The two faces of Mammoth

summit daily news
Special to the Daily/Dylan NicolettiThe upper part of the mountain becomes bright after the storm.

If you’re lucky, Mammoth Mountain will give you a glimpse of its two faces while you’re there: snowy and sunny.

We visited Mammoth in late February, just in time for a winter storm, which added up to 30 inches in 24 hours. The beauty of Mammoth is that when it dumps, it doesn’t mess around. Flakes are big, and often wet, and wind whips, filling in the same line you just skied while you sit on your next chairlift ride. And sometimes lifts, especially the higher ones, close.

On our blustery day, we hid out at chair 22, a gem located in Canyon Lodge, one of the three base areas. The trees protected us from the wind, and the low visibility ensured our fresh tracks – over and over again.

The next day, the sun came out, the upper lifts opened, and, truthfully, carving turns all day in the deep snow kind of kicked our butts. Summit and Eagle counties just don’t offer the amount of lift-accessed vertical steeps that Mammoth does. Chair 23, which ends in a wind tunnel at the top of the mountain, whisks skiers up to snow that remains amazingly soft – even when no freshies exist. Those venturing farther along the ridge, to the skiers’ left, find narrow chutes with less traffic, punctuated with rocky outcroppings.

The California resort has some of the best snow in the state, particularly in the spring, when other resorts’ snow gets a little mushier, so it remains open into May and even June. As of this writing on April 1, Mammoth’s base depth ranges from 9.5 to 14 feet. Yes, feet, which cover rocks and opens up access to the steep and narrow.

If you’re into parks, Mammoth boasts seven of them, with three pipes. Transworld Snowboarding just rated it as a Top Ten Park and Top Ten Pipe at the beginning of the season, but that’s not the only reason Mammoth Unbound is world renowned. The parks spread over 90 acres, and they range from features for beginners to kickers, boxes and rails for the most fearless of riders.

Advanced and expert skiers will find plenty of steeps, tree skiing and bumps (though during a snowy winter, the bumps continue to get covered, making them a little more friendly than some Colorado runs).

Intermediates have a bunch of wide groomers to choose from, both in the middle and at the bottom of the massive mountain, and beginners can roam around the wide base of the mountain, hanging out in one of about four main areas.

Three base lodges – Main, Canyon and Eagle – offer food, shopping and rentals. For less than $10, you can load up on a salad bar with just about all the fixings imaginable, and all of the cafeterias offer beyond-the-basics, in the form of grilled sandwiches, burritos, pasta and more. McCoy Station, a mid-mountain cafe and sports shop, is accessible by the gondola, which later extends to span an impressive valley.

One of the more memorable things about Mammoth is its transparency. Sure, the mountain contains local stashes, just like any resort. But some of its best terrain is visible to the newcomer in the form of an expansive, regal bowl, which at its summit, doesn’t hold a candle to many ski areas. And the scenery: Breathtaking, particularly the jagged pinnacles and snow-drenched peaks.

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