I bought a Mountain Collective pass last year, knowing I'd basically get my money's worth using it at the Gathering in Aspen. But I was hoping to use it more than that, to really get value out of it. So that had me thinking about a Taos Ski Week, or perhaps a long weekend at Alta/Bird.
Then last fall, one of my skiing friends tells me he’s moving to LA. So we start talking about a ski trip to hit Mammoth. Perfect! I could use my MCP, ski someplace new, and get some more days in this season. We decided on mid-March as a good time to go.
And as long as I was taking a trip, I figured I’d try to get even more use out of my MCP; And after some discussion on the forums here, decided to head to Squaw and Alpine Meadows. So the trip was set – fly to LA and drive up to Mammoth on Thursday. Ski Mammoth Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning. Then drive solo to Squaw on Sunday evening for two more days of skiing, before flying home from Reno. Woohoo!
So I flew to LA and my friend Patrick picked me up, and we were off.
Sunset on I-395
We decided to stay in Mammoth Lakes, rather than slopeside or in the village, in order to save a little money. This turned out to be a good idea, as we had no issues getting to the mountain, and had a pretty nice place to stay with tons of room for the two of us. After getting settled in, we were set for the first ski day.
Day 1 – Mammoth, Friday March 18th
After picking up Patrick’s rental equipment, we decided to drive to the slopes rather than take the bus, and headed for the Eagle base area. We got there around 8:00, and had plenty of time to get my MCP setup, and have some coffee before hitting the lift.
We took a couple of runs down the fresh groom in the Eagle area to start the day. Unfortunately, some of it was frozen really hard, and was like skiing on rumble strips. Things would soften up considerably throughout the day into good spring conditions though. (The high temp for the day in Mammoth Lakes was in the low 50's I believe.) We skied a couple more runs off of Chair 25, before meeting up with @chemist
Once we met up with chemist, we headed over to the Roller Coaster express, and then Stump Alley Express lift areas. There were some great and fun easy cruising in those areas, and we wound up spending quite a lot of time in the Stump Alley area, either coming down from the top, or just lapping that lift.
We lapped it several time with Chemist, video recording each other, which was a lot of fun to see. As expected, I could see several things I'm not doing as well as I'd like. But overall, it's very helpful to have some video. Especially since we were on easy slopes, at a moderate speed, where it's easier to see faults. (Big thanks to Chemist for showing us around, and bringing out the video-cam!)
We spent the rest of the day skiing that area, and the area around Face Lift above it, enjoying the bluebird day and getting tired at altitude. Eventually we headed back to Eagle via Relief and the Chair 25 area on some runs that were getting pretty sloppy. In total we did ~19K vertical. Overall it was a terrific first day! (And Patrick's first day of the season... what a great way to start a late season.)
Patrick early on in the Eagle area
Gondola view from the top of Face Lift
Me, Patrick, and @chemist on the top of Face Lift Express
Mountain view behind Solitude
Day 2 – Mammoth, Saturday, March 19th
The next day, based on what I remembered of some recommendations on here, and wanting to get breakfast, we decided to park at Mill early. It's a good thing we did, as parking at the Main Lodge was already lining people down the road. Parking at Mill was a piece of cake though, and we parked almost right next to the slopes. We ate breakfast outside at the Mill on a beautiful morning, watching the snow-cats finish up their work.
Snow-cats on Stump Alley
For our second day, we wanted to see more of the mountain, and definitely wanted to go to the top. We started the morning working our way over to the west side, and did quite a few runs off of Chair 12. It was a little cooler and started to cloud up, so things were slow to soften. Still there are nice groomers off of Chair 12, but the chair is sssllloooowwww. Just before lunch, we took the gondola to the top. (We also noticed, as I think I've seen discussed on Epic, that a lot of folks in CA pronounce it "gon-DOL-a", as opposed to the, ahem, correct way of "GON-do-la". )
Once up there, we took in the view, then finally skied Cornice Bowl. The snow was in good shape, the bumps were small, and we managed not to fall. It was a lot of fun, and steeper than I expected. I think I managed to actually make some good-ish turns too, though I traversed some to be sure of my transitions.
After a late lunch at a very crowded Mill (I got the tri-tip sandwich - it was very good), we hit a few more lower mountain runs, then back to the top via Chair 23 to ski the backside. There we found Arriba and Ridgeley's Bowl (via Roadrunner) to be great to get off-piste at an intermediate level. The snow was soft and slushy and not too deep. We did that run twice back-to-back, top to bottom. Those were probably the most fun runs of the day, and we wished we had headed back there earlier.
After that we finished with a last couple of groomer runs and were pretty wiped out. We did about ~22K feet according to ski tracks, in 21 runs.
There were some large groups playing follow the leader down Scotty's for some reason
View near the top of Chair 12
Going up the Gold Rush Express lift, we happened to see the entire world coming down Solitude... the mountain wasn't too crowded except in pockets. This must have been a pocket.
