Written by Bakersfield Magazine
When the weather outside is frightful (foggy and rainy), it’s nice to go somewhere delightful. Like, say, a place where snowy mountains are not just off in the distance, but underneath your feet. Where hot chocolate is not sipped as a nod to what should be cold winter conditions, but sipped to actually keep warm. A place packed with fun...and with snow.
That place is Mammoth Lakes, a delightful mountain resort town.
Located about 260 miles (roughly a four-and-a-half-hour drive) north of Bakersfield, Mammoth Lakes is brimming with culture, class, and a whole lot of skis.
It’s a hotspot for cold-weather activities other than skiing though, like snowboarding, dogsledding, snowmobiling, and even snowshoeing! And where might you have all these outdoor adventures?
Per Mammoth Lakes’ website, Mammoth Mountain is an “11,053 foot summit and over 3,500 acres of skiable terrain that includes heart-pumping steep chutes, wide open bowls, tree skiing, bumps, gullies, and wide open, well groomed trails.”
Mammoth Mountain sometimes stays in operation as late as the Fourth of July thanks to its elevation and location.
It’s a location that has a lot of history, too. After all, some of the stories of explorers traversing the Eastern Sierra are legendary (including the tale of Edward Kern). However, before it became known as Mammoth Lakes, the area was home to American Indian tribes including the Shoshone and the Paiute and, more recently, gold mines and lumber mills.
But the appeal of the area was quickly realized when mining slowed.
According to historical records, the first resort (built in the area) was the Wildasinn Hotel in Old Mammoth, established in 1905 for summer recreation. The same Knight Wheel used to power the Mammoth and Doyle mills near Twin Lakes was sledded into Mineral Park to produce electricity for the hotel. The popularity of outdoor recreation grew despite long traveling times and limited winter access, eventually attracting Hollywood socialites.
Today, the area hosts over a million guests in the winter.
The newest addition to the area is Intrawest’s Village at Mammoth, a ped-estrian-friendly village encompassing several acres at the top end of the town, physically tied to Mammoth Mountain Ski Area by a new gondola and ski back trail. This is the place to be if you’re looking for a dose of crisp, mountain air while traversing a quaint shopping area with retail shops, art galleries, boutiques, a conference center, night clubs, lodging, and, the most important thing, restaurants.
There are a number of great eateries to choose from, depending on what part of the “Mountain” you’re on. The Good Life Café is known for dishing up some of the finest breakfasts in the area (served all day, no less) with massive portions. Parallax, located at the mid-mountain station of the Gondola, is a chef-attended station with a menu that changes daily. Plus, at Parallax, you’ll be privy to the gorgeous view of the Minaret Mountains. Petra’s Bistro and Wine Bar, which is located just across from the Village at Mammoth is home to some savory menu items as well as an impressive wine list. But you’d expect that from a place with “wine bar” in its name.
Still, the romance of Mammoth Lakes can’t be understated. The views are breathtaking, the options for daily entertainment are numerous, and the environment is refreshing. It’s the perfect place to take that special someone for a weekend getaway. Treat yourselves to a Snowcat Tour. Mammoth Mountain is offering an incredible culinary and wilderness adventure during lunch or dinner. Guests will be whisked away in a luxury snowcat and embark on an unforgettable journey to Minaret Vista. According to Mammoth Lakes’ website (visitmammoth.com), “en route, guests will experience the beauty and peacefulness of the Eastern Sierra backcountry during winter while listening to a narrated audio CD highlighting historical, ecological, and geological facts.” There are hors d’oeuvres served during the lunch tours and a champagne reception and American cuisine offered during the dinner tours. Tours are available Friday-Sunday and on select holidays. For reservations, call (800) MAMMOTH.
It’s also the perfect place to take the kids, with family-friendly options around every corner. It’s never too early to get Junior on those skis. Of course, if the little ones aren’t too anxious to hit the slopes, you can always hit the snowy trails where there is mountains (no pun intended) of snow for sledding and tubing.
Approximately 15 minutes south of Mammoth Lakes is Rock Creek Road, which will take you to the East Fork Snopark (on a snow-plowed road). The area is perfect for building snow forts and snowmen. Or, just throwing a few snowballs.
You could also take the family out for a sledding adventure at Sledz! Located on Minaret Road on your way up to the Main Lodge Ski Area, you’ll find a rope tow and tubes for $25 per person, per hour. It’s a heck of a deal when you think of the amount of fun that’ll be crammed into that hour. For more information, call (760) 934-7533.
During the summer, visitors to Mammoth Lakes reach nearly 1.5 million in number, not including how many visit Mammoth Mountain alone. While winter guests enjoy the snow-related activities, summer visitors can fish, hike, golf, rock climb, mountain bike, and relax at numerous outdoor festivals, including the 16th Annual Bluesapalooza, Mammoth’s most-talked about summer event, taking place this year on August 5-7. This three-day event takes place outdoors among the pines with California’s Eastern High Sierra as a backdrop. It includes the Festival of Beers Grand Tasting with more than 70 microbreweries and Bluesapalooza, featuring a variety of top blues performers from around the country. For event information, visit mammothbluesbrewsfest.com or call (888) 992-7397.
The city’s website lists more activities for summer months. “August brings the Mammoth Lakes Fine Arts Festival with Kittredge Sports hosting over 35 artists. The Labor Day Arts & Crafts Festival features local and visiting artists selling one-of-a-kind items like jewelry, pottery, paintings, glass, photographs, and more.”
And the area is awash with museums and historical sites which “pay tribute to life in the Old West and share the area’s cultural heritage. Vestiges of the old gold-mining days are present at several locations in Mammoth Lakes.”
Still, the scenery will have you wanting to forego the hotel room and crash in the wilderness of the Eastern Sierra Mountains. A few places worth the hike are Devils Postpile National Monument and Rainbow Falls.
Or, try your hand at canoeing, kayaking, and other water sports. The opportunity to enjoy some scenic lake-time is ever-present in the Mammoth Lakes Basin and surrounding areas. During the summer months, these waters feature both recreational paddlers out for a scenic afternoon and fishermen trying to hook a trophy-size trout. Visitors can even take a guided kayak tour and learn the history of Mono Lake. Both Crowley Lake and Grant Lake allow waterskiing and jet skiing, however, no rentals are available so bring your own watercraft. Grant Lake is also great for windsurfing. But don’t forget the wetsuit as the water is chilly even in the summer.
There’s also the chance at viewing the beauty of the High Sierra about a hot air balloon! You can take “the flight of your life” over gorgeous Mammoth Lakes and the Eastern Sierra.
Experience the beauty of the High Sierra. Experience the flight of your life over picturesque Mammoth Lakes and the Eastern Sierra. Visit mammothballoonadventures.com to learn more about their hour-long rides and find yourself enjoying an incredible view.
In fact, you’re guaranteed one giant incredible view on any visit, whether you drive up in winter, spring, summer, or fall. Because there’s something to be said for a weekend getaway that’s truly a getaway; a place out of the ordinary that’s not too far from home. A place like Mammoth Lakes.
Photos courtesy of Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, Devils Postpile Photo by Jimmy Kellett
Article appeared in our 27-6 Issue - February 2011