Posts tagged “Mammoth Lakes

Death of the Drought: First Powder Day of 2012

The first lines of “Gimme Shelter” grew louder- my phone alarm was hassling me to initiate go-mode for another day.

I rolled off my bed and onto the floor, where I got through my morning ritual of three minutes of planking followed by a hundred push-ups.

You know, for when I come out of the shower and our hot neighbors are over. …I mean, endurance on the slopes.

Pathetic excuse for a workout completed, I b-line it for the coffee machine.  My roommates and I had just ordered four pounds of ultra-premium coffee from a shop in Lanton’s hometown of Fresno.  He’s our resident caffeine connoisseur, so I was keen to sample our new stash.

But before I could scratch my ass I passed Chris in the hallway, who was grinning like he had either just got laid or setup a hilarious prank on one of our cohabitants.  Either way, I wanted details.

His response indicated something I hadn’t considered.

“Have you looked out your window?”

I always slept with the blinds down, in case employees from a rival resort were plotting a drive-by, so my answer was no.

“Dude, go open the door!” yelled Stephan from his bedroom.
I complied, and quickly identified the source of my roommates jubilation.

I was looking through a whitewashed winterscape where our dusty front lawn had been just twenty-four hours prior.

Roads were impassible, cars were buried beyond recognition, and I pitied the dog who had to take a leak.

“Oh, it’s on.”

It was a Monday, I had the day off, and we had a shitload of snow with flakes still falling out the sky as god sneezed inch after inch of powdery goodness on our previously-dry mountain.

Satisfied with my assessment of the situation I turned around and yelled an open inquiry as to which of my fellow Apartment Five residents were free to ride.

Chris and Stephan replied in the affirmative and commenced whipping up a beast breakfast of eggs, sausage, and high octane coffee.

The Samurai was loaded and moving half an hour later.  We rocked up at Canyon Lodge before quarter-past-eight.
Suited and booted shortly after, I dialed back the DIN on my bindings to allow for easier ejection.

The snow that falls in our region is known as “Sierra Cement” for a reason- it’s a thick, wet, heavy surface that can grab a ski and tear an ACL quicker than you can say “Dude, watch this!”

I knew my Line Mavericks were going to have trouble in this stuff, but I was hoping the massive flex factor and twin-tip design would compensate for the skinny footprint.  I was wrong.  The slim all-mountain park skis that kicked ass on hardpack were struggling to stay afloat in powder, and I was taking dives left and right.

And since it was still snowing, visibility was an absolute joke.  This picture isn’t a new Photoshop canvas- it’s Chris and everything else you can see.  Taken from the top of Chair Five, you can usually see endless mountain peaks from this position.  Not on this day.

My luck changed a bit in the early afternoon, when Chris had to duck into his office and offered to let me have a go on his pontoon-sized Blizzard One’s.

It felt like stepping out of a Triumph TR-6 and into a Nissan GT-R.  The fat powder ski absolutely massacred the terrain, and I went from zero to hero in one run.  Still took a few spills, but he way the Blizzards were floating over the snow made them so easy to manage that I felt like I could have done another eight hours on them.

Just look at the picture, wider is better!

We chased the liftline of the infamous Chair Twenty Two where Stephan and I swapped leads as we hucked wind lips and rubbed shoulders with trees.

Legs pumping like pistons I blasted over and around massive moguls.  Fun as hell, but quickly fatiguing.  I sought refuge in a flat piece of snow, and slid out of the bumps as soon as I had eyes on a steep fastblast section I was running parallel to.

Picking up another twenty kilometers an hour at least I straightlined it for a huge lip, bent my knees and limbered out for lift.

But when I made contact with the snow again, I realized my landing zone was softer than a pillow made of baby bunnies- as I somersaulted through the powder and righted, stunned, covered in snow, to cheers and laughs from the chairlift overhead.

With a salute to the crowd and a double head-shake to myself I got up and headed for Mammoth’s central lodge- The Mill.  Pulled pork nachos were needed to repower for the last couple hours of ridetime.

Next time you’re skiing Mammoth, go to The Mill and get the pulled pork nachos.  It’s a beastly three passenger meal that could psych you through even the gnarliest of conditions.  Tell them I sent you and they probably won’t spit in it.

Just kidding.

By the time we broke lunch we had added two people to our entourage; our neighbor Krista and Stephan’s friend Birdie.

Krista’s skis looked like they had just been unearthed at an archaeological dig.  With a ridiculously skinny profile and what looked like the first interpretation of parabolic shaping I estimated their origin at the mid 1990′s.  When I made my observation known, she told me she had borrowed them from a friends mom before coming out here.

Props.  I had been too much of a pussy to bring my dad’s Kneissl 200‘s out west, a decision I was regretting now that this sheila was about to chase us through waist deep powder on skis only slightly more advanced.

Krista gave the pow a fair effort, but she was working her tail off in conditions that had stifled my 2005 all-mountain skis and was knackered after just a few runs.

