Guide to Mammoth Mountain – One of Largest US Ski Resorts

Mammoth Mountain Vacation Guide

California’s Mammoth Mountain is, well, mammoth. Everything about this resort’s terrain is big, very big. Plus the development of a new mountain village is transforming the ski resort and making it easier to get around.

No mountain is better named than Mammoth. When you stand at the base lodge and scan the mountain, you can’t even see a quarter of the ski terrain. The encircling ridge, all above treeline, promises dramatic skiing, but what you can’t see is even better. Lower peaks such as Lincoln Mountain, Gold Hill, and Hemlock Ridge, all with groomed swaths and moguled canyons, stretch 6.5 miles in width. Mammoth is one of the nation’s largest winter resorts in size, and at times it’s the nation’s busiest, with more than 14,000 skiers and riders swooping over its slopes on an average weekend.

Mountain Layout—Skiing

This mountain is very, very large. No matter what ability level you’re at, you won’t be shortchanged. First-time visitors should pack a trail map. Seriously. Almost everything goes by number. The mountain is crisscrossed with a network of chairlifts numbered in the order they were built. It makes perfect sense to visitors who grew up with the mountain, but it’s confusing to the first-time visitor who hears regulars planning their day football-quarterback style, “Take one to three, then backside to 23, down the ridge to 14, then to 13 and lateral to one.”

mammoth mountain resort
mammoth mountain skiing

Now that the resort has installed several high-speed lifts and given them names, regulars still refer to the lifts by their former number, which makes it even more confusing for the first-time visitor. For the record, Chairs 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 10, 11, 15, 16 and 17 all have names now and exist only in the memories and automatic brain-recall of Mammoth regulars. Die-hards have been known to attempt a day of skiing the chairlifts in order—a hefty task that requires crisscrossing and careful planning, not to mention hiking.

If you’re with a group, decide where to meet if you get separated. Pick a centrally located chair, rather than McCoy Station or the Main Lodge.

If you come on a weekend, avoid the Main Lodge at the top of the mountain road (unless you’re staying at the slopeside Mammoth Mountain Inn). Tickets are sold (in order as you come up the road) at Little Eagle Lodge next to Juniper Springs Resort, Canyon Lodge, The Roller Coaster lift, Stump Alley Express and the Main Lodge. Little Eagle Lodge and the Canyon Lodge are actually off the main road to the ski area, so ask someone to direct you. To avoid weekend crowds, take Chairs 9, 25, 22, 21, 12, 13 and 14, listed from left to right on the trail map.

First-timers should go to Canyon Lodge or Main Lodge. Those with a little experience also can start at Little Eagle Lodge on the Eagle Express.

Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort Facts

  • Summit elevation: 11,053 feet
  • Vertical drop: 3,100 feet
  • Base elevation: 7,953 feet
  • Expert: +++++
  • Advanced: +++++ Intermediate: +++++
  • Beginner: ++++
  • First-timer: ++++
  • Dining: +++
  • Apres-ski/nightlife: +++
  • Other activities: +++
  • Address: Mammoth Mountain, Box 24; Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau, Box 48; both Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
  • Ski area phone: 934-2571 and (800) 626-6684
  • Toll-free snow report: (888) 766-9778
  • Toll-free reservations: (800) 626-6684 and (888) 466-2666
  • Number of lifts: 27—3 gondolas, 1 high-speed six-pack, 9 high-speed quads, 1 quad, 6 triples, 5 doubles, 2 surface lifts
  • Skiable acreage: 3,500+ acres
  • Snowmaking: 33 percent
  • Uphill capacity: 50,000 per hour
  • Parks & pipes: 4 parks, 4 pipes
  • Bed base: 30,000
  • Nearest lodging: Slopeside
  • Resort child care: Yes, newborns and older

