Mammoth Mountain Review

Mammoth Mountain, California

When we lived in Fremont California, Mammoth was hard to get to for us, requiring a 6+ hour drive. AND we have to drive past Kirkwood and other Tahoe resorts to get there.  Our first visit was in mid February 2008 when we met our friends Ryan and LeeWhay there for LeeWhay’s birthday.  I remember sitting in the car near Kirkwood on the top of the pass waiting for Caltrans to complete avalanche control on the Carson Spur because Kirkwood had just received 18-inches of fresh snow that we were passing up.

Still, if you live in California you will probably end up skiing Mammoth at one time or another.  Their motto is “California’s best skiing and snowboarding”.  This review is based on a couple of mid-season visits and many late spring / early summer visits.

Now we live much closer in South Lake Tahoe and it’s a short 2 1/2 hour drive that we make almost every year.

Mammoth views, Feb 2008

Mammoth views, Feb 2008

Stats and Rating

Real Vertical ? 2,900′, Rank: 29
Size 3,500 Acres, Rank: 13
Annual Snowfall ? 400″ claimed / 354″ actual, Rank: 24
Lift Pods ? 22, Rank: 4
Distinct Trails ? 150, Rank: 11
Review Date Multiple from 1972 to present
Number of visits 7+
Our Rating ★★★★
Resort website https://www.mammothmountain.com
Mammoth Trail Map

Mammoth Trail Map

Mammoth Mountain Review: Too much snow?

We had planned to ski 2 days at Mammoth on our first trip, but the second day a big storm was predicted so we made the most of the first day just in case.  Good thing we did because that night it snowed over 36″ and it took us hours just to get out of the parking lot where our condo was.  Skiing wasn’t even an option because getting around town was impossible.  All we could do was hit the road to go home, which took us 12-hours.  We had to go the long way around the Sierra to the south because 395 North from Mammoth Lakes was closed.  So yes, there is such a thing as too much snow, and that was one of a handful of times we have experienced such a thing in the Sierra.

Wind and crowds

The first day was fun, but it was quite windy so we never did get to ski the upper mountain on that trip.  The snow on the lower mountain was superb though, and by late in the afternoon about 4-6″ had already accumulated and it turned into a late powder day.

I (Ron) had previously skied Mammoth as a child back in 1972 or 1973 when my family lived in the Los Angeles area.  The fact that Mammoth is the closest major ski resort to the L.A. market makes for some big lift lines and crowds, but it is a big mountain and there are plenty of places to find yourself a piece of real estate to stretch your legs on.  Ryan and LeeWhay skied there all the time and swear that the crowds aren’t any worse than what we see in Tahoe.

We were lucky to have our friends showing us around, because it’s a wide-open mountain on the top and west side, with a lot of runs that can get pretty confusing without defined slots through trees.

Top of Dave's Run at Mammoth, May 2021

Top of Dave’s Run at Mammoth, May 2021

Second trip was low tide

Our second trip in February 2015 was a completely different experience.  That year was a VERY poor snow year, with only about 100-inches falling that season before our visit.  It was definitely low-tide with about 1/3 of the trails closed and icy conditions.  It had rained and frozen, so the only skiable stuff was either groomed or in the last 700′ of vertical at the top.

On the second trip we got to ski the western side of the mountain which is less crowded and has great views of the Sierra Crest to the west, as well as the very top, which is the highest lift-served skiing in California.

Third trip, back to wind!

Our third trip in 2016 featured high winds and most of the mountain shut down for 2 days.  Boo!  This was ALMOST the final nail in the coffin for us at Mammoth, but we returned in July 2017 to combine camping with skiing and had a great time.  Most of the mountain from Main Lodge up was open and the snow was much better than it had been in Tahoe.  Yes, it was July but 2016/17 featured record snowfall for most of the Sierra and they stayed open until mid-August.

July skiing at Mammoth, July 2016

July skiing at Mammoth, July 2016

 

Annual spring / summer skiing to close out the season

Mammoth is truly one of the best resorts, if not the very best, at late spring and early summer skiing.  Their snow-farming operation is definitely the best in North America, AND they salt the runs which makes them not as sticky when it’s really warm out.  Skiing is usually open down to the bottom of the Stump Alley Express which gives us about 2,000 ft of vertical.  Now we make the trip in May or June every year to camp and ski after our Tahoe resorts shut down.

