Taking a breather in Mammoth Lakes

me minarets

The tragic Rim Fire outside of Yosemite hit close to home last week, when the fire’s smoke traveled up to the Tahoe basin – and decided to stay awhile.  We’ve not seen smoke this bad since the Angora Fire, and it affected our morale as much as our ability to breathe and sleep.  With no respite forecast for the weekend, we decided to head south to Mammoth Lakes, where we had heard air quality was much better, thanks to the wind direction.

dog stick convict lake

Since we had the dog with us, our first stop was for her.  Convict Lake is just south of Mammoth Lakes, and while it’s a popular fishing spot, the 2.5 mile trail that circumvents the lake is the perfect distance for a nearly 13 year old dog.  We love the views of Mt. Morrison and Mini-Morrison, and the clear blue skies were only additional incentive.

Nils Mammoth

The real reason for traveling to Mammoth was to mountain bike.  It’s been a few years since I had been to Mammoth’s mountain bike park, and while I had upgraded my bike, Mammoth had done a lot of work to the trail system, adding trails and working on existing ones.  The net result was a whole lotta fun.  Think plenty of banked turns, bridges, more than a few pavers, and a ton of views.

With great meals at Toomey’s and Campo Mammoth, along with food, wine, live music and fascinating people watching at the Mammoth Rocks event Saturday, it really felt like a mini vacation.

For both me and my lungs.

If you go:

Mammoth Mountain Bike Park: Open 7 days a week through September 15, then weekends through September 29.

Convict Lake: In addition to hiking, there’s also fishing, boating and a terrific restaurant.  Go here in the autumn to see the technicolor brilliance of the aspens along the lake.

Toomey’s: Matt Toomey, former head chef at the Tioga Toomey’s at the Whoa Nellie Deli, has returned to Mammoth.  His new restaurant, located near the Village in the old Ski Surgeon building, boasts many of his classics (think lobster taquitos) and some new favorites, like the ½ pound burger served with caramelized onions and blue cheese.

Campo Mammoth:  This Mammoth outpost of the popular Reno rustic Italian restaurant offers wood-fired pizzas, great cocktails (try the Campo Manhattan), and an awesome kale salad.

Old New York Deli & Bakery:  The best (read: authentic) bagels you can find in the Sierra.  Seriously.  Located in the Village, it’s got great breakfasts and happens to be conveniently located on the way to the ski resort.

Eastern Sierra Exploration

We had hoped to spend this past weekend huntin’ for corn snow up around Tioga Pass, but the forecasted precip did arrive, and came in wet enough to encourage us to hit Mammoth for some resort skiing instead.

While we knew it would be a wet storm, we didn’t factor in the ridiculous winds that kept most of the mountain shut and made visibility optional.  We skied anyway, but quit midday when goretex layers had become saturated, and headed to our digs at June Lake, where the weather was windy but not so wet.  Since neither of us had really walked around the town of June Lake, we figured a faux-urban hike would be a way to see parts of the area we tend to overlook for the more exciting hiking trails of the nearby Ansel Adams Wilderness.

In doing so we discovered a bit of history – June Lake, like many other Eastern Sierra towns, had a mining history.  Its history was a mere 5 years (1924-29) but resulted in a fair bit of ore from the various shafts located in the slope above Gull Lake.  Who knew?

Entrance to the mine

Coupled with the first pilgrimage of the season to the Whoa Nellie Deli, where we were rewarded with amazing vistas of clouds and the Sierra Wave along with our fish tacos and mango margaritas, it ended up being a lovely escape from Tahoe.

Heading to Higher Ground

The unseasonable and falsely happy high pressure system that kept us in blue skies and mild temps finally pissed off yesterday.  We’re now left with gray clouds, mist and some surprisingly clear snow here in South Lake Tahoe.  I appreciate the efforts of some to get me snow for my birthday, but this current system backfired slightly.  Though I’ve been told by many it’s supposed to cool off and snow levels may even drop to the elevation of our house.

While resorts are reporting new snow (between 3-7 inches depending on who is overstating), it’s wet enough here that we’re headed to Mammoth, where the higher base elevation (9,000 feet vs. 6,200 feet) should ensure we see snow and not rain on our skis.

