What is it like to experience the wonder of Mammoth Lakes for the first time?
The car is packed and my OOO is set. I’m off to my first California winter weekend in Mammoth Lakes. With a little over an hour left on my drive north along US-395, I continued to climb elevation and began to admire the beauty of the snow covered mountainscape around me. The views were breathtaking and equivalent to that of a winter wonderland. A record-high snowfall for the season so far was easy to confirm as I made my way through town. Homes were completely hidden behind walls of snow, with just their driveways and roofs peaks visible from the road.
During parts of my drive, all I could envision was a cozy evening holed up at Mammoth Mountain Inn. The wood cabin architecture and stone walls paired with brown leather chairs in front of burning fireplaces immediately enveloped a cozy, mountain-town feeling as I walked through the lobby. That evening, I opted for dinner at the bar of the hotel’s Mountainside Bar & Grill. Within minutes of sitting down, the bartenders’ warm welcome and laid-back attitude had me feeling as though we were old friends. They poured me a much-appreciated glass of cabernet sauvignon and I ordered a shrimp diablo pasta. I end up chatting with the bartenders for most of the evening, swapping mountain stories, restaurant recommendations and must-do’s in town.
The next morning, I’m up by sunrise and can now fully take in the vastness of the mountain out my window. I quickly ate breakfast, all the while wondering if I was out of my mind for choosing to learn how to snowboard in my late 20s. The snow conditions looked near-perfect with not a cloud to be seen, already good signs for the day ahead. From the Main Lodge across the street, it was a convenient 5-minute walk to my lesson, which in one hour was over in the blink of an eye. I was taught how to get off the chairlift safely, how to stop, skate and make toeside and heelside turns. The Mammoth Mountain instructors are incredible and worth booking if learning to snowboard or if you just need a refresher. (ProTip: Don’t have your significant other teach you. Everyone I encountered made sure to warn me). As I was on my own for the rest of the day, I made my way over to the ski lift in hopes that I would remember everything I just learned.
Many falls and a few successful runs later, I was looking forward to getting off my feet, preferably with a drink and a warm meal in front of me. I first had to move my things to an Airbnb in town and then headed to Distant Brewing for dinner, a local brewery only a short drive from the mountain. Distant Brewing has a casual, homey feel for those looking to enjoy some beers in a relaxing, yet lively atmosphere. Their menu has a focus on American cuisine and all beers are locally made. I opt for a pale ale called Mountain Wookie and the french dip. The food was soul-warming and precisely what was needed after my day on the mountain.
It’s Day 2 in Mammoth Lakes and I wake up to the sun streaming through my window and the mountain calling my name. The lifts don’t open until 8:30 a.m., but it was sure to be a busy day as the sun was making an appearance again and it was Saturday, so better to get moving early to beat some of the crowd. With over 3,500 skiable acres and 150 runs to choose from, I couldn’t go wrong with where I chose to start, even with my beginner skill level. I settled on Canyon Lodge, knowing that I planned to aprés-ski there at the end of my day. On my way up to the mountain, I popped into Old New York Deli & Bakery Co. and grabbed a bagel to-go. A few runs in my system and some confidence later, I hopped on a chair lift higher up the mountain where the runs offered breathtaking panoramic views.
Coming down the mountain on my final run of the day, I could see the Aprés Canyon party in full effect and I was heading straight for it. Aprés-ski is a must activity for everyone, and Canyon Lodge has slowly become known for it, though only on Fridays and Saturdays. In an old gondola above the crowd, a DJ was keeping the atmosphere electric with the stunning backdrop of the sun setting behind the mountains as people danced below. It was the perfect way to wrap up my snowboarding experience.
Mammoth Lakes has a lot more to offer than just its mountain and I was looking forward to exploring it. I began my day by driving to Stellar Brew for fuel and energy. This small coffee shop stood out with its locally sourced food and coffee. I ordered an iced oat milk latte and their jalapeno breakfast burrito (both exceptional) and I vowed to attempt to recreate the burrito when I got home.
Feeling full and awake, I was ready to experience the wonders of Mammoth Lakes from a new view, this time by snowmobile. I booked a guided tour that led a group of us across the snowy trails of the Eastern Sierra backcountry. It began to snow as I coasted through the snow-covered pine trees making me happy I bundled up, though even in all of my layers I wished I wore feet and hand warmers. We were led to an open meadow where we were given free reign (within a specified radius) to hit the gas pedal and explore on our own. The grandness of the meadow, the forest and the mountains was a sight to see.
Following snowmobiling, I hopped in my car and drove into town. I had been enjoying the local craft beers, but was ready for a cocktail. I made my way over to Shelter Distilling, a distillery that creates innovative spirits with the mountain range in mind. The distillery had a rustic factory aesthetic, distilling tanks and barrels filled with aged spirits. Their cocktails all looked divine, but I chose The Antidote, an Embers Peated Single Malt Whiskey with lemon, ginger and honey. I snacked on the shelter nachos while I enjoyed my cocktail.
While the snow kept falling, I wandered around the village, popping in a few shops before making my way to Mammoth Brewing Company. I grabed a couple of beers, trying the mammoth pilsner and their cherry sour. They had plenty of options for those who like pale ales, IPAs or sours. Ready to relax, but feeling hungry for dinner, I stopped by Salsa’s Taqueria for some to-go tacos that gave San Diego tacos a run for their money. This small taco shop doesn’t have a lot of seating inside, so it’s the perfect place to grab a bite on the go. My day ended with a walk around my neighborhood. I embraced the peacefulness that comes when fresh snow flurries fall silently all around.
Soon it was time to say goodbye to this storybook town situated in a real-life snow globe. As I drove back home to San Diego, I was entranced by the beauty of the mountains once more. Whether driving or flying, Mammoth Lakes, California, is much easier to get to than you think. Find more info about flying to the area, as well as all things Mammoth Lakes has to offer at visitmammoth.com