John Muir said of the High Sierra, "What wonders lie in every mountain day!" The quotation seems merely poetic until you stand atop the 11,053ft/3,369m summit of Mammoth Mountain and try to comprehend the vastness before you. It takes time to get your bearings, looking down from the roof of California.
Most winter visitors come here to ski or snowboard. Even novices can get a taste of what makes skiing in California such a rarefed experience: majestic vistas, relatively warm daytime temperatures and an annual average of 300 sunny days. And you can ski right into June - sometimes until July 4-making Mammoth a premier spring-skiing destination.
Kids love it here; nothing thrills them so much as a ride up the Scenic Panorama Gondola, which zips 3,000ft/914m up to the mountain's summit. When you disembark, wander through the new Top of the Sierra Interpretive Center for a primer on volcanos and Mammoth's geological history. Beginners and non-skiers can ride the gondola back down to the safety of the base area.
At the new entry-level Wonderland Terrain park, little ones can ski like big kids, but in a scaled-down and safe environment. There are also plenty of gentle hills around the area for snow-tubing. Or explore the wilderness on a traditional dogsled ride with Mammoth Dog Teams. For a romantic escape with your sweetheart, consider a guided full-moon cross-country tour at the vintage 1920s Tamarack Lodge & resort.
More than snow
In summer, mountain biking and the zipline are big draws for kids of all ages. New development has also created a place to gather - a "village" of luxury apartment blocks and hotel rooms surrounding a central square with restaurants, bars and shops. You can still drink beer with the locals in the Clock Tower Cellar at the Alpenhof Lodge. But now there are more upmarket choices as well, including Lakanuki, Restaurant LuLu and Petra's Bistro Wine Bar. Even the ski resort has upped the culinary ante: Diners can ascend the mountain in a luxury snowcoach (snowmobile) for a formal candlelit meal, where the dishes are paired with suitable wines.
Of course, some things at Mammoth will never change, such as home-cooking at The Yodler, a 50-year-old lodge at the base area. Nothing is as timeless as the majestic mountain itself, lording over the landscape, just as it did when John Muir explored the Sierra a century ago.
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