Reviewed by Pieter Van Noordennen
Dec 04, 2008
Old-school charm with big-mountain terrain.
Surrounded by the highest peaks in the Lower 48 and topping out at 11,000 feet, Mammoth Mountain is an Eastern Sierra storm magnet.
California's biggest ski resort, which straddles the border between California and Nevada.
Kirkwood is off the grid in more ways than one. The whole place runs on generators. Lift lines are six people deep on a powder day. Sierra storms fill the ski-porn-worthy terrain, closing roads and shutting down lifts for days. But with inbounds runs slanted up to 42 degrees, the most reliable snow in the area, and chutes that make big-mountain skiers queasy, it’s hard to believe the resort stays so low-key. Thank the hourlong drive from South Lake Tahoe’s packed casinos and resorts, which ensures Kirkwood remains unsullied by the masses. Just the way skiers there like it.
Start Here: Repeat this mantra: 6, 10, 2, 4. Make your first runs of the day on those chairs in that order.
Quick Tip: If you’re staying in South Lake Tahoe—35 miles from Kirkwood—check out the carpool forum on the resort’s website. It’s cheaper than renting and you might just make a friend.
The Stash: When the rest of the resort is tracked out, follow the low traverse from Chair 4 to Thunder Saddle. Head skier’s left and pick your line. The entrances notch up to 40 degrees and offer five-foot drops.
Must Hit: Traverse skier’s left from Chair 10 under The Sisters, a looming rock outcropping. Then drop into the Sister Chute corridor for 30-degree gully skiing.
Powder Day: From Chair 6, hit the rocky, 40-degree chute called Chamoix to skier’s left. Once through the crux, bite hard right through a keyhole into Oops and Poops, a steep, 10-foot-wide, and often overlooked corridor.
Three Days LAter: The last run to get skied out along Kirkwood’s six-mile ridgeline is Palisades, a far traverse skier’s left of Chair 6. It also gets hammered by the sun, so ski cold north-facing areas in midwinter or south-facing corn in spring.
Park and Pipe: The park isn’t the reason you come to Kirkwood, but you’ll still see kids hucking 40-foot tables and greasing rainbow rails and boxes under Chair 5.
BAckcountry access: Bring avy gear. Head out the gate near Glove Rock for wide-open, powdery terrain. Hike 10 minutes or hitchhike back to the resort. Stop by the Expedition Kirkwood office in the village for conditions or a guided backcountry tour (from $85 per hour).
Weather: They call it the K-Factor. Storm totals average two to four feet, coming in consistently December through March. Even mild seasons, like 2006 to 2007, yield over 300 inches.
Après: Your best option is Bub’s Pub, which offers California microbrews, bar fare, big screens, and live bands on the weekends. Try the 9.9-percent-alcohol Brown Sugar Scottish Ale and the jerk-spice fries.
Fuel: In the morning, grab coffee and a breakfast burrito at Monte Wolfe’s in the village plaza. For lunch, visit the Off the Wall Bar in the main lodge and indulge in a Wall Sandwich—ahi tuna with Old Bay seasoning and portobello-mushroom relish on ciabatta bread.
Up All Night: If “all night” means until 9 p.m., hit the historic Kirkwood Inn (built in 1864, hardly updated since), a roadside saloon that shuts down early. If you really want to party, stay a night or two in South Lake Tahoe before flying home.
Digs: Find polished hotel rooms and three-bedroom condos at the Lodge at Kirkwood or Snowcrest, both walking distance from the lift (from $230). If lady luck took a bite out of your wallet at the casinos across the state line, try the Sun Meadows condos, where doubles start at $160 per night (kirkwood.com).
Elevation: 9,800 feet Vertical Drop: 2,000 feet Snowfall: 473 inches ACRES: 2,300 Info: kirkwood.com