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Skiing Mammoth Mountain
Story by Lee Juillerat; photos by Larry Turner
High on Adventure, February 2013


Wide open skiing at Mammoth
Wide open skiing on Mammoth Mountain

Several seconds of self-doubt and – OK, I'll admit it – terror.

Wow and WOW! It looked steep, like jumping down an elevator shaft. But on several rides up Mammoth Mountain's Chair 23, friends and I had watched other skiers drop over the edge into the Cornice Bowl and, woooosh down. It was a black diamond run. I'm no expert skier, but snow conditions were forgiving so I had to give it a try.

From the top of the chair, our group of four turned left, following the summit ridge to the Cornice Bowl's entrance. It was so windy that, instead of poling, we stretched our hands out like spinnaker sails and were swept downward along the ridge to the jump off point.

Mammoth skiing the steeps   Carving a turn at Mammoth
Diving down and down                                                   Carving a turn        

Then, mustering my nerve, I pushed and plunged over the drop off. Whaaa!

Nothing happened. I wasn't moving. The uphill winds kept me stationary, until, laughing at the absurdity, I double-poled and finally dipped under the gusty torrent. It was like diving into a swimming pool from a high board and being suspended in mid-air. Crazy? Weird? Yep. I laughed out loud, but no one heard because the wildly whipping winds whisked them away.

Mammoth moody skies
Moody Mammoth skies

Later, after re-riding Chair 23 to the ridge drop-off, our quartet turned right and headed for Scotty's, another black diamond run. This time, exploding ice fragments pelted and stung us relentlessly. Exposed areas on my face were peppered. Seeing where we were going was impossible, our goggles assaulted by blinding, prickly penetrating ice pellets. It was as though someone was firing a machine guns filled with ice shards.

Then, more silliness.

“When I dropped into the chute, I was blown uphill. I couldn't believe it,” one of our group, a woman who might weigh 100 pounds, said afterward.

The lightweight woman, who was a heavyweight skier, had an iPhone app that calculated data. At day's end it showed our outing had been a real blast in more ways than one. We had skied more than 26,000 vertical feet, hit a top speed of 43 mph and dropped down a 38 degree slope.

Mammoth skiing   Mammoth tranquil sky
Enjoying the great wide open                                                            Tranquil times             

A day later we returned up Chair 23. The winds were calm, the sights incredible – a visual smorgasbord of snow-covered mountains that included the Minarets, a series of pointy, rugged peaks to the northwest, Yosemite in the distant west, and the White Mountains to the east.

Mammoth expanse   Mammoth statue at Mammoth
  Vast expanses                                                                      Visiting the mammoth

As we'd done the previous day, we skied like gerbils, saving the socializing for rides on the lifts, then skiing like banshees top-to-bottom, sometimes to the same chair, more often to others that are part of Mammoth's intricate web. Mammoth is indeed a mammoth mountain.

Mammoth snowboarders posing on top   Mammoth snack time
Posing on top                                                                              Snack time              

The area, formally known as the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, offers 3,500 acres of skiable terrain. The mountain is served by 32 lifts, seven detachable quads, a single six-pack and a six-person gondola that access 150 named trails, including terrain parks. It's high elevation country, with the lowest of three base areas at an elevation of nearly 8,000 feet above sea level to a high-point at 11,053 feet.

Mammoth gondola   Mammoth gondola passenges
Riding the gondola                                                                      Enjoying the ride    

Over a five-day period, alone and with friends, I ventured around Mammoth's seemingly limitless slopes. Friends and I posed for photos at the 11,053-foot sign near the top of the Panorama Gondola. We explored trails and bowls, including the backside's array of swooping runs. We feasted at mountainside restaurants, including The Mill, Yodler, Parallax, and Campo, and, back at the village, sampled local beers at the Mammoth Brewing Company and taste-tested exotic ice creams at an assortment of shops.

Mammoth tired skis   Mammoth relaxing
         Tired skis                                                                        Taking some down time

After five days, my legs felt like rubber.

I savored the windless, bluebird days, with the panoramic views and skiing on trails easily seen. But my Mammoth memories best revolve around the wild and wooly winds, the anxious thrills and chills of feeling like a feather in the wind on runs that were too much fun.

Mammoth views
Mammoth views

When you go

Part of the pleasure of going to Mammoth Mountain is getting there. It is a significant drive from most metropolitan areas, but the eastern Sierras offer much to see and, if you have the time, several side trip possibilities, including Manzanar National Historic Site, Death Valley National Park, Yosemite National Park, several wilderness areas and Mono Lake. Mammoth is 320 miles from San Francisco, 165 miles from Reno,and 300 to 375 miles from various locations in Southern California. The town of Mammoth Lakes offers a full range of lodging, restaurants, shops and visitor services – and, as I discovered almost too late, a tasty variety of ice cream shops.

Mammoth lounging in the villate
Après chilling

Yet another year of drought has affected conditions, so it's best to plan ahead. For information visit the Mammoth Mountain website at www.mammothmountain.com.

About the author

Lee Juillerat writes for a daily newspaper in Southern Oregon. His stories and photographs on outdoor travel and other topics have appeared in a variety of magazines and newspapers, including Southern Oregon Magazine, Northwest Travel, Sunset, Range, Capital Press, New York Times, and Horizon and Alaska Airlines inflight magazines. He can be contacted at 337lee337@charter.net.


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