Most Mammoth Mountain skiers know this popular California mountain gets tons of snow, but they are a little in the dark as to how to avoid crowds on the mountain. And now, with more direct flights than ever from places like San Diego, Los Angeles and the Bay area, it's more important than ever to know how to plan your ski or snowboard adventure at Mammoth to minimize frustration and time spent waiting in line.
Here are 10 tips, tricks and tactics I use to avoid waiting in really any lift lines when I ski Mammoth Mountain my 80-plus days per year:
- Ski midweek if possible. Mammoth Mountain Ski resort is visited most on weekends by hoards of Mammoth devotees from Southern California that have regular jobs and work during the week. Wednesday is my favorite day because you can most always ski right into any chair.
- Get to the mountain early on weekends. The first hour is the best hour on weekends. I like to be standing in line when they open the chairs at 8:20-8:30 am. You can easily ski right into the chair for the first hour before the rest of the Mammoth devotees arrive.
- Avoid the bottom of the mountain once you get there. Usually the biggest lift lines are at the bottom on chairs 2, 10, 8, 16, and the Village Gondola. Stay on chairs 3 and 5, or 22 and 23 to find smaller lift lines. The gondola is more crowded than chairs 22 and 23, which serve similar terrain.
- Move around to avoid lift lines. My daughter and I ski most every Sunday together. We are able to move around the mountain and avoid all lift lines even on a Sunday. Learn which sequence of chairs works best for you. With the popularity of the Village Gondola, I stick nearer to the Main Lodge where there are less people these days.
- Be prepared for wind and snow at all times. Mammoth Mountain has a history of underestimating the wind. If the website says it is calm or a "slight breeze" that means nothing. Just recently they said the winds were calm when they later closed the mountain due to wind. Check local wind gauges like the one on chair 1 for the accurate wind speed so you can dress appropriately. Wind chill is for real at Mammoth Mountain's high altitudes.
- Mammoth creates its own microclimate. Recently, I left my home 40 miles from Mammoth, and it was clear and sunny. The sun was out until I turned on the turn off to Mammoth Lakes. There I saw a cloud around the town and mountain. I continued to my favorite parking lot, and when I got out of my car it was snowing. It snowed all day while I was skiing. And when I drove out of town, it became sunny out by Hwy 395 again. When you ski Mammoth Mountain you need to be prepared for any type of weather because you are likely to experience it.
- Chairs 25 and 12 are perfect for intermediates, and less crowded than most.
- Experts will love chairs 22 and 23, which serve the steepest terrain, and rarely have lift lines.
- Wear a fleece balaclava, or carry one in your pocket at all times. I can't tell you how many times I thought I did not need face protection, only to do one run and feel like my face was going to freeze. By having a fleece balaclava in my pocket, I can put it on while riding the next chair, and not have to return to my locker or car to have the right gear.
- Wear a helmet. You can never predict what will happen to you, or when you will need your helmet. It takes only an impact of 11 mph to be fatal when bodies collide with each other or a stationary object.
Editor's note: Larry Conn has snow skied since 1968, and loves visiting Mammoth Mountain ski area so much he moved to that area in 2005. He offers daily ski reports and safety information on his blog at www.MammothSkiClub.com/blog/. Now Larry is reviving Mammoth Ski Club for active adults who want more fun, activities and involvement with snow skiing and other activities at Mammoth Mountain and Mammoth Lakes resorts. Get your complimentary gifts, special report, and be entered in a drawing for a free Mammoth Mountain Season Pass ($1675.00 Value) by visiting www.MammothSkiClub.com.
AT A GLANCE
WHERE: Mammoth Mountain is on the eastern slopes of the Sierra, near Yosemite Park. Most visitors drive either north or south on Highway 395, then take Highway 203 for a few miles to Mammoth Lakes. The drive from Los Angeles is generally at lower elevations until you reach Highway 203, so winter weather normally is not a problem. Airline flights are available from San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego.
WHAT: Mammoth Mountain claims to be the largest ski area in California and is the largest ski area easily accessible from Southern California.
WHEN: Mammoth Lakes is a year-round resort area, known for spectacular views and the nearby mountain wilderness areas. Skiing and snowboarding are generally available from late November into May.
WHY: Great snow depth, lots of sunshine, constant improvements to facilities.
Photo: Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort
Photo courtesy Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort