So far, this winter hasn’t matched the record-breaking snowfall that hit California mountains in 2017, but unlike spots like Tahoe, where the current snowpack is only a troubling 30 percent of what it should be at this point in the season, Mammoth Mountain is going full speed ahead.
And that’s good, because there’s plenty happening on the slopes right now, including this week’s Mammoth Grand Prix, which serves as the final qualifying event for snowboarders and freeski athletes hoping to make it to next month’s Olympic Games. Mammoth staff have been working literally around the clock, shaping snow into world-class jumps and runs, including a 22-foot snowboard halfpipe.
The events, running January 18 to 21, are open to the public (and free), and fans who’ve attended before will tell you the feeling is pretty much as close to Olympic competition as you can get without booking a ticket to Korea. Some say what you’ll see might even be just a little bit better than what goes down in PyeongChang, because many of the Team U.S.A. athletes make Mammoth their home base for training, and familiarity with the facility gives them the confidence to go just a tiny bit bigger than they might on foreign turf.
If you’re making the trip up for the Grand Prix—or any fun weekend playing in the snow and remembering that, yes, winter is still actually a thing, regardless of how it feels in L.A.—here’s how to make the most of your mountain excursion.
There are a handful of cozy spots to stay in Mammoth. Convenience-minded travelers will head to the Westin Monache Resort (rates starting at $254) which is located right in the central Mammoth Village, but to fully indulge in the #CabinVibes, book one of the vacation rentals in the SnowCreek Resort complex, which offer room to spread out and all the comforts of home—but also all the spa, hot tub, and on-site athletic club facilities of a hotel (rates starting at $430).
Wherever you stay, start your morning with a stop at Black Velvet Coffee (3343 Main St., Suite F, Mammoth Lakes) for locally roasted coffee and a quick breakfast of a made-to-order liège waffle. Afterward, walk a couple of doors down to Bleu Handcrafted Foods (3325 Main St., Mammoth Lakes), where the staff will craft you a custom picnic box of California-made cheese and charcuterie and house-baked breads, perfect to stash in your backpack to enjoy later on.
You came to the mountains to play in the snow, and the mountains are happy to oblige. To channel your own inner Olympian, purchase lift tickets for Mammoth Mountain ($103 to $162, discounted when purchased online in advance), which grants access to three lodges, an extensive network of trails, and the Unbound snowboard park.
And while racing down the slopes might be the iconic Mammoth experience, it’s not the only way to enjoy your outdoor time. Slide over to Tamarack Lodge to explore Lake Mary and the Mammoth Lakes Basin on cross-country skis or snowshoes, or stop by Wooly’s Tube Park for some family-friendly sliding.
When you’re ready for an après-ski sip, stop into the sunny tasting room of Shelter Distilling (The Village at Mammoth, 100 Canyon Blvd., Suite 217, Mammoth Lakes).
Just opened in mid-December, the facility is already turning out a range of eight spirits, three beers, and a cider, almost all based around locally grown ingredients. Try the Sierra Sunrise cocktail ($11), a mix of fresh juices, grenadine, and a barrel-aged version of the pine- and lavender-heavy Gin the Second.
When it’s time to get some dinner, head to Mammoth Tavern (587 Old Mammoth Road, Suite 10, Mammoth Lakes), a second-story pub with exposed ceiling rafters and all wood-paneled everything. Ask to sit on the left edge of the dining room for the best window views and bring a few friends to share a bubbling copper pot of cheese fondue, accompanied by bites of Bavarian soft pretzel, broccoli, cauliflower, and leaves of Belgian endive ($23). If that doesn’t fill you up entirely, the rest of the menu of updated comfort food should sate you.
Finish your night at Mammoth Brewing Company (18 Lake Mary Road, Mammoth Lakes), a popular craft beer spot, which, at 8,000 feet above sea level, holds the distinction of being the brewery at the highest elevation of any in the western United States. Aside from being a neat bit of trivia, that means that to make their brews they have to adjust the traditional process, including boiling the wort for 50 percent longer than lower-lying beer-makers. The altitude has another side effect: humans dehydrate faster and feel the impacts of alcohol more intensely than at ground level—something to consider while sipping your Lair of the Bear imperial stout ($6) with its 9.5 percent ABV.
Accommodations for our visit were provided by Visit Mammoth Lakes California.
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