Mammoth Mountain Downhill Adventures
Navigating a snow dump.
Mammoth Mountain should pay me to visit: Every time I make the six-hour trek there, a blizzard blows right in behind me and dumps at least a foot of snow. I should have known that last week’s forecasted storm was no joke when we drove to Mammoth Thursday night.
If you are itching to get onto that snow that blew in, and looking for the most skiable terrain in California, head over to Mammoth Mountain Via highway 88, by Kirkwood, to 395 South. Here are a few tips for when you get there.
It doesn't matter which lodge you start from: You can criss-cross the mountain to find that day’s best terrain. Just ask the lift operators for the type of skiing you like, and where to find the best weather. (Yes, the mountain is that big.)
When my husband and I hopped on our skis at the Main Lodge at 9 a.m. Friday morning, the weather was gorgeous and sunny. Within an hour, visibility dropped to zero, and the wind was gusting like a hurricane. I might as well have closed my eyes when I got to off Broadway Express, since I could barely see the tips of my skis. A few expert locals whizzed by, but the rest of us were making slow slalom turns, creeping back down to the lodge. (The lift was closed a few minutes later; a ski race two runs over was canceled, and the kids’ gear had to be sledded down because the racers couldn’t go back up the hill to get their stuff.)
The lifts to the top of the mountain were closed because of the wind, so we stayed low—and so did everybody else. But we found Chair 8, out of Canyon Lodge, and had a ball; no one was riding it and it was out of the wind. So we got a few good runs in before we fought the wind and biting hail on our way back to Main Lodge.
Chair 8 was a gem on Saturday, too, when we got a sunny break in the storm. Despite the crowds coming up from LA in search of fresh powder, we had the lift and runs all to ourselves. We were especially happy about that when we did merge back in with the Canyon Lodge crowds at the base.
But no matter which way you go at Mammoth, there is tons of terrain to explore— 3,500 skiable acres—and the fun is finding your hidden gem. mammothmountain.com.
For some après ski fun, head to Rock n’ Bowl, a new bowling alley with a great bar, darts, ping-pong, and foosball. Since we had our ski posse in tow, much fun was to be had, as we made our way from game to game. mammothrocknbowl.com.
Upstairs is virtual golf, if anyone wants to get in 18 holes at Pebble. Also upstairs is the town’s newest fine dining, Mammoth Rock Brasserie. Opened by chef Frederick Pierrel, famous for his menu at Tamarack Lodge. mammothrocknbowl.com/restaurant.
I found an excellent masseuse, Rene, at Double Eagle Spa at the Snowcreek Athletic Club. She had a heavy hand, which is just what I needed after crisscrossing Mammoth. This spa is tucked inside an athletic club, so don’t expect the Ritz, but it does have a hot sauna and Jacuzzi, and all the exercise you rooms you can imagine, which you use all day with a spa treatment. snowcreekathleticclub.com/massage.
Breakfast: Old New York Deli and Bakery is a fast, cheap spot for those wanting to catch first tracks. Loaded with house-made bagels of every variety, this little shop also has croissants and cookies. And even though it was 30 degrees out and snowing, we had a lovely breakfast outside. oldnewyork.com.
Lunch: On mountain, the most charming spot is The Mill, by the Stump Alley Express lift (even though you’ll find healthier fare at the Main Lodge or at Canyon). But you can’t beat the BBQ and cozy one-room wooden shack for its rustic ski vibe. mammothmountain.com/winter/shop-dine/dining/dining-detail?url=the-mill-café.
Dinner: Family owned with house-made meals, CJ’s Grill was the restaurant that got the most raves around town, by far. Everyone we ran into loved it. Friends ate lunch and dinner there two days in a row. We tried to a go Saturday night, but couldn’t get a table. Dang! cjsgrillmammoth.com.
We stayed at Juniper Springs Lodge, because it’s ski-in, ski-out: It’s literally 50 steps to Eagle Express lift. Plus, it has good beds and mini kitchens, plus a hot tub, pool, and locked underground parking, so you can leave your skis in the car. juniperspringsmammoth.com.
But my favorite place to stay in Mammoth is in a cozy cabin in the woods at Tamarack Lodge. It’s a few miles out of town, so not as convenient to the slopes as Juniper Springs, but it has the most darling, cozy lodge with a huge fireplace. tamaracklodge.com.