Expert & Advanced Slopes

Expert yaa-hoo skiers will strike out for the ridge, reachable by the gondola or a series of chairs. From the ridge, any chute or path will open into a wide bowl. Mammoth’s signature run, a snarling lip of snow called Cornice Bowl, looms large in every expert’s memory bank. Other runs dropping from the ridge are considered steeper and more treacherous. Reached from the gondola, Hangman’s Hollow—Mammoth’s toughest—is an hourglass-shaped chute hanging from the summit and bordered by wicked rocks. At its narrow part, there’s space for only one turn—a perfect one. Other expert shots are off Chair 22, and on powder days you can often find untracked or less-tracked snow on the far east Dragon’s Back off Chair 9, or the far west (hiking access only) Hemlock Ridge above Chair 14.

One of the most popular advanced areas is the group of bowls available from Face Lift Express (formerly Chair 3). They’re great warm-up runs for experts but plan to get here early on weekends. The high-speed lift has helped lessen the formerly outrageous lines (that’s our term; one of our favorite Mammoth employees describes it as “healthy”), but it is still busiest on weekend mornings around 9:30 a.m. Midweek, no problem.

A slightly less busy alternative is triple-Chair 5, the next chair to the left on the trail map, or Chair 14, to the far right on the map. Chairs 22 and 25, which provide access to Lincoln Mountain and its intermediate runs and advanced chutes, rarely have lines.

When you feel like attacking the ridge, head to Dave’s Run. Off the gondola, traverse the ridge to the trail-map left, then drop down when the pitch isn’t sheer vertical. Dave’s is still pretty steep, but of the single-black options off the ridge, it’s usually the least crowded. If you have any doubts, ride the gondola back down to McCoy Station, or take the upper-intermediate ridge trail to more wide-open Scottys or the Chair 14 area.

Intermediate Slopes

The middle part of the mountain is still above treeline, so those at this level have plenty of room to traverse on the single-black runs. Hidden canyons like Lower Dry Creek (off the Face Lift Express) are full of swoops and surprises and require tighter turns. For long cruising, head to Eagle Express. Other intermediate playgrounds are served by the tree-lined runs from The Roller Coaster and Canyon express quads and Chairs 8, 20 and 21. At the other edge of the area is Chair 12 and the drop over to Chairs 13 and 14.

Beginner & First-timer Slopes

Is Mammoth Mountain good for beginners? If you aren’t a first-timer, but still practicing turns, the runs near Canyon Lodge are best. Trails such as Hansel and Gretel weave gently through evergreens, providing sheltered slopes for learning, away from the speed demons. When you’re ready for the next step, Christmas Tree, a long run under Eagle Express, is pretty gentle. This part of the mountain gets soupy in the afternoon on warm days, however. If you’re intimidated by crowds, and you’re trying to step up to the intermediate level, avoid Stump Alley and Broadway, both usually packed with speeders.

For long mellow cruisers with a view, explore the backside off the Face Lift Express, wander through Dry Creek’s canyon and natural gullies, or ride Ricochet’s open glades.

The first-timer slopes are of the Discovery Chair at the Main Lodge and Chair 7 from the Canyon Lodge, separated from the hotshots.

Mammoth Mountain Snowboarding

So you’re a leap-of-faith kind of rider? The plunge off the summit ridge offers a slew of descents with one thing in common: All are so sickeningly steep you can easily reach out and touch the snow while turning. Want to test Newton’s theory of gravity? Drop into the steeps of Climax, pop the cornice into Dave’s Run, dance between the rocks in The Wipeout Chutes or jump into Hangman’s Hollow. If you really want to shake up your innards, dart through the rocks at the top of Phillipe’s and straight-shoot it all the way to the bottom.

Mammoth is definitely one of the carving capitals of the West, so check out the arcs and deep trenches below while riding up the chair, and then slice some yourself. St. Anton, Stump Alley, and Gremlin’s Gulch are just three of the carving runs to hit. Just make sure to get up early if you expect freshies or perfect corduroy. For long mellow cruisers with a view, explore the backside off the Face Lift Express, wander through Dry Creek’s canyon and natural gullies, or ride Ricochet’s open glades.

