Welcome to Mammoth Lakes CA!
A Complete Mountain & Trails Guide
Looking down at McCoy's Station – or now Warming Hut II – on Mammoth.
When Old Man Winter visits Southern California – turning basking beach days into the relative chill of a breezy 60F or making weekends into a rain-soaked mess – then residents load up the four-wheelers and head up Highway 395 to Mammoth Mountain.
Parked in the Sierra Nevada range, Mammoth is what all ski resorts should be: Easily accessible, full of awe-inspiring skiing/snowboarding with enough trails to use even during the most crowded times, an overly friendly local population and a lively bar at the base of the mountain.
As far as snow, Mammoth has a lot of it, traditionally, and sometimes even stays open until the Fourth of July.
Mammoth is one of the great mountain resorts in the Western United States. The fact that it is less than a six-hour drive from Los Angeles makes it a port of call from people all over Southern California. On any given weekend from January through April, they fill its 3,500 acres 150+ trails and 28 lifts with skiers and shredders, all in search of some good conditions and post-mountain partying.
Mammoth has wide-open runs for all levels of skiers and snowboarders.
Mammoth's advertising slogan, "No other mountain lives up to its name" is right on target. One could spend an entire weekend skiing or snowboarding and never make the same run twice.
The Village at Mammoth has created a central hub of activity. There are shops and a few retaurants and bars and a gondola that goes straight to the mountin. Developed by Intrawest Corporation, it's no Whistler/Blackcomb or even Mount Tremblant, but it has given this old mining town a bit of a true ski resort personality.
Arrival and Getting Around Town
The Village at Mamamoth has shops, restaurants, bars and a gondola.
First-time visitors arrive in Mammoth somewhat surprised at the ease of their journey. There are no long, twisting, mountain roads to navigate, steep hills to climb or cliff-hanging turns to negotiate. One minute they are on the open highway and the next they are in the town.
The drive to Mammoth is one of the most interesting in all the United States. Along Highway 395 are incredible geologic formations, historic salt mines, the sites of early Hollywood western movies, both the lowest and highest points in the continental U.S. out of opposite car windows (Death Valley and Mt. Whitney at Lone Pine), and the location of the World War II Japanese internment camps in a reminder of one of this country's darkest moments.
It's possible to soar over all this history to the small Mammoth airport about 15 minutes from town. Currently it serves only charter aircraft, although attempts are being made to lure commercial service in the near future.
Once in town, for those not at or in the vicinity of The Village, it's best to park the car and use the free shuttle service. There are plenty of stops – just look for the signs dotting the roads – and buses arrive every 15 minutes.
They will even take you to the bars at night, but service stops at midnight (weekdays, 11 p.m.). The Red Line goes to the Main Lodge and the Blue and Yellow lines to Canyon Lodge (the latter lands riders at Chair 15, a much underutilized ski area and therefore one of the best places on the mountain to visit).The new gondola goes to Canyon Lodge, Canyon Express and the base of Chairs 7, 8, and 17 in six minutes.
There are taxis in town but they often require a long wait, especially at closing time. This is not an issue for those staying close to The Village.
Accommodations, Hotels & Condos
The best area to stay in or close to The Village. Most accommodations are rental condos. There are a few hotel and private homes available for rent. Old Mammoth Road is a traditional place for many, but it's a drive or one heck of a long, chilly walk to The Village. There are condos and hotels at the mountain, but for PubClubbing, it's best to stay in town.
Finding rooms during weekdays is a breeze. The lack of a commercial airport means Mammoth is like a suitcase college in reverse – deserted during the week and busy on weekends. People generally do not come here to spend an entire week. On weekends, reservations at least two weeks in advance are recommended. President's Day weekend (around February 15) is by far the busiest time of the year.
Veterans know that the best rental deals are found in town away from the mountain. Prices vary from store to store, but skis and snowboards can be found for $30-40 a day.
One advantage of renting at the mountain is that it provides free locker storage overnight. If equipment is not picked up by 10 the next morning, it goes back into the rental shop. If conditions (bad weather, excessive hangover, etc.) cause a rethinking of a day's skiing or snowboarding plans, there is no rental cost. Canyon Lodge can also store skis for free overnight.
The Mountain: The Trails, Runs, Lifts and Lodges
The small lodge at Sump Alley is a good spot for a break.
The lift lines are always long at Stump Alley (for good reason).
Like it's slogan says, "no other mountain lives up to its name."
Lift Ticket Prices ($5 cheaper per, on-line w/14-day advance): Single-day: $99. Two-day: $198. Three-day: $263.
Finding a good spot to ski or snowboard in Mammoth is as easy picking a lift.
