Mammoth Mountain's massive size and endless variety of terrain has long made it the preferred winter playground for Southern Californians. For good reason. Mammoth has it all: 384 inches of annual snowfall, 3,100 vertical feet, 3,500 acres and stunning Sierra panoramas showcased by endless sunny days. "It really is mammoth!" a reader crows. To top it off, Mammoth usually opens early in the season and closes late. The knock has always been that it lacks amenities, on-mountain and in town. But since Intrawest bought it five years ago, the resort has begun addressing those faults one by one. As part of an $800 million overhaul, new high-speed quads and a gondola have shrunk weekend liftlines. But even during peak days uncrowded slopes can be found for the price of looking. "Lots of wide-open skiing," a reader says. New restaurants are being phased in to replace the old humdrum, poky cafeterias. One of the perennial complaints about Mammoth is access: It usually requires a long car trip. "Really, really, really, really far away," grouses one reader. That problem could be solved soon. Plans are in the works to upgrade the town's airport and bring in direct flights, possibly as early as next season. Progress is moving faster in town, where land is being cleared for a new village. Mammoth devotees are already finding the resort greatly improved, and in a few more years, they should like it even more.
WHAT'S NEW The Mid-Chalet will reopen as McCoy Station, with a face lift and upgraded restaurant; Chair 26 is being moved to ease beginner access; expanded snowmaking at Little Eagle and Chair 8.
A GOOD DEAL During different stages of the season, Mammoth Mountain Inn, Juniper Springs and Sunstone Lodge offer stay-and-ski packages that include free daily lift tickets; 800-626-6684.
MEDALS GOLD Grooming, Terrain, Challenge, Lifts, Scenery; SILVER Snow, Value, Service, Weather, Dining, Family Programs.
HIGH/LOW RANK Terrain (4), Lifts (4), Challenge (7); Off-Hill Activities (35), On-Mountain Food (40), Access (69).
DON'T MISS Lose the crowds for spectacular views and a choice of intermediate to double-black terrain on Hemlock Ridge and other Chair 14 runs.
READER REMARKS (+) "I could ski challenging runs for a week straight and not have to ski the same line twice." "All kinds of terrain for all kinds of skiers."
(-) "A long drive from anywhere. Weird people."