All images shot exclusively for Lost In a Supermarket by Robert Kerian
The exhilaration is similar to what you’d imagine riding one of those speederbikes from Return of the Jedi might feel like, with the exception of the cold sprays of snow lighting up your cheeks erasing the reverie. The trees blur by as you duck under a canopy of evergreens and shoot out into a clear meadow open with the possibilities of unchecked throttle. So you squeeze the thumb lever joyfully…Brrrrrrrraaaaaahhhhhhh! Unlike a motorcycle where you twist the handlegrips to send the engine into fits of internal combustion, on a snowmobile you squeeze the brake-like lever — making the engine wail below you as the tank treads power you around bends, across the narrow trails, through knolls, over mounds and around corners — the Polaris snowmobile rising and falling with the surrounding terrain as you zoom over the thick snow drifts that have fallen over the Moon of Endor… I mean, Mammoth Lakes. But in these remote woods of the Inyo National Forest, it’s easy to lose grasp of reality: jagged peaks poke out of the horizon unexpectedly, or a crag of exposed rocks makes a sudden jarring sculpture before you, then disappears in a mist of sprayed snow.
Then events take an even more otherworldly turn as the caravan of snowmobiles hit a sharp incline and pause at the edge of a cliff — a profound crater sinking deep into the ground before us, steep, conical, like a sinkhole. To continue the Star Wars analogy, it’s not unlike looking into the gaping Pit of Carkoon, except a couple hundred yards wide — its maw open, the gleaming white insides crisscrossed with snowmobile tracks of riders much more experienced — and brave — than we are. After a brief explanation of the local area’s geology and ubiquitous pumice stone we’re off again, yelping and hollering in delight across 25 miles of snow flooded backcountry. The redolent aroma of racing oil mixes with the crispness of the evergreens and snow, creating an aromatic fragrance that resonates with some primeval core of your chest-thumping manhood.
It’s at that moment I realize with a deep-seeded sense of contentment that it’s good to be in Mammoth Lakes in the winter of 2011.
Hit the Jump to read the LIAS Weekend in Mammoth, including Art Parks, snowmobile adventures, remote restaurants, Snowcat Limousines, and enough mountain time to steal Colorado and Utah’s thunder…
The Platinum Voyage
Not that the road leading to Mammoth was any less memorable, as we were equipped with a brand new 2011 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid to make the 5½-hour voyage from Los Angeles. The picturesque trek included a stop at the Badwater Basin salt flats, where while taking photos we’re passed by 2 grazing wild mustangs. That was so ridiculous and pinpoint perfect in the desert terrain that we were looking around for some hidden director to yell Cut! (the impromptu donuts pulled on the vast salt flats weren’t bad either, but we won’t mention those). Then there was the Ranch House Café in Olancha, where we shared the empty backwoods restaurant with Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale who, by the looks of the onesie snowsuits their kids were wearing, were also headed for a weekend of white wonderment in the Mammoth Lakes. The lunch was punctuated by an awkward moment when I passed Gavin and congratulated him for his wife still being impossibly hot. It had to be said.
But beyond the wild mustangs, Gwen sightings and salt-flat donuts, what really made the ride memorable was the fully appointed Platinum Edition Escalade Hybrid we rode into town on. Blaring tracks from our iPods on the Bose 14-speaker surround-sound stereo system, Black Forest Berry Honest Tea kept chilly in the cooled and heated cup holders, and our back passengers distracted by the rear-seat entertainment system, I’d be hard-pressed to find a more luxurious and capable carriage for such a trip. Of note, we only had to fill the tank once on the 320 mile drive (its rated at 21 mpg/city and 22 mpg/highway), worth mentioning given the Escalade Hybrid’s nearly 3-ton weight and 5,800-lb towing capacity. A couple times over the weekend the Caddy’s ample 332 horsepower 4WD came in handy, pulling us out of more than a few snow-packed jams. The “green” Escalade features a two-mode hybrid technology, meaning its 6.0-liter Vortec uses cylinder-deactivation technology — turning its V8 into a V4 when full power isn’t required. The engine is also coupled to a pair of 60-kilowatt motors that run the Escalade to 25 mph solely using electricity. But in the end what really makes the Escalade Platinum edition remarkable is its interior — inside, the vehicle is gorgeous. The dash and steering wheel are wrapped in rich brown leather with thick stitching. Cadillac emblems are embroidered on the seat, and throughout the interior is highlighted in rich beechwood. Little touches like tri-zone climate control, rear park assist with a rearview camera, heated and cooled power front seats, an intuitive sat-nav system with real-time traffic, LED headlights and power-retractable running boards mean you’re left wanting for nothing. Of course given our Platinum Edition Escalade’s $93,000 pricetag, that eco-embellished luxury doesn’t come cheap.
