Monday, February 19, 2018

Mammoth Mountain & June Mountain - Be at the lift when it opens

Number One Rule

The number one rule for skiing on a crowded weekend is to be at the chairlift when it opens.  This rule works, because most don't follow it.  Instead, people seem to show up around 10:00 a.m., then take an hour lunch at noon and leave by 3:00 p.m.  At best, they get in four hours.  This makes the first 90 minutes the best skiing of the day, as the lifts are uncrowded and the corduroy is still intact. 

A slightly lesser known rule is to go up Thursday night with your daughter (who feigns sickness on Friday) and ski all day, attempting to exhaust yourself into looking for a slower paced Saturday, which is what we did President's Day weekend.    

Whispering Pines Motel

When getting lodging for mini-ski trips, my primary considerations are cost, location and cleanliness.  From a cost perspective, Mammoth is usually out - especially on a holiday weekend, due to its good location.  Whereas, June Lake, which is a 25 minute drive from Mammoth and has a lack of eateries, is significantly cheaper.   We picked Whispering Pines Motel in June Lake, which for the holiday weekend required a three-night stay, checking in 2/16, out 2/18, for a total cost of $413.28.  We stayed in room 126, which is inexplicably on the second floor. 

The room consists of a bedroom, bathroom (shower, no bath) and small kitchenette, with sink, microwave, refrigerator and a non-functioning Keurig, which is fine, as I'm not a fan of pod coffee.  Think 1970s motel, with almost no updates.  The bed was ridiculously wavy and while we had Wi-Fi, I was unable to connect to my work VPN.  But hey, I'm just looking for a step-up from camping and it was clean enough.  

Mammoth Mountain - Day One

On Friday, we hit Mammoth and "skiboarded", my term for me skiing and Kat boarding.  Per Strava, we rode 28 lifts, and did 50 miles with 25,000 feet of gain.  The mileage includes lifts, but it's a good metric and anything above 40 is solid day.  The hill, for the most part, was empty, and we barely had any line waits.

We began the day with Chair 10 (Goldrush Express) and Kat was looking good. I then suggested we take Chair 5 (High Five Express) and come down Solitude, a "More Difficult" run that is steep, but not technical.  Kat, looking up at the incline, suggested tomorrow.  Believing Kat was ready for it, we proceeded to take it four times that morning.  And Kat, getting comfortable with the incline, started to get fast.  I prefer to carve turns, but Kat, like most thirteen-year-olds, prefers to bomb downhill. The awakening had begun.

In contrast, after lunch I went to the MDX, aka the "locker", which was parked 150 meters from Chair 2 , and pulled my snowboard out.

A few runs later, I was putting it back, having decided I no longer want to snowboard.  I just don't feel as  comfortable on a board like I do skis, the difference between starting something at age 7 versus 27.  (Although, I started surfing at 17.)  After a few runs, the skis were back on and the board will henceforth be gathering dust in my garage - a man's got to know his limitations. In the afternoon, Kat got a taste of Unbound, the terrain park with jumps and rails, and we hit it seven times in a row.  Kat charged the jumps, ate it a few times, but got some decent air on a few of them.  We skied to the lifts closed.

June Mountain - Day Two

Between Probowl and Sunset
Untouched Powder
The big decision of the trip was whether to hit Mammoth or June on Saturday.  We choose June, and it was awesome.  Earlier that week, both mountains had gotten 5-7 inches of snow.  A local told me all the snow blew off Mammoth, while at June it stuck.  I think he was right, as the snow at June was pretty fresh, and better than at Mammoth the day before.
 I was able to find a foot of powder on some runs through the trees - not a crazy amount mind you - but powder nonetheless. 

June actually consists of two summits: June and Rainbow.   The top of June is all Blacks and is reached by J7, a high speed quad.  The top of Rainbow is all Blues and is either reached by J6, a high speed quad, or J4, a very slow two-seater.  However, four of the five Rainbow trails terminate at J4, so I avoid Rainbow and ski June summit.
Looking at Rainbow Summit (10,040') from June Summit (10,090') at top of Schatzi

Kat was ready.  We headed to J7 and Kat proceeded to charge Schatzi, a Black with a steep drop, like there was no tomorrow.  After a few runs, Kat was released into the wild, free to board on her own.  Occasionally, as I was riding up the chair, I'd spot Kat, straight-lining it down the hill.  Kat also did Sunset, a mogul filled Black.
Looking up Sunset - windblown powder
We met up for lunch at Stew Pot Slim's, which sits near the base of J7.  Kat had a vegetarian sandwich, I drank an IPA, having already feasted on my smushed up P&Js.  We did a few more runs together, but our skiboarding styles had become incongruent, as my carving no longer kept pace with Kat's bombing and we separated.  J7 got a little busy from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., but was otherwise lineless.  At one point, I took a trip back down to the base of the mountain and back up J4 to allow the line to dissipate a bit.  Kat and I met up around 3:30 p.m., and skiboarded another hour together, as the mountain let the lifts run an extra 30 minutes.
Stew Pot Slim's (looking at June summit)
However, when we dropped down into the main ski area, we were met with a huge line to take J1 down to the parking lot.  June Mountain, for the most part, sits mid-mountain and skiboarders need to take a lift (J1) up from the parking lot to get to the ski area proper.  When the snow is good, riders can take Canyon Trail back to the parking lot, when not so good the trail is nothing but dirt and J1 needs to be taken back down.   

We went into the lodge for about 40 minutes and had a bit to drink and eat, but then still had to wait another 20 minutes in line to take the lift down.  All said, I put in a ridiculous 55 miles with 28 lifts and 30,000 feet of gain and Kat probably put in another 5 miles over that. I'll take the wait. 

June Mountain - Day Three

Overnight, the wind had come up and was howling.  We decided to hit June and head back to Carlsbad around noon.  We were on J4 by 8:40 a.m., and took Rainbow Ridge to Spike Camp to Sunrise to J7.
The ride up J4; Comstock directly below
We were first tracks on all three runs.  I did 10 lifts, 17 miles and 10,000 feet of gain in a little over two hours.  However, the wind had picked and all but essentially one lift, J2, was closed.  As a result, when we headed back down from the June summit to the base there was an enormous line to get on the one open lift.  Kat and I quickly bailed, fearing the line to get on J1 to exit the mountain would balloon within moments.

No matter, we had skied over 120 miles in three days, and were ready to head out. In the parking lot, I was approached by a father of three, who asked me if it was cold up top.  I told him, no, but that it was windy and they had closed all but one lift.  He stated his family had come over from Mammoth, which was also windy, to escape the crowds.  As it was, it was 11:30 a.m., he hadn't skied a lick and he was faced with the choice of either writing off the day as a sunk cost, or waiting in an hour-long lift line.  That's why the number one rule for skiing on a busy weekend is to be at the chairlift when it opens. 

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