Nov 06, 2008
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.
Old-school charm with big-mountain terrain.
A sparkling new village takes a family-friendly resort from dull to dashing. I'm savoring beet salad and roasted sweet potatoes while my kids devour veggie-studded mac-and-cheese in the airy, Zen-like space of Earthly Delights in the new Village at Northstar. It's a late lunch because my boys couldn't resist the bungee trampoline in the village center. It could have been even later if we'd gone ice skating on the outdoor rink or stopped into clothes boutique Butterbox—complete withan in-house DJ. In fact, when I think of all the diversions, I'm proud to have made it here at all, and when we polish off our healthy smorgasbord, we may just deserve a stop at the make-your-own-s'mores kiosk.
Until recently, no one accused Northstar of being cool. Friendly? Like good neighbors at every turn. Family oriented? Right down to the patented child-securing grab the lifties know by heart. But cool? Something about the '70s-era condos justscream "I'm outdated. And a resort built on family-friendliness isn't where you go looking for trends. Until now, that is.
To be fair, I'm not entirely surprised to find myself in an oasis of cool, because subtle changes have been transforming Northstar's mountain over the years. The sheltered bowl nestled into a ridge above Tahoe's North Shore debuted in 1972 as a PG-rated resort, a padded cell that offered windless refuge in Sierra storms, gentle rolling slopes and naturally gladed terrain. With a core of impeccable skier service,the resort steadily matured, first with deliciously steep backside runs to satisfy expert skiers, then an array of terrain parks for all ages. The Lookout runs added still more steep terrain, while snowtoys and tubing at midmountain broughtan amusement-park dimension to the resort. Today, experts have 240 acres of backcountry to explore in Sawtooth Ridge. But while this evolution has been gradual, Northstar's new $250 million Village is more like a sudden "Voila! Developed by Booth Creek and East West Partners, the village aims for top-level accommodations and services, tempered with a friendly, California-casual feel.
Amidst the building boom, skiers canrest assured they're not being ignored. There are 10 years of on-mountain improvements to come,including new lifts and trails. The first step is a Chondola (gondola cabins rotated inwith regular chairs) to replace the Pioneer double, providing a direct route to the new Shaeffers Camp restaurant and fast access to the double-black backside runs. Parking problems, Northstar's Achilles' heel, will be greatly alleviated this season by a 1,200-space lot connected via shuttle to theVillage. And Dial-a-Ride buses deliver you anywhere on Northstar property.