Second Season is in Full Swing at Mammoth Mountain
By Brian E. Clark
During winter, former pro snowboarder Gabe Taylor watches the weather forecasts like a hawk for storm cycles that could dump powder on the slopes at Mammoth Mountain (mammothmountain.com) on the east side of California’s Sierra range.
“Winter is all about riding powder, which is one of my favorite things on earth,” he said. “But there is always some borderline anxiety that comes with that. You have to time things. It’s all about trying to score fresh turns on an open bowl.”
Come April, May, June and sometimes July – the so-called “second season” at Mammoth – the “vibe is different,” he said. “When it comes spring, you are chillin’. You can sleep in a bit because the snow is pretty firm in the early morning and then softens up throughout the day.
“There’s no rush. You have time to follow the sun around the mountain. And we’re really lucky here because our mountain has basically 360-degrees of aspect to ride on. Everyone is just cruising and having fun. You get there when you get there, maybe 10 a.m. It’s all good. And riding in the terrain parks is great, too, because the snow is softer. And riding the corn snow, it’s almost as good as powder.”
This year, spring skiing has taken on special significance at Mammoth because many people skipped the first half of the season or even more. Though the resort wasn’t shut down during the coronavirus pandemic, a stay-home order for Southern California from early December through most of January meant there was almost no lodging available for visitors during the holidays.
Shortly after the order was lifted on Jan. 25, the Sierra was hit with a super storm that dropped up to nine feet of snow at Mammoth, reviving interest in skiing and riding at the resort. Much of that snow is still on the slopes and will remain there well past Memorial Day (May 31), the resort’s tentative closing day.
Laura Huston, who lives in San Diego County, put off visiting Mammoth with her family until the first week of April during her kids’ – ages 5 and 13 – spring break.
“We held off going during the pandemic,” said Huston, who lived in Mammoth for five years a decade-and-one-half ago and has been skiing for 30 years.
“Our trip turned out great,” she said. “We all had a blast during the five days that we skied and snowboarded. We had so much fun that we may come up again in May. It was a great escape for us.”
Lauren Burke, a spokeswoman for Mammoth, said all businesses in Mono County – where Mammoth is located – were hit hard during the stay-home order because so many Southern Californians who usually flock to the resort stayed put.
“That created a lot of pent-up demand to ski and ride,” she said. “But since the order was lifted and we had the biggest storm of the season, we’ve had significant numbers of visits. People in California are used to getting outside and playing a lot, so we’re delighted to give them that option. Because of the pandemic, we think we’ll have a really strong spring. Moreover, people who buy Ikon passes for next season can start using them now.”
Starting in mid-April, parts of the mountain close down and operations are consolidated at the Main Lodge, which has a base of 9,000 feet and offers skiing and riding off the summit at more than 11,000 feet.
She said lifts run from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. in the second season.
“The snow is firmer and faster at 8:30, but from 10:30 a.m. to noon, it softens up, the corn snow appears and that is the prime part of the day to ski and ride,” she said. “In the early afternoon – if it’s warm – people will shift into “apres” mode and often do some other activity.”
Burke boasted that the recreational activities offered in and around Mammoth are “unmatched.”
“There is year-round fishing, but full access begins on April 24,” she said. “Come Memorial Day, we offer a great ski/golf/bike ticket for that weekend. That’s a trifecta that gives you real bragging rights.”
She said Mammoth is also a popular location for road cyclists and is a high-altitude training destination.
“And once the snow begins to melt at lower elevations, there is great hiking, as well as paddle boarding on the lakes and other water sports,” she said.
Burke said Mammoth has a well-earned reputation for having a good mix of novice, intermediate and advanced-to-expert mountain bike trails that run from the resort’s summit to its base.
“We also have a dedicated lift-accessed beginner area for mountain bikers at the main lodge where you can hop on the Discovery Chair and have access to a number of beginner trails that are great for kids and people just starting out. We think there will be a great demand for that because there has been such a big uptick in people wanting to bike during the pandemic. And we want to make sure we have the terrain and the options to give people a good first experience with mountain biking.
“That’s our crown jewel here, but we also have a great Adventure Center at the Main Lodge. That’s our base camp for kids with things like a rock climbing wall, a ropes course and a junior zip line. It’s also where you can catch the shuttle to Red’s Meadow and Devil’s Postpile National Monument.”
Burke, who has lived at Mammoth for nine years, said spring is one of her favorite seasons in the eastern Sierra to ski and ride.
“Gone are the days when it’s dumping four feet of snow and blowing 50 mph,” she mused.
“The weather is really mild and you can experience the mountain and the snow conditions in a completely different way. I always say it is a great time to learn because the snow is soft and you’re not dealing with the winter conditions that can make skiing and riding intimidating.
“Another great part is you really see people taking a more fun and loose approach to the sport, wearing Hawaiian shorts or bathing suits and dressing up in costumes. Spring just has a different vibe than deep winter when everyone is thinking about powder, powder, powder. Just be sure if you’re in your swimming suit that you put on lots of sunscreen and a good wax on your skis or board.”
Brian E. Clark is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer and photographer who contributes to the Chicago Tribune and LA Times on a regular basis. He also writes a weekly travel column for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A native of Iowa, Clark is a University of Colorado, Boulder, graduate who focuses on adventure travel. He’s a veteran whitewater kayaker and skier who has lived in Norway, Sweden, Brazil and Bolivia. He worked for newspapers in Washington State and California for 25 years, including the San Diego Union-Tribune, before returning to the Midwest. He manages to head back West several times a year when he’s not off in other corners of the globe. Or poking around Wisconsin.