Win a Winner!
Writers & Photographers
Berlitz Summer Camp
by K. Pearson Brown
California’s ski season was hindered earlier this winter by a little detail – no snow. But that didn’t stop Mammoth Mountain from pumping out, well, mountains of the stuff, about two feet deep, making for fantastic skiing – and a great time to visit the resort.
Now that January’s winter storms have dumped more than five feet of fresh powder on the slopes, the weather is a moot point; but nonetheless, even when Mother Nature teased that snow would be a no-show, the snow blowers and groomers got to work at Mammoth, making runs pristine for visitors who come from across California and beyond for the mountain’s legendary skiing and snowboarding.
Living Large in Mammoth
Ignoring the snow reports, my family and another family from my son’s preschool headed up to the mountains for a four-day vacation. The Mammoth Mountain website (www.mammothmoutain.com) made planning easy, with information on everything from lift tickets and lodging to dining and nightlife.
We lucked into Tallus (www.tallus.com), a gated community of vacation rental homes near the heart of Mammoth Lakes, overlooking the Sierra Star Golf Course. If you crave creature comforts, Tallus is the only venue in town that offers truly five-star luxury accommodations. Though developed as a member-owner community, currently the homes are available by the day, week or longer. The beautifully appointed four- and five-bedroom mini manses were designed with families in mind, featuring well-thought-out amenities such as downstairs children’s rooms with bunk beds and a kid’s dining and play area.
Each of the eco-friendly wood-framed chalets boasts a super-sized central living room with a ginormous sectional sofa, a giant flat screen TV, and a huge glass encased gas fireplace, smartly located by the door leading to a covered deck and outdoor Jacuzzi.
The home design was ideal to share with another family, as we could all spread out in the three master suites, and we prepared most meals at home in the gourmet kitchen, outfitted with professional Viking appliances. A downstairs media room with a theater-quality AV system and lounge seating and bean bag furniture was heaven for the kids, and the prodigious long wood table in the dining room was large enough to seat a small army.
Besides R&R in a luxury home away from home, Tallus offers plenty of amenities, including a private clubhouse with a large indoor swimming pool, hot tub, fitness room, showers, and game room. An inn keeper is available to arrange concierge services, such as a private chef, and a private Mercedes Benz shuttle van is on call to transport guests to the slopes, dining or other activities.
Ski and snowboard equipment rentals are available at many locations in and around Mammoth Lakes, but we found the most convenient service was Black Tie (www.BlackTieSkis.com). We booked our order online a few days before our trip, and the friendly and knowledgeable technicians came to us with a van full of equipment the night we arrived. The service carries a range of packages at various price points, including premium packages of the newest and best equipment available.
Not only did they deliver free to our door, they gave each of us an individual fitting session and a demo of all the equipment and features. Though our equipment suited us to a T, the service includes slope-side adjustments if needed. Besides eliminating the rush and stress of renting skis the morning before skiing, they also arranged to pick up the skis at the end of our trip, so we didn’t have to deal with returning equipment after a tiring day on the slopes. What a great concept.
Ski Bunnies and Cocoa Breaks
To start our trip off on right foot, we signed up our kids online for ski lessons. The Mammoth Kids Ski School offers everything from morning and full-day sessions with built-in hot chocolate breaks, lunch and fun activities for extended daycare options. We went with the 9 a.m.-noon program, with equipment rental and lift tickets included, the latter being free for children under age 6.
The chipper young instructors did a few quick evaluations and sorted the kids into skill-appropriate groups. Soon my son Stephen and his BFF Emerson were excitedly shuffling onto the “magic carpet” conveyer belt that took them up the bunny slope and coasting downhill, proudly executing the “pizza wedge” snow plow they had just learned.
Eat, Ski, Lounge
When it came time to kick off our boots and grab some grub in the lodge, there were plenty of options, including two restaurants and Tusks Bar at the Main Lodge. We got primo tables overlooking the Disco Park half pipe so we could watch shredders ripping it up on small bumps, rollers and beginner jibs. In the evening, we opted for dining with more ambience at the Mountain Side Grill. The restaurant offers hearty winter favorites like Cheese Fondue with Gruyere, Emmentaler cheeses and white wine; Bison Chili served with blue corn bread; Steak Diane flambéed with brandy; and Vegetable Curry Pie with a coconut curry sauce. For finishers, the Banana Bread Pudding was delish with peach crème anglaise.
Off and Running
The resort has three lodges, the Main Lodge, the Canyon Lodge and the Eagle Lodge. We chose the Main Lodge as our base camp since it was where we picked up our lift tickets. The resort uses hi-tech RFID lift passes that can be tucked away in a coat or pants pocket and are read by scanners as you pass through the gate to the chair lift. Pass holders can then re-load online.
The resort boasts more than 150 trails, serviced by 28 lifts, on more than 3,500 acres of terrain, open for skiing up to seven months a year, from November to July. Owing to the unique climate of the Sierras, the skies are generally clear and sunny, making for great days of skiing without freezing your face off, though it can get rather nippy up high in the chair lifts.
There’s plenty of great shopping in Mammoth Lakes. Highlights include the Village shopping plaza on Minaret Road and the shops on Main Street. Thanks to the slow start to the season there are surprisingly great deals on everything from gear to clothing. To fit in with the mountain causal style in town, I picked up a warm and chic Hi-Tec Madison Avenue Down Parka, perfect for milling about town on chilly days. For groceries, there is a full-service Vons store that even features a sushi bar.
Mammoth is a solid 5.5 hour drive from Los Angeles, although with no snow or ice on the roads, driving was a breeze. We were fully prepared for any weather in our Madza5 Grand Touring, complete with seat warmers, which we tested out on the trip.
The gas-sipping Madza5 is smaller and more maneuverable than a minivan, but like a minivan it sports a rear sliding door; plus it features a convenient hatchback which made for easy loading of our luggage, ski and snowboard equipment, a 20-gallon cooler and several bags of groceries. The backseat flip-down screen for DVD viewing and games, remote control and wireless headsets came in handy; especially the option that allowed our son to watch movies while we listened to our own CDs and satellite radio.
The Madza5 was the first vehicle I’ve ever driven with a third row of seating, and now I’m sold on this feature. When our group of four adults and two kids headed out all together, we easily fit in one car. We found that convertible child car seats worked best, such as the Evenflo Big Kid High Back Booster Car Seat, which converts to a backless booster making folding down the car’s seats quick and easy to load in backseat passengers; and then we used the more comfortable full seat for longer driving stretches.
Early and Often
Our trip was a perfect excursion. We were glad we did not listen to the negative reports about the lack of snow. In fact, less was more in this case. Less snow meant no traffic, no tire chains, short lines and wide open runs. Mammoth proved it was as grand as its namesake, and snow or no snow this winter, we will be back again.
K. Pearson Brown is an L.A. travel writer and mom.
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