I tried to show her some moves but mostly ended up looking like a jerk- there was no way her ancient Dynastars could replicate the lines I could rip effortlessly on Chris’ brand new Blizzards.  She split and we headed back toward Chair Twenty Two to end the day with a guaranteed near death experience.  Birdie stuck with us as we rode the speedy lift over cliffs, thick trees and avalanche chutes.  With the light getting low and fatigue rearing its ugly head, it occurred to me that this was probably not the best chair to be on fifteen minutes before closing.

Of course there was always the Blue bail-out run, but everyone knows that’s for pussies.

So we dropped in to the face and gave it hell.  The surface was brutal; the thick snow was starting to get an icy covering that made the moguls rock-hard and therefore a massive pain in the ass to negotiate.

We had all come off more than a few times before we were halfway down.

I emerged from the trees first, and glanced back just in time to see Stephan stack it over a lip.  He barely had time to set himself up for recovery when Birdie came down on him and stamped him a foot down into the snow.

She laughed and pulled herself out, but Stephan was buried in the Sierra Cement and was too tired to extract himself completely.  The poor bastard dragged himself and his new Burton Mr. Nice Guy through forty meters of thick, wet snow before getting back to the hardpack where he could stand up and ride.

But we made it to the employee dinner at Canyon Lodge with all of our gear and limbs intact, so I’ll chalk it up to one hell of a season opener.


Sierra Hot Springs

The Sierra region of California and Nevada  is chock full of natural hot springs, ranging in size from two-person motel tubs to full-on mini pools.

Some have even been cultivated by industrious humans with poured concrete benches, recirculation valves and stepping platforms.

Having been given the opportunity to use an N50 Xterra the other night, we decided to round up the neighbors and head for the desert, following directions from a Falcon Guide book.  If you’re trying to find the springs but too lazy or poor to order the book, try this abbreviated online guide.

Whichever map you use to sojourn into the desert, make sure it’s a good one because the ride out to most natural springs is pretty lonely.

We found ourselves making turn after turn as the road deteriorated from highway, to single-lane, to dirt, and finally to about two kilometers of deeply-rutted track.

You do miss the dramatic mountain horizon by heading into the bush by night, but when the headlights have been out for a few minutes the starfield that makes itself known overhead is nothing short of spectacular.  Enjoy that view from a pool of clear, 105˚ water with the muted song of wind blowing over your beer bottle and you’ve got yourself the perfect setting to get to know your friends a little better.


New Year, New Beers- Westbound to the High Sierras

I reckoned six weeks in Hollywood had left me full enough of “city” to last another year, and one week in the Boston ‘burbs was more than enough time to spend with the family and cash in on a Christmas appearance, so now it’s on to the next adventure.

I landed a winter job at a ski resort called Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierras of Northern California, so after a long night of Laphroaig and laughs with my old man, I packed up my shit and dragged myself into the security line at Logan International for a 6:00AM departure to Mammoth Lakes/Yosemite Airport via San Francisco.

I had managed to navigate baggage check and the Dunkin’ Donuts line using only grunts and gestures to communicate, but the TSA agents at security were less amused with my groggy antics.  The fluorescent lights were burning a hole in my brain and I could barely stand up straight while the body scanner emailed pictures of my wiener to some dude behind a curtain.   I had forgotten to remove my belt, which earned me the removal of all my bags contents onto a steel table.

“How long did you say you were going for?”

“Uh, three months.  Ish.”

The agent looked at me suspiciously.  Apparently he didn’t reckon a jacket, two t-shirts, three pairs of Calvin Kliens, and a toothbrush was enough equipment to live off for that period of time.

“And you’re on a one-way ticket?”

Christ, at least I had shaved my beard that morning.

They finally let me go when they saw my MacBook Pro.  Obviously someone willing to spend $1,500 on a computer couldn’t be bothered hijacking a plane.

United/Skywest Jet

I rocked up to the gate as the jet was boarding, and was met with another buzzkill when I realized I had a middle seat.

All the way to San Francisco?  Nooo.

As I sauntered through the aisle of the 727 my eyes dawdled from my ticket to the seat number, then down to the person I’d be spending next seven hours rubbing shoulders with.

Wait… could it be?

Not only was the person tiny, but she was a she, and she was actually rather attractive.

God, Allah or whoever was watching over the universe that morning had taken pity on me and hooked me up… this more than made up for the lack of free champagne on the cheapass airline I had booked last minute.

I wanted to say something to her but I knew I reeked of scotch and I hadn’t slept in over thirty hours… if I ever had an excuse to be off my game, that was it.

So I passed out and woke up five hours later, took an airplane shower (lavatory sink water splashed in the face and under armpits followed by two swift slaps to the right cheek) and started talking to my neighbor.

She was pretty cool but sadly, not heading onward to my destination, so I reckon the SFO United terminal was the last place I’ll see her.

No matter, a few hours later I was walking across the tarmac to my friend Mary’s Subaru and on to the tiny town of Mammoth Lakes, which I’d call home for the Winter of 2012.


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