Mammoth Mountain ski area is indeed mammoth, although it was named not for this reason, but after the Mammoth Mining Company that operated during the Gold Rush. With 3,500 acres (1,400 ha) of terrain, 150 marked trails and 30 lifts, it's one of the biggest resorts in North America. The summit is a hefty 11,053 feet (3,369 m) and even the base lodges are at 7,953 feet (2,424 m), making sure that there's always plenty of snow. Naturally there's a wide variety of terrain to accommodate every level of skier, including large, open bowls above the treeline, steep couloirs and gullies and, on bad-weather days, the bottom third of the mountain, which offers some top tree skiing/riding. You can also ski June Mountain, 20 minutes' drive away, with the same lift ticket. Recent extensive terrain park and pipe development has put Mammoth at the forefront of boarding-over half the U.S. snowboard team live in Mammoth.
With 28 lifts spread around the mountain, Mammoth's huge amount of terrain is easily accessible. There is one express six-passenger chair, nine express quads, one quad, seven triples, five doubles and two surface lifts. There are also three gondolas: the Lower Panorama, which leaves from the Main Lodge and stops first at McCoy Station; Upper Panorama Gondola, which leaves from McCoy station and takes passengers to Panorama Lookout at the top of Mammoth mountain; and the Village Gondola, which connects the Village with Canyon Lodge.
The ski lifts operate from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm. The large system of high-speed lifts means that lines are rarely a problem. Lines (always under 10 minutes) generally occur only at lifts leaving the main lodges on Saturdays and during vacation periods. If you really want to avoid any waiting in line at weekends, go to the smaller and more intimate sister resort of June Mountain, 20 miles (32 km) away. It shares Mammoth's lift pass and is very peaceful.
Mammoth shares a lift pass with June Mountain, only 20 minutes' drive north. Lift passes are quite expensive on weekends compared with other resorts, but then there are 150 trails to entertain you. Full day passes for weekends and vacations cost US$70 for adults (19-64 years), around 25 percent less for youth (13-18), and 50 percent less for children (7-12), and Seniors (65 ). Passes for six/eight days cost up to US$307 for adults (19-64 years), US$230 for youth (13-18), and US$153 for children (7-12) and seniors (65 ).
Full day passes for Monday through Friday, non-holiday, cost US$61 for adults, US$46 for youth, and US$30 for children and seniors. A beginner's chair pass is available, as are packages for beginners including lift, rental and lessons at a discount. Tickets are available at ticket windows all over the mountain, in town lodging areas and by advance purchase, call 800-Mammoth.
Mammoth's gargantuan size makes it a great resort for beginners who like to explore. Only the upper reaches of the resort, marked primarily for experts, are off limits to beginners. Most beginners find that while they can ski off many of the chairlifts, navigating from lift to lift requires paying attention to the trail map since there is only one green run from the top of many of the chairlifts, particularly those higher up on the mountain.
Eagle, Canyon and Main Lodges all have an area dedicated to beginners, and green runs surround these areas. From Main Lodge try Gus's Pasture, St. Moritz and Sesame Street. From Chair 17 at Canyon Lodge there are several green trails, including Roundabout, Gingerbread and Hansel. Eagle Lodge's six-passenger Eagle Express chair accesses three good long greens: Holiday, Pumpkin and Sleepy Hollow. Once the green trails have been mastered, there are a lot of gentle blues to move on to, and with Road Runner, a blue trail running from the very top of the mountain, a strong beginner/early intermediate can ski or ride from the top of the mountain all the way back to the base area.
Around 40 percent of the mountain is good for intermediates. Gladed trees off the back of chair 22 and around chairs 12 and 13 offer good intermediate tree skiing with trails such as Surprise, Secret Spot and Bristlecone. Broadway, accessed by Broadway Express quad, and Stump Alley, off Stump Alley Express quad, are also recommended. The Gold Rush Express quad connects with several interesting blue trails, such as Solitude and some blue-black trails, which are basic blues graduating to intermediate/advanced terrain, including Relief, Quicksilver and Haven't the Foggiest. These trails are marked with a blue square within a black diamond.
Advanced and expert skiers have a fantastic choice of terrain in Mammoth Mountain and around 35 percent of the mountain to conquer. Few of the black trails are groomed. Best for moguls are the West Bowl off Face Lift Express, Viva off chair 22, and Roller Coaster from chair 21. These mogul fields are considered to be some of the most demanding in California.
If steep and deep is more your thing, then head for Hangman's Hollow, Drop Out Chutes, Wipe Out Chutes, Climax Bowl and Paranoid Flats-a very steep and scary traverse to get in-all at the top of the mountain. Couloirs worth a try include Avalanche Chutes, Drop Out Chutes and Wipe Out Chutes. For the very brave, the entry to Phillipe's Couloir can be found halfway down Paranoid Flats. With nearly 400 inches (122 cm) of snow per year, just about anywhere is good for powder, but the best spots are probably the front side of chair 22 (Shaft, Grizzly) first thing, as this is always first to be cleared of avalanches, followed by the Avalanche Chutes, and then on to Face Lift Express chair for Christmas and China Bowls. By then the top of the mountain should be safe and open and the choices are endless-Huevos Grande, Climax, Drop Out Chutes and Wipe Out Chutes.
There are endless backcountry possibilities off the back of both Mammoth and June Mountains, and untracked powder can often be found at the Dragon's Tail and Hemlock Ridge days after a storm. Backcountry skiing/riding is permitted, but at your own risk. Contact the Ski Patrol first to check out any avalanche danger. Sierra Mountain Center can provide backcountry guides and there are a number of "out of bounds" trails (e.g. Hole in the Wall), which the ski school is allowed to access with its expert classes.
