HOA LogoDestinations

…having fun in the snow and sun: Spring in the West

Photos and Story by Larry Turner (www.larryturnerphotography.com)

HighOnAdventure.com   April 1, 2012



Ski carver in the woods  

Ski in the morning.  Trek to the desert in the afternoon.  Or ski one day, trek to the desert the next, then repeat the cycle?  Snow and sun.  Desert and sun.  A perfect combo for spring?  Works for me. 


My cup of adventuring…and it is very doable if you travel to the Mammoth Lakes/June Lakes and Bishop California area this time of the year. 

I’ve done this very thing, starting when my son was young (he’s now 26), making the trip many times.  It is always a refreshing reprieve from my often chilly, windy springtime Oregon home. 


I know: that doesn’t make much sense since I’m going to ski which means snow and cold.  Right? Wrong!


The snow is always dependable at June Lakes and Mammoth—and I’ve always had sunshine there, too; spring skiing at its finest—and with the proximity to the desert, warm days are guaranteed, with few exceptions…especially in and around Death Valley National Park.

We like to hit the ski slopes first for several days of skiing, then trek to Death Valley for a week of camping and exploring.  But the combinations are endless.  One can stay at Mammoth Lakes or Bishop and make ski and desert forays from there.

Photographers call this a cover shot (for a magazine)
  Ski group   Town of June Lake  
Our ski group

Town of June Lake

  Steen riding the June Mountain lift  





Getting off the lift
Steen riding the June Mountain lift

Getting off the lift

  June Meadows Chalet   June Lake area  
June Meadows Chalet

June Lake area

  Big air on June Mountain   June Mountain Terrain Park  
June Mountain air

June Mountain Terrain Park

  June Mountain air   June Lake backcountry skiing  
Big air on June Mountain

June Lake backcountry skiing

    Sierra Nevadas    
Sierra Nevadas



Whereas Mammoth Mountain gets the press—and rightfully so with its variety of terrain, lifts and accommodations—June Mountain is a hidden ski gem fewer than 30 miles up the road off Highway 395.  Get there soon as they generally close in mid-April (depending on the snow year) whereas sister mountain Mammoth often goes into June and sometimes (like last year) beyond.

Two years ago, Lynette Shirley, her son Garrett and his friend Benji, friends from Colorado (Tara and her two lads) and I had an epic spring ski day at June with no crowds, no lines, no fuss.  We zippidy-do-dah’d up and down the mountain all day, wanting more time on the cushiony corn snow.

Unlike most ski resorts, the top half of June has the less steep slopes; the bottom half is steeper.  June Mountain also offers unique ski touring in the backcountry (www.sierramtnguides.com). 


I witnessed and photographed several people who trekked to the western ridge of June and skied down, making fresh slices in velvety powder.

June Mountain is a retro resort, hailing back to the early days when I first started skiing out of high school. Practical, nothing fancy, no high end fashion shops, no gourmet dining (you can get that at nearby Double Eagle Resort and Spa), no “I’m going to the mountain to show off my latest outfit” motivation.  This is a skier, boarder, family-oriented mountain…a perfect place to learn to ski, continue to ski and come back throughout your life to ski with your family and friends.



Accessing the mountain is unique. Exiting Highway 395, drive along picturesque June Lake, through the charming hamlet of June Lakes and eventually get to the parking lot at the mountain’s base.  We walked on bare ground to the nearby two-seat lift, ‘hitchin’ a ride up the mountain. You board the lift in your boots (or shoes) with your skis or board placed in the seat beside you by an attendant.  If you have a cooler, it is placed in the next chair behind you. Arriving up at the June Meadows Chalet, you walk off the lift like it was an escalator…which I failed to do the first time skiing here, learning June Mountain 101 rather quickly as the attendant stopped the lift and asked, “Sir, do you plan to ski today or just ride the lift back to the parking lot?” I could hear Elvis singing from the chalet speakers ‘Don’t Be Cruel’ as I finally disembarked.

The somewhat time-worn but very suitable chalet has a warm, inviting character about it…with a spectacular setting in the Sierras—a diamond in the rough.  Everyone was so laid back that I could have spent the rest of the day on the deck, taking in the vitamin D and the rugged scenery, a study in white and gray (the exposed rock). One rare phenomenon was viewing waterfalls falling on the steep granite Sierra pitches enveloped in shrouds of diaphanous ice. 

We came to ski and ski we did, enjoying the six chairlifts that took us to a heap of fun terrain off Rainbow Summit (10,040 feet) and June Mountain Summit (10,090 feet). The only chair that tested patience was chair four.  I remembered once skiing with my son Steen here who commented to me, “Dad, this chair is so slow that you could do your taxes before reaching the top.” And it was right around April 15, as I recall!

