and their epic snow year. We limped away from vegas and pulled into Mammoth, hoping to get in before the (next) approaching storm. We made the gorgeous drive over several small passes entering the Sierras and arrived in Mammoth Lakes just before sunset.
We drove directly up to the Main lodge to try and grab our passes for the morning. Sadly the office was already closed, but the snow was falling in thick sheets and they had clearly gotten a couple of feet already during the day. We got giddy and were hoping for sunny blue skies in the morning!!
As we returned to town it really hit us just how much snow has been falling here. We've read the updates and reports all year about multiple feet followed by multiple feet...but this is really ridiculous. You can barely find your way around town because instead of talking about "normal" snowdrifts that cover street signs the walls of snow around every single block in the town of Mammoth Lakes are literally 10-20' high. We couldn't even find hotels because all but the top of their tallest signs were covered. Insane...and... maybe even a bit creepy.
We finally found a place to stealth for the night and drove back up to the main lodge before sunup. The snow was still coming down, and another 6-8" had fallen overnight. We grabbed our passes and hopped on maybe the 3rd gondola after opening. Our excitement was immediately tempered because the gondola dropped us off at midmountain rather than continuing to the top... but fresh snow is fresh snow.
Everyone quickly ran over to chair 3 and took it to get as high up the mountain as was possible for now, and even before getting dropped off visibility reduced to almost zero. Part from the falling snow, part from the wet sticky stuff immediately icing up our goggles... The next few minutes were nothing short of comical as a dozen skier/boarders all charged into the fresh 30"+ trying to gain their first tracks despite barely being able to see. The cheers fell flat almost in unison as each and every one ground (sank) to a halt not more than 10-15' from where they started.
There simply isn't a steep enough drop to gain speed at the top of chair3, and this snow in addition to being very deep was also very heavy and very sticky. I thought we just needed to re-educate ourselves on west coast snow, but it was very clear that nobody else knew how to handle this either. Our 'quick run' down 3 probably took 45 minutes of gaining momentum, sinking, digging out, and repeating the process at least a dozen times. The smartest among us finally made their way left enough to hit the groomers...the rest of us glutton for punishment just kept running face first into the wall. Near the bottom I got stuck at least waist deep and after two different pushes to clear myself and my board finally stopped to regain my breath and snap a photo. Even at this point...still buried over the knees and getting a feel for what death by quicksand must feel like.
We made our way down and decided to look for other runs. We were under an hour into our day and already exhausted enough we could have called it quits. But... we had friends on the mountain today, and they had written us to let us know they came up Eagle lift (on the far other side of the mountain)...so we started charging over as best we could.
Sadly, we made our way down the Eagle lift to meet them only to see the biggest crowd/lift line we have ever seen. We knew to expect crowds for the 3 day weekend...but this was like nothing we could have imagined as the entire city of LA seemed to be funneling into the massive crowd at the base. We had already passed the lowest lift, though did consider simply hiking back up the face of the mountain or walking further into town and hopping a bus or taxi back to main lodge to avoid the crowd...but we still had hopes of meeting our friends and begrudgingly got in line to wait with the masses.
Only later in the week would we learn that not only did we hit the sierras on a 3 day weekend, but its also the beginning of "ski and skate week". I know...if you're not from California that means absolutely nothing to you (nor did it to us). But apparently CA schools have somehow worked out a second spring break that happens mid winter so that families can take their kids to the mountain... and trust us... they do.
We battled the crowds and did everything we could do to pick the hardest, un-kid friendly runs on the mountain...but sadly Mammoth couldn't seem to get upper mountain lifts open (or even mid mountain), so things were pretty crowded and cluttered for our time here (and most of our time in the state).
Luckily, we met our friends at the top of the lift and they had found a couple of glade runs that were both plenty steep and were just far enough away from the groomers that we could hide away and enjoy the fresh tracks and crazy deep snow. The skies even started parting to give better viz and eventually toward the end of our day a bit of blue skies.
None of that of course stopped any of us from getting stuck and digging out countless times throughout the day as we attempted to get further, deeper and more remote, but we were nothing but smiles and cheers from first run together to last.
We finally ended our (easily) longest and most exhausting day on any mountain and headed for the base. This day called for a celebration, so we shared apres drinks in their hotel hot tub and split a pizza before crashing hard for the night.
In the morning jen and I decided to let the crowds have the mountain and we would instead explore the valley a bit in hopes in finding one of the many hot springs that this area is know for. We were successful in finding the springs, but the crowds soon followed and we eventually gave up on the pursuit and hiked back to the van. Even there, we found a bit of mayhem, in the form of a couple of jeeps that thought they could manage the unplowed snow. We saw one digging out as we walked past them on our way to the springs and offered to help but they seemed confident they could dig out. They were clearly "lured" offroad by the sight of a station wagon in the distance, thinking "well if they can do it..." but couldn't tell until buried themselves that the car had been abandoned at least a storm ago and was clearly stuck for the season.
By the time we got back to the first jeep a large truck had joined them...also lured offroad but not stuck and had helped pull the jeep free. A second jeep however had come bombing down the track and tried going around the other two vehicles despite not having the clearance or tires to do the job, and trapped all of them. We had a work call quickly approaching, but certainly didn't want to drive away and find out later that these 3 vehicles had been stranded for the night, so we backed the sprinter down the trail and yanked them out. Broke our sandrails in the process (and still waiting on compensation from the jeep guys)...but felt good about not simply driving away and leaving them there.
We hunkered down at the campground outside of town for the rest of the weekend, enjoyed another dinner and some games with our friends before they (and most of the rest of southern California) tried to get back home in time for work; and then finally came back out to the mountain for another day of it, lured out by the bluebird skies, another layer of snow and the promise of the upper mountain opening up.
Sadly, it did not...despite almost perfect conditions, and despite all of the lifts reading as "expected" all day, Mammoth couldn't seem to get the lifts operational and even shut down some of the lower lifts during the day. We gained in frustration at the crowds (mostly due to the limited real estate on the mountain) and called it a day early.
Luckily, we didn't leave town...and some unexpected snow came in overnight (putting Mammoth's numbers on the year over 500"!!), so we headed back up to main lodge and purchased a lift ticket at our Mountain Collective 1/2 off discount, and gave Mammoth another try. Oh how glad we are that we did!!
We hopped the gondola and were again made to get off at midmountain, but people were lining up for the upper and we joined the line with the rest of the crazies. The hour that followed was probably the coldest we've ever been as we stood freezing and waiting without any comment, timeline or expectation from the lift crews...but our patience was finally rewarded as they started loading cars for the top, and finally opening up access to the rest of the mountain!
This area hadn't been open for at least a week due to back to back storms, and everyone was simply chomping at the bit to get the fresh snow at the top. It was also a feast for the eyes and jen and I couldn't help but let others grab the first tracks while we snapped photos and hiked further out the ridge taking it all in. Epic beautiful at every section with views forever and that always gut-ripping view over the edge over the cornice to take your breath away before, during and after you decide to start downhill. Gulp!
We eventually made our long slow turns down and enjoyed an truly great day on the mountain with fresh tracks all day that were actually manageable and without digging out. So friggin good (and SO worth the wait)!!