Soleil’s stoked too, cause she’s got a Heavenly bed reserved at the Westin Monache, Mammoth’s only luxury hotel that just happens to be dog friendly.  It’ll compensate for her hanging out in the car while we play in the snow all day.

 

Tahoe Snow Report

Um, not much actually.  Four resorts are open (Heavenly, Squaw, Mt. Rose and Northstar-at-Tahoe if you want to know), but that’s primarily due to their awesome snowmaking capabilities versus any bounty from Mother Nature.  This week’s forecast doesn’t look all that promising either.

Mammoth, on the other hand, has been open since November 1st, and now has 10 or so lifts running with snow on parts of the mountain that snow guns can’t reach.  So it resembles winter there.  It’s a difference of night and day, and since we have Mammoth season passes and since gas is now stupid cheap, guess which resort is the more appealing option? Yep.  I drove down this morning for my 3rd ski day of the season, to meet N who was driving up from San Diego.  That dark o’thirty wake up call was so worth it in the end.

It was a real ski day, with top to bottom runs on varied snow (moguls, wind buff, groomers) that went beyond just the designated runs.  After nearly 6 hours of using gravity, I was pretty wiped out.  The drive home wasn’t something I relished, but I kept reminding myself that my only option at Tahoe was one resort with two runs open.   That made the nearly 300 mile round trip schlep well worth it.

Anyone up for Mammoth next weekend?

 

Wha’ Happened?

It was only Monday last I looked.  How did it become mid-September already?

The wind from our Labor Day trip to Mammoth must have pushed the time by all the quicker.  It’s quite versatile, that wind.  Not only did it exfoliate my face with the help of the pumice that’s native to Mammoth, but it kept thing exciting at our hotel, the Tamarack Lodge, by rattling windows and trees and gusting to ridiculous speeds (I heard 95 mph on the local weather).

Despite the unusual weather, it was refreshing to get out of Dodge for a weekend and enjoy some cooler temps, different scenery and see old friends.  N had spent Saturday morning doing maintenance on the Ski Club Lodge (a keeping it real quonset hut perched on some prime Mammoth real estate), so we stole a few hours in the afternoon to do a short hike.  That meant Mammoth frontcountry, which is polluted with people, many of whom have no clue about hiking etiquette.  N had words with some retards who insisted on cutting the trail, and the idiots acted contrite but continued to do so until he caught up with them again.  However, there was a lake within short distance which meant the dog could swim, so we suffered stupidity for her needs.

She amused the various groups of Japanese tourists (there were many) who weren’t familiar with a dog prancing with a log.

Most people just hike to and from the lake, but we continued another half hour up the trail to the Mammoth Crest, which is well worth it for the views.

The best part of the hike was the descent – it took only 20 minutes to descend what took an hour to climb, and got us back to the Tamarack Lodge in time for cocktail hour.

Mammoth Fun

Despite sharing Mammoth Mountain with 80 trillion folks from Los Angeles this past weekend, we still managed to avoid crowds and find plenty of that glory wind buff snow that’s unique to the Eastern Sierra.   We planned our trip to coincide with Mammoth Mountaineering’s annual Telebration event, where freeheelers and meadow skippers descend upon the mountain to demo skis, take free lessons, and celebrate their weird ski binding.  Both N and I tested skis, and he got himself onto a new boot/binding system – the Crispi EVO NTN.  He was so enamored by it that he ended up buying a pair that night, which goes to show you that free demos do have their benefits.

I tried out a number of women specific tele skis, primarily to serve as comparison against those that I have and will review for Telemarktips.  I particularly liked the new G3 Luscious, if only because of the cool name and fun polka dot graphics that reminded me of my very first pair of telemark skis, Dynastar’s Fat Mollys.

While the warming temperatures at Lake Tahoe had created spring conditions at lower elevations, Mammoth’s snow was still wintery (hooray for high elevation!), and the winds buffed out a lot of the moguls, giving us a clean slate each morning.  I didn’t let the lingering effects of my cold hinder my ski days, which some thought might not have been a wise choice, but I’d have to be hospital bound before I gave up a day (or 3) skiing at Mammoth.

Overall a great weekend, even with the collective stupidity at level 11.  But what can you expect when you’re sharing the mountain with half of Southern California?