Bomb down wide-open steeps and loose pumice on a world-class competition trail; chug uphill through grassy meadows to a paradise picnic spot overlooking glassy mountain lakes; or cruise easy-rolling, sweetly shaded singletrack to a funky coffeehouse on the edge of town. At the Mammoth Mountain Bike Park, the choice is yours.
In all, some 70 miles of meticulously maintained singletrack meanders across the ski area's nine-mile expanse or plummets from its 11,053-foot peak, providing uncrowded riding for everyone from beginners to NORBA-ranked banzai riders. Granite crests and towering basalt spires dominate a landscape of lakes and forests. The summit offers vast wilderness vistas. And with shuttle and gondola service on site, visitors can opt to let gravity do all the work.
Check-in is located at the Bike Center on the ground floor of Mammoth's new Panorama gondola building. Riders can rent full-suspension rigs (and even trailers pre-packed with picnic lunches), sign up for skills lessons, join guided rides, hop the gondola or simply grab maps and go. Mammoth's most gentle ride is Downtown, a trail that parallels Minaret Road from Panorama Station back toward the hamlet of Mammoth Lakes, five miles and 850 feet below the resort. A shuttle bus, free with a Bike Park ticket, brings riders back to town. Despite its proximity to the road, the trail is quiet and woodsy; pine needles snap under tires, mountain chickadees sing, and the occasional black bear lumbers off into the forest. Halfway to town, Paper Route peels off for an intermediate climb through Jeffrey and lodgepole pines, out across open meadows, back into thick Red Fir groves and up switchbacks to Timber Ridge, with its views of Twin Lakes. A half-dozen other intermediate and expert trails branch off in every direction. Steady-cruising Follow Me and Lincoln Express pass under deserted chairlifts and past blooming wildflowers. Skid Marks twists and turns above tree line on sweat-breaking switchbacks. Bullet is more technical-a soft, fairly steep downhill trail built in 1998 for annual NORBA races. And expert-level Ricochet winds over bridges, creek beds and whoop-dee-doos before depositing riders at the base of Chair 2.
Those who get their thrills hurtling down mountains can board the gondola. Ten minutes and 2,153 vertical feet later, they're peering down Dave's Run and Cornice Bowl-black-diamond steeps without the snow. Kamikaze, Mammoth's original competition run (which, like most early ski-area bike runs, uses an existing access road to the summit) is just one option. Skid Marks branches into the park's newest trail, Velocity, which dives down the mountain's face all the way back to the base. Intermediates can burn less brake by descending Off the Top, which winds more gently down Mammoth's backside into a lush basin that holds pristine Reds Lake, where another half-dozen trails begin. Beach Cruiser is a favorite, rolling through deep woods, over burbling creeks and past late-lingering snow patches.
If the twists and turns of Beach Cruiser seem perfectly banked for riding, it's no accident of nature. Mammoth's trail crew packs its singletrack with layers of bark and moss at the end of each summer. This not only reduces erosion but improves the texture of the soil and the contours of the trails. Hazards are removed daily, and trails are groomed regularly with devices dragged behind park rangers' bikes. And help is as near as one of the mountain's emergency phones. Whether you've bent your frame, bonked your noggin or just gotten lost, rangers will ride to the rescue.
Park designers are opening more trails every year, including the new "X-Zones": quarter-mile detours off favorite trails, with berms, jumps, logs and natural obstacles. And the new BMX park-like a terrain park for wheels-is a hit with teens. Small wonder that 12 years after its debut, Mammoth is the gold standard of bike parks. And it all happens against the backdrop of the Eastern Sierras, whhere wide-open ruggedness and spacious serenity rule.
The Mammoth Mountain Bike Park and the nearby town of Mammoth Lakes lie on the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada range in Central California, five hours by car from Los Angeles, three hours from Reno and less than one hour from Yosemite National Park's eastern portal. It's open daily, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., from late June (or whenever snowmelt allows) to late September. A one-day pass including lift access costs $25 for adults, $13 for children under 13. For information on ride-and-stay packages, contact the Mammoth Adventure Center, 760-934-0706 or 888-462-6668; www.mammoth-mtn.com.