Mammoth Mountain Parks and pipes

Mammoth puts mammoth amounts of money—more than $1 million—into 75 acres of parks and pipes. Main Park is arguably one of the best freestyle areas in North America. Due to its proximity to the Southern California world of skate and surf culture, Mammoth is an industry leader so progressive that each season’s new park features are kept mum until opening day. A ride on Thunderbound Express is entertainment in its own right, as most freeskier and snowboarder pros pass though here—if they don’t call it home. You’ll find a 600-foot-long super-duper pipe—with walls that are a soaring 18 feet high—and a superpipe with 15-foot walls. Both are sculpted every night. In addition to urban art-like features for top performance, including a 16-foot-by-32-foot wall ride, kinked boxes, c-boxes, hits and tables as big as 80 feet in length, Mammoth also has fully developed parks for the smaller skill set. Two Family Fun Zones are located at both the Main and Canyon Lodge learning areas and include low-to-the-snow rails and a mini pipe with 5-foot walls. Mammoth has the intermediate South Park, on Roller Coaster West, and Jibs Galore on Carousel, where rails are tucked among the trees. One thing is for sure: With eight runs dedicated to parks, free-riders won’t be bored.

Cross-Country Skiing and Snowshoeing

Twenty-five miles of groomed trails, actually summer roads, wind around four of the dozen or higher Alpine lakes for which the town of Mammoth Lakes is named. Tamarack Lodge (800-626-6684; 760-934-2442), a former summer hunting and fishing lodge now owned by Mammoth Mountain maintains the trails. Rentals and lessons are available. On weekends it’s advisable to reserve. Luxury and rustic cabins are available for rent.

The Lakes Basin includes many trailheads into the backcountry, where no fee is charged. Stop into the lobby, where mulled cider is on hand and historical vibes radiate from the gigantic old stone fireplace. Special nighttime ski and snowshoe tours are offered under full moons, but because that’s only three days per month, they tend to fill up quickly.

Restaurants on the Mountain

For full-service lunch or evening dining at the mountain, try the California cuisine at Mountainside Grill (934-0601; $$) in the Mammoth Mountain Inn. Or head over to the more casual and crowded Yodler (934-0636; $). Other best bets for on-mountain lunch are the Mill Cafe ($) at the base of Stump Alley Express, serving sandwiches and garlic fries, Canyon Lodge ($) with its food court that solves any craving or Parallax ($$) in McCoy Station for fine luncheons highlighting Cal-Asian cuisine. Look for the notoriously “so-so cafeteria food” at the Main Lodge ($) to improve after its $4-million renovation.

Mammoth Mountain Lodging

Mammoth Mountain Inn (800-626-6684; 934-2581; $$–$$$$; right) at the main base is the most convenient to the mountain. A million-dollar renovation took place in summer 2003. The inn is owned by the ski resort and includes a restaurant, two small sundries stores, and the resort’s child-care facility. Lodging is deluxe to moderate and includes hotel rooms and condos.

Lincoln House, White Mountain Lodge and Grand Sierra Lodge (800-626-6684; 934-1982; $$$–$$$$) make up the Village at Mammoth. Choose from studio to three-bedroom luxury lodge condos. Amenities include gas fireplace, DVD player, daily housekeeping and nightly turndown service, fully equipped kitchens, slate floors and dining area. There are several restaurants on-site and gondola access to Canyon Lodge.

In the middle of town, only a walk to restaurants and a shuttle to the lifts, Sierra Nevada Rodeway Inn (800-824-5132; 934-2515;$–$$$) has hotel rooms and chalet units. Check out Alpenhof Lodge (934-6330; $–$$$) or the Snow Goose Inn (800-874-7368; 934-2660; $–$$$; above left), one of a few bed-and-breakfast inns in town, decorated with antiques, with breakfast served communally in a friendly atmosphere.

