It was 17 degrees with snow on the ground. My fingers were starting to hurt from the cold even though I had liners underneath my gloves, but I wasn’t about to head indoors. Numb fingers, who cares? I was with my daughters dancing to Flo Rida, Usher, Rihanna and Katy Perry mixed in with some old-school favs like Bon Jovi, Duran Duran and the Go’s Go’s.
Friday night of New Year’s weekend, the Village in Mammoth was transformed into an outdoor dance party with the Silent DJ. We each donned our headphones, picked one of the three stations and danced to the beat of our own songs. At one point I stepped aside to catch my breath and see if I could find some hot chocolate to help me warm up. I looked over the crowd filled with parents, kids, grandparents, teens and twenty-somethings all with their different-colored headphones glowing in the dark, the giant Christmas tree as our backdrop, twinkling lights sparkling from the nearby restaurants and shops and my 18-year-old and 21-year-old girls dancing together and taking selfies. I was so thankful that we made this annual trip to the mountain happen once again.
Ever since our oldest daughter was 2, we have spent a couple of days in the snow every year. At first we would drive up to Big Bear or Lake Arrowhead and spend our days sledding, making snowmen and having snow ball fights. When the girls were a bit older, they started taking skiing and snowboarding lessons. Twelve years ago, we started coming to Mammoth with a few other family friends and this became our winter getaway, our place in the snow. We didn’t miss a year, not even when my husband had the flu or when my oldest daughter broke her finger playing soccer.
This year, the group of families we typically travel with couldn’t make the trip and we considered not going. Should we try somewhere new? Maybe a tropical destination? But, there is something about tradition—that warm feeling inside knowing you are returning somewhere you love. So the Wednesday before New Year’s weekend, I started calling and by some crazy chance there was one condo left in the complex where we typically stay. It was meant to be.
As soon as the reservation was made, I realized that just taking out the snow gear from the closet brings back so many good memories. My daughters were quick to remind me that we need to do our “Mammoth junk food shopping.” I had forgotten that every year before our trip, the three of us go to the market and stock up on our favorite chips, cookies and hot chocolate for the road and for our condo. And of course we need the ingredients to make “the dip”—our much-loved artichoke and cheese bread-bowl dip that tastes even better after coming back from a day on the slopes.
Almost missing our trip to Mammoth this year was a good reminder of how precious family rituals are, especially during our year of change. My youngest daughter started college this year and my oldest is finishing her senior year in college. This past year was filled with college applications, ACT tests, college tours, high school graduation, dorm shopping and of course, move-in day. Definitely a year of transition. My husband and I have always loved spending time with our daughters and now that they are both away at school, we savor every moment together even more.
Coming to Mammoth this year was more than just a ski trip. It was like finding our compass. When everything is changing around you, it feels so good to go somewhere familiar and comfortable; to go back to your favorite family spot. Over the years, the music we listen to during the drive up has changed from Radio Disney to KIIS FM. The games we bring have varied from Pretty, Pretty Princess to Uno Attack and Family Feud to Black Jack. But, some things haven’t changed, like Schats Bakery & Cafe in Bishop. Every year we stop there to have lunch and pick up fresh and delicious sheepherder bread and holiday jelly and every year my husband complains about the long lines that snake out the door at times. But this is our spot. And it feels good to be back.
While most of our days are spent skiing and snowboarding, there are lots of good memories in so many other little things we do here. The walk to the lodge from our condo, the Jacuzzi in the afternoon, the warm chili in Canyon Lodge for lunch, hot chocolate at The Mill Café in between runs, games by the fireplace at night—these moments are all part of our annual trip.
My personal favorite spot to return to each year is Tamarack Lodge, where the four of us hike or snowshoe. I have swayed my family, who love the adrenaline rush of skiing and snowboarding, to join me on this quieter side of the mountain. And it is magical. Charming little wood cabins with snow-covered roofs, trails of untouched snow, pine trees with trunks buried in the fresh powder—on this side of the mountain, I feel like I’m inside an enchanted storybook. We hike, we talk, we laugh and we throw snowballs. Even though we see the cross-country skiers pass by us and other snowshoers or hikers crossing the trails, I always feel like this is “our” mountain.
For the young families out there, I urge you to find your mountain—a favorite spot for your family. It doesn’t have to be far, or snowy, or expensive, or a mountain. It just has to be yours—a place you come back to year after year, a place filled with your memories.
Elena Epstein is Director of Content & Strategic Partnerships at L.A. Parent.