One of our tamer adventures has to be skiing. We try to make it a few times every season, which seems crazy for life-long skiers, but there are so many things in Southern California that compete with skiing in the Winter. The months of October to May are ‘red tag’ season, when dirt bikes that aren’t quiet and polite (our kind) can be ridden in the many off-road areas around Los Angeles. Those same months are also the ideal time to hike and climb. It is hard to live somewhere with so many competing activities. But we must ski…
Mammoth is a five-hour drive from the LA Basin, through the Coastal Range, across the Mojave Desert, and then up the Owens Valley on the eastern side of the state. It is a gorgeous drive that passes through so many climate zones that that it has the scenery of thousands of miles. It also makes its way from the very modern city of LA to a land that time forgot, where sagebrush tumbles across Highway 395 and roadside stands sell homemade beef jerky. Entering Owens Valley means passing the highest peak of the Lower forty eight states and also seeing the turnoff for Death Valley, the lowest point. It is a trip of extremes.
The Mojave Desert sits in the rain shadow of the Coastal Range, the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains. Funny to read that the definition of the Mojave versus the Sonoran Desert is the presence of Joshua Trees, that crazy cactus-looking ‘tree’. Most people are surprised to find out that Las Vegas is part of the Mojave, which also includes a slice of Arizona. It has an average July temperature of 100 degrees (43.6 degrees C), making it much more interesting in the Winter months. Heading for Mammoth means crossing the northern part of the Mojave before turning north to the Owens Valley.
An enormous valley that runs 75 miles (120 km) between the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and the White Mountains, the Owens Valley is in the rain shadow of two major ranges. It is dry but has the Owens River running down the center until it is diverted to provide half of the water supply for Los Angeles. The California Water Wars were fought over this river and the backdrop for the movie China Town. It is a gorgeous place with mountains on each side often called “cathedral peaks” for their snowy grandeur.
Once through towns like Lone Pine and Big Pine and past the old-west look of Bishop, the highway climbs quickly to seven thousand feet and snow appears on the sides of the road. It becomes more alpine forest than sage brush just as the turnoff appears for Mammoth Lakes. Within a few minutes, the snow becomes deep and the condo appears. You’ve made it to skiing paradise. The mountain is appropriately named as it covers 3500 acres and has 31 lifts. With 30% of the terrain categorized as expert, it something for everyone in the family. Time to ski!