More than half a century, Angelinos have flocked to this secluded corner of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s easy to see why. Despite the 8,000-foot altitude, houses for sale in mammoth sprawl of splashy condos and strip malls carries a distinct Los Angeles feel. Nevertheless the surrounding frozen lakes and granite peaks, immortalized through the photographer Ansel Adams, are decidedly un-Los Angeles, and can hold their own with any landscape in Colorado or Canada. With expanded daily flights in the San Francisco Bay area and La, in addition to a flurry of new après-ski offerings, Mammoth is seeking to draw skiers from past the Golden State.
1) SIBERIAN SPA
Imagine an extensive white expanse of the things looks like frozen Siberian tundra, dotted with natural hot springs and surrounded by soaring peaks. Hilltop Hot Spring is loved by locals, but you can participate in, too. There are actually no formal signs or footpaths – just follow the S.U.V.’s beyond the airport 5 minutes east of Mammoth Lakes and revel in a steaming soak, totally free. To get more privacy, cross the direction to Wild Willy’s, a far more secluded spring, which requires a 20-minute trek and a couple of snowshoes.
2) Through The FIREPLACE
On the reverse side of town is Tamarack Lodge and Resort (163 Twin Lakes Road, off Lake Mary Road; 760-934-2442; tamaracklodge.com). The rustic log cabin, with its bark-wood ceiling fixtures and 1920s-era fireplace, also happens with an impressive wine collection along with the area’s best chef: Frederic Pierrel (cheffrederic.com). The intimate Lakefront R Restaurant serves up a combination platter of elk medallions, grilled quail and pork marinated in wine on the bed of spicy mashed potatoes ($30). Prior to being seated, have a mulled wine ($5) or hot cider ($4) by the fire.
3) PANCAKES AND BISCUITS
Before showing up in the slopes, complete on pancakes and black-and-white memorabilia with the Stove (644 Old Mammoth Road; 760-934-2821), a cozy spot with long wooden booths and old pictures of cattle ranchers on its walls. In excess of 4 decades, the Stove has served hearty meals like the Sierra Sunrise (a heap of fried potatoes, peppers, onions and ham topped with eggs and cheese for $9.95). On the road out, get a homemade pie ($13.95) – apple, apricot, cherry. Get there early since the place fills up fast.
4) BLACK TIE SKIING
Experts from Black Tie Ski Rentals (760-934-7009; blacktieskis.com) will come for your condo and fit you for skis or snowboards. Heck, if the boots don’t feel snug by midday, Colin Fernie along with his team will meet yourself on the slopes and exchange your gear, or switch your snowboard for a set of skis. Pretty good for under $40 (no less than for beginner skiers).
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5) FRESH TRACKS
With over 3,500 acres of trails, Mammoth has more variable terrain than most mountains (mammothmountain.com). There are three lodges: Eagle, Canyon and Main. Skiers looking for soft powder and fresh-groomed runs begin Eagle and adhere to the sun over to Main or perhaps the backside of your mountain (to avoid lift lines, turn back the order). Or use the gondola from Main on the summit, 11,053 feet above sea level, to find a restful position for hot cocoa. Marvel at the daredevils who ski off Hangman’s Hollow. Or brave the steep and icy chutes of Dave’s Run or Scotty’s. A safer alternative is Santiago, off of the summit’s less crowded backside, that provides scattered glades in addition to gorgeous views in the Minarets, a majestic series of jagged granite peaks.
6) SOUTH OF THE BORDER
Lunch on Mammoth typically involves Mexican fare. If you can’t get the new Roving Mammoth, a bright orange snowcat that doubles as being a food cart, serving up burritos ($5.50) – you may even track the snowcat’s whereabouts on Twitter – you will find pulled-pork nachos ($11.42) on the Mill Cafe (760-934-0675), a festive après-ski spot in the base of Chair 2 (in true California fashion, its entrance is scattered with beach chairs). Or, for overflowing plates of nachos and fish tacos, visit the Yodler (10001 Minaret Road; 760-934-2571), a Swiss-style chalet from the Main Lodge. Gomez’s (100 Canyon Boulevard; 760-924-2693; gomezs.com), a Mexican place with well over 200 tequilas and fittingly mammoth margaritas, relocated to a spot in the middle of the village last year.
