Nestled deep inside the heart of California’s iconic Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains is the legendary, high altitude ski town of Mammoth Lakes. Originally home to the native Paiute tribe more than 1,000 years ago, the town of Mammoth once dubbed as “Mammoth City” was developed in the late 1800s as a mining camp during California’s Gold Rush. With the use of automobile and the completion of the modern highway in the 1930s, Mammoth began to see its fare share of “die-hard high country pilgrims” who wanted to see its serene beauty. By 1945, local icon Dave McCoy was given rights from the US Forest Service to install the first permanent rope tow on Mammoth Mountain, turning it into the iconic Mammoth Mountain ski resort we all know and love today.
Today, Mammoth Lakes is known for its reputation as one of North America’s prime mountain resort destinations with year-round outdoor sports and recreation. However, far from just a ski town, Mammoth Lakes is home to an abundant array of year-round athletes, mountain lovers and outdoor enthusiasts who chose the jaw-dropping beauty, endless outdoor activities and a slow-paced lifestyle over the hustle and bustle of city life. I’ve got to admit, I am one of them.
As a resident of the Eastern Sierra, I have spent years and years exploring these wild, beautiful places, and one thing is certain: You can spend a lifetime here in the Sierra and never see or do it all. The activities are truly endless. And so, my family and I set out to explore Mammoth Lakes last week not as residents but as visitors this time. It was thrilling!
Mammoth Mountain Ski Lessons
I was absolutely thrilled about this one! It is only fair to give the skills of the mountains to the children of the Sierra as it is a huge part of this town’s history, culture, and way of life. More than all that, it is so darn fun! My son, Bodhi, was as excited as they come. He couldn’t wait to learn. We went to the Village Mountain Center and rented Bodhi his first set of skis and boots. The staff found his enthusiasm absolutely hysterical (and adorable!) and had us quickly ready to head up on the gondola to Canyon Lodge where he would join the Little Pioneers ski school. Bodhi got lucky and scored one of the best ski school instructors on the mountain, Derek Rieger. Bodhi and two others taught by Derek called themselves the “Powder Puppies,” which was an appropriate name as it was dumping record breaking amounts of snow that day on the mountain. The kids loved it. For four hours they went up “the magic carpet” and down the little slope, learning the pizza move and how to maneuver their little skis. Bodhi miraculously skipped “the pizza” and went straight for the standard “j-turn”, then taught himself how to twist his shoulders, turn himself around and ski backwards down the hill. Bodhi was over the moon and it was a proud day for us both. We purchased the adorable ski school photos and went back to our warm hotel to hide out from the storm.
*Get ski school info here: http://www.mammothmountain.com/winter/ski-ride/ski-ride/ski-snowboard-school/kids-lessons
Local Mineral Hot Springs
At an elevation of 7,880 feet, Mammoth Lakes lies on the edge of the Long Valley Caldera, a geologically active area allowing numerous natural hot springs to occur. One of the many perks of being an athlete (or a sore skier) here in the Sierra is the easy access to these natural mineral hot springs. However, due to the growing number of visitors and people interested in springs, the forest service purposefully does not publish maps or directions to the tubs. There is a need to keep these places wild. With 360-degree, awe-inspiring views of the massive Sierra Nevada Range, the vast Owen’s Valley as well as the Glass and White Mountain ranges, this is not a spot to miss. Grab the family and make this your adventure. Ask a local or find a treasure map to Wild Willies hot springs. Children welcome. Feel free to make a positive impact and leave the place better than you found it. *Note: In a heavy winter like we are currently experiencing, you will need cross-country skis, snowshoes or a snowmobile to get out to these springs. A map, a sense of adventure and serious caution are necessary if you are unfamiliar with the area.
Mammoth Lakes Rock n’ Bowl
This was a funny one for us and one we normally wouldn’t seek out. However, since we were with the kids and it wasn’t something we had ever done before, we decided to head over to the local bowling alley for some dinner and fun. The large, recently built bowling alley has 12 state-of-the-art bowling lanes, a fine dining restaurant called the Mammoth Rock Brasserie, and a casual “eat-while-you-bowl” bar menu. Considering we were with our 2 and 4 year olds, we decided to keep it casual and eat off the bar menu that was actually really good! We chose the Baja fish tacos and some simple pasta for the kids. The bowling alley was clean, new and nice with a fun staff that helped get everything dialed for the kids with bumper rails and a bowling stand. I saw that they offered “Cosmic Bowling,” which I was bummed to have missed. Needless to say, we had a blast and mommy won! Sorry kids.
Woolly’s Tube Park and Snow Play
This had to be the highlight of the trip! Woolly’s Tube Park, meant for children’s fun, may very well have been equal or more fun for the adults! Because of the snow conditions this day, very few families were at the park. We had the place to ourselves and it was an epic little adventure. At Woolly’s, you grab a tube — big ones for adults, small for kiddos — jump on the tube lift to the top, then walk your tube over to the six groomed lanes. From there, you choose a lane, then go speeding (and I mean FAST) down to the bottom. Bodhi and I were able to go together in a lane holding onto each other’s handles on each tube. The more runs we did, the braver we got until eventually we were having staff members spin us at the top for a dizzying experience down the slopes. To top it off, Woolly himself made an unannounced visit to the tube park! Staff members overheard Bodhi’s excitement at the sight of Woolly and arranged a very awesome ride down the slope with the mascot himself. It was a dream-come-true for my little man and we had the time of our lives.
Not for the light of heart, but definitely for those seeking extreme adventure is the extreme sport of backcountry skiing. No lift lines or rope tows. Just you and your human-powered adventure. This was our “selfish” child-free, soul enriching splurge. We wanted to get into the mountains and ski the untouched terrain as soon as possible. I couldn’t wait for the views, the fresh air and the freedom the mountains provide- with no one around. We went to Mammoth Mountaineering to rent our backcountry equipment and had excellent, speedy service from their highly knowledgeable staff. Mammoth Lakes and its surrounding areas have a limitless amount of backcountry terrain when the conditions are right. This year, they couldn’t be more perfect. With the recent record-breaking snowfall, we wanted to be extra cautious and safe from avalanche terrain, so we drove just south of Mammoth Lakes to more moderate terrain just above McGee Creek. We strapped on our skins, then our skis and we were off. The day was beautiful, the sun was bright, the snow was the best I have ridden in years — truly magical experience! The only tracks we saw besides our own were those of little animals. As this easy access area of the Sierra hasn’t seen this type of snow in over a decade, it was undoubtedly a day I will never forget. Please keep in mind that backcountry skiing is a dangerous sport recommended only for those with adequate skill levels, backcountry wilderness, snow travel and avalanche experience. However, if you are interested in learning, you can hire an experienced guide through Sierra Mountain Guides to accompany you into the backcountry. Learn the basic skills and have the time of your life in the beautiful mountains of the Sierra Nevada with a trained and highly experienced mountain guide.
*Child care options are available through Mammoth Mountain here:
It is incredible how new experiences bring us closer to our children and closer together as a family as a whole. They say that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. I believe that 100% to be true. A lot of the activities were brand new to the entire family. Although we weren’t pushing through some great physical or mental barriers to do something wild and new, we had a great time rediscovering good old fashioned fun together — and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.
Mammoth Lakes is a place for the entire family and a perfect place to create memories that will last a lifetime. If you’re willing to break through your comfort zone, whatever that may be, be prepared to have the time of your life in the land of adventure!