  Mammoth Mountain   Father and son  
Mammoth Mountain

Father and son

Steen skiing solo
Steen spring skiing
Steen solo

Steen spring skiing

  Mammoth cloud roller  










Headin’ to a new lift
Mammoth cloud roller

Headin’ to a new lift

  Mammoth Mountains  



Mammoth terrain
Mammoth Mountains

Mammoth terrain

  Suzy Chaffee  





Suzy and the troops
Suzy Chaffee

Suzy and the troops





Suzy Chaffee
  Steen breakin' crud  

Steen breakin' crud

  Mammoth fun  
Mammoth fun


Mammoth Mountain is one of my favorite places to ski.  I love it because of its abundance of snow, variety of terrain and sunshine…and its proximity to the California desert, one of my favorite places in the world.

The town of Mammoth Lakes has lodging, food and services for all needs and budgets…including some great thrift shops.  It is a year-round recreation town…known for active lifestyles.  It is the perfect town for satisfying all snow sport pleasures, mountaineering pursuits, desert rat desires and a variety of other recreational endeavors (including fly fishing, another favorite activity of mine). 


I was in Mammoth the day two-time Olympic Gold Medalist Margaret Mead Lawrence—Mammoth’s most famous full-time resident—passed away.  I remember years ago taking my son on his first ski trip after his mom’s (my wife’s) passing.  One of the places where we stayed was Banff, Canada.  Our neighbor across the hallway was Margaret.  She was in Banff to receive the highest award which NASJA, the North American Snowsports Journalists Association presents(www.nasja.org.) 


Several times Margaret and I spoke…mainly of our mutual love for the Mammoth area.  Margaret was a lady of grace, humanity, vision and spunk.  The day after she passed, my son and I skied the mountain, paying homage to her spirit and contributions to the world of skiing and winter sports.

A year after, about the same time, while skiing, Lynette and I came across Suzy Chaffee. I took several runs with her, photographing her on her famous Hart skis. The three-time world free-style skiing champion (famous as Suzy Chapstick) was graceful and poetic with her ballet-like ski moves. It was rather comical to watch her ski in front of a contingent of full-dress Army trainees who were learning to ski for the first time. Several crashed because their attention span was locked on Suzy with her ski dexterity and her tight fitting ski costume.  Many times I’ve heard that she brought more young men into skiing back in the 70s because of her figure and tight-fitting apparel. Going up the lift, I was curious—but didn’t ask—if she had actually had an affair with Ted Kennedy as was rumored in the late 70s. Suzy is co-founder of www.nativevoices.org.

  Panamint Camp   Our camp  
Panamint Camp

Our camp

  Desert wildflowers  





Panamint Springs Resort
Desert wildflowers

Panamint Springs Resort

  Steen and my sis   Desert rat shadow  
Steen and my sis

Desert rat shadow

  Sierra sunset near Bishop   Double Eagle accommodations  
Sierra sunset near Bishop

Double Eagle accommodations


  Schats Bakery   Desert orioles  
Schat's BakeryDesert orioles

Desert orioles

  Steen and I at Darwin   Darwin hike  
Steen and I at Darwin

Darwin hike

    Darwin Hot Springs    
Darwin Hot Springs



I know, it is probably not a word—though desert rat is—but I like it anyway because of my love for deserts.  The east side of the mighty Sierra Mountain Range boasts both high and low desert country.  Whereas this renowned range gathers moisture, the lee side of the mountain gets it sparingly. There is a contrasting landscape of mountains and valleys of sparseness…but in this sparseness, there is beauty to behold…and Spring warmth for cold Oregon bones. 

If you’re staying in Mammoth or Bishop, here are some of my day trip suggestions for desert ratting: Silver Canyon east of Bishop to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (the world’s oldest trees), the Saline Valley Road south of Bishop and east of Big Pine (this takes you through a beautiful joshua tree forest and to the north end of Death Valley National Park), the volcanic tablelands of Fish Slough/ Red Rock Canyon/ Casa Diablo (east of Mammoth and north of Bishop) and the White Mountain area northeast of Bishop.  These journeys will wet your appetite (speaking of wet, take plenty of water for these day sojourns) for other dry desert forays.  My favorite of all, though, is Death Valley, but to really do Death Valley properly, make it a multi-day or better yet, a week or two trip.

If car travel desert-ratting, stay on the main roads. Don’t push your limit on the side roads. Some places will require a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Though it is spring, there can be some crazy weather shifts in these necks of the desert, so bring along warm clothes for extra preparedness. And if you’re in Mammoth or Bishop, by all means, stop at the famous Schats Bakery (www.erickschatsbakery.com) for some delectables and ‘pick-me-ups’ while hiking and exploring (I know, there’s healthier stuff, but indulge yourself a bit!).  Rat on!





http://www.fs.usda.gov/inyo (Inyo National Forest: nearly 2 million acres with the tallest peak in the lower 48 states—Mount Whitney—and beside the lowest point in North America—Death Valley)
www.doubleeagle.com (June Lakes lodging and spa)
www.bigrockresort.net (June Lakes lodging)

Return to home page

HOA LogoDestinations