The view back up after skiing Cornice Bowl... this doesn't nearly do it any justice. It's a fun black semi-groomer on a day like we had.
Stump Alley on a nice Saturday was relatively crowded, but less than a 5 minute wait. As an FYI, going around to the emptier far side may not buy you much, as we learned. The line control folks will hold up that side, to even out the wait times for everyone. Doesn't seem fair to those of us that hoofed it over there, but c'est la vie.
View from the top!
The famous 16 foot tall sign, showing just how big the base is.
The view off the back side from Roadrunner
Day 3 – Travel Day, Sunday, March 20th
On Sunday, we had originally planned to ski the morning before heading out (me on to Squaw). But due to the cost, and some uncertain weather up north for me, we decided to just make it a travel day and head out earlier. I picked up a rental car at Mammoth Lakes airport, and headed for Squaw just after noon.
The drive up to Squaw was beautiful... I didn't realize I'd be driving past Mono Lake, which I know from some nature photography forums I frequent. So I had to stop and get a few shots.
Looking over Mono Lake
I also stopped at a rest area/scenic view area at Lake Tahoe. By then, it had started to cloud up and was raining intermittently.
I got to my hotel (Squaw Valley Lodge, near the village) in the late afternoon as it really started to rain steadily. But I found out I had gotten bumped to a suite, with a view of KT-22, which had me really stoked for the next day despite the weather!
Rainy Olympic rings
The view from my room
Day 4 – Squaw Valley, Monday, March 21st
It had rained steadily all evening on Sunday, but the forecast was for a bit of snow and colder weather by Monday morning. Squaw reported a couple of inches overnight, but unfortunately it was foggy and windy up top, so everything on, or that went to, the upper mountain was closed, except the Funitel.
So I set off to explore what was open. Coming from the mid-Atlantic, limited terrain is nothing to be too upset about.
I started on the Exhibition lift, and found the snow to be outstanding - some of the best conditions I'd skied this season (maybe my favorite since my first day at Aspen). Apparently rain and snow groomed into a smooth paste is good to ski on - who knew?
Panorama of KT-22 from Julia's Gold run
After a few laps off Exhibition, I spent a lot of time over on the Squaw Creek lift at the eastern edge of the resort. The runs here were nice, and tree lined. Though it continued to graupel/sleet most of the day, the skiing stayed good. The Lake View and Knob Hill runs were soft, and bumped up in places. The bump sections are starting to be fun for me, even though I don't ski them well yet. But they used to be strictly avoided for me, so that's a good sign I think.
I skied those runs several times, and also skied Champs Elysees, Dog Leg, and parts of Red Dog Face. Dog Leg had large, but very widely spaced, bumps up top even though it was labeled "groomed". Given how soft it was, I suspect it may have had a groomed strip that was obliterated early. In any case, it was a little tough for me, but fun as well.
And I could see, from even the little areas I saw, why Squaw has a reputation for tough terrain. Cliffs and rock bands all over the place, with steep trees lots of places. And I didn't even ride up KT-22.
Near the top of the Lake View run
Under the Squaw Creek chair
After lunch (at Le Chamois) I decided to take the Funitel up to see what the top was like. It wasn't good. Strong winds, low visibility, alternating patches of hard snow and ice and skiing by feel in spots. I came down Mountain Run most of the way and that was enough of the top, so I headed back to Red Dog to finish out the day.
The graupel and ice had changed more to snow by the end of the day, but I was still pretty soaked in places (mostly my arms and head). I only skied about ~16K due to conditions and slow lifts. Still a nice day with fun terrain.
The Funitel entrance in the snow
The view from inside
The view on Mountain Run
A bit lower down Mountain Run, when it started to clear. I wound up taking this shot again the next day on a beautiful bluebird day.
Day 5 – Alpine Meadows/Squaw Valley, Tuesday, March 22nd
The forecast for overnight into Tuesday was up to 12" of SNOW!! I was excited to see what that would mean... and the storm delivered. I decided to head to Alpine Meadows, since I wanted to see both mountains, and it has a more intermediate level reputation. I think I made a good choice.
I headed for the free shuttle around 8:30, with this line forming for KT-22.
Once I got to Alpine Meadows, I figured I'd find some groomers with powder nearby and start to learn to ski it. I've never really skied powder at all, so I was curious and excited. I decided to take the Roundhouse lift up to start. There were people all over the mountain looking for fresh turns. And lots of whoops and yells too and everyone looked to be having a lot of fun.
I started out taking a groomer down the first run, and did get to jump into the powder along the sides. It was probably boot deep and I started to get a little feel for it, and started to remember tips on here. (Feet closer together, more equal weighting, etc.)
Going up Roundhouse the first time. This was pretty early - maybe 9:15 I think, and already things were getting tracked out.
That run was good, so I got a little braver on my second run, and took the ungroomed Charity down... my first real powder run. It was good - difficult, but good. Cutting across tracks really threw me at first, and I was pretty backseat at times. I was also on my 81mm underfoot "all mountain" skis, so maybe not quite the best skis. (Two different folks on the lifts said I should have rented wider skis.)
