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THE INSIDE LINE: Mammoth, CA

Travel Pacific
posted: 09/23/2002


Elevation: 11,053 feet Vertical Drop: 3,100 feet Snowfall: 385 inches Getting There: Plans for a new airport are in the works. Until then, fill 'er up: It's a three-hour drive from Reno and a six-hour schlepp from LA. Info: 800-626-6684, mammothmountain.com

THE BETA: Picking the best way to ski the massive hulk of volcano that is Mammoth is like developing a game plan for a Vegas buffet: too much to consume, too little time, and it's all spread out right in front of you. The top third of the mountain is above tree line-a series of wide-open bowls alternating with tight, rock-lined chutes that fan out into aprons of corduroy. With four base lodges, 30 lifts, and 3,500 acres, it can take all day to yo-yo from one end to the other, skiing knuckle-biting lines on every run. Mammoth is the perfect vertical circus for steep freaks.
The Sierra snowpack often lingers into July, so when chairs swing idly at most hills, Mammoth's bullwheels keep on spinning. Even on crowded midseason days, though, the place is big enough to absorb LA's hoi polloi.

POWDER DAY
If you're set on upper-mountain untracked, pack a breakfast burrito (and maybe a book) and head for the gondola, where you might have to wait for avy control until 10 a.m. From the summit, point your boards straight down somewhere, anywhere. It's a whooping free-for-all for wild fresh. By your second lap, Mammoth's entire snowy spine will be cut to ribbons. Next, head to Chair 22, which crawls up Lincoln Mountain, where nearly 360 degrees of double blacks spill into trees and cliffs. Try Avy Chute 1 to The Acts, then hit Avy Chutes 2 and 3 before weaving in and out of the trees on Viva until early afternoon. Catch a final stash off Chair 14 with a 15-minute hike to Hemlock Ridge.

3 DAYS LATER
After a four-plus-foot Sierra storm, there's still loot to be found in the crannies. In the a.m., take Chair 12 and stay high on White Bark Ridge between the front and back sides. In the p.m., sneak into the trees off Dragon's Tail past Chair 9. Another option: Skip Mammoth altogether and ski June Mountain, a 20-minute drive north of Mammoth Lakes. Hit the steeps off J7 (Davos Drop and Pro Bowl), then find a local who'll lead you under the rope behind the lift, where you're all but guaranteed pow. (Check with ski patrol to make sure it's open.)

SPRING DAY
Timing is everything: Follow the sun as it wraps around and softens the front side. Start at Chair 22 with a few shots down the Avy Chutes, slide over to 5, grab a bite of lunch at McCoy Station, hit the gondola and 23 in early afternoon, and finish up the day on 14. Spring corn usually starts to ripen in mid April, earlier on east-facing slopes (like Back for More), and later on high faces (like Climax and Cornice).

THE RIDING
With three parks and three pipes covering 50 acres, Mammoth is a rider's utopia. The biggest park has tabletops, spines, a superpipe, and more than 20 rails. Elsewhere, the bumps and cat tracks are minimal, and there's a good mix of open bowls, trees, and natural hits.

BACKCOUNTRY ACCESS
Mammoth has an open-boundary policy, so you don't need to find a gate to get to the goods. The avalanche danger is lowest in the spring, but the Sierra can be unpredictable; call the Inyo National Forest (760-873-2408) for the latest. For lazy man's OB, hit Hole-in-the-Wall: Traverse above Dave's Run and ski down the south side of Dragon's Back. You'll end up at Tamarack Lodge, where you can catch a bus back to the bottom of Eagle Express. For the more adventurous: Start at Tamarack and hike the Sherwins for steep bowl skiing.

DRINKING & DANCING
College rec room meets sports bar at the Clocktower (760-934-2725) under the Alpenhof Hotel. The sticky tables are inlaid with microbrew coasters, and beer guzzlers put down quarters for Ms. Pac-Man. The only true place to dance late night in your leather pants is Whiskey Creek (760-934-2555), a meat market with live rock cover bands or DJs most nights.

FUEL
For breakfast, grab a California bagel (Swiss, cheddar, avocado, egg, and tomato) at the Base Camp Caf (760-934-3900) or just swill a latte at the Loony Bean (760-934-1345). From April until closing, Canyon Lodge comes to life with deck furniture and BBQ grills (and is temporarily dubbed Canyon Beach). Roberto's (760-934-3667) serves burritos the size of starter logs, but it's tiny-so be prepared to pound a few margs while waiting for your table. For high-class Italian, try the veal saltimbocca at Cervino's (760-934-4734).

DIGS
Get a basic, cheap bed at the Holiday Haus (starts at $60; 760-934-2414), or go faux Austrian at the slightly more expensive Alpenhof ($80-$149; 760-934-8558). Bonus: The Clocktower bar is in the basement. At the new Juniper Springs Lodge ($210- $280; 800-626-6684), you can soak in the Jacuzzi and still be close enough to the base of Chair 15 to chuck your Bud can at the lifties (not that you would).

MUST-KNOW
Don't miss the unofficial closing of Canyon Beach, usually on the second Monday after Easter. Stir-crazy patrollers and Mammoth employees race downhill on homemade contraptions-flying couches, cafeteria tables, old gondola cars on skis-for cash and prizes.

Been there? Going there? Sound off at skiingmag.com/insideline

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