In honor of the beginning of the ski season, and the fact that we just returned from our first jaunt to Tahoe for the winter, SVV stopped by to recap one snowy weekend we had in Mammoth Mountain last January.
The day began at the airport alongside a sexy little civilian jet that unfortunately, wasn’t ours. The above picture led me to look up its tail number—which in a funny quirk of law is public information—and from there I discovered that the Citation X is the fastest business jet in HISTORY. I knew it was special but holy bat crackers!
We were picked up and whisked directly to our rooms at the Juniper Springs Resort—lodgings in Mammoth all have free airport transfers—and taken promptly to the snowmobile park. Now, snowmobiles are slightly filthy and dangerous but in the right hands simply amazing pieces of machinery. A long fat tread of rubber with a triangle shaped cross-grip essentially paddles the rider through the snow like so many platypus, but really fast. Think laugh-out-loud fast. The front skis are sort of an afterthought and don’t really provide much steering control. They remind me of the T-Rex upper arms, dangly and shriven.
But it’s enough! On untouched terrain such as a snowed over meadow the feeling of riding is like blasting through white cotton on a turbo charged propeller.
Ah, sweet bliss. Kristin was clamped to my back because the throttle happiness that is me and ATVs threatened to launch her skidding butt-first down the fire trail. Ahem—not that I’d ever TRY to do that, honey.
The surrounding mountains were to varying degrees accessible by snowmobile but typically restricted to areas without people on skis. I’ve heard it said that some of the best snowmobiling in the world can be found here and don’t have a hard time believing. The mountain range along the eastern part of California is massive. We are but little specks of dust upon its flanks. We might loom large from the shadows but will never own this jagged stretch of rock.
The moon loomed luminous that night as we took a late stroll, surrounded on all sides by meadows of ghostly powder and achingly clear night skies, all burning bright under the full might of our gray sentinel—at just 7pm, too, mind you.
The flash didn’t capture the either-worldliness of that three-hour hike through the coyote-ridden countryside so we tried long exposures with a point-and-shoot propped on our snowshoes. (Hint: Bring a tripod and a DSLR.)
Tule fog filled the distant canyons while Kristin flailed about in essential (and ridiculously apropos) snow angel creation.
A warm bar and leaping flames from a brick fireplace placed a pleasant nightcap on the evenings excursion. The next day we somehow ended up on a mobile and very science-y futuristic evil scientist vehicle called a “snowcat” that took our group to an inaccessible area overlooking a valley.
It felt like the beginnings of an Antarctic trek but in reality was about a 30-minute trip straight-up. Light snowfall turned into a soft blizzard but our hosts wouldn’t have it.
Neither would this one abide an untouched field of snow. She insisted on play time and forced most of us outside. There may have been wrestling involved with some, but when an excuse is presented to increase the depth of my laugh lines, I’m there.
Completely defying my expectations, our driver busted out a full lunch that was leisurely consumed wolfed down within shrouds of Gore-Tex and mitten-shielded hands (that water is frozen, yo.) However, I’m not sure about you but I’ve yet to turn down a bottle of wine in a blizzard on a bench. That’s like slapping Christmas!
You don’t slap Christmas.
Getting There: Mammoth Mountain is about 330 miles from San Francisco, which can take up to 10 hours driving time in the dead of winter. It’s 170 miles from Reno, or 300 miles from Los Angeles. However, I recommend flying to save yourself the effort of hazardous winter driving conditions. Alaska/Horizon Air started flying into the one-gate, once-private airport just two years ago, and now daily flights from San Jose and Los Angeles. As of this Thursday, United will fly direct into Mammoth from San Francisco.
What It Costs: Flights are as little as $39 each way from the above airports. Hotels cost from $75 (Sierra Lodge) and $100 (Sherwin Villas or Mammoth Mountain Inn) on the lower end of the scale to $200 and up for the bigger resorts (noted below). The nice thing about Mammoth is it’s a much more affordable ski resort town than, say, Aspen. Small plates at the new hot bar and restaurant in town, Hyde Lounge, for example, will run you around $12 to $15 each. Or you can go to one of my personal favorites, Side Door Cafe, for even less—and delicious crepes and fondue. For a finer dining experience, head out to the Restaurant at Convict Lake (main courses run $20 and up). You can get a beer at Clocktower Cellar Pub, a favorite spot of locals, not to mention filling pub grub for a very decent price.
Where to Stay: We prefer to stay in Mammoth Village, as you can hop right on the gondola from there and be up to the ski lifts in 20 minutes or so. Both the Village Lodge and Juniper Springs Resort offer similar suite-style lodging; you can’t go wrong with either. Mammoth Mountain Inn is the only hotel perched right on the side of the mountain at 9,000 glorious feet. If you prefer the consistency of high-end chain resorts, the Westin opened up a local branch called the Monache just around three years ago. If you’d rather stay beside the lake and out of town, Tamarack Lodge & Resort won’t disappoint (it’s where we joined in on the snowshoe excursion…an activity you shouldn’t pass up!).