Make the most of your ski trip to Mammoth Lakes, California with essential tips about beginner, intermediate and advanced lifts and trails.
Mammoth Mountain is like a massive snow-covered unicorn, as it receives the rare combo of 300 days of annual sunshine and 400 inches of snow - the 2010-2011 season saw 669 inches of snow! Because of its high altitude, with a base at around 8,000-feet, and the summit at 11,053-feet (making it the highest ski resort in California), the mountain is famous for its superior snow conditions, allowing slopestyle-lovers to be met with a playground of intricate terrain parks, speed-chasers to discover a tapestry of groomed black diamonds, intermediate-groovers to play in a sprawling wonderland of wide blues, and nervous beginners to delight in the abundance of lifts dropping them on easy-rider runs. And one of the best parts is that this mountain is so colossal (with 162 trails and 28 lifts!) these varieties of skiers and boarders rarely merge, as they all have their own, semi-contained zones.
With this dynamic, glorious network of steep, heart-pounding inclines, corduroy groomers (if you get on it early), sweeping bowls and bumps, wonderlands of picturesque paths through the pines, and epic jumps, Mammoth is a frosty eden for everyone from the slow-and-steadys to fast-and-highs (and we mean high in every sense of the word.)
While frozen bliss awaits on Mammoth Mountain, it can be harder to discover if you’re heading to the slopes with kids, uncertain as to what runs will be a win, and which will inspire mid-slope tantrums. To simplify the conundrum we've offered breakdowns of our favorite trails below. If this list is missing a run you think deserves a spot, please let us know in the comments, or via email - we want to hear from you!
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Happy Travels Tip: Because Mammoth Mountain is composed of a wildly extensive tapestry of runs, make sure everyone carries a trail map with them - you can snag em' in any lodge where lift tickets are sold. We've been skiing at Mammoth for ten years and still use a map if we're utilizing more than one section of the mountain.
3,500 skiable acres
Over 3,100 vertical feet
25% beginner runs
40% intermediate runs
20% advanced runs
15% expert runs
Favorite Advanced Runs
Riders that enjoy skin tingling anticipation, rare air that's so thin it makes you feel a bit tipsy, and that rollercoaster-esque drop in the stomach will discover their fantasyland along Mammoth Mountain's infamous ridgeline. Whether you're hoping to score buttery turns, test your resolve on nearly vertical chutes or score powdery landings, Mammoth will cause your cheeks (and probably everything else) to burn by the end of the day because of its perma-smile-inducing powers.
While there are few advanced runs on Mammoth that aren't adored, these are the favorites of Eric, and the other bold riders we know.
This is the place to go if you've made it to the gondola by 8:30am the morning after the weather Gods dumped powder. The steep pitch and spaciousness of this bowl, in addition to being the highest run on the mountain, often gives the illusion that you're blasting through fluffy clouds in the heavens. But because this run is so exposed, it loses its appeal when the wind picks up.
Often empty, West Bowl is a top-tier option for those hoping to refine their mogul skills. If you want to keep hitting it, just hop back on Facelift Express. But if you're looking to mix it up and get a longer ride, stay to skier's right after passing McCoy Station to find a fun assortment of under-utilized tree runs that end at Stump Alley Express.
Also called "Avy Chutes," these puckering runs are so appealing die-hards used to hike to them before Chair 22 was installed. And those in the know pray for days when Chair 22 is closed so they can put in the leg work to have the chutes to themselves. Each of the three chutes is unique, so give them each a go to discover your top pick.
This short, hourglass shaped drop demands constant precision, but especially at the pinch point that is guarded by two large, seemingly identical craggy rock faces that are definitely judging your skills. Like most runs, Hangman's Hollow morphs with the conditions, sometimes offering a fairly straightforward ride, and other times demanding mental mapping and total focus.
A formidable double black diamond gully, with a narrowness that often preserves powder, Phillipe's is a darling for riders who like to saturate themselves in adrenaline.
We believe that the not-so-simple act of just dropping into the "Noids" is a bragging right on its own, as you're skimming a shockingly narrow ridge to access it and need to thoroughly scope it out before committing. Thrill-seekers will be in nirvana.
Steep, tight and challenging, these chutes are often protected from the full force of the wind, allowing them to hang on to more powder. After you get through the narrow beginning everything opens up, facilitating a swift, graceful dance of wide turns. As Chair 23 runs above these chutes, you'll be on full display - so bring your A-game.
In a world where Goldie Locks is an advanced skier, Sanctuary would be one of her top choices, as it's high enough on the mountain to preserve primo snow conditions, but not so high that it's over-exposed to the wind. This run also has a fair amount of trees, adding a creative element of maneuvering for those who want to play.
