When you stick your nose over the corniced lip of Hangman's Hollow, one thing becomes clear: Mammoth can be a very nutty place. All the prerequisites of nuttiness are on display: big air, big rocks, a ridiculous pitch. Under the perfect (i.e., soft and deep) snow conditions, Hangman's is borderline skiable, as are Mammoth's many other frightening steeps, from the Paranoids to the Wipe Out Chutes.
Within the context of California skiing, the killer descents from Mammoth's bald summit are usually overshadowed by the more cinematically famous ones at Squaw. But do not, for a second, underestimate this hardcore mountain. It can range anywhere between expert and extreme -- brilliantly challenging when the snow is deep; harrowing when the snow is thin and a high-speed slide for life is a frightening possibility.
That said, the truly beautiful thing about Mammoth is that the nutty stuff is not all there is. You can try something like Hangman's or just opt for a mellow ride through the trees on Ricochet. Mammoth is exactly as named, with terrain variety as good as it gets.
Play: Head to Whiskey Creek -- at some point in the evening, everyone in Mammoth seems to make an appearance. The home-brewed beers are good enough, the food decent, and the company almost always spirited. And when the band begins cranking, the scene can be like Hangman's -- downright nutty.
Stay: Tap into Mammoth's old school character by bedding down at the Mammoth Mountain Inn. Its A-frame architecture is a throwback to the 1960s and the location -- a two-minute sprint to the lifts -- is a literal port in a storm for powder junkies.
Save the Date: Join a team coached by the likes of Glen Plake or Wayne Wong, and race in the Dave McCoy College Classic fundraiser, Mar. 15-17