“We can all menuggle,” says Josh as the 3 lone rangers toss their various wares across our condo’s living room, quickly and quietly staking claim to some small real estate of carpet on which to rest their weary bones for the upcoming weekend of hijinx. Consider it the snowboarders land grab — an unspoken ceremony where the unpaid stragglers of a trip hustle to a corner, Lazyboy or, if they’re quick and ruthless, the holy Grail of Snowboard Mooching: a couch (as always, way to hustle Bird).
I’m happy to stake my claim on one of the two bedrooms in the Village Lodge Resort, a well appointed apartment replete with full kitchen, fridge, and everything to make a comfortable home-away-from-home for an extended stay. We rush off to dinner at one of the top restaurants in Mammoth, a lodge called Petra’s Bistro situated right outside the Village above a locals-only brewery specializing in boutique beers and ales. That night in the soft orange light of the fireplace we’re served a plate of beef carpaccio and arugula, and a juicy and fat-cobbled New York steak served with gratin potatoes and baby carrots. A plate of PEI steamed clams and mussels are passed around beforehand, eager fingers dipping the delicious Camponile French baguettes (imported fresh from the famed La Brea Bread Company in LA 3 times a week) into the chardonnay garlic broth. Our host Natasha, a talented sommelier in her own right, orders a couple bottles of Tolosa pinot noir from California’s Edna Valley — which we polish off triumphantly as the firelight plays off the exposed beams overhead. It’s one of those meals that can define a weekend getaway. By the time we polish off the crème brulee, its paper-thin crust baked with thinly sliced apples, our stomachs are stretching and our muscles are exhausted.
This past December over Christmas, Mammoth Mountain got dumped on the way it’s never been dumped on before in history: 13+ feet of snow fell in 4 glorious whitewashed days, giving Southern California’s best ski resort more of the sticky white stuff than anywhere else in the world. That is, anywhere else on Planet Earth — not Zermatt, not Valle Nevado in Chile, not in Italy’s Ghiacciaio Presena, not Aspen not Whistler not Killington not Jackson Hole not Sugarbush. It had more snow than any resort on the planet. The record breaking blizzard resulted in a completely open mountain carpeted with a Mariana Trench-like 18-foot base, brushed with fresh snow on our second morning.
While some resorts cater to skiers and others to snowboarders, our group included both with neither ever feeling marginalized. Descending from 11,053 feet, over 150 trails cut across the 3,500 skiable acres of the vast and aptly named Mammoth Mountain Resort, across the front and backside of the Sierra Nevada crest. Several monster parks and half-pipes are located throughout the sprawling theater, the most unique (but not most challenging) of which is the Art Park — a traditional snow park whose rails, jumps and berms are embellished with vivid graphics paying tribute to artist and pro snowboarder Jeff Anderson, who passed away in 2003. The first of its kind, the Art Park is the sort of forward thinking endeavor that’s elevating Mammoth’s stature in the snowboarding world. Another creative twist Mammoth has conjured is potentially the world’s most remote food truck — the “Roving Mammoth” Snowcat which roams the frosty hinterlands providing ice cold beer and hunger-sating hot dogs to the distant points across the mountain. Often it was a welcome site, and one time a near lifesaver. (Thank you, precious Roving Mammoth.)