Most people start from the Main Lodge and work their way from there. For those wanting a full day, the way to play is to follow the sun, starting at Eagle Lodge, going to Canyon, then the Mill and eventually to the Main Lodge. Getting around the mountain is easy with the various trails and lifts, and the trails are so well marked in conjunction with the trial map it's nearly impossible to get lost. Even first-timers can easily traverse from one side to the other with few navigational issues.
It is possible to cover the entire mountain in one day but there are so many good runs, most people pick a general area and stay in it.
Mammoth has high-speed lifts; PubClub.com calls one The Moving Couch.
Getting a lift to the slopes on Mammoth.
Novices will no doubt find solace in Sesame Street off the Main Lodge and Hansel and Gretel by Canyon Lodge.
Intermediate skiers can have a run of the place. PubClub.com recommends checking out chairs 15, 24 and 9 by Eagle Lodge, especially on crowded weekends.
While others are battling long lift lines in the main areas, skiers in this area are able to make run after run as quickly as they can get back to the chair, a six-person lift we like to call "the moving couch." Chairs 13 and 14 on Mammoth's backside are also a welcome relief from the crowds but can be vicious in bad weather.
The runs off Stump Alley are also good (we especially like Mambo), though the chair is probably the most crowded on the mountain. It does drop off just above McCoy Station, with the main run of Broadway to the right.
Expert skiers and riders zip to Mid-Chalet, then take the gondola to the top where Climax and the Cornice Bowl provide excellent challenges. With few trees to block the wind, though, the top of the mountain can get extremly windy in the afternoon and is recommended for experts only. Mogel skiier love the steep run of Chair 22 and experts also favor Chair 12. And consider Chair 26, a short run but great for shredders who love deep powder.
Snowboarders have their own space of halfpipes at various areas called the Unbound Terrain Park (off Broadway and Stump Alley) as well as throughout the mountain.
Cross-country skiing is available at Tamarak Lodge Resort by the scenic twin Lakes area at the end of Lake Mary Road. The beauty of Tamarak is stunning and is the place to be in Mammoth during the summer season for mountain biking, hiking, boating and other warm-weather activities.
Taking a moment to take in the beauty of Mammoth.
Hustling down Lower Dry Creek. (Photos: Mammoth Mountain)
Dining in Mammoth
The Village is the most convenient place to eat. Gomez' has been in Mammoth for years and has now moved to the Village. Hyde Lounge is a bar with pub food. There's also BBQ (Smokeyard BBQ and Chop House), burgers, Petra's Wine Bar and a deli. The Pita Pit is a highly popular place for cheap eats. Lakanuki is a bar/club and has a steak sandwich that is really an excellent flank steak ($16,95).
For finer dining, just down a block is Whiskey Creek, with a menu featuring duck, a thick and juicy chicken breast, steaks and other excellent entrees. All are in the $20-30 range and reservations are highly recommended on weekends.
A pair of breakfast places serve omelets, pancakes and other similar fare through lunchtime. The most popular is The Stove (Old Mammoth Road), although the food is better and the wait is shorter down the street at the Alpenrose Restaurant. Even on light days, the line at The Stove can exceed half an hour.
Frankly, the best place to eat is Schat's Bakkery in nearby Bishop. When you order a turkey sandwich in this place, not only do they offer you a choice of homemade breads, they actually carve up the turkey to make it. It's the best sandwich in California. Unfortunately, the bakery in Mammoth only serves the bread.
It worked. That ski bunny from Chair 5 actually accepted your dinner invitation and you didn't even have to get her drunk at the Yodler first.
Here's where to take her. But don't go without reservations and be sure there is plenty of spending space on the credit card.
A good, safe bet is the Chart House. Hopeless romantics may wish to seek out something really special.
Convict Lake Restaurant (outside of town, 934-3800 or 1-800-992-2260) is full of romantic ambiance. It has a large fireplace, and extensive wine list and outstanding food. Just getting there is romantic. Convict Lake Restaurant sits alone on Convict Lake Road off of Highway 395. It's a slow, curvy drive with nothing but nature in sight. Super romantics can rent cabins by the restaurant.
The Lakefront Restaurant in the Tamarack area is very small, hard to get into and well worth the advance trouble. It's old and quaint and sits at the entrance to the actual Mammoth Lakes area. With a menu featuring escargot, rack of lamb and other mouthwatering selections, it's elegance on a high scale.
When To Go
Depending on snow conditions, the ski season starts in November but doesn't really get cranking until mid-January. Any given weekend from January thru March is full of activity. The three-day President's Day weekend (mid-February) is the by far the busiest time of the year. Acquiring reservations during that time requires advance planning of at least one month.
Good conditions often last well into June, although by that time much of the Southern California party crowd has put the skis and snowboards in the garage and reclaimed their surfboards and rollerblades.