One of our favorite things about a winter or spring vacation in Mammoth Lakes, California is that it’s as fun for skiing and riding families as it is for those who just want to get out into snow-clad scenery. The region’s famed Mammoth Mountain ski area and its proximity to Yosemite National Park mean that active families will find lots to do both on and off the slopes, almost all year round.
Ski Mammoth is Growing Trails & Tech
The 2013/2014 season – which should run mid-December to June at least — is Mammoth Mountain’s 60th year. The celebration is marked by the reopening of June Mountain, a neighboring resort with terrain that is especially well suited to families and entry-level skiers and snowboarders. As part of the current Five Year Development Plan, more improvements and facilities are coming to both mountains, including better on-site family facilities.
There’s already a lot here: a peak at 11.053 feet, more than 3,100 vertical feet of terrain on over 3,500 skiable acres, and 150 named trails. The new High Five Express quad transports more visitors to the slopes faster, and the MyMammoth RFID enabled lift ticket system means quicker entry and 15% in savings on lift ticket fees if you preload online before arrival.
In more happy news, the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association has named Mammoth Mountain as an Official Training Ground so the top skiers and snowboarders in the country can prepare for the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games there. And with early snows, we know it will be a great season.
Mammoth Mountain Family Programs
Mammoth understands family snowsport needs, too. There’s a cool Woolly’s Forest daycare program for ages 3-6 at both the recently upgraded Mammoth Mountain Inn and The Village base. Kids lift tickets for ages 7-12 are just $35/day and kids 6 and under ski free and enjoy activities at Canyon Lodge and in the base village. Parents with toddler athletes will appreciate the Parent Tag Team Ticket that allows mom and dad to take turns with parental duty while sharing one lift ticket for the day. Beginners get a good deal, too, with discounted access to certain chair lifts adjacent to beginner slopes.
New facilities at Unbound Playgrounds and the adventure zones offer an easier, more comfortable introduction to terrain parks for beginners and children. Mammoth is adding more interactive elements with fun, more approachable features. Big Bird and the Cookie Monster will rule in The Playground section of the park, which will have a Sesame Street West theme this winter, providing the ideal location for kids to discover the sport.
Families who spend days on the mountain can use their afternoons at the snow tubing park to keep the kids going till supper time.
Dogsledding at Mammoth is Great with Tiny Travelers
Mammoth gets lots of snow because of its altitude and the moist air in this part of northern California, but fortunately it’s not as cold as other winter resorts. Nonetheless, your little ones will appreciate a warm and cozy place to cuddle, especially with fuzzy warm dogs nearby.
A team of Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Huskies, and Mammoth Huskies guided by a skilled musher can be hired to pull your family through the snow on authentic dogsled rides. Blankets and special outerwear come free with your booking.
Overnight winter camping dog sled rides take adventure seekers into the Sierra backcountry. Each trip is tailored to the individual’s skill level. Participants are given their own dog team, sled/cart and camping gear and choose from a variety of activities including snowshoeing, skijoring, cooking classes and short dog sledding side trips.
Ice Skating & Snowmobiling at Mammoth Lakes
The Mammoth Ice Rink is an outdoor facility offering public skating sessions, hockey clinics, pick-up hockey, skating lessons and special events. Amenities include skate sharpening, skate rentals and snack and beverage services with seating for the non-skaters in your party. It’s a great place to meet the locals, as the Ice Rink is located adjacent to the Mammoth Lakes Library and opposite Mammoth High School.
Teens really appreciate a half-day outing along the Eastern Sierra’s 80 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. Varying terrain includes mountain slopes and wooded forest, as well as serene meadows and reclaimed railroad tracks. Some of the most popular places to ride are Lookout Mountain, Inyo Craters and Bald Mountain. Local guides with the rental companies will lead your family and show you some driving tricks depending on whether you’re together on two-seater snowmobiles or going solo. They also provide warm outerwear, goggles, helmets and gloves at no extra charge.
Your multi-generational group will get a big kick out of an aerial tour of this spectacular scenery. Winter helicopter tours give visitors glimpses of places they would never see except on a week-long backpacking trip. From the air, it’s surprising to discover wildlife feeding around dozens of rarely seen lakes; they’re not frightened by these extremely quiet turbine helicopters designed for altitude. Custom trips include a 15-minute or 45-minute tour; check operation schedules with Mammoth Yosemite Airport.
More Mammoth Winter & Spring Snowfun
The Mammoth Lakes Nordic Trail System, with 9 miles of trails near the campgrounds which extend into the Inyo National Forest, has a wide winter trail system integrated into the surrounding mountains, forests and meadows. Blue diamonds mark ideal ski touring and telemarking terrain.
There are six major places near Mammoth where ice fishermen gather to cut their own holes in search of a good meal (all but two are actually catch and release). This is quite a sight if you’ve never experienced it, and the Visit Mammoth can you tell you where to find the best spots (and most fun people watching) depending on the season and day’s weather.
Trip Planning Details for a Mammoth Lakes Family Vacation
There is a small base village at Mammoth Mountain with ski school facilities, some excellent locavore cafes and a few hotels near the slopes, but most families opt to stay in the myriad of motels and B&Bs nearby in Mammoth Lakes, another new foodie haven.
For a selection of hotels, motels and rental condos in the region, check out the helpful Visit Mammoth site. Access roads from all around Mammoth Lakes to the mountain’s base lodge are being improved as part of the five-year master upgrade, with more snow removal in place, making these a better value. And Mammoth Lakes may look near to Lake Tahoe but it’s actually about a 6-hour drive, so don’t count on combining them in one visit.
Luxury seekers should consider the Tamarack Lodge, the hideaway for biking, boating and fishing much of the year, and cross-country skiing in winter. The Tamarack Cross-Country Ski Center has 19 miles of freshly groomed track and skating lanes that meander around Twin Lakes and the Mammoth Lakes Basin. Tamarack also offers full moon cross-country ski and snowshoe tours.
Families with little time to spare may prefer to fly into the local airport, served daily by flights from Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and San Francisco.
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