Mammoth Mountain, one of the best ski spots in the
United States, has long been out of reach and out of mind, for most
skiers and snowboarders. Prior to last season, you could not fly into
Mammoth, a massive Southern California resort, on a commercial airline
You could of course, fly into Los Angeles and drive to
Mammoth. But that meant 5 to 6 hours behind the wheel. It was worse yet
to fly into San Francisco as you then faced a 6 – 7 hour drive to the
But Mammoth, long a favorite of Los Angeles area
residents, has suddenly become a viable national and international
destination because Horizon Air has launched direct, non-stop daily 50 –
55 minute flights from Los Angeles, San Jose and Reno with one-stop
Horizon connections to Portland and Seattle.
The flights land at the Mammoth-Yosemite airport about
8 miles from the slopes and the funky little town of Mammoth Lakes.
Shuttle service is available to the resort.
Mammoth CEO Rusty Gregory said, “We have changed
Mammoth from a Los Angeles – San Diego drive-in resort to a true
destination resort. Now more destination travelers will come to ski for
the week. We expect to get many skiers and snowboarders from the Bay
Area and also we have opened our market broadly across the United States
and to people in Asia and Europe.”
Indeed, approximately 90 percent of Mammoth’s
customers have been coming from Los Angeles and San Diego. They usually
arrive on weekends and can quickly swell the population of the town from
7,000 to 30,000 people.
On one of my earlier long-drive trips from the Bay
Area to Mammoth, I recall chatting with several skiers in a lift line.
Everyone barked out where they were from – Glendale, West Hollywood, San
Diego and Long Beach – but when I yelled San Jose, they all looked at me
and said, “What are you doing here?”
Mammoth, with a vertical drop of 3,100 feet, is a
nearly perfect skiers’ mountain with every kind of ski terrain
imaginable. From the top of the 11,053 peak, rocky cliffs, sharply
angled bowls and narrow chutes spill down for the experts.
Below that, miles of tree-lined cruising intermediate
runs and flatter novice terrain fan out to the base village. Mammoth
Mountain is six miles wide and many of the runs roll on for two to three
miles before exhausted skiers and boarders hit the next lift. There are
26 ski lifts plus six carpet lifts for bunny skiers.
A couple years ago, I discovered a relatively easy way
down from the top. Look for the blue square intermediate designation
sign off the backside and head down Upper Road Runner, which later
morphs into Lower Road Runner. It is a high-altitude scenic ride that
spins down for more than three miles before you arrive at the main
My main impressions of Mammoth are its laid-back
lifestyle, vast terrain and the steady sunshine. Mammoth gets about 300
days of sunshine a year, making it a good choice over Western resorts
with bad weather reputations such as Whistler and Mt. Bachelor which can
often be enveloped in snowstorms, rain and fog.
Mammoth is meteorologically blessed as it lies
directly opposite a low saddle in the Sierra that funnels storms in from
the Pacific. Mammoth Mountain is the first major geological feature in
the storm path and catches about 400 inches of snow a year.
New this season is the Village Ski Back Trail which
gives skiers and snowboarders the option of skiing or riding – rather
than downloading on a gondola – from the slopes back to the Village at
Mammoth, a restaurants-condo-shops development near the base.
Mammoth is basically a ski-in, ski-out resort with
hotels, condos, cabins and homes near the lifts. The resort essentially
has only one luxury, full-service hotel -- the Westin Monache Resort
that opened about three years ago.
The resort records more than 1.1 million
skier-snowboarder visits a year, making it the third most popular ski
resort in the country.
A growing number of those visitors come lugging
snowboards to test the seven terrain parks scattered around the terrain.
The parks include some huge snow pipes and challenging park features.
Ski industry magazines consistently rate Mammoth one of the top
snowboarding spots in the U.S.
The allure of Mammoth extends far beyond the ski
resort slopes. Nearby cross country trails cut through a wilderness of
forests. We took one of the dog sledding trips through the Mammoth Dog
Teams firm years ago and had a rollicking adventure bouncing and gliding
across the tundra.
Some come to ride snowmobiles across nearby meadows or
ice skate on the frozen ponds.
There are also about 15 to 20 hot springs bubbling to
the surface in and around Mammoth Lakes. They are popular landing spots
for many to soak tired muscles after a day on the slopes. Ask any
“local” for directions to some of the most popular springs.
If skiers and snowboarders want a change of pace from
Mammoth, they head 20 miles north to June Mountain, a medium-sized ski
resort also owned by Mammoth. A daily bus shuttle service runs between
the two resorts.
Mammoth has been operating since the 1950s when
legendary ski pioneer Dave McCoy founded the place and really put the
town of Mammoth Lakes on the map. If you want a taste of Mammoth’s
history, drop into a joint such as Whiskey Creek, a Mammoth staple for
more than 30 years.
On our last trip to the resort, we wanted to try
something different and visited The Yodler, a classic après ski spot
that this year marks its 50th year in business. The Yodler, with its
wide-ranging menu, was a tasty choice and it was nostalgic talking to
some of the old-timers who have been coming to the restaurant and the
slopes for half a century.
For something quirky and different, sign up for a
gourmet snowcat lunch or dinner. Snowcats haul guests halfway up the
peak to the Parallax Restaurant for dinner and also to vista spots on
the mountain for picnic lunches – or hors d’oeuvres and champagne --
with stunning scenery.
McCoy, by the way, no longer owns
the resort as most of it was sold several years ago to Starwood Capital.
Starwood CEO Barry Sternlicht, who achieved considerable success as head
of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, has numerous resort upgrades and
expansions on the drafting board. Resort developer and operator
Intrawest owns 15 percent of the company.
All Horizon flights into Mammoth are
on 76-seat Bombardier Q400s. These are high-speed, relatively quiet,
technologically advanced, twin-engine turboprop planes. The airport is
in a different micro-climate than Mammoth Mountain and it usually is dry
and calm at the valley airport while the snow is coming down on the
Adult, one-day, weekend lift tickets
are priced at $87 but look around for various discount deals. This
season, Mammoth has started offering a 10 percent discount on tickets if
they are purchased seven days in advance on-line or via 800 – MAMMOTH.
The resorts email link for tickets and lodging information is
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