With a half pipe that was named #1 by Transworld Snowboarding, and a known favorite of snowboarding legend Shaun White, Main Park is an optimal choice for advanced shredders looking to get experimental on jibs, jumps, spines, berms and bumps.
Favorite Intermediate Runs
Although Bailey has tried all the blue to blue-almost-black runs on Mammoth Mountain, she's a creature of habit and now sticks to her tried and trues, depending on weather conditions. But before you discover her top picks, know that she has an aversion to wide, well-tread runs that often end up choppy. Because of this, most of the runs listed below are winding tree-lined trails that - if you wait a minute or two, allowing a surge of riders to pass - are usually empty-ish. Enhancing the charm of these runs is the fact that many offer long cruisey rides that can last as long as 15 or 20 minutes - but that's of course dependent on your speed-demon tendencies.
Stump Alley to Mambo (or Forest Trail Park) to Phantom's Escape
Our go-to during wind-free, bluebird days, this trail combo allows Bailey to enjoy a scenic mosey down Mambo, while Eric plays with the jumps and jibs on Forest Trail Park. We then meet at the top of Phantom's Escape and blast down to Stump Alley Express together.
Tip: Go for speed on Phantom's Escape to prevent getting stuck in the doldrums at the bottom of the run.
If we're racing, we can finish this route in 4-5 minutes, but if we're taking our time, stopping to take in the vista that seems to have been pulled from a Thomas Kinkade painting, it can last about 15 minutes.
While this route is idyllic when the weather's calm, it's a frost-bitten-fingertip-waiting-to-happen during a storm. Stump Alley Express is pretty exposed (especially the top half) so you get blasted by weather. For example, Bailey was almost pushed off the lift once when a snow devil hit. On stormy days, we stick to Roller Coaster, where tree coverage provides a decent wind buffer.
Jibs & More
If you think you'd enjoy a super mellow, skier-friendly, and almost always empty terrain park, scoot down the edges of South Park then take a skier's left to hop on Jibs & More (if you accidentally miss the turn and end up on Lost in the Woods, just take Chair 21 to get back on South Park.)
The mini-jumps, grooves, and other playful terrain is easy to test out your skills on, and is one of the best kept secrets on the mountain. But don't take the run all the way to the bottom, as you'll have a mini-hike to get back on Roller Coaster Express - instead, take a skier's right when you see a big break in the trees that allows you to cut over to South Park. With that said, if you adore Jibs & More and want to do nothing but it (like Bailey most days), ride it to the bottom until you hit Chair 20, which will take you back to the top of Jibs & More.
For those that rolled their eyes when they read "super mellow and skier-friendly" on the Jibs & More description, take a page from Eric's playbook and head to South Park. This long run is filled with serious jibs and massive jumps, making it a prime choice for riders looking to up their game and fully commit. If you just want to watch (and there ain't no shame in that game) there's plenty of room on the edges to cruise without getting in the way.
If you prefer a straight shot down the mountain, instead of the intentional obstacles riddling the options above, stick to Roller Coaster, which has consistent snow conditions and (usually) in-control riders. Folks who would prefer most of the slope to themselves should chill at the top of the run for a few minutes and wait for it to clear - on non-beginner runs traffic usually comes in waves, so if you just show some patience you can hop in between the waves and enjoy a fairly solo ride.
When the weather is wild we stick to Roller Coaster and the two runs above because they offer wind protection, and often have fluffy stores of powder on their edges.
Beware that the uppermost portion of Roller Coaster that sits beside the top of the lift can be icy and hectic (as riders from different lifts are crossing paths), so keep your eyes open and take it slow - but once you pass the short "zoo zone" you're good to go.
Referred to as a "thigh-burner" by pretty much everyone who has journeyed down it, this whopping 3-mile run (the longest on Mammoth, and accessed from the top of the Panorama Gondola) takes you on a mind-blowing tour of the summit and backside of the mountain, as it looks out on an overwhelming panorama coated in snow-kissed pines and nature-made stone sculptures. But don't get too hypnotized by the view - Road Runner often runs parallel to steep drops (sometimes the drop is on both sides), so come to a stop before taking in the sights. Speaking of an intense drop... this is not the place to take riders who are still getting their ski legs - solidly intermediate to advanced skiers and boarders only.
White Bark Ridge
If you want to skip the intense tour of the summit that Road Runner offers, hop on its lower half by taking Discovery Chair to Chair 12, then veering to looker's right off the lift (and staying high) to get on White Bark Ridge. When Bailey was re-learning to ski in high school, this was one of her preferred runs, and is still a favorite on days when we want a long, chill ride.
Lost in the Woods
A great choice for those ready to upgrade from beginner to intermediate, Lost in the Woods is a short, straightforward and easy-rider run located beneath Chair 21. Because of its location at the bottom of the mountain, and the ample tree protection, it's a good choice for wild weather days.
