A Mammoth ski experience for an affordable price
MAMMOTH LAKES – As a December sun sinks behind ribbons of granite, the darkening sky evolves from a pink palette into a charcoal haze. Banner Peak, Ritter Peak, and the jagged spires of the Minarets hug the last beams of sunlight, while the 11,053-foot summit of Mammoth Mountain remains safely tucked away for the night.
It was a scenic end to one of those John Muir moments in the Sierra Nevada.
I am admiring this image dressed in shorts and sandals, clothes more suitable for summer than winter. But this admiration occurs while scurrying from a paved parking lot to Hot Creek, a hot spring that bubbles inside a canyon that splinters west of Mammoth Lakes.
I figure this thin layer of clothes, this brief inconvenience, is justified because it was preceded by a full day of snowboarding at one of the Sierra’s best resorts. It’s also a cheap and simple way to overcome my hotel not having a hot tub in nearby June Lake. But if you’re willing to cut some corners, Mammoth doesn’t have to be that expensive.
There are several affordable (less than $90) lodging options in both Mammoth Lakes and June Lake, including a hostel and a Motel 6 in Mammoth. Most rooms allow four people and have kitchenettes that make bringing your own groceries and beverages a cost-effective option for the Tahoe local.
“Of course we want to attract people from Reno and Tahoe,” said Dana Vander Houwen, Communications Manager for Mammoth Mountain. “We obviously have a challenge in bringing people down from that area. If all these people are coming down, they’re probably going to be passing all these Tahoe resorts and asking themselves: ‘Why are we going to Mammoth again?’ But I think we offer a different experience here in Mammoth. I definitely think it’s more of your big mountain experience.”
Mammoth has made almost $100 million in improvements over the past five years. It now has 27 lifts, including nine express quads and two gondolas, that serve 150 runs over 3,500 acres of skiable, inbounds terrain, making it one of the largest resorts on the West Coast.
This January, Mammoth is also offering $46 lift tickets (Tuesday-Thursday) if you call 1-800-MAMMOTH at least three days prior to arrival and mention January Midweek Madness. Coupled with affordable lodging in both Mammoth Lakes and June Lake, the discounted lift tickets present an even more inexpensive road trip.
Similar to the effect that Heavenly Village has had on the South Shore, Mammoth Lakes has also seen its image lifted because of a recently finished village area near the Mountain Center. A new strip with shops, bars and restaurants, all with a multi-floor condo complex above it, is connected to the resort via the Village Gondola.
The improvements seem to be paying off with customers. Mammoth’s value season pass ($425, goes on sale April 15) sold out its quota of 32,000 in just 16 days. At nearby June Mountain, Mammoth’s sister resort 20 miles away, its $99 student season pass has become a popular option. Also, June’s ‘JM2’ terrain park is quickly becoming the most popular terrain park in the world. But for all the features and reasonable accommodations, Mammoth and June still would like to see more visitors from Reno-Tahoe.
“It’s tough because the bulk of customers we get are from Southern California,” Vander Houwen said. “That’s where a lot of our focus goes. I know we do get some season pass holders from Reno and Tahoe, but that area is more of a San Francisco, Bay Area attraction. But we just want people to know that we’re an option. We usually have better early and late-season conditions. We’re just higher and a little cooler than the resorts down there. We’re able to hold our snow a little bit longer.”