Photograph by Peter Morning
While most other ski towns lead with the photogenic brick-and-cedar skeletons of their former mining days, Mammoth Lakes, a city of more recent vintage, is known first—and only—for its terrain. Charm is a bit harder to come by here. You’ll find it not by jockeying for proximity to the slopes—though if quick access is a must, the Westin Monache Resort ($199-$1,289) provides a luxe alternative to the many cookie-cutter condos—but by staying outside the fray two miles south of the ski resort at Tamarack Lodge ($79-$749). Almost a thousand feet above the 7,800-foot-elevation town center, the collection of cabins and lodge rooms gives off an uncharacteristically quiet, woodsy feel, in part because the extra elevation brings bonus snow. Roughly half of the cabins were fully renovated in 2008, and they’re the ones you want to book—particularly number 11, a three-bedroom stunner lined with locally harvested knotty pine and copious picture windows.
Flatlanders cotton to Tamarack’s cross-country ski center (the only one around), but it’s an easy drive or shuttle ride to the lift at Mammoth’s Eagle Lodge, a less-trafficked launch pad for your first descents of the day. If you’re looking for sustenance beyond what they’re slinging in the tent lodge here, roll into town for Stellar Brew, a blue cottage that serves homemade granola, egg sandwiches, and turkey-black bean-yam wraps that you can stow in your pocket for lunch. The most scenic slopeside setting for a meal or a midday pint of Mammoth Brewing Company’s Double Nut Brown ale is the outdoor deck at Outpost 14, a mini lodge cradled at the bottom of a bowl on the backside of the mountain.
When your quads have been sufficiently thrashed by Mammoth’s massive 3,500 acres of terrain and an average 400 inches of snow, ride the gondola from Canyon Lodge into the Village at Mammoth, an alpine Grove of sorts. Settle in for a margarita (or a pitcherful) at Lakanuki Tiki Bar in the Village, or squeeze in among the families at Smokeyard BBQ and Chop Shop for corn fritters and pints. Go easy, though, if you plan to get light-headed at Crowley Hot Springs, a 105-degree geothermally heated pool in the valley about 14 miles southeast of town. During snowstorms, the road to Crowley is often closed, in which case, stay put in Mammoth. Roberto’s Cafe, on Old Mammoth Road, is a ski town anomaly—an authentic Mexican restaurant that forgoes mediocre sizzling fajitas for pork tamales and duck quesadillas. Or try Whitebark, in the Monache, for its legit sushi bar (omakase is an option) and gourmet comfort food. Not to be skipped is the deconstructed s’more—a cinnamon graham cracker and hunk of oozing chocolate enveloped in a jumbo melting marshmallow. All it takes to keep the calories from settling in is one epic run the next morning.
Riding the Beast: Tips To Master The Vast And Woolly Creature Known As Mammoth
Mammoth’s lodges are, from least to most crowded, Eagle, Canyon, and Main Lodge. The traffic’s no thinner but the vibe is more pub-like at the Mill, a wee lodge in the base area between Canyon and Main.
The town is lousy with rental shops. Black Tie Ski Rentals sets itself apart by coming to you. Rates are competitive, and the crew is friendly. Perfect for when you have kids to equip.
For a hint of backcountry, ride Cloud Nine Express. Covering more vertical feet than any other lift here, it plunks you above a high-intermediate web of snow-filled creek beds, tree stands, and narrow trails that go on for an eternity.
The fastest way to refuel on the hill is with the snow- cat that roams the slopes, dispensing burritos and Coronas. It’s mysteriously Twitter averse, though, so stay sharp.