A Family Friendly Adventure to Mammoth Lakes, CA

Essie was yelling as we made our final descent into Mammoth Lakes.

“Dada look! It’s snooooow! Real life snooooow! Mama look!”

It was her first time seeing snow in person and what a beautiful way to see it. Flying over the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, I told Essie to come over to the open window seat next to me to. The jagged ridges reached high into the sky. The snow glistened like glitter and for as far as we could see, a blanket of white laid snuggly into the cracks and crevices. Essie Was ecstatic.

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We booked this trip a few months ago and I was a little concerned because it hadn’t snowed much and the weather was unusually warm. But when Alaska Airlines asked if we’d like to go to Mammoth as a family and snowboard, I jumped at the offer. I was checking my weather app everyday, hoping the weather would turn and we’d experience some good snow.

Well, a week before we got there it dumped! The weather shifted and we arrived to a snow-laden mountain. A short walk from the tarmac and Essie was jumping in the snow. I waited for our luggage and Stacy had the tough job of trying to keep Essie out of the snow because she didn’t have her snow clothes on.  

After we got our rental car and luggage, we headed to town for some lunch at Burgers Restaurant. Huge portions and good food left us stuffed. We needed some goggles for Essie so we went to Footloose and she got the cutest pair of Frozen goggles. Then we met Zach from Mammoth Mountain at the Main Lodge who hooked us up with lift tickets and passes for Wooly’s Tube park. We checked in at The Village Lodge and got ready to head out for some photos and a little hike in the snow at Mammoth Lakes Basin and hike around Mono Lake.

Just like babies are attracted to water, Essie is attracted to snow. I urged her to stay on the worn, hard-packed path, but her little mind kept leading her to the fluffy powder pillows just off the path. Actually, everywhere we went, Essie was in the snow, kicking, stomping, throwing, slipping. We quickly learned that our walks would take twice as long….

Getting to the mountain from The Village is super easy. Hop on the free gondola and cruise over to Canyon Lodge. Friday morning we got to the mountain early (8 am) so Essie could get her rentals and checked into her first snowboard lesson. Chase was her instructor and he was amazing. By the end of the first day Essie was going off “jumps.” Her first ever run down the bunny slope and she made it without falling once. She had mastered her balance by the first day and on the second day of lessons she learned to stop.

I learned to snowboard in Mammoth in high school. As a child I took ski lessons on a family trip and loved the snow. My friend Adam has a cabin there next to Canyon Lodge – what used to be called Warming Hut 2. Over Thanksgiving break, we’d pile in his Toyota van with his dad behind the wheel and drive up as soon as the last bell rang for the day, arriving just in time for dinner at Shoguns. An early breakfast at Schats and we were on the mountain for the rest of the day.

I watched Essie in her lessons and was so proud. Stacy stayed behind and I took off for some runs. I came back towards the end and was able to see Essie go off her jump.

 

Essie wanted to keep snowboarding that day but after her three hour lesson, we had lunch at Shelter Distillery – a kid friendly, newly opened distillery in the Village. Pizza, papas bravas, chicken tacos, a sampler of their own beer and cider and we went to Wooly’s Tube park.

Stacy screamed as she and Essie flew down the first run. It must’ve felt like 100 mph because she screamed the whole way down, which made Essie scared as well. I followed closely behind.

After a few runs Essie wasn’t as scared. We all went down as a family, spinning, laughing, screaming, holding onto each others tubes. By then end I asked if Essie wanted to go by herself. She said no.

The next day was filled with more adventures. At the mountain again early, Essie was back in lessons. This day she learned to stop. Feeling more confident about leaving Essie alone, Stacy and I made our way up the mountain. We cruised the runs around Canyon Lodge and came back around noon for Essie. Lunch on the mountain and we took Essie out to the bunny slopes.

“Daddy, are we going to go down the rabbit holes?”

“Oh you mean the bunny slopes Es?” Ha.

I hiked up the small slopes with Essie and encouraged her that she could make it down.

“You remember how to stop, Es? Can you show me?

She dug her heels into the snow.

“I’ll be right behind you.”

Stacy stayed at the bottom and I followed closely behind as Essie cruised down the hill. Soon enough, she was cruising down by herself. After what seemed like hours of walking up and down the hill with her, mama was worn out. Essie wanted to keep going but she and mama headed back to the village.

My friend Wes from my JiuJitsu gym Atos was up with his girlfriend and brother so I met them for a few runs. For the last hour of the day it snowed. I managed to take my camera up for a few runs and not kill myself.