Mammoth has several inexpensive motels, including Econo Lodge/Wildwood Inn (800-845-8764; 934-6855; $–$$), Motel 6 (800-466-8356; 934-6660; $–$$) and Swiss Chalet (800-937-9477; 934-2403; $–$$).

We list just a few of the places to stay in town. As a starting point, call Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau (888-466-2666) for a reservation referral. Generally, condos start at about $100 per night, while hotel accommodations—we use the term loosely, as Mammoth currently has more motels than true hotels—can be found for less than $80 per night. Sunday through Thursday stays are quite a bit cheaper than Friday and Saturday.

Mammoth Mountain History

Its season runs from early November through June—legitimately. Mammoth often relies on its 430 acres of snowmaking to be open by Thanksgiving, but snow often falls by early November. Skiing and riding here on the Fourth of July is a well-loved tradition among the diehards who haven’t had enough.

Until recently, Mammoth was owned in part by Intrawest, a ski and golf resort company based in Vancouver. Intrawest’s most visible involvement is a slopeside pedestrian village with 275 residential units and 140,000 square feet of retail space for shops, galleries, bars, and restaurants that will be completed in five to 10 years. Visitors who stay in one of the three Village lodges, White Mountain Lodge, Lincoln House or Grand Sierra Lodge, can take advantage of the Mountain Center, a 17,000-square-foot skier services building in the center of the Village. It is connected to the Village Gondola, which whisks guests up to Canyon Lodge, eliminating the need for a car once you’re in the town of Mammoth Lakes.

Up the road at the main base area, a labyrinthine base lodge houses the ski school, lift ticket windows, rental shops and hundreds of lockers for locals and visitors. The slopeside Mammoth Mountain Inn recently underwent a $1.5 million renovation, as did the third floor of the main lodge, where $4 million went into a compete cafeteria remodel including the addition of sky box-like lofts that overlook the slopes.

At the bottom of the mountain road lies the small but spread-out town of Mammoth Lakes. As the town grew to support the ski area’s success, newcomers haphazardly transplanted Southern California sprawl and mini-malls to the mountains. Since the village was built two years ago, it has begun to establish the town center Mammoth has never really had. Most visitors come by car from Southern California, but the few who don’t will feel the need for wheels—not much is within easy walking distance. However, there is a free town shuttle bus that runs day and night.

If size intimidates you, Mammoth’s little sister June Mountain, a half-hour drive from Mammoth Lakes, will appeal to you. Its Old World village atmosphere in a sheltered canyon is on a more human scale. That is not to say it’s a puny resort: it has seven chairlifts and a 2,590-foot vertical rise (as opposed to 3,100 feet at Mammoth).


Lively apres-ski gets underway across the parking lot from the Main Lodge at the Yodler. At the Canyon Lodge base area, try Grizzly’s outdoor bar and barbecue. Roberto’s upstairs bar in town is a popular apres-ski hangout; enjoy cool margaritas and four-dollar tacos. At Sherwin’s, at Sierra Meadows Ranch, there is live entertainment most weekends. Entertainment is also at Mammoth Mountain Inn’s Dry Creek Bar.

Mammoth’s longtime meet market (you may meet someone whose parents used to party hardy here in their younger days) is Whiskey Creek, which serves six microbrews. There’s plenty of nighttime hoopla at Grumpy’s, with five giant-screen TVs, pool, foosball, inexpensive chili and burgers. Visiting Brits like this place, and also hang out at the Clock Tower Cellar at the Alpenhof Lodge. For casual beer and pool, try The Tap on Main Street.

Lakanuki is a tiki-style bar that gets everyone up dancing and Hennessey’s is an Irish bar with a nice outdoor patio. Dublin’s is a happening Irish bar and next door Fever nightclub is the “see and be seen” place to be.

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