How to prep for an epic family ski or snowboard vacation to Mammoth Mountain, California + how to work the system while there.
The frosty wonderland of Mammoth Lakes is a magical environment that makes us feel cooler than we are, forces Bailey to put her weeny tendencies aside and go fast, and pushes us to close the laptops in favor of doing an infuriating puzzle by the fire. It's our happy place.
We make the 6-hour trek from Ojai to Mammoth Mountain many times a year, religiously checking the forecast and following the snow. It's one of the few phenomenon that can elicit spontaneity out of Bailey.
To ensure your trip sparkles with joy and ease, instead of frostbite and pissed-offed-ness, we've compiled our top tips for an epic family vacation to Mammoth Lakes, California.
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Before You Leave Home
Putting ample thought into your snow sojourn will help ensure you spend your vacation happily frolicking across a snow-covered slope, or at least sipping warm booze by a fire, instead of freezing your tuckus off while a tow truck pulls your car out of a snow bank.
Here's some helpful actions to get you started.
Purchase quality snow clothes.
Frigid temps are no fun in the wrong clothes. It's worth the time (and potentially, financial) investment to buy waterproof pants, jackets, gloves, and shoes for the entire family. While you can easily go to a sporting goods store and drop many hundreds on this gear, there are great second-hand stores that sell like-new options for a reasonable price. This is an especially beneficial option if you're buying snow gear for kids that grow so fast they need new shoes every three months.
If you plan on skiing or snowboarding, purchase goggles and helmets as well (unless you'd like to rent a helmet on the mountain.) After you've geared-up with the waterproof essentials, make sure you pack multiple layers so you can dress up or down depending on the weather.
For extra chilly weather, electric boot heaters, HotHands Hand Warmers and mittens can help prevent your toes and fingertips from losing sensation (something that's cut Bailey's ski days short because of her poor circulation... until she started utilizing these three essentials.)
Try to visit Mammoth on weekdays, when the crowds are majorly reduced.
If you have a job that will allow you to sneak away for a few days, and you don’t mind your kids playing hookie, weekdays are golden at Mammoth, as the massive mountain is virtually empty. There are few things as blissful as gliding down a mountain without the fear that your children will be pulverized by an out of control boarder - no offense boarders, Eric + Hudson are on your team.
Book a home rental.
Mammoth is packed with rentals (on sites like Airbnb and VRBO) that range from snug studios, to massive multi-bedroom luxury cabins. Regardless of how hard you plan on hitting the mountain, you’ll spend a lot of time indoors. In our opinion, it’s worth it to book a comfortable space with a fireplace, movies, games, and other homey amenities. And, many of these rentals are just as affordable as hotel rooms.
Rent accommodations with a kitchen.
While it’s fun to indulge in a few meals out, it can feel hectic, expensive and time consuming to schlep the family to a restaurant for every meal. Most home and apartment rentals in Mammoth offer fully-equipped kitchens, and some hotels provide a partial kitchen. There’s a Vons in downtown Mammoth to pick up essentials, but if you want to splurge on some fine foods, check out Bleu Handcrafted Foods.
Check the forecast before crafting your itinerary.
Not only can checking the forecast a few days before your trip inform the clothes you bring, but can also give you an idea of what days you’ll be pulling all-dayers on the mountain, and what days you’ll need to plan something else. For example, being on the mountain during a blizzard isn’t great, so that might be a good time to plan a cozy cabin day, or go see a movie.
Even if the forecast doesn't call for snow, a storm could still push through, making the roads dangerous without chains. We have way too many chains, as we've been caught in five too many unexpected storms (like that one time we were in a blizzard at the end of May), each causing us to buy yet another set. You can either take your tire measurements to an auto shop to buy these irritating, yet potentially life-saving webs of metal, or you can go the easy route and order them on good ole Amazon.
Book a spot for the kids in ski school.