I texted Stacy that there was going to be a parade in town for kids with dancing, face painting and characters. Once again, Essie had a blast. Anytime she can be active she is happy – jumping, dancing, snowboarding. That’s why this trip was so good! She could stay active in the snow. Even swimming in the pool at the Lodge.

One of the coolest things about this trip is the free lift ticket you get on the day of your departing flight with Alaska Airlines. On Sunday, we drove to the Main Lodge. I showed my boarding passes to the ticket attendant and he gave us our tickets. Up to the top we went in the gondola.

At the top of the mountain there’s an interactive, educational station that’s perfect for children. Real stuffed animals – mountain lions, bears, foxes etc. Essie loved petting the real fur and could’ve spent hours there as well. Her and mama stayed up top and explored and I went down some runs. We met up later at the bottom. Stacy and Essie took the gondola ride down. Essie isn’t quite ready for the top. Ha.

Growing up in San Diego surfing, swimming, endless days at the beach, I imagine our experience in Mammoth would be similar to someone from the Midwest coming to San Diego and jumping in the ocean for the first time. There’s an awe from nature that you can’t experience any other way than by being immersed in it – feeling the crunch of the snow beneath your boots, smelling the sweetness of the pines, the tickle of the snow falling on your face, the exhilaration of speeding down a mountain with a board strapped to your feet.

I think we just had the best family trip yet. We will be back.

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Recommendations:

 

Flights:

Direct from San Diego with Alaska Airlines  – about an hour. So Easy. Be sure to get your free lift ticket!

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Under garments/ base layers: Ridge Merino. They are a local mammoth company offering quality, comfortable goods. They kept us warm up.

 

Dining:

Burgers Restaurant. Good burgers. Big portions. Shareable. Close to the Village $$

Mammoth Tavern: We got Essie some mac and cheese and Stacy and I practically ate it all. Poor thing. Kale salad was phenomenal. Craft cocktails and beers. Don’t let the word Tavern scare you – it’s kid friendly with great food options.  Get there early or you’ll wait. $$$

Schat’s bakery. Great pastries, croissants, baked goods. $

Black Velvet Coffee: a must for any coffee freak. Craft coffee with a wine bar upstairs, a few beers on tap $

Gomez’s Mexican and Tequileria – fun environment, nice sized portions. We shared two salads after having a big lunch. $$$

Shelter Distillery – cool environment, craft cocktails, limited beer selection, one cider, food needed seasoning $$$. New to the scene.

 

Food court at Canyon Lodge – good selection of food, burgers, Asian, Mexican, pasta, kids options, salad bar. Expect to pay for convenience since you’re on the mountain $$$

Starbucks – Can get super crowded on the weekends in the Village. Expect to wait 30 minutes in the morning. Their oven wasn’t working so no hot food was served that day. $

Hugs Ice Cream – Why not have ice cream when it’s 30 degrees out? We had it twice! Ha. $

Bear Creek Pizza – Good pizza. Good options. Took a little while to get our pizza but I think they only had one cook that night. It snowed so Essie just wanted to play outside. Ha $$

Side Door Café and Wine Bar: Panini’s, crepes, café. Somehow they lost our ticket so we sat for a while and watched in hunger as others got their food, but the server was nice and discounted our bill. Kids options. Good sized paninis. Stacy and I shared the chicken pesto, goat cheese panini.

Rentals: Rent from the mountain. Get there early. So much easier that lugging your gear around.

Car rental:  Enterprise (through Costco Travel) We only rented a car because I wanted to drive and shoot different places. There’s great transportation in Mammoth. You can get shuttles to and from the airport. And the airport is only about 15 minutes from the Mountain.

Shopping: There’s good shopping in Mammoth. We didn’t visit the outlet stores but got what we needed (Mammoth memorabilia) at Footloose. Tons of snowboard/ski stores that have everything you need for the mountain.

Lodging:

 The Village Lodge. A classy, woody, lodge. Big central fireplace with comfortable chairs and couches to relax. We stayed in a one bedroom room/apartment with a full kitchen. This is a great option if you’re looking to save money on food. We saw a few families rolling in coolers of food, stocking up for the weekend. Also, the pool is heated! We couldn’t keep Essie out and of course, the hot tub was refreshing after hours on the slopes.

Activities:

Ski/snowboard/snow-play at Mammoth Mountain or June Lake.

Woolly's Tube Park – tubing and snow play. Great for kids and adults (there's even a little bar for the adults)

Hike the lake basin – beautiful scenery, frozen lakes you can walk on.

Tufas at Mono Lake: Hike around Mono Lake and see these weird, other worldly structures reaching out of the water.

Snow mobile – take a tour with a local, get the behind the views no one else gets

Natural Springs -  Relax in natures hot tub. Need I say more?