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Campers, hikers, and national park enthusiasts flock to Mammoth Lakes, California, every summer, passing through the mountain town in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Range to reach Yosemite Valley from the east. But the area is also an ideal winter destination, thanks to ample snowfall and abundant sunshine, exhilarating outdoor adventures like skiing and snowmobiling, cozy restaurants and bars, and an easy-to-use local bus system.
Since Mammoth Mountain and nearby June Mountain are both on the popular Ikon Pass, Mammoth Lakes makes for an ideal ski getaway for Denverites. And, thanks to new daily direct flights through the end of March (and likely returning next winter), Mammoth Lakes is just a quick two-hour plane trip from the Mile High City. Here’s how to make the most of a spring skiing trip to the California locale.
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Skip the traffic on I-70 and head to Denver International Airport instead. Grab one of United’s daily nonstop flights to Eastern Sierra Regional Airport in Bishop, California, which has a teeny-tiny—but reliable—terminal. Once you land, rent a car, book a shuttle, or take a taxi to Mammoth Lakes, which is an easy 40-minute drive from the airport.
In Mammoth, you can get nearly everywhere you need to go via Eastern Sierra Transit buses, which are free and stop all over town. The bus routes show up on Google and Apple maps, but downloading the free Transit App is also helpful for navigating around Mammoth.
On the Hill
Mammoth is best known for downhill skiing and snowboarding—and for good reason. Founded in 1953 by Dave McCoy (a legendary figure in skiing who died in 2020 at the age of 104), Mammoth Mountain offers the highest lift-served skiing in all of California. The resort’s summit sits at 11,053 feet, which is comparable to many high-elevation Colorado ski areas, and there’s a sprawling 3,500 acres of skiable terrain to explore.
Visitors also have another option for even more skiing and snowboarding: June Mountain. Located about 20 minutes north of Mammoth Lakes, June is a much smaller resort, but has a laid-back, unharried vibe that makes it great for families. June Mountain offers 1,500 skiable acres and a good mix of trails for beginner, intermediate, and advanced skiers.
Off the Hill
If skiing isn’t your thing or your legs just need a break, you’ve got other options. Mammoth Mountain offers daily guided snowmobile tours that depart from the ski resort’s base area and cruise through the adjacent Forest Service land. After gliding through towering lodgepole pines on your own snowmobile, you’ll get an opportunity to (safely) crank up the speed and do laps in a broad, open area that’s devoid of trees. The tour ends at Minaret Vista, where you can soak in sweeping panoramic views of the craggy Minarets. (Don’t forget to pet Sherman, a charming black-and-white pup who “works” in the snowmobile ticket office.) You can also take a guided snowmobile tour or rent one to explore on your own through DJ’s Snowmobile Adventures.
For a quieter, more serene jaunt through the forest, visit Tamarack Cross-Country Ski Center, located about three miles south of town and accessible via Eastern Sierra Transit orange line buses. Wander inside the cozy yurt that serves as the Nordic center to get a day pass and rent a pair of snowshoes, or classic or skate cross-country skis. If you’re new to cross-country skiing or just want to improve your skills, sign up for a one-hour private lesson—you can even learn from Nancy Fiddler, a two-time Olympian who won 14 national championship titles, depending on her availability.
Tamarack staffers groom about 18 miles of trails that wind through the trees and around high-alpine lakes like Lake Mary, Lake Mamie, Lake George, and Horseshoe Lake. You can see Crystal Crag, an imposing 10,364-foot granite peak, from many spots along the Tamarack trail system.
Eat & Drink
Fuel up for the day’s adventures with coffee and a toasted bagel and schmear (or a bagel breakfast sandwich) from Old New York Deli & Bakery Co. Another tasty option for a more leisurely brunch is the Warming Hut, a local favorite known for its breakfast hashes and other hearty fare. If you need your espresso every morning, visit Black Velvet Coffee.
When you get hungry on the slopes of Mammoth Mountain, ski down to the Yodler, a Bavarian-inspired bar and restaurant with massive pretzels in the base area, or over to the Outpost, a fun spot serving up grilled cheese sandwiches on the mountain’s backside. If you’re spending the day in town, grab a hefty sandwich at Bleu Market & Kitchen, which is part specialty grocery store, part deli, and part bar.
For après-ski libations, get a spicy tuna hand roll and a craft spirits flight at Shelter Distilling, which makes bourbon, whiskey, gin, rum, vodka, and liqueurs. Mammoth Tavern is also a laid-back spot to grab a beer and carouse with Mammoth residents and regular visitors, who mostly hail from Los Angeles. Also, bookmark Mammoth Brewing Company and Distant Brewing to get your craft beer fix.
Depending on your mood, dinner can feature a soul-warming (and giant) bowl of pho from Noodle-ly, a classy steak dinner at the Mogul, or sophisticated meal at Skadi.
One of the most convenient places to stay during a trip to Mammoth Lakes is the Westin Monache Resort, which recently renovated all of its guest rooms. Though it’s not a true ski-in, ski-out property, the Westin is located just a few steps from a gondola that can transport you right to the slopes; it’s also near the Village, a walkable neighborhood with firepits, bars, restaurants, shops, and gear rentals. (The hotel even has a handy ski valet located directly underneath the base of the gondola, so you don’t have to worry about traipsing around in your uncomfortable ski boots for longer than necessary.)
To stay right at the base of the ski slopes, book a room at Mammoth Mountain Inn, situated near Mammoth’s main lodge. And to really embrace Mammoth’s woodsy, mountain vibes, check into Tamarack Lodge, which has historic cabins and lodge rooms with wood-covered walls (it’s also right next to the cross-country ski trails).
If You Do One Thing…
Go tubing at Woolly’s Tube Park, named after the ski area’s furry, larger-than-life woolly mammoth mascot. Relax on your snow tube while a lift pulls you up to the top, then prepare to fly down the groomed lanes. There’s also an area for playing in the snow, plus a hot chocolate bar (with adult beverages, too). If you’re lucky, you’ll bump into Woolly himself—and he may even agree to hop on a tube and ride down with you, too.