon Sports at Canyon Lodge. There are enough local artists and craft persons to repay browsing through shops.

Those on a budget might check the outlet mall in Mammoth Lakes, which sells Polo, Bass and other upscale oddments, and, of course, there’s always the Bishop K-Mart.   A few bargains do turn up at the Christmas sales. 


The Double Eagle Resort and Spa in June Lake a half hour from Mammoth is the only full service spa in the area and it would be lovely in its creek side setting anywhere. The resort combines a full range of facial treatments, ski care, attention to hands and feet and body therapies like exfoliation, thermal envelopment, sierra salt polish, grapeseed exfoliation and hydrotherapy with a fitness center in a non-smoking environment.   Guys and others not into this can find ski, snowboard and fly-fishing packages on public and private waters and a kid’s catch and release pond.   Ladies who would rather fish than spa have a special program too.  

There are both lodging and meals by the stone fireplace where everyone has mountain and waterfall views.   

Spa services are scheduled to spread into Mammoth, but the Double Eagle deserves its high rating and repays the drive.  

Tourist Attractions 

In summer, Bodie, one of the best ghost towns in Nevada is about 35 miles north on Highway 395 and 15 or so sometimes “interesting miles to the east. Lots of old, weathered wood; the odd blowing bush and a sense of miner’s past can repay the trip, but check road conditions first. 

To the North the Devils Postpile National Monument offers a splendid look at basalt posts that stand above the pile of broken posts that gave the spot its name.  The top of the Postpile, if you can scramble up, offers a very unique look at what some call, nature’s pavement. 

Red’s Meadows, a popular pack station trailhead with a post office and services used by John Muir Trail and High Sierra Trail backpackers is a good day’s drive that combines well wit a visit to the Tufa towers and great gulls of Mono Lake.  At least 100 alpine lakes wait for anglers able to get up the steep east slopes. There’s drive-in access too starting with Twin Lakes just three miles from Mammoth Lakes.  Hot Creek just east of the airport offers both hot springs and fumaroles AKA gas vents that warm frigid waters from the Sierras. Swimming is not recommended, and those who don’t have burn ointment handy should stay well back from the fumaroles. 

In the Owens Valley towards Los Angeles Lake Crowley and a number of other impoundments water the LA Basin. Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the “Lower 48” waits backpackers out of Lone Pine at Whitney Portal and it’s a day’s ride to the Bristlecone Pine Forest with its 4,000 year old trees or Death Valley National Park with Scotty’s Castle and the lowest point in the US.

Local tourist attractions include trail riding and hiking, a half-dozen tennis courts – you’ll need high altitude balls – and a golf course. 


Old timers are stating to complain about prices as upscale condo – one set sold out in 2 ½ days – start to drag prices up at traditional spots like the Tamarack Lodge or the many smaller lodges, resorts, hotels and motels scattered about in the lakes or in town.  Mammoth Mountain even plans to add a complex of employee lodgings to try to push prices back down. 

Mammoth Resort offers four major properties: Mammoth Mountain Inn, Juniper Springs/ Sunstone Lodge and Tamarack Lodge and Resort to cover everything from full service hotels through condos to rustic cabins.  All of these like many lodgings near the lakes or in town “package” with lift tickets and more options than most can count. 

The Mammoth Mountain Inn, the only slope side, full service resort, offers up 213 Hotel rooms and suites with kitchens in AAA Three Diamond mode right at the lifts.  Juniper Springs and Sunstone at the bottom of Eagle Express Lift for ski-in, ski-out accommodations offer full-service hotel-style condos.  Tamarack’s the old-time resort with 1920’s charm in the forest at the lake.  It’s romantic as you can sometimes tell by the sounds of the room next door, but a great spot to x-c ski or snowshoe and even better in the summer with it’s 35 rooms 

Midweek deals and other savings seem usual with Tamarack offering Midweek bed and breakfast with and without skiing, and various Mammoth Stay and Ski Free offerings that seem to change several times a season.   Basic prices run from about $80 on up to $665, but deals and package seem usual. 

There are a host of other lodgings in the basin and in town.  Sierra Lodge offers ski packages, a Jacuzzi, good rooms with continental breakfasts and a free shuttle to the lift.  Best of all, it’s the only all non-smoking hotel in Mammoth Lakes. 

Lodgings are less expensive in town with all sorts of the usual chain motels, a batch of rather rustic motels and hotels and more. The Forest Service and National Parks offer seasonal camping.  


Hang out in the brew pub and you may hear a bit of French, German, Spanish, Portuguese or Italian and, from time to time, a little Japanese for a stray tourist or, more likely, a seasonal ski instructor.  Mammoth Mountain isn’t yet a big enough International Resort to overcome the “English only” label usual in America – unless, of course, you count Aussie “footie” fanatics.

Time Zone

Pacific Time Zone three hours after East Coast 

Tourist Information/Traveler Support 

There’s no trouble exchanging money in town at a bank, and the resorts can handle exchanges, credit cards, phones, mail and other needs.  So can the complete services in Mammoth Mountain.  Visitors from overseas will find their consulates in Los Angeles on the odd chance that they would be needed.  It’s expected that services, and polylingualism will improve as the resort builds out.  


