Take your little rippers to “shred some pow” at one of California’s premiere winter sports recreational resorts, Mammoth Mountain. Families wanting a fun, wintery escape will fulfill mammoth-sized dreams at this snowy paradise. From skiing, snowboarding and snow play to tubing, scenic gondola rides and snowmobile tours, the entire family will create lasting memories.
While Mammoth is best known for world-class skiing and snowboarding, the town offers a full range of activities, both on and off the slopes. “We have a very laid back vibe,” says Lara Kaylor, of Mammoth Lakes Tourism. “We also have the best snow and longest ski season of all the California resorts.”
The When and Where
Mammoth is located in the eastern Sierras, approximately 400 miles from San Diego. The winter sports season extends from November through June and boasts a summit of 11,053 feet, an average of 400 inches of annual snowfall, and clear blue skies for more than 300 days each year.
Mammoth is a relatively straightforward drive from San Diego, though chains are required at times. If you prefer to fly, Alaska Air operates a direct flight from San Diego to Mammoth Yosemite Airport. Once in the town of Mammoth Lakes, a free shuttle service is available.
Peak times include Christmas through New Year’s and winter holiday weekends. A great time to go is mid-week in January when there are fewer crowds, lots of snow and good deals. Mammoth’s nearby sister resort, June Mountain, is generally quieter and offers free lift passes to kids 12 and under.
Because Mammoth’s base elevation is over 9,000 feet, individuals sensitive to altitude related illness should take appropriate precautions.
Where to Stay and Eat
There are many lodging options from which to choose: from luxury slope-side and ski-in cabins to the charming Village or budget-friendly motels in Old Mammoth, just a short drive away. Many include amenities such as kitchen and laundry facilities.
Resort lift and lodging packages can be booked at www.MammothMountain.com. A multitude of property management companies book condos both slope-side and town-wide.
In Old Mammoth, Sierra Nevada Resort and Spa is a family-friendly lodging option. Located next to a shuttle stop, it also offers mini golf and a free “Cub Club”, ideal for parents wanting a night out. Nearby Motel 6 and Best Western are among the town’s budget-priced options.
For a festive experience, stay in or stroll through Mammoth’s Village. It is filled with cute shops, outdoor fire pits, tasty restaurants and fun events such as Woolly’s Weekend Winter Parade on seasonal Saturday afternoons. To start each ski day, take a gondola directly from the Village up to the Canyon base lodge. After skiing, try Gomez Restaurant’s welcoming ambiance, kids’ menu, sandbox, and mammoth-sized margaritas. Then visit kid-pleaser Ben & Jerry’s or Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
On the slopes, McCoy Station is a fun stop for a cafeteria-style lunch, complete with stunning mountain views. Or pack sandwiches and eat on The Outpost’s patio on the backside of the mountain.
HOT TIP! There’s a Vons in town, but the store’s long lines are infamous. Consider bringing groceries up from San Diego. If you forget something, try Sierra Sundance Whole Foods Market.
Skiing and Snowboarding
The mountain’s skiing and snowboarding terrain includes a 3,100 ft. vertical rise, 3,500 acres, 28 lifts and 150 named trails. It is rated 25 percent beginner, 40 percent intermediate, 20 percent advanced and 15 percent expert.
Mammoth’s Ski and Snowboard School offers group and private lessons. Beginner youth packages include instruction, gear rentals and lunch. Arrive at the slopes early to coordinate rentals, tickets and lessons. Lift passes can be purchased and recharged online, so hold onto them for future visits. Kids 4 and under ski/board for free.
Consider exploring more than 19 miles of groomed trails at the Tamarack Cross Country ski area. Rent Nordic skis or snowshoes, take a guided tour and experience the serenity of the surrounding natural world.
More Fun Family Activities
Kids love Woolly’s Tube Park & Snow Play area, where they can take a lift to the top of six groomed, high-speed tubing runs. Younger ones have a blast building a snowman or riding the snowy “merry-go-round.” Nighttime electric tubing (tubing under lights, with music and glow party favors) is available on select dates.
Everyone can ride safely to and from Mammoth’s panoramic summit in an enclosed gondola from Main Lodge. Once there, enjoy a scenic lunch, visit the interactive exhibits of the interpretive center and pose for a family photo by the summit sign.
Tour Mammoth’s backcountry—a luxury snowcat vehicle accommodates 12–14 people and includes culinary delights. Or, try a high speed, thrilling snowmobile adventure through trails, meadows and forests. Young animal lovers and their families can join a “musher” and team of energetic sled dogs for an exciting, memorable adventure.
A public ice skating rink, located next to the library, is open seasonally. Nearby Minaret Cinemas plays newly released movies.
You won’t go wrong with an après-ski visit to Mammoth Rock ‘n’ Bowl. This complex offers bowling, indoor golf, darts, foosball, ping-pong and more. Downstairs, order from a traditional alley-side menu; upstairs, discover the unexpected and excellent, upscale Brasserie restaurant.
If your visit is well timed, explore the surrounding area with a guided, full moon snowshoe or cross-country ski tour. These 1.5-hour tours depart from Tamarack Lodge; afterwards, enjoy fireside hot beverages.
Gear Rental Options
- When deciding where to rent ski/snowboard gear, consider daily expense, personal tolerance for crowds and overall convenience. Wherever you choose, remember to include helmets!
- Mammoth’s base lodges. You won’t have to drag gear to/from your lodging and, if there are any issues, they can be addressed onsite; however, you will pay a premium and there may be crowds, which takes extra time.
- Off-site, Mammoth-based rentals. They likely have more competitive pricing and shorter lines. Try The Ski Renter (online reservations available: www.SkiRenterMammoth.com).
- A premium delivery service, such as Black Tie Ski Rentals. They deliver gear directly to Mammoth accommodations and if there are any problems during the day, meet you slope-side to fix them. It’s a great option for families who need a little extra time and personal assistance. www.MammothSkis.com
- Rent in San Diego. Local businesses, such as Hansen’s Surfboards, offer competitive rates and don’t charge for travel days. Advance fittings and reservations are recommended. www.HansenSurf.com/pages/snow-rentals-repair
Lisa Pawlak is an award-winning contributing writer, Encinitas resident and avid outdoor enthusiast.
Published January 2017