It absolutely nukes at Mammoth. Last season, one of our editors was marooned there for a week as a storm system dropped 20 feet of snow. He spent his captivity lapping the lower mountain’s old-growth forests and enjoying endless free refi lls (the horror!). When the skies do clear and the whole the mountain does open up, Mammoth delivers a 3,000-vertical-foot smorgasbord of bowls, chutes, cruisey groomers, and terrain parks spread over 3,500 skiable acres. Unfortunately, our editor wasn’t able to sample this diverse bounty. A week into the storm, which showed no sign of clearing, he thumbed a 150-mile ride to the Reno airport because his mom wanted him home for Christmas.
Start Here: Avoid the rabble by parking at the Mill, which is the last stop on the road before the Main Lodge. Take Chair 2 to the upper gondola and you’ve arrived at the goods.
Quick Tip: Ski midweek to avoid crowds. If you’re in town on a weekend, head 20 miles north to sleepy June Mountain, where you can use your Mammoth lift ticket.
Must Hit: Off Chair 23, don’t miss the notoriously steep Cornice Bowl—the start of last year’s World Cup downhill course.
The Stash: Mammoth’s best-kept secret is hike-to Hemlock Ridge. Not visible until you drop off the backside, Hemlock offers a north-facing pitch littered with cliffs and glades—all for a 20-minute boot-pack.
Powder Day: Ski patrol takes its time opening the upper mountain. Skip the lines and score laps on Chair 22, typically the first lift to open. Hit the Avalanche Chutes, a series of steep, powdery couloirs that cascade down Lincoln Peak’s northern slope.
Three Days Later: Ride the gondola and traverse above Dave’s Run, working far skier’s right on the knife-edge Dragon’s Back Ridge for soft, hidden pockets in the chutes above Chair Nine.
Park and Pipe: Mammoth’s long been a leader in terrain-park development with three massive pipes and cutting edge features in its three parks. Warm up at South Park under Chair 20, where the sun hits the landings first. Then head over to Main Park under Chair 4 to see how big you can go.
Backcountry Access: The resort stands separate from neighboring peaks, so backcountry skiing is a short drive from the ski area. Choose from 6,000-foot descents to multiday trans-Sierra tours. Check conditions at esavalanche.org.
Weather: Watch for big dumps chased by high winds. January and February are prime powder months, and, depending on the year, March can mean spring skiing or deep winter.
Après: Head to the Yodler, a Bavarian-style pub at the Main Lodge, for the post-mountain party. Order a drink and gawk at the hardcore locals and L.A. yuppies tromping around in ski boots.
Fuel: Start your day with a Looney Latte from the Looney Bean Café off downtown’s Main Street. A few blocks west, Schat’s Bakkerÿ offers cavity-causing goodies and healthy alternatives like the roast-turkey sandwich on freshly baked squaw bread.
Up All Night: Drink micro-brews and prepare for a cougar attack at Whiskey Creek, a Mammoth staple for more than 30 years. Or venture into the village for hip-hop DJs at Lakanuki, a hot and sweaty club on Saturdays.
Digs: The new Westin Monache Resort is Mammoth’s first upscale condo-hotel with ski valets and 24-hour room service (westin.com/mammoth). On a budget? Try the Davison Street Guest House, a hostel-style lodge with a communal kitchen from $35 a night (mammoth-guest.com). —Tess Weaver
Elevation: 11,053 feet Vertical Drop: 3,100 feet Snowfall: 400 inches Acres: 3,500 Info: mammothmountain.com