7) ART PARK
Take Chair 10 as much as ski down a number of wide-open runs like Easy Rider or Solitude that stay powdery throughout the day. Or try Quicksilver, a properly-groomed trail with gently sloped glades and variable terrain. Snowboarders should head to the new terrain Art Park, which made its debut in December and showcases funky artworks affixed to the rails and steel structures. Mammoth also recently opened the Stomping Grounds, a terrain park loaded with jumps, jibs and an Acrobag – which resembles a huge blue moon bounce – to rehearse flips. Nonsnowboarders should consider the newly carved Village Ski Back Trail, a scenic path that meanders past pine trees along with the backyards of condos, linking the mountain together with the village.
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8) GROWLERS AND PASTRIES
Thankfully, après-ski at Mammoth is not going to involve bad cover bands. If anything, it involves its eponymous microbrew. Insiders make their way to a warehouse converted many years back in a beer-tasting room for your Mammoth Brewing Company (94 Berner Street; 760-934-7141; mammothbrewingco.com). Still in ski gear, they down free samples before filling up their growlers with IPA 395 ($13), a nearby favorite, or grabbing kegs and cases to look. Another favorite spot among Mammoth’s growing international crowd is Shea Schat’s Bakery (3305 Main Street; 760-934-6055), which feels, and smells, just like the within a gingerbread house. The shop serves up steaming hot cocoa and stocks rows of pastries – cinnamon nut bread, ginger cakes and bread pudding.
9) MIDMOUNTAIN DINING
This winter Mammoth remodeled its swanky restaurant Parallax (800-626-6684; mammothmountain.com), that takes up nearly half of the cafeteria at McCoy Station, a midmountain gondola station up from the Main Lodge. Its modern décor and Asian-themed trimmings, including white bark walls, would not look out of place in downtown Manhattan, save, perhaps, for the tacky TV Yule log fireplace. Yet at 9,600 feet, it is reachable by only snowcat, which picks people up with the Mammoth Mountain Inn (10001 Minaret Road; 760-934-2581; mammothmountain.com). Hop aboard a heated snowcat that feels like a spaceship when you gaze up in the mammothllakes through its glass roof. Then feast on dishes including a rack of the latest Zealand lamb to grilled chicken with risotto (foods are prix fixe at $89, including snowcat ride). For optimal views, get there as night falls.
10) ROCKIES MEETS HOLLYWOOD
Never mind the gondola D.J. booth and vintage lanterns above the bar. Hyde Lounge (6201 Minaret Road; 760-934-0669; sbe.com/hydemammoth) lives around its Sunset Boulevard forefather. There are bottle-service-only booths (from $200), lasers everywhere and Mammoth’s version of any strict door policy (“No snowboard gear”). The group sipping pricey cocktails is a mix of slovenly clad snowboarders and dressed-to-impress partygoers, all crammed within its fire-engine red walls. Warm up with a burning mango ($12), a jalapeño and vodka concoction, and settle set for a night of folks watching.
11) OLYMPIC WORKOUT
Recently, Mammoth Lakes has changed into a year-round hub for Olympic and pro athletes drawn to the top altitudes and easygoing ethos. A great byproduct may be the state-of-the-art facilities at the Snowcreek Athletic Club, which resembles a huge barn just outside town. The club recently opened the Double Eagle Spa (51 Club Drive; 760-934-8511; snowcreekathleticclub.com), with earthy massage rooms, Vichy showers plus a yoga studio. You could even bump into the New York City Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi exercising within the weight room.
12) MOUNTAIN MAN
To appreciate the Sierra Nevada range’s jaw-dropping beauty, drop by Vern Clevenger’s gallery (220 Sierra Manor Road; 760-934-5100; vernclevenger.com) around town. His color photos (prints start at $149) of nearby canyons, lakes and mountain vistas are ubiquitous out and about, as is the man himself. Vern’s scruffy yellow jacket and unruly hair happen to be a familiar presence at Mammoth since the early ’70s. He is a contemporary-day version of Ansel Adams, who a lot more than anyone put this corner of California about the map.