Mammoth spring skiing, May 2021

Mammoth spring skiing, May 2021

Avoid storms

The key to Mammoth for us seems to be to avoid storms because when it is storming it is crazy windy and not at all fun.  We will probably ski there in the spring/summer from now on based on our multiple encounters with wind.

Outpost at Mammoth, February 2015

Outpost at Mammoth, February 2015

The Good

  • Snowfall
  • Huge amount of terrain
  • Highest altitude in California
  • Great Village/Town
  • Great grooming
  • Lots of high-speed lifts
  • Best late spring / early summer skiing in California
Skyline at Mammoth, May 2021

Skyline at Mammoth, May 2021

The Bad

  • Wind and crowds are the 2 big negatives at Mammoth.
  • The upper mountain closes frequently due to wind, which is also common in Tahoe.
  • The mountain is confusing to navigate even on a clear day, with lots of intersecting trails and cross-traffic.
The highest lift served skiing in California is at Mammoth, May 2021

The highest lift served skiing in California is at Mammoth, May 2021

Our best experience

On our first trip there, late in the day we were doing laps under the Broadway chair in a blizzard and the snow was super soft and fun.  On the second, Climax off the top under the gondola was great with some of the only non-icy snow we found on the mountain.  Also on our second trip, we met some great people who invited us to their bbq at the Stump Alley ski beach.  We were parked there and spent a couple of hours after skiing hanging out.

Annual spring skiing setup at Stump Alley, Mammoth, June 2019

Annual spring skiing setup at Stump Alley, Mammoth, June 2019

Would we go back?

We are not especially fond of Mammoth during the winter season due to crowds, weather, and the way the terrain is layed out, but we go almost every year in the late spring or early summer to ski as late as July 4th.  It’s a lot of fun and usually closes out our ski season on a high note.

Climax, Mammoth Mountain - February 2015

Climax, Mammoth Mountain – February 2015

4 thoughts on “Mammoth Mountain Review

  1. Susie

    A safety bar was installed on Chair 23 a few years ago making the ride much more enjoyable. Also worth noting: Mammoth usually has some of the best spring skiing in the US. In 2017 and 2019 the resort remained open every day of the week (not just weekends) through early July with good quality spring snow and top to bottom skiing through mid-June. Weekends are busy but mid-week is calm. The people are friendly and easy-going in the Eastern Sierra. I am always surprised by the amount of out-of-state skiers I meet at Mammoth who tell me it’s one of their favorite places

    Reply
    1. Ron Thompson Post author

      Completely agree with everything you’ve said. We did notice the bar on Chair 23 the last time we went. Ski resorts are always making capital improvements and terrain / lift expansions and it’s impossible to keep the reviews up to date 100% of the time but we do sometimes go back and update them when we return to a resort and things have changed.

      Reply
  2. charley price

    Awesome list! Thanks so much. I’m hoping to buy a place some day and this really helps decrease (and increase!) the options.
    I wish your stats at the top included how expensive and top and base elevations.
    Thank you,
    Charley

    Reply
    1. Ron Thompson Post author

      Thanks Charley,

      The elevations are an interesting idea I’m going to think about. As a comparison between other areas that only works for nearby resorts (microclimates), but it is sometimes hard to find that info so it might be useful to someone.

      As far as expense, you can just assume that everything is expensive now. When it’s abnormally cheap, we mention that in the reviews but skiing has really become both very expensive and very cheap at the same time depending on how you pay for lift access. If you buy a lift ticket at the window it’s usually super expensive, but if you have a season pass and ski 50+ days a year on the pass it’s dirt cheap. You can thank Vail Resorts for that pricing model which has taken off in the industry.

      If you don’t have a pass, the cheapest lift tickets we’ve found are in Idaho and Montana (Not Big Sky or Sun Valley though!). Canada is generally cheaper with the exchange rate effect except for Whistler/Blackcomb.

      Real estate is expensive at just about every resort on this list now. I can’t think of many exceptions in the US but Powderhorn near Grand Junction Colorado might be somewhere you could still find inexpensive houses in nearby GJ. Also 49 Degrees North if you can deal with that climate.

      Reply

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