Monday, March 15, 2010

The Epic that is Mammoth

Mammoth.  The word, the ski resort, the idea of vast high altitude coolness. It all goes together.  We're back after a solid week at Mammoth Mountain in California.  And we can hardly wait to go back, even if that means a whole year before being able to do so.  For those like myself (up until little more than a week ago) with no exposure to that resort, I'll give a brief thumbnail to accompany my special gold-plated A rating.  Rest assured, there are deeper, more challenging reviews of Mammoth out there. But maybe none are as fresh as this untracked powder.

Dave McCoy founded Mammoth Mountain when he put up the first rope tow in 1955 and thereafter managed things for 68 years.  McCoy was a hydrologist that took snow pack readings in the Sierra Nevadas, where Mammoth is located on the Eastern range (about 30 miles from the entrance to Yosemite).  So he, more than maybe anyone,  knew what to look for in a location for a new Western resort.  Like most premier resorts, there have been periods of expansion and cycles of boom and bust.  But the family appeal is central to Mammoth's success.  The ski school for Maya was exceptional.  They dig old skiers, although you now need to be 80-years-old to ski for free as a pleasantly disgruntled 77-year-old told us one glorious sunny day riding up the chair lift.  And there is truly something for everyone, including some of the best terrain park snowboarding in North America with a SuperDuper-Pipe (22-feet-high).  Since I returned to skiing in earnest just this season, Mammoth gave me plenty to warm up on.  Then tons to challenge me like never before.  By the end of a week, we all were skiing better.  Most impressive though was Maya, who had never skied before heading to Mammoth.  She now can comfortably lead anyone through an easy run and makes her way pleasantly down intermediate ones.  I certainly hope she'll be a skier for life.  Seeing her start off this way at Mammoth makes that seem like a distinct possibility.

But a post on skiing cannot ignore the primary downside of the activity.  Money, most importantly.  It's a crazy expensive thing to do.  The relative lack of others out there on some absolutely perfect days (more than 400 inches of snow thus far, fresh powder, temps heading up above freezing, the occasional lack of winds all the way up at the Top of the Sierras) provides the best evidence that most people have an awfully hard time justifying the luxury at this point in time.  Still, if you can find a way to pool together your sheckels and are looking for an incomparably worthwhile place to do so with your whole family, Mammoth gets my vote.  Like I've said, I can hardly wait for my next time.

Until then, real life has more in store for us.  Like the leaky water heater we discovered the day after we returned.  Better the day after than while we were gone, I'll agree.  Doesn't mean that the cost of a new direct-vent gas heater is any less shocking, though.  Hope your own appliances don't smack you on the calves with a karma chairlift today.  Rock on.

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