If you’ve been to Mammoth Mountain, you know that this California ski resort in the Eastern Sierras is bigger than life. Massive in size at 3,500 skiable acres, and with 28 lifts and 150 runs, this world-renown ski resort can be overwhelming to families. Read on for Mammoth ski trip tips gleaned from a first-time visit to Mammoth:
Plan where to stay carefully:
Given the sheer size of Mammoth, it’s very important for families to decide on lodging location with their needs in mind. Stay in the ‘wrong’ section of Mammoth for your needs, and you’ll be spending precious time you should be on the snow in the shuttle or gondolas. Most families stay in the Mammoth Village and Canyon Lodge area, because the majority of services are here, but this means the majority of congestion is also present. If you want ski school for your kids, it is also available at the far less crowded Main Lodge area, to the far side of the resort. Our pick is the Mammoth Mountain Inn, located directly across the street from the lifts at Main Lodge. There are fewer restaurants here, but what there is is great, and far less crowded. The Main Lodge is old-school—you’ll be reminded of ski lodges of your youth if you’re in your 30s or 40s—but has all the essentials without the crowds: lift ticket sales, rentals, ski school, cafeteria, and gear.
Break for lunch before or after the noon hour:
Mammoth gets crowded, and even with three main lodges spanning the base of the resort, plus mid-mountain options like McCoy, families will want to steer clear of dining services from 12 pm to 1 pm. We like to hit the slopes early (you have them practically to yourself in the first hour of operation…a fact that hold true at all resorts) then eat lunch around 11 am. Our pick: The Mill which sits at the base of Chair 2. The Mill is small, but oh-so quaint, and offers amble deck seating. It is accessible via car, so that’s a negative, but if you arrive before noon, you can grab food fairly easily.
Use the shuttle service:
No matter where you stay in Mammoth lodging, the shuttle service runs regularly and, we found, on time. Trust me, you do not want to hunt for parking constantly at Mammoth! When heading to lift areas (again, we recommend starting all the way over at Main Lodge), families who drive and park—with the exception of very early risers—will often walk blocks with their gear. Shuttles will drop you off right at the front, and have plenty of space for skis and boards. Shuttles also run in the evenings for area dining and entertainment.
Ski or ride the mountain in sections:
With three main sections, based around Eagle Lodge, Canyon Lodge, and Main Lodge, skiers and riders can spend significant time transitioning between sections. Instead, pick one for the first few hours on the snow, working your way around. We suggest transferring (via shuttle or lift) to Main Lodge area first, where the crowds are smallest, then tackle Canyon area after an early lunch at The Mill.
Don’t try to cover the entire terrain of Mammoth in one day! If you only have a few days, concentrate on the area that appeals to you most instead of attempting to transverse the hill multiple times. Keep an eye on the Mammoth Mountain app (available for iOS or Android) for the most recently groomed runs.
Head to June Mountain for ski school lessons and family-friendly skiing:
Many people don’t realize that Mammoth Mountain lift tickets are good at nearby June Mountain. Only 20 minutes away, June offers manageable terrain with a low-key, family friendly atmosphere with the fraction of the crowds (and with ski school prices at a fraction of the cost of Mammoth). Spend a few days here (kids ski free!) if your kids are learning. If you opt for ski school lessons at Mammoth, definitely take advantage of the discount for multiple days.
Prepare for the altitude:
Mammoth Mountain’s village sits at 7,953 feet elevation…a significant change if you’re coming from sea level. The ‘top of California’ peak (at the top of the Panorama gondola) is 11,053. Signs of altitude sickness include headaches, stomach aches or thirst. Be sure to give your kids plenty of water during and before their ski day (start hydrating on your travel day) and take it easy your first morning on the slopes.
Regular adult ticket price (non-holiday or early season) bought online pre-trip is $94. Kids are $35.
Families have every possible lodging option at Mammoth, from single family vacation homes to village condos to hotel rooms. Start with Mammoth lodging, narrowing down the options by which area you want to base yourself in, what type of lodging you need, and what services you want (shuttle, hot tubs, rental services in-lodging).
From Southern California, take I-5 north to State Route 14 north to US 395 north to State Route 203 (300-375 miles). From San Francisco, take Interstate 80 to Hwy 50 to Kingsbury Grade cutoff to US 395 south to State Route 203 (320 miles).
Disclosure: I experienced Mammoth Mountain as the guest of the resort, for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own.