I arrived at Mammoth on a Tuesday evening. After spending a good portion of the day driving through the beautiful but horribly unexciting desert between Las Vegas and tiny Mammoth Lakes, California (population: around 5,000), I was ready for some shuteye. Instead, I got an eyeful. The mountain ran from the right side of my peripheral view all the way across to the left. The possibilities were mind-boggling.
I awoke the next morning with a full day on the slopes ahead of me. The sun was shining, it was about 45 degrees at the bottom of the mountain, and the lift lines were non-existent. I was ready to tame Mammoth.
I warmed up by cruising the lower-mountain groomers, but those were little more than appetizers for what was to be the main entree: Panorama Lookout, the rock-faced highest point on Mammoth Mountain.
Then the real fun began. I took the three-minute, 48-second trip up Panorama Gondola, and stepped out to one of the most breathtaking views I've been fortunate enough to witness. From the peak, I could see almost the entire eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada range, including the Minarets rock formation off to skier's left.
I headed toward Cornice Bowl, a black diamond run that was probably the most-crowded and easiest way down Panorama. The snow was good, not great for mid-March, but the super-steep terrain more than made up for it. I carved long GS turns down the seemingly vertical slope as I sped past others who were yearning for an easier easiest-way-down. Cornice spat out near the bottom of Chair 23, a triple chair that creeps slowly up a rocky face toward another lookout point near Mammoth's summit.
I spent the next three hours skiing the chutes to the left and right of 23: Drop Out Chutes, Wipe Out Chutes, and Paranoid Flats. With every turn in the narrow, rocky, sparsely covered chutes, I sent huge clumps of snow tumbling downward, often feeling lucky not to be tumbling down with them myself. Each jump turn I made was effectively a leap of faith that my skis would hold me not only vertically to the mountain but also horizontally from the protruding slabs of rock on either side.
Sliding deliberately down the steeps to the long, even, and open mogul fields at the base of the chutes, I felt an amazing rush of adrenaline. My quads and knees, however, felt an amazing rush of lactic acid as the constant bouncing started to wear me down. Still, I trucked on.
Following a few groomers on the mountain's backside, I headed back across the mountain toward Chair 22, which accesses the steepest terrain on the lower two-thirds of the mountain. I took on the Avalanche Chutes, absurdly steep, narrow mogul fields sparsely speckled with trees and stumps that got their name for an obvious reason. Any fall or mishap on my part could send a whole load of powder -- not to mention myself -- rolling down the hill.
I cautiously made my way down through the tree trunks and proudly gazed back up. I headed back over to Chair 23 for a few more runs, after which my legs were on the verge of giving out. So I called it quits. I couldn't even guess as to how many vertical feet I had logged. It was my best day of the season, and I had some great days.
In the two subsequent days, I spent more time on Chair 23, enjoyed the scrapey, but ridiculously steep Dave's Run, and even explored some of the beautiful groomers closer to the bottom of the mountain. I got in an insane amount of skiing and felt like I'd really explored the mountain.
But I hadn't. A friend later informed me that there were five or 10 lifts that I hadn't even seen, let alone explored; more proof that Mammoth has some of North America's most expansive terrain. This is truly a place for big adventure.
For more information, check out www.mammothmountain.com or call 1-800-MAMMOTH.