Upstart Challenger to Trendy Colorado Resorts
By J.P. Hoornstra
When your canvas is Mammoth Mountain, the apex of California’s Sierra Nevada range, it’s tough to screw up the painting. This late-blooming resort community, founded in 1955, now includes everything from a Motel 6 to luxury cabins, golf courses and dog-sled rides. More than any of these amenities, however, it’s the abundant slopes and remote locale that allows Mammoth to claim the title of No. 2 ski-resort destination in the country.
The closest commercial airport is in Reno, Nevada, more than three hours away by car through scenic backcountry. Any major airport in the Bay Area, Southern California or Las Vegas is at least a five-hour drive away. So if hitting the slopes isn’t the immediate priority, you’ll probably arrive eager to eat and check into your lodging of choice. The Village at Mammoth — a hub of residences, shopping and dining connected to the slopes by a gondola — offers a chance to do both.
For lunch try LuLu, whose home restaurant in San Francisco was mostly airlifted out of the city and into Mammoth. Any entree in its lineup of Euro-American cuisine can be had for less than $30. It’s worth it too, with food more fresh and flavors more refined than one would expect for a restaurant hidden among The Village’s cluster.
Visually, the Village evokes an Alpine resort town, with wooden-framed buildings jutting vertically into the mountain skyline. The storefronts have a worldly vibe too, and a visit into the Mammoth Memories Gallery is a trip back in time through photos of undeveloped mountainsides.
About two miles east in Mammoth’s Old Downtown, Skadi has earned a reputation as the best restaurant in town. The Scandanavian-influenced cuisine by chef Ian Algerøen didn’t disappoint. A three-course dinner, for about $50 to $60, is encouraged. You can start with anything from exotic crepes to a hot bowl of soup, move on to the roast salmon with butternut squash and a chocolate-drenched Gateau Opera for dessert.
These days, Mammoth aspires to keep up with the Aspens and Vails of the world with luxury amenities to match luxury terrain. The Snowcreek Resort, just a few miles’ drive from Mammoth Village, recently obtained an extra 95 acres of land to bring its total parcel to 455. When development is finished it will be home to a luxury hotel, residents’ club, an 18-hole golf course for the summer months, as well as more than 1,000 properties.
Each property offers spacious scenery, both inside and out the windows. My three-bedroom, three-bath attached town home ($576 for the night) overlooked the snow-covered plains and mountains. Even still, it was hard to ignore the luxurious interior. Furnished from top to bottom to supply an authentic cabin feel, the three-story unit was one of about 100 that debuted last year. Two couples and three or four children could have fit comfortably inside with room to sleep, dine around a spacious table, or even gather in the high-ceilinged living room to watch a crackling fire or cable television.
If looking out at 29 ski lifts over 3,500 acres whets your appetite for adventure, take advantage of a free guided tour of the mountain. By late January of this year, Mammoth had already eclipsed its snowfall total for the 2006-07 season. The result was an optimal powder and, with few others around, it made for great skiing and snowboarding.
The Top of the Sierra is an aptly-named exhibit center and rest stop at 11,053 feet. From there you can ski down to McCoy Station and eat lunch or a sip a cup of coffee at 9,630 feet; then it’s a short drop from there to any of the base lodges. In addition to rentals, repairs, lessons and lockers, the mountain’s Main Lodge has a full-service restaurant with a refrigerator full of energy drinks for the snowboarding crowd.
To say that Mammoth has come a long way in a short amount of time is no small understatement. The forces shaping the mountain are picking up the pace, too. There is talk, though no concrete plans, of expanding Mammoth’s private airport to accommodate daily flights from San Francisco, Las Vegas and LAX. It would be truly serendipitous timing — adding lodging along with connecting flights — for a place that got lucky tens of thousands of years ago, when a majestic volcano first went dormant and began collecting snow atop the Sierra.
✽ GETTING THERE
Direct flights to Reno, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco leave La Guardia Airport daily. Reno is three hours away by car; the other major airports require at least a five-hour drive in minimal traffic. Renting a four-wheel drive car or SUV is recommended to avoid winter chain requirements at Mammoth.
✽ WHERE TO STAY
Snowcreek Resort offers apartment, house, and condominium rentals, in their 1- to 4-bedroom units, from $190 to $1,105 per night during the winter season. Higher rates apply during holiday weekends. Visit
snowcreekresort.com for specific pricing.
✽ WHERE TO EAT
In Mammoth Village, LuLu Restaurant offers an upscale urban Provencal dining experience, with a full wine selection and entrees up to $30. In the Old Downtown try Skadi’s upscale Scandinavian fare, with three-course meals averaging $50-60.