Discovering Mammoth: The Elusive Charms of California’s Highest Ski Resort
By Catherine Streeter
Being an Easterner, I’d never heard of Mammoth when I moved to LA. But for Los Angelenos—at least, the serious skiing kind—it’s ground zero. And you can’t argue with the numbers: 3,500 acres of skiable terrain, 3,100 foot vertical drop, an average annual snowfall of 400 inches and, with a top elevation of over 11,000 feet, as well as one of the longest ski seasons in North America. With this kind of size, there’s something for everyone– from beginners to pros — including nine terrain parks and an Olympic-size half-pipe. Located on the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada, it’s just a five-hour drive from LA—and a stunning one at that—or a little over an hour in the air if you catch one of the new daily flights. (Air service is also available out of Orange County, San Diego, San Francisco and San José.)
Mammoth also has great accommodations. Among them is Snowcreek Resort, where I was ensconced at an upscale vacation rental. At the eastern edge of town, the multi-faceted development has been evolving since the 1970’s, when a local construction worker purchased the wide-open tract of land with 360° mountain views with an eye to developing a “mountain retreat community”. Snowcreek now encompasses 450 acres, including a nine-hole golf course, condominiums, townhouses, and, most recently, The Lodges at Snowcreek—luxurious two- and three-bedroom homes ranging from 1,856 to 3,418 square feet.
In spite of all the trappings of a proper, world-class ski resort, what makes Mammoth special is its down-home vibe. This isn’t Aspen. There is a notable dearth of chic boutiques and fur-clad ski bunnies. Mammoth is one of those ski towns where it feels like everyone is actually there to ski. Though the mountain reportedly enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year, it can also experience bone-chilling wind—and the corresponding “wind buff” that locals will gleefully tell you can make for fresh tracks every run. This is a place where many of the people serving and working grew up here, and the town’s year-round population of 8,000 all seem connected. In summer, elite athletes descend to train in the high altitude—which might explain the otherwise-incongruous 30,000-square-foot Snowcreek Athletic Club. This is the skier’s ski town. The anti-resort resort, if you like.
Which isn’t to say it doesn’t boast great restaurants and upscale amenities. It does. I had one of the best massages of my life under the care of the Double Eagle Spa’s goddess-like Ursula (that heated bed, those gifted hands!). The facilities at the Athletic Club are seriously impressive for the $20 drop-in fee. At Petra’s Bistro, memorable cuisine—such as the outstanding duck confit appetizer—is complemented by a lovingly curated wine list that includes 28 wines by the glass. I wasn’t able to get to the Lakefront Restaurant at Tamarack Lodge on my visit, but there wasn’t a person in town who didn’t speak of it in reverential tones. On the casual end, Burgers Restaurant’s homemade barbecue sauce and mustard elevate the already-outstanding burgers, not to mention ribs, chicken, and chili. (Mud pie is the signature dessert, but for my money, I’d take the vanilla shake.) Breakfasts at The Stove are as delectable as they are generous.
Though 2010-11 saw near-record snowfall here, Mammoth is among the many U.S. ski resorts suffering from the unusual weather patterns this season. But it finally arrived, so the President’s Week getaway looks promising indeed.
Catherine Streeter spent more than a decade guiding and researching luxury cycling and walking trips for Butterfield & Robinson. She applies that experience to her work as a brand and marketing consultant for travel companies, and has penned travel and lifestyle articles for the likes of SKY, Aspen Magazine, Indagare, and Vogue (Brazil). A film aficionado, Streeter has also written numerous screenplays, with an option under her belt and more on the horizon.