If you want a longer ride, take Roller Coaster Express to South Park, then swing over to Lost in the Woods. If you're into Lost in the Woods, you can rinse and repeat by sticking to Chair 21.
Tip: The easiest access to Chair 21 is via the parking lot located right before the main parking area for The Mill.
Back for More and Haven't the Foggiest
Just as Lost in the Woods is an optimal choice for beginners moving up to intermediate, Back for More and Haven't the Foggiest (located right next to one another) are where you want to go if you're an intermediate making the move to advanced. Both trails receive little traffic, provide long rides, and taper out into mellow greens right when your legs start to burn. Because of their largely unoccupied nature, these options both maintain fairly smooth snow throughout the day, and are loads of fun if you score them in the morning when they still boast glistening corduroy.
The pitch is perfect for Bailey - who likes to go really fast, then slow/stop, then go really fast, then... you get it - as these trails offer steep patches that level out right when you're starting to get nervous about going so fast. And because of well-placed clusters of trees those who prefer off-trail-powder-play will be in nirvana.
Favorite Beginner Runs
With a quarter of the mountain geared towards beginners, riders who have the basics down, but are still finding their groove will enjoy the plethora of options suitable for newer riders. While these runs won't cause your stomach to fill with "I might need to go to the bathroom" nerves, they will offer a gentle push, helping to ease your skills into the next level.
One of the longest green trails on the mountain, Lupin is the place to play if you want plenty of track to tinker with your skills. But if you get nervous with eyes on you, check out Easy Rider or St. Moritz, as the busy Eagle Express runs above Lupin. However, as people who have fallen often under Mammoth lifts (in a spectacularly embarrassing fashion), we're pleased to report that we've never been hit by unkind words from a Lookie Lou.
Another long ride, Easy Rider gets you higher on the mountain than any of the other beginner runs, and provides killer views of the surrounding Sierras on its wide meandering trail that ends at The Mill.
Canyon Express drops you at the top of Easy Rider, but if you want to do it again (from The Mill), you'll need to take Gold Rush Express, take a looker's right to hop on Solitude, then follow the signs to Easy Rider. Be aware that the inaptly-named Solitude is an intermediate run that's usually crowded, but if you stick to the edge where there's softer snow and less people you should be good. And your stint on Solitude will be short.
If you tried out Solitude to Easy Rider and weren't spooked by the blue, mosey over to the Panorama Gondola and ride to McCoy Lodge. From there, take Stump Alley (a mild intermediate) to St. Moritz, where you can celebrate your conquering of an intermediate run on its gentle, charming path. If you'd rather get to St.Moritz from The Mill, hop on Stump Alley Express, then take the same route (Stump Alley to St. Moritz.)
A blue that borders on a green (we'll call it a turquoise), Broadway is an ideal spot for riders skiing or boarding out of Main Lodge who want a run they can easily do over and over again. This trail is wide enough to accommodate large crowds and rarely feels excessively cluttered, a major plus for riders who still aren't fully comfortable with intermediate paths. An extra perk is that Broadway Express takes you over Gravy Chutes, offering a jaw dropping show if you're lucky enough to glide above it while someone is crazy enough to be going down it.
Favorite Never-Slid-Down-a-Mountain-Before Runs
Mammoth's newcomer trails are like loving, (sometimes) soft hugs for those just mustering the courage to strap on skis or a board. Adding to the pleasant nature of these runs are their adorable names, like Pumpkin, Little Bird, School Yard, Apple Pie and Sesame Street - you can't help but say "aww."
While there's a generous helping of super-beginner options spread across the mountain, the bulk live at Main Lodge and Canyon. In addition to offering the trails mentioned below (and all the green paths that splinter off them), these lodges both provide extensive beginner areas, including the much coveted magic carpets (conveyor belts that transport beginners to the top of a tiny slope.)
Everything off of School Yard Express
This lift leads to multiple, relatively long beginner routes, allowing ample opportunity to explore within the bounds of your comfort zone. School Yard is the most direct path back to the lift, while taking Spring Canyon, to Ginger Bread, to Fun Zone provides more variety, in addition to nooks to pull into for a little rest. An additional perk of these runs (and the ones mentioned below) is that everyone understands that they're for learners, and won't get pissed if you fall, or suddenly have to stop, in the middle of the slope.
Everything off of Discovery Chair
Contained in a metaphorical "green bubble" at the edge of the mountain, the beginner slopes off Discovery Chair don't mingle with any intermediate or advanced runs, making this area a haven for those feeling nervous about getting in the way of more advanced riders. Go as slow as you want while heading straight down Sesame Street, or exploring a more backcountry-esque section like Woolly's Woods. Moral of the story: You can meander through any of the terrain below Discovery Chair without fear of suddenly meeting the precipice of a black diamond.