The ski and snowboard schools at Mammoth Mountain are some of the best we’ve experienced. Because it can be a rare form of torture teaching your kids the ways of the mountain, give the gift of a lesson that allows them to learn from a patient pro, while you have kid-free slope time. These lessons fill up quick so reserve the spots you need a few weeks in advance.
Bring your favorite board (and car!) games, and movies.
If you'll be renting a cabin or apartment, it may come with a decent supply of games and movies, but it's hard to know if these options will be kid-appropriate. For example, we once stayed in a cabin that had Cards Against Humanity and Never Have I Ever - fun for adults, not so much for 5-year-olds. So check with the home-rental host to see what they offer, and supplement their entertainment stock with your own favorites. If you forget these goods, you can stock up at Mammoth Fun Shop.
Tip: Few things are as fabulously addictive as fireside-puzzle-construction. If you don't want the littles messing with your 1,000-piece puzzle, bring them their own so they don't feel left out, or compelled to mix up your meticulous sorting system.
Plan active pit stops.
Being with children... in a car... for hundreds of miles, can be... interesting. Sprinkle much needed sanity into your road trip by locating fun pit stops along your route that will give the fam an opportunity to get out of the car and move around. We try to stop for 30-minutes every 2 hours. If you're traveling to Mammoth from Southern California, Fossil Falls is a stunning spot to stretch your legs while exploring prehistoric lava fields.
On the Mountain Tips
Mammoth is home to a smorgasbord of amenities that can enhance your getaway in innumerable ways. But if you don't know where to look, or how to work the system, you just might find yourself in a frozen purgatory - but you won't, because we have your back.
Head to June Mountain on holiday weekends.
If you’re visiting Mammoth during a holiday weekend, lift lines can get as long as 45-minutes (not worth it.) Skip the lines by driving the 30-minutes to June Mountain, which is a great family ski and board area.
You’ll want to get there as early as possible, as you have to catch a lift to get to the base of the slopes. This line can get long later in the morning, but once you reach the main lifts there’s rarely lines, even during the holidays. Making June Mountain even sweeter is the fact that kids 12 and under ski free. At Mammoth, you have to buy tix for children 5 and up.
Say yes to a date night.
If you’ll be in Mammoth for more than a few nights, consider hiring a babysitter through Care.com and utilizing one of the many high-quality romance-filled restaurants in and around The Village. Your kids will likely love an excuse to post-up in your accommodations with hot chocolate and movies, while you and your partner savor some much-needed alone time. Our go-to date night restaurants are 53 Kitchen and Nevados.
Make a clear plan for the mountain.
If you have young kids and will be splitting up (for example, one adult hitting the harder runs while the other chaperones on the bunny slope) you’ll want to choose an exact spot and time to meet for the swap, as cell service can be dicey on the mountain. For example, we do hour long shifts and meet at an igloo at Mammoth’s Canyon Lodge. Ensure you never have meet-up mix-ups by bringing along quality two-way radios.
Consider renting gear ahead of time.
While gear on the mountain isn’t unreasonably priced, you can often get a better deal at rental shops not affiliated with the mountain (this is usually true anywhere.) With that said, an advantage to renting through Mammoth Mountain is that, if you end up wanting to swap out gear for a different size or brand, you can easily do this at one of the lodges that houses a rental shop, versus having to pack up and drive into town to make the swap. Check out our Mammoth rental shop recommendations.
Rent a locker and bring snacks, books and games to the lodge.
Day-use lockers range from $10-$13 and quickly pay for themselves if you pack them full of snacks, drinks and entertainment. While it can be nice to splurge on a Mammoth Mocha or Bloody Mary, purchasing all your food and drink on the mountain can get pricey.
If you use the fine art of candy/toy bribery to get your kids to learn how to ski or board, you can store the pre-purchased loot in your locker and avoid paying $4 for a candy bar.
The books and games come in handy for the adult hanging with non-skiing kids in the lodge - and we won’t judge if there’s also some screens in that locker.