Once at Mammoth the free Mammoth Area Shuttle ? runs back and forth between Canyon Lodge, Main Lodge, Juniper Springs Lodge, Tamarack Lodge and Resort and Mammoth Lakes.  There’s a night shuttle service as well.  Both operations only run in the winter and seem reasonable prompt and decently sans crowd expect during Christmas, Easter and other major holidays.  

Overall Safety 

Like most ski areas break-ins increase in the spring and fall when some locals are between winter and summer jobs, and the big holidays bring the bad apples up from town.  Overall, Mammoth Mountain is, like most alpine communities, extremely save as there’s a limited range of escape routes and the locals, and most ski visitors, have better thinks to do that break into cars, the major problem at trailheads and the like. 


 There are full medical services, doctors and very large mountain rescue/ski patrol teams with a very short run to the hospital in Mammoth Lakes that specializes in injuries to skiers, climbers, guides, backpackers and the like.  Air evacuation by small plane is available to Reno, Las Vegas of Los Angeles via the Yosemite-Mammoth Lakes Airport that will be 747-size by November of 2002.

International Media

It’s possible that one could find a French or German publication at the local brew pub, and California does offer Spanish, Chinese and, at times, Japanese or other languages on TV.  But this is not a resort for those who need foreign language support off the slopes where instructors can be found who speak Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Italian (usually) and Japanese (maybe). 

Level of Crowd  

Mammoth Mountain gets very crowded on big holiday weekends in particular, and weekends after storms generally.  During the week lines are no problem.  However, if it starts to blow and the lifts at the top close lifts serving the blue intermediate runs can clog up.  Fortunately, even when crowd’s drive up from LA there are lifts and runs where intermediates and up can hide.

In the early season and after the middle of March people thin out. 

Rent A Car? 

There’s no reason to rent a car while skiing here as ski and slope to town shuttles run every ten minutes or so.  In fact, many who drive up from LA leave their vehicles in the resort parking lot and shuttle around.  Towards the end of the season in late April when the Crowley Lake and other fishing opens, anglers might want to drive to the fishing.  

Travel Time From Arrival Airports 

You can’t get there from here? Let’s face it, absent a private plane or charter there no really easy way to get to Mammoth in the winter.  Everything will change in December of 2002 when the big landing strip at the Yosemite-Mammoth Lakes Airport starts getting Delta jet flights from Dallas and other flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles.   

The traditional route up was by car or in a  “chemically enhanced” ski club on a charter bus from Los Angeles runs 300 miles. Most buses left about six, supposedly took five to seven hours and usually arrived sometime between two and three in the morning.  Bags under the eyes are Saturday normal at Mammoth Mountain, and the traffic back down Highway 395 on Sunday night was bad enough to ruin a lot of Monday mornings.   For those who extend stays past a weekend LA Excursions runs Saturday morning departures from Tom Bradley International Terminal (LAX) to Mammoth Mountain with return service on Sunday

Today, the nearest International Airport is in Reno 175 miles north and an approximately $130 four-hour ride on the Mammoth Shuttle.  A 4WD rental car would be an alternative even though Highway 395 is usually fairly well snow free.  There’s a five to six hour shuttle from Los Angeles Airport to Mammoth Lakes on Saturday with a Sunday Return.  Small planes can fly into Yosemite-Mammoth or South Lake Tahoe as well. 

The nearest major International Airport is San Francisco about 390 miles to Mammoth up and over the Sierras via Highway 50 and south down Highway 395 and an extremely long drive under winter conditions.  Highway 50 does close more often than Interstate 80 to Reno or the cutoff south on Highway 395.   

Flying into Las Vegas requires 300 miles on mostly state routs – Highway 95 north, State Route 266 west, State Route 168 west to US 395 north. 

To What Group of Travelers Would This Destination Appeal? 

Solo Travelers 

Serious skiers do well here meeting others on the hill or après ski.  Three bars and a brewpub are about the extent of the night action, and these segregates out into the over-30, under-30 and hearing damaged.  Cross-country tracks and the deck halfway up the hill deserve a try.

Romantic partners 

Bring a “significant other” present or perspective and you’re ahead of the dating set.  Hole up in a quality condo.  Enjoy a moonlight dogsled ride up to Minarets Vista.  Dine at Talons with candlelight and a view.  Snuggle under a duvet as you watch the sun set behind Mammoth.   

However, when compared to St. Anton or even Sugar Bowl, Mammoth seems to run more to rock climbing than romance.  Things get worse during school holidays and Christmas when the kids giggle in.

A group of friends

Groups of all sorts can do well at Mammoth that’s big enough to suit a wide range of ability levels.  Rental condos and houses offer a solid base for party hearty, and it’s possible to rent most of a hotel hall or even floor with sufficient notice.  Carpool up and the local shuttles ease transitions from ski to breakfast or bed.   

Families (both with small children or a family of all adults) 

All adult families, like groups do very well here.  Families with small children need to make sure the small fry don’t stray away from shops and restaurants on frontage roads into traffic.  There are excellent childcare facilities and kids have a slightly harder time escaping from parents and wandering off into over-their-ability-level slopes than, say, Squaw Valley.  

Group Travelers (Clubs or Organizations) 

Mammoth has been handling Southern California ski clubs and other groups for years and there well-honed expertise simply gets better and better with infrastructure improvements.  Mammoth remains a great mountain for groups.  As with other classifications, the Holiday Season ranks lower because of increased crowds and less flexible bookings without very long notice.