I glance at my watch; it’s roughly 11am and I’m halfway into the flight from San Jose to Mammoth Lakes, California. The turboprops on Horizon Air’s Bombardier Q400 churn less than 27,000 ft above the immense snow-covered Sierras. The view is remarkable, and the gradual transition from green rolling hills to sharp white ridges is memorable.
Over the drone of the propellers, a husky voice belonging to our bleached blonde flight attendant moves down the aisle with a strange choice of words: “Can I get you to drink?”. A quick survey in the cabin reveals a mixture of young, savvy professionals with shirts and bags that show the markings of Google, Sun, and Adobe. Further down, there’s a smattering of couples with small children and a father-son pair. 11am does seem a little early for drinks, but the mood is festive and a few passengers oblige to the attendant’s propositions in an attempt to usher in the weekend on the right note.
The flight is quick and easy, and just two hours after touching down at Mammoth Lake’s quaint airport, I’m in full snow gear and comfortably admiring the fresh powder from Mammoth Mountain’s Panorama Gondola. Board in hand, I unload at the top of the 11,053ft peak; a height that qualifies Mammoth as the highest ski resort in the state of California and lends itself to an average of 400″ inches of annual snowfall.
The views from the top of the peak are nothing less than picture perfect. The mountain is nestled 3 hours south of Yosemite National Park, 2 hours north of the highest mountain in the 48 states, and is officially part of the Ansel Adams Wilderness area; named in the famous photographer’s honor due to his involvement in inspiring the federal protection and preservation of the land.
By the time night falls on my first day, I’m whisked to the quaint lakeside Tamarack Lodge for dinner with the rest of the journalists that have been assembled by the mountain for the weekend. The dining room glows with soft light; there are a limited number of tables, no more than 12, which adds to the restaurant’s charm and cozy atmosphere. The wine is only trumped by the tender bluefin tuna and delicious blueberry pie, and the meal ends with a farewell from the enthusiastic French Chef. He’s a man that obviously loves his work and takes pride in catering to such an intimate set of diners.
The next day proves to be even more eventful than the first. The morning is spent hopping around the mountain, looking for the best untouched patches of last week’s snowfall. For lunch, a private snowcat tour has been arranged to take us to a vista that overlooks Mammoth’s postcard-friendly peaks known as the Minarets. It’s stormy and gusts of snow threaten to spoil our lunch, but a few brave souls embrace the cold and eat a spread of marinated chicken and salad at the scenic area’s picnic tables. Through the breaks in the low clouds, we catch glimpses of the peaks and imagine what the scene would be like in all its glory on a clear day.
In the afternoon, we’re led on a guided snowmobile tour that weaves through cleanly carved trails to an open snowfield where the group is encouraged to let the throttle rip, bouncing through crisscrossed tracks in six foot deep snow. After drinks and snacks at the Yodler, a local favorite for aprés ski, I force myself to shake off the burn in my legs and bundle up for the evening’s full moon snowshoe hike.
As tired as I was, I really wasn’t expecting too much out of the hike, but it turned out to be the pinnacle of the entire trip. An older couple that run the cross-country skiing center were our guides for the night; Uli (from Switzerland) and Robin were extremely charming and knowledgeable about the Sierra region and had facts at the ready around every corner.
I was taken aback by the stillness of Mammoth’s forests at night; the intensity of the brightest full moon of the year; the view overlooking Mammoth Lakes and the village far below. All of it came together to be a completely relaxing but genuinely memorable outing.
I thought I could get away with ending the day there, but was mistaken by the fact that we still had a round of nightlife hotspots to see. One of the great things about the nightlife in Mammoth is that most of the popular gathering spots are all in walking distance from one another and from the Village; the residential / commercial development that the Mountain has established in the last few years as the pseudo-hub for mountain activity and social activity.
By the end of the weekend, I exhausted and impressed that Mammoth could offer so much activity in to one weekend. The town has still managed to retain the feel and personality of a small mountain community, while readily establishing itself as a major destination for outdoor action. If you haven’t given Mammoth a second thought due to its location, then check out Horizon Air’s flights out of Los Angeles and San Jose.
You may come away sore, but you won’t leave disappointed.
Stephen Greenwood ventured out to Mammoth Lakes on a trip sponsored by the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area. No editorial content was guaranteed and Stephen was free to openly report on his experiences (pending his survival of the outdoor winter activities that demand motor skills he generally lacks).