Charity... my tracks are one of the sets along the left center
After that, I got really bold, and decided to go up to the top on the Summit lift, and ski Alpine Bowl, which was not groomed. I was pretty nervous dropping in... but it was windy and tough visibility until my first couple of turns were done. After that, what an experience! The snow was deeper there, up over my boots in most places, and pretty tracked. I was really huffing and puffing at the bottom of the bowl, but I made a couple of OK turns, and managed not to fall, despite being very close to going over the handle-bars a few times. Talk about learning patience... it was a great example.
No pictures of the bowl unfortunately. But I did get a little fresh track through these trees between groomers.
After that I headed via the Scott chair to the Lakeview chair. Outer Limits and Twilight Zone were labeled as "groomed" on the signage... but I think Squalpine uses a different definition of groomed than I'm used to.
Outer Limits was, as far as I could tell, not groomed at all. So I got to practice powder turns some more, and I definitely was getting a little better at it. It wasn't as deep as Alpine Bowl, but I still struggled a bit... so I headed over to Sherwood to look for a bit easier run.
The top of Outer Limits
The bottom of Outer Limits
View of Lake Tahoe on the way to Sherwood area
The Sherwood area did have a little bit of groomed stuff, but a lot of powder areas to duck in and out of, and hardly anyone around. It was a lot of fun, and I lapped that chair 5 or 6 times.
Sherwood lift ride
View of Lakeview area from Sherwood
After that I stopped for lunch. And while trying to get on a barstool in ski boots, had my knee go out, but luckily not badly. Still I wanted to take it easy the rest of the day. So I skied a few more laps off of Roundhouse and Hotwheels lifts, and then headed back to Squaw.
View off the top of Roundhouse
Back at Squaw, I wanted to see the top of the mountain in nice weather, so I took the Funitel up and skied some of the blues back to the base. That was so nice, I did it twice, and by now it was late in the day and I had to call it quits. That run ended my season, which was fantastic overall, and a nice finish.
View from Mountain Run
Comparison shots from my second day, and the first, sleet-y, day on Mountain Run. I didn't really mean to get both these shots and didn't realize it until looking through my pics... it's just a good place to stop.
Going Home - Wednesday 3/23/16 AND Thursday 3/24/16
Yep, unfortunately, it took me two days to get home after leaving Squaw. I arrived at the Reno airport and returned my rental car, only to see my flight cancelled a few minutes later due to the blizzard in Denver (where I had a scheduled layover). My options were to rent a car and drive to San Francisco for a red-eye flight, or wait and leave the next day through San Francisco. I opted to wait, and spent a boring evening in Reno (no casinos for me - I'd spent enough already).
On my way through the airport the next day, they had a nice little photo gallery of the Squaw Olympics and some local olympians set up. Check it out if you get the chance. Here's the Olympic map from the games :
As usual at altitude, I didn’t sleep great, and didn’t have much appetite at times, but overall I felt good.
We stayed at a VRBO place in Mammoth Lakes (actually Mammoth Rental By Owner, found through VRBO). It was a fine condo - 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom - in a good location for well under $100/night per person.
I opted to splurge and stayed at the Squaw Valley Lodge with walk-out/ski-in access. That was really, really nice... great room, nice view, fantastic access. But it was expensive - although with the Hotels.com deal I got, only about $50/night more than an equivalent place in Tahoe City, or other places further out.
How was the weather? Well, there was a lot of it. Bluebird spring and some overcast at Mammoth, rain/sleet/graupel at Squaw, and a bluebird powder day at Alpine Meadows. I saw a lot of conditions, which was.... good for me, and good for my skiing, I think.
All of my skiing was "free", as it was included on my MCP. In total, I put 10 days on my MCP, 7 of which were included in the price, and three at Aspen that were ~$70 each (half price). So I wound up paying ~$580 for 10 days of skiing Aspen, Mammoth, and Squalpine. Not bad.
Parking at Mammoth was free, and I didn't drive at Squaw, so that worked well too.
Eating on the mountain was pretty expensive as always, and as expected, but was pretty good. And of course I did get the tri-tip at the Mill at Mammoth, which is apparently some kind of requirement.
Finally, the rental car from Mammoth to Squaw was pricey as I got an SUV in case of bad weather. Turned out I didn't need it, but with the snow rolling in, it was nice to have some piece of mind.
Crowds were not bad... we did wait in a couple of moderate lift lines on Saturday at Mammoth (5-10 mins), but otherwise didn't really run into much in the way of crowds. A few slopes got a bit crowded too, but overall it was great. Squaw and Alpine Meadows were even less crowded than Mammoth, and I don't think I waited for more than maybe 3 or 4 chairs the entire two days.
I used SkiTracks as I always do, as I just like looking at the data and remembering runs I did. I totaled ~70,000 vertical feet for the trip. Not a whole lot with a day off in the middle.
Now I have to start looking forward to next year!