25 Top Spots: # 5 Mammoth, CA

Mammoth Mountain

Overall Rank: #5
Snow: #9
Steeps: #11
Nightlife: #12

Treeless up top, with huge expanses of steep, ungroomed snow begging for high-speed turns, Mammoth is as close as you can get to European skiing in the U.S. Given its relative remoteness (six hours from Los Angeles, three from Reno) and tiny airport (approval is in place for expansion), it's probably the best ski area you've never skied. Vast and sprawling, it's nearly empty midweek, when old school Sierra veterans noodle around next to new school jibbers from the park and pipe. LA arrives on the weekends, filling the town and some of the lifts, but Mammoth's 3,500 acres are spread out, and it's easy to find solitude and stashes at the fringes of this sleeping volcano.

Mammoth's secret is its altitude: With a summit elevation of 11,053 feet, it's 2,000 feet higher than Squaw, so the snow is often better than Tahoe's and it lasts longer, too. July skiing is common and August isn't far-fetched. The mountain's location on the Sierra crest does mean big winds, which can cause lift delays, but they also sweep the slopes clean and smooth, leaving a fast, chalky, edgeable surface that's a hoot to ski.

The Vitals

Top Elevation: 11,053 feet
Vertical drop: 3,100 feet
Snowfall: 359 inches (8,900')
Skiable acres: 3,500
Bars: 22
Eateries: 55
Phone: 800-626-6684
Web: mammothmountain.com

Dropout and Wipeout, the twin chutes flanking Chair 23, are primo lines no matter what the conditions. In powder, windbuff, corn, or slush bumps, they offer straight, steep shots right off the top-in full sight of hecklers on the chair-with a short, fast scoot back to the lift.

Mammoth's seasonal average is 359 inches, but averages are deceiving because there's tremendous variability in snowfall from year to year. It can just as easily dump 500 inches, most commonly in heaps of six feet or more. Just don't expect fluff: The wind is always a factor.

Try Whiskey Creek, an ancient hole-in-the-wall just down the road from the base, where local rednecks bend elbows with SoCal real estate kings and stockbroker titans.

Local's take
"Ski off the back of Chair 14 to the Waterfall Knoll, then walk up skier's left to the Hemlock trees and jam. It always has good snow because nobody wants to make the five-minute walk."