Arguably the world’s coolest — and most remote — food truck: the “Roving Mammoth” on-mountain Snowcat
Parallax Restaurant & Snowcat Limousine
The second night we’re treated to a more exotic supper, starting with a champagne toast at the venerable Mammoth Mountain Inn at the base of the slopes. Soon the small group is ushered to a Snowcat limousine fitted with several rows of seats, enough to carry maybe a dozen guests up the mountain to McCoy Station. The trip is mesmerizing, silent, even a bit haunting: with the pitch-black mountain before you, the only light in your universe beams from the halogen headlights of the Snowcat. Snow swirls, the engine hums, the tracks chew up mountain below, and one can’t help but think of a certain Johnny who with “all fun and no play” was made a dull boy. Call me crazy, but I cannot be in a remote resort on the edge of a mountain riding a Snowcat without flashes of The Shining sparking my mind’s eye.
At the top of the 9,600-foot peak the Snowcat comes to a rest in front of a highly exclusive restaurant named Parallax. A private club for high rollers during daylight, at night it is transformed into a superb dinner outpost on the edge of wild nothing. Foregoing any quaint chateau-emulating attempts, Parallax aims for the thoroughly modern with stone walls and warm wood ceiling and tables. We dine on butternut squash soup with honey whipped cream, and a mustard brown sugar-crusted prime rib — the sugar creating a somewhat crunchy layer around the seared edges of the steak, blending with the heavily marbled cut. No joke, the combination of sweet with goopy melting fat was enough to make my eyes roll to the back of my head and gurgle like Homer when he dreams of beer. The chocolate mousse cake was a nice touch, but we were looking to ingest calories in other forms that night so only a couple spoons were needed.
As in all ski vacations, evenings are a constant balance between resting bones made weary from the hours of intense exercise, and the desire to chop it up with friends over drinks. After a jump in the Village Lodge Resort’s over-crowded Jacuzzis (considering the number of guests the place holds, one thinks a couple more hot tubs would be a welcome addition), some call a night. Others have a shot of Jamison toasting the day’s victory and head to Mammoth’s main weekend evening attraction: Hyde Lounge. As in, the Sunset Strip hotspot made infamous by many a Lohan panty flash. To be honest, I’m a bit split on Hyde Lounge in a place as remote and provincial as Mammoth. On the one hand it is nice to be in a place five hours from the closest city, and still have the opportunities to hear high caliber DJs like Shiny Toy Guns and LA Riots spin on any given weekend. On the other hand, part of the charm of extricating oneself from the blight of urbanity is going to a place where there is no bottle service, no 20 person cue anywhere in sight, no overly dressed d-bags in bedazzled shirts and frosted hair, and most importantly no velvet rope separating the social haves from the have-nots. It’s as refreshing as the permanent wafting aroma of pine trees in the Village. So while we all had fun at Hyde, we had more fun at the Lukanuki a short walk across the village — a Polynesian themed bar filled to the beams with drunken locals and karaoke singers belting their hearts out. That being said, I’d say the highlights of Hyde were threefold:
- The Yeti-in-a-bikini outfits they make the waitresses wear. It’s somewhere between Barbarella and that Snow Monster from those old Rudolph Christmas specials, leaving one frightfully aroused.
- The crowd at Hyde. While watching LA Riots spin, this group of forty-something-year-old guys were running around the dancefloor doing this dance that looked like cats clawing at an imaginary string of yarn. Later that week I watched that night’s SNL and saw a digital short where Adam Samberg was doing a dance called The Creep, and I realized that maybe that’s what those middle-aged cat dancers were doing. Then I remembered they were dancing that way all night, hours before SNL even aired. Dance Pioneers, you could call them.
- The Gondola DJ Booth. The only hint that you were actually in the mountains was the DJ booth suspended above the dancefloor, located in a modified retired Gondola. Nice touch.
For the 20+ million plus living in Southern California, Mammoth Mountain has long been the only true “local” ski resort — and under 6 hours from the heart of Los Angeles, a very accessible weekend getaway. But with the world class improvements the resort area has made in recent years, plus its frequent flights from San Francisco and LA, Mammoth is growing into a ski and snowboarding destination worthy of national attention. It’s already training home to a legion of Olympic athletes, but will it be able to lure big time vacationers from their usual Utah and Colorado mainstays…? Hopefully not, so we can keep this Southern Californian secret to ourselves…