Mammoth Mountain is one of the top U.S. snowboarding destinations. The Unbound Terrain Parks are known for their innovative design, style and unmatched grooming. From beginners to advanced riders, there's something for every type of boarder here, with three parks and three halfpipes, including a superpipe. The parks and pipes are groomed every evening and throughout the day.
Unbound Main is visible from Main Lodge, accessed by the Thunder Bound Express quad, and suitable for advanced boarders, with a halfpipe, superpipe, tabletops and jumps. Unbound Canyon, a park and halfpipe at Canyon Lodge, is located on School Yard and caters to beginners. Unbound South, on The Roller Coaster express quad, is designed for intermediate riders and is a rail-lovers' paradise.
At June Mountain there's a superpipe and the JM2 Unbound Terrain Park. Many professional snowboarders live in and around Mammoth and June Mountains, which should tell you something…
It's very easy for boarders to get around the trails as Mammoth is largely a steep resort and therefore not much skating is required. In addition, most of the lifts are chairs, which are much easier to use than T-bars, and the parks also have their own dedicated chairlifts.
There are 13 mountain restaurants offering a wide variety of food and beverages. At McCoy Station, Parallax is a full-service gourmet restaurant featuring Pacific Rim and Mediterranean food and fine wines. The food is reputed to be just as delicious as the view. Also at McCoy Station is the Marketplace, a self-service food court. There's a games room for children. At Steeps Bar there's cocktails and coffee to be had, once you are finished or halfway through, as well as pastries and baked goods.
A recent remodel has changed the third floor of the Main Lodge to the Broadway Marketplace. It offers fresh baked bread, a grill, a salad bar and brick oven pizza. The adjacent Tusks Bar serves cocktails and views of Broadway and the Unbound Terrain Park. The Mill Café is a casual place featuring an outdoor bar and a variety of entrées. It's a favorite ski-in/ski-out spot and on snowy days the indoor fireplace is ideal for snuggling up with a hot chocolate.
At the base of chairs 13 and 14 is Outpost 14, where you can enjoy inspiring mountain scenery and barbecues, chili, snacks, and a variety of beers and wines. At Canyon Lodge, the Canyon Beach Bar and BBQ has a tempting menu and a relaxing, bar atmosphere. At Grizzly Square Food Court, variety is the name of the game. Eagle Lodge Talons Restaurant and Bar is located slopeside, right next to the six-passenger Eagle Express. Come here for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and a full bar.
The nearest town is Mammoth Lakes. Situated four miles (6.5 km) from the ski area, it offers accommodations, shops, over 50 restaurants and a free shuttle service. The new Village, opened in 2003, has created a skiing community linked to the main ski area by the Village Gondola and a return ski trail. Luxurious accommodations such as Lincoln House and White Mountain Lodge have direct access to the slopes as well as some luxury amenities, and there are stores and restaurants. For a virtual tour of the new Village, log on to their website at www.mammothmountain.com.
The town of Mammoth Lakes has around 50 restaurants, many of which have live music ranging from rock and reggae through folk, jazz and blues. In addition, there are around 20 bars, including the very popular Whiskey Creek, appealing to the 21-35 age group, with excellent live music on weekends plus midweek DJ and dancing; and the Clocktower Cellar at Alpenhof Lodge, with its mellow, pub atmosphere, popular with local residents.
By California State law, all venues must be licensed to sell either beer and wine, or all alcohol. The minimum age for consuming alcohol is 21 years and children can only accompany their parents in to restaurants, but not bars or clubs. Most bars close at 2:00 am.
Après-ski options in Mammoth Lakes include live music in bars and restaurants, and mountain-view natural hot springs.
Mammoth Lakes can be pretty quiet during the week, but really gets going at weekends as Southern Californians drive in to ski and party. Après-ski options include live music in bars and restaurants, or you can go and soak in a natural hot spring with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
The new Village at Mammoth offers a variety of dining and drinking establishments. The Yodler Bar and Pub, across from Main Lodge, is a Swiss chalet with California atmosphere for après-ski cocktails, a casual dinner or snacks at lunchtime, but it shuts at 9:00 pm. Thunder Mountain Bar is a warm and cozy upstairs lounge at Main Lodge, where you can get hot drinks, beer and a variety of delicious appetizers, plus fantastic views of the Unbound Main terrain park and the blue Broadway trail.
If you want some retail therapy, there are plenty of sports stores and factory outlets for the big names, where you can get designer labels at a discount. In fact, the streets of Mammoth Lakes are lined with gift stores and galleries.
If you're not interested in skiing on the mountain there are masses of other activities at Mammoth. It's one of the best places for non-skiing winter activities in the U.S. Cross-country skiing takes place at the Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center, where there is 27 miles (45 km) of freshly groomed track around the Lakes Basin on skis or snowshoes.
You can ice skate at the outdoor ice rink in Mammoth Lakes, or try your hand at snowmobiling along hundreds of miles of forest-lined trails. Take a one-hour ride to Crater Flats or an all-day excursion through the Inyo National Forest. Contact Snowmobile Adventures at Main Lodge (kid-sized sleds at Little Eagle). Dogsleds head up to Minaret Vista, and there is tubing and an athletics club with an indoor pool at Mammoth Lakes. You can find out information at any of the local shops as well as on the main reservations number for Mammoth. There are also music festivals, art shows and special events throughout the year. Contact 800-MAMMOTH for details.