Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mammoth: Eastern Sierra getaway

I've lived in California for just over 10 years now (how did that happen?), and every time I visit the Sierra - no matter what the trip is - I think to myself "I must return soon". And then a year or two will pass, and I'll return and wonder why it took me so long to get back, especially when I consider that it isn't a long trip from LA.  In just a few hours, a person can easily find him/herself on a lonely road, passing cattle and the occasional ghost town with the lights of the city far behind and craggy mountains looming large.

Thanks to a timely semester break, Michael and I did enjoy a quick jaunt up to Mammoth Lakes.  We'd been in the area years ago over a bitterly cold Memorial Day weekend but had not returned since.  Going at this time of the year obviously promised to be a different trip - rather than hiking and kayaking, we planned to take advantage of the snow!  After hearing about skiing at Mammoth for years, we'd finally experience it ourselves. Thanks to my semester break, we left the LA area Wednesday afternoon and arrived at our destination in the early evening.  As we headed north, I kept asking "Where is the snow" because we drove through the Mojave, dotted with Joshua Trees and then gained in altitude but the landscape still felt fairly desert-like.  Driving into the town of Mammoth Lakes, the snow was piled up, and Michael could finally reply "Here is the snow!".  It seemed to appear as soon as we turned west and headed into the mountains - duh.

Skiing in Mammoth ended up being an experience of extremes - a terrible ski day followed up by an amazing day!  Thursday, we woke up early and headed out, hitting the mountain around 9:00 am and on the chairlift by 9:05 or so.  In comparison to skiing in Colorado, I couldn't believe two aspects: a. how warm it was!  b. how short the lift lines were!  In terms of the first surprise, I welcomed the warmer temperatures.  Colorado was bitterly cold, so heading outside and discovering that it wasn't too cold - well, that was a treat.  I knew that we were visiting Mammoth on off days, but I still couldn't get over the fact that there literally were no lift lines!  Unfortunately, my appreciation for Mammoth ended there on Thursday as I experienced the worst ski day of my life.  Okay, the second-worst ski day (the worst was definitely when I tore my meniscus). The snow was fresh and thick, and I am not very skilled at skiing through powder - yes,  I prefer the groomed, manicured slopes.  Added to the snow, which fell throughout the morning, visibility went from kind of crappy to just plain terrible.  I couldn't see anything in front of me and even took my goggles off, hoping that would help (which it did, initially, sort of).

We made it through about 4 runs in the morning - runs with lots of stops and starts - before I begged for  a break.  I felt so off because I couldn't see ANYTHING, and it really affected my confidence.  During our break, I picked up a new pair of goggles that would, I hoped, improve the visibility.  Returning to the mountain with new gear in tow, we felt better when we started out in the afternoon.  We probably had two decent runs before we were fighting the visibility issue again.  Not only were we totally frustrated, we were also exhausted by the early afternoon.  So, we called it a day.

Here I am before the fog gathered!

The forecast for Friday called for similar weather, except between the 8:00-9:00 hour, so we were on the slopes by 8:40, determined to at least get in a few good runs.  As the morning wore on, the weather held, and we both enjoyed a perfect day of skiing!  First of all, we couldn't believe how gorgeous it was - I mean, we knew that it was supposed to be amazing, but we couldn't see anything on Thursday.  So, the views of the Sierra just took us by surprise on Friday.  And we couldn't have wished for a better day of skiing - amazing snow, a beautiful day, and very few people on the slopes.  We were the only people on some of the runs!  

Looking down at the clouds - the trees appeared to be sugar-coated!

Enjoying the blue skies!

Taking in some liquid pleasure at lunch - Mammoth Brewing Company's Epic IPA hit the spot!

After lunch, we skied a few more runs but then decided to stop while we were ahead, at least in terms of skiing.  We were both happy and exhausted and didn't want to push it too much and risk injury (ah, the joys of getting older).  No doubt Thursday's challenging experience on the slopes highlighted how great Friday was, so we tried to take advantage of the conditions as much as we could but were tired by the early afternoon.  Before tucking in for the evening, however, we stopped at the Mammoth Brewing Company.  We certainly enjoyed drinking their IPA at lunch, and it seemed like a logical place to grab a drink.  Apparently plenty of other people coming off the mountain also wanted to grab a drink because it was packed!  While not a traditional bar (they only sell 'tastings' rather than pints), I was a huge fan of their beers, especially their holiday selection - the Dopplebock and Eisbock were amazing, and it was the perfect way to say farewell to Mammoth.
The view from the car - See you next time!


kilax said...

Gosh! The visilibity issue would be really scary! I am happy the second day was better. And that you didn't get hurt :)

Molly said...

Beautiful photos! I love the Sierras too. I've never been to Mammoth but I just signed up to do the June Lake triathlon up there this summer.

Anonymous said...

That picture of the mountains with the snow-dusted trees is beautiful! Nice to ski vicariously with you. :-)

Kristina said...

Kim - Yeah, I was not a fan of the lack of visibility. So happy that we got in one good day!

Molly - I saw signs for the Lake June Tri. The dates, unfortunately, conflict with Vineman, but I'd consider it another year. It really is gorgeous!

ChezJulie - We really couldn't get over how the trees looked fake because they were so pretty!