Note: Snow this December 2011 in Mammoth is scarce; however, resort operators are confident that it will come.
The last time I visited Mammoth Lakes, Calif. I was woken up about midnight by the ground shaking, and it shook several more times during the night.
Having recently seen the movie “Dante’s Peak,” in which a long-dormant volcano near an idyllic mountain town erupts and only one road out is available to safety, a similar description to the town of Mammoth Lakes, I could not fall back to sleep, worrying about how I was going to get out of town with my children and friends if the volcano blew.
That was 10 years ago, and the volcano near Mammoth still hasn’t erupted.
Now, this might not seem a propitious way to start a travel column, but the shaking ground and the idea of erupting volcanoes has not deterred growth in any manner at Mammoth, where the best skiing within driving distance of Los Angeles can be found (the Long Valley Caldera near Mammoth Lakes erupts about every 200,000 years; the most recent was 50,000 years ago, so it’s good for another 150,000 years).
First skied by those hardy enough to be pulled by rope tows powered by Ford Model A truck engines, Dave McCoy, a tow operator, bought the rights from the U.S. Forest Service in 1945 to operate a permanent rope tow; 10 years later he installed the first chairlift, Chair 1.
Today, there are 27 lifts, including the six-person Eagle Express, high-speed quads and the Panorama Gondola.
Intrawest bought a stake in Mammoth Mountain in 1996 and many new upscale amenities have been added to the ski resort.
The old Mammoth Lodge, with its multistory “rabbit-like warren” of hallways filled with lockers, ski shop and rental stores, as well as executive offices, is still the same (due for an upgrade soon I am told), but new is The Village, with upscale dining, lodging, shopping and even art galleries, located at the junction of Main Street and Minaret Road; you can ski to lunch by taking a gondola straight to The Village from the Canyon Lodge.
My sons and I went to lunch at Lulu, an upscale, yet casual (how can you not be, when tromping in with skis boots, gloves and assorted gear?) spot. The Peppered Calamari with Mustard Aioli is prepared with a light, yet buttery batter, and the Rosemary Chicken sandwich is quite delicious. For dinner one night, we went to Burgers Restaurant across the street, which was packed-waiting time at least 20 minutes without reservations. The portions at Burgers are large, the shakes are yummy and the staff is very friendly.
Also new in Mammoth Lakes are The Lodges at the Snowcreek Resort and the CreekHouse residences, both of which are the ultimate in luxury living in a resort town. The Lodges, which is off Old Mammoth Road behind town, is a 106-home community of two to three-bedroom living units, with up to 3,273 square feet of living space.
The unit we spent time in was decorated with large comfortable brown leather sofas and chairs, rustic yet unique furniture, and the kitchen would delight any gourmet cook, with plenty of granite island countertop space and top-of-the-line appliances. We had a beautiful view of an open meadow and the Sierra Nevada Mountains from the deck of the home, from where we watched the sunset.
The view will change, however, once plans are approved and ground is broken for a five-star Banff-like hotel and the addition of nine holes to the existing Ted Robinson-designed golf course. Also planned are a health and wellness spa, an equestrian center, and restaurants and shops for the area. However, if the developers stick to the classiness in which they’ve developed all other stages of Snowcreek Resort, the quiet beauty of the resort should be retained.
Another wonderful amenity of staying at the resort is the nearby athletic center, where you can do anything from playing basketball on a full-size indoor court to take spinning, yoga and swim classes.
The CreekHouse town homes, 118 in all, are scheduled to be completed soon, and have all the luxury amenities of The Lodges.
The new living units and town homes are a far cry from the first condominiums built in the 1970s at Snowcreek, of which the rooms are nice, yet compact. They are the more affordable options for those looking to buy at Snowcreek-a two-bedroom with loft was reselling for $699,000. The starting rate for a unit at The Lodges is $935,000 for a two-bedroom two-and-a-half bathroom unit, and the highest at the time of this writing-$2,025,000 for a three-bedroom with loft and four-and-a-half baths with double-car garage. Rentals start at $190 per night, midweek, for a one-bedroom and go up to $1,105 for a weekend night stay in a four-bedroom unit.
While some might lament the continuing building, some locals say it’s good for the area. Julie Wright, a broker for Snowcreek and a 20-year resident of Mammoth, said she’s worked every job under the sun to get by during that time-the new hotels, resorts and businesses afford better opportunity for locals and visitors alike, she said.
The one thing that definitely has not changed at Mammoth is the skiing-it’s worth the five-hour drive (Horizon Air plans to begin regional service from LAX starting late this year). On the Friday we visited, lines were short, snow was plenty and the sun was shining.
Snowcreek Resort: 800.544.6007; 760.934.3333; www.snowcreekresort.com
Mammoth Mountain: 800-mammoth; www.mammothmountain.com
Burgers Restaurant: 6118 Minaret Rd; 760.934.6622
LuLu Restaurant and Bar: 1111 Forest Trail, #201; 760.924.8781
Tip: A great place to sled near Mammoth is found at the turnoff Tom’s Place, off Highway 395. Take the road west four miles to the end. It’s great for cross-country, too.