At the end of the story you will find links to lodging ideas, ski rental discounts, and restaurant recommendations
I thought I was a skier. My memory gave me the impression skiing was something I had done throughout my life and that I was reasonably skilled at it. I always mark down ‘2’ under skiing if an acting form asks me my skill level for certain sports. My skill level for every other sport is -1, so the skiing bubble always made me feel proud. Therefore, when my friends decided to take a ski trip to Mammoth, I jumped on board immediately, “Oh I love to ski! I haven’t gone in forever. It’s about time”. I even became in charge of booking the room and found a cute one bedroom, walking distance to the ski lifts, with fireplace, full kitchen, and hopefully enough padded surfaces (couches, futons…the floor) to house all seven of us for two nights.
My first clue should have been that I didn’t own any skiing clothes. Most of my friends had their own skis or snowboards, but I figured I just didn’t have any because I was poor. But then I realized I didn’t even have ski pants. Or really know if there was such a thing as ski pants. Could I rent goggles? Was a helmet normal or would I look like a dweeb? The night before we left I visited my parents and rummaged around childhood drawers until I found some gloves and the ugliest pair of goggles you’ve ever seen. They looked like a bug-eyed combination of swimming and helicopter goggles, each eye’s lens circled in neon yellow. But I figured they were better than nothing. A trip to my aunt’s garage turned up slightly-too-tight-after-the-holidays ‘ski overalls’, which would have to do.
The six hour road trip out to Mammoth from LA was gorgeous. We passed through the Mojave Desert, which is populated by trees right out of a Dr. Seuss book, mobile home parks, and intense salt flats which I wanted to get out and lick but Sith, our driver, refused to stop. We did stop when I demanded a photo opportunity with an incredibly rad barbed wire fence which framed the desert giving way to snow covered mountains in a very picturesque and brutal way, which I liked.
When we arrived, I was relieved to find that the online rental was not a dump and had a stash of firewood, hot coco, and even more than the promised comfy surfaces. Half the party had to sneak through the back door, however, when we realized the manager saw that we were seven and not the four I had promised were renting the place over the phone.
The few ski renters suggested that we get our equipment tonight so we could just walk to the slopes in the morning, so we trekked out for Mexican dinner, margaritas and ski rentals. I cheerfully told the flannel clad, bearded mountain man at the rental store that I was definitely an intermediate skier and didn’t want anything too wimpy. I actually had no idea why he wanted to know what level skier I was. Did that make a difference for what kind of ski I got? My second clue should have been his dubious look when I asked him how I got the boot into the ski. Just as a refresher, you know?
We were all exhausted since most of us had been on East Coast time since Christmas, so rather than going out dancing, which we had promised our bad-selves we would do, we all collapsed in bed at 10pm. My friends Kate, Elise and I shared the king sized bed in the bedroom. Liz and her boyfriend Brian had the futon in the living room, and Sith and Bill shared the fold out couch. Everything seemed tight but comfortable until 12am.
I was dreaming about dogs. Chocolate colored labs to be exact. The baby one was peeing on the floor of my kitchen and I was really angry. I admonished the mother dog in very harsh language. Then someone turned to me and asked what was happening and I screamed “I TOLD HIM NOT TO DO IT”. But somehow when I started screaming, I wasn’t screaming at the dogs anymore…I was screaming out loud…in Mammoth…at Kate. She was awake, along with the rest of my friends, who had been woken up by my inane violent babbling. They all thought I’d had a nightmare and I admitted that no, I was just dreaming about dogs peeing.
Kate woke me up at 3am begging for any medication containing sleep inducing chemicals, seeing as I had also kicked her around 11pm and she had never been able to get back to sleep. She had already been wide awake before my screaming fit. I guess my former ancient ski trips had also left me with the impression that I was a quiet sleeper and traveled well with others. Opps.
Despite my outbursts, we all managed to get up at 7am, get out the door clad in our gear by 8:15, pick up breakfast pitas, and arrive on the slopes by 9am. Brian and Liz rightfully claimed the titles of expert skiers, Kate and Elise were snowboarding, and Sith and Bill had no qualms about admitting their novice status. I knew that the last time I had skied, about seven years ago, my snow legs had come back to me on the slopes, so I wasn’t worried that the two pieces of plastic and metal strapped to my legs felt like alien appendages that I had no idea how to use. That honestly surprised me less than Liz and Brian complementing me on my ‘cool retro ski goggles’. I let them know I thought they were crazy.
Liz and Brian advised that we start with the bunny slopes so everyone could stay together and warm up. That suited me fine, though I hoped they wouldn’t be too boring. The bunny slopes in Big Bear where I skied at least twice as a kid were practically flat. And I didn’t want to waste our one day skiing by going cross-country.
The bunny slopes gave me the first hint that maybe my skiing skills were further buried in brain tissue than I’d realized. These slopes were not flat. They were terrifying. They seemed way too steep. How was I supposed to stay upright and not fall over and just roll down the hill? How did any of these guys not just tumble head first? Hadn’t they heard of gravity?? Liz & Brian went super slow and shouted advice to me from below.
“Keep your knees bent like you’re sitting in a chair”
“Poles out in front. Relax your wrists!”
I managed to inch my way down the hill. We did the bunny slopes a few more times and each time was terrifying, but I found that if I bent my legs in an incredibly painful squat, I seemed to fall less. I watched Liz & Brian’s graceful pivots and speedy descents with envious study. I wasn’t a beginner for Gods sake. Where was all this fear coming from? After about the fourth time down the bunny hill there really was no excuse not to move on to the Beginner Routes marked by green circles, so I followed along.
While waiting in line for the ski lift, the girl next to us looked at me and commented, “I love your ski goggles. Very retro.” I thanked her and tried not to look baffled. My friends just laughed.
“We’ll take Easy Rider down,” Brian, our unofficial team leader pronounced. “But be careful not to go right at the fork. That’s Wall Street and its intermediate, marked with a blue square.” When we dismounted from the ski lift, I took off after Brian and Liz. Easy Rider didn’t seem so bad as long as I kept to wide sideways swerves. I kept my eyes on Liz who was easy to spot in her bright jacket. Then all of a sudden I realized the course had split and Liz had gone right. We were on Wall Street and there was no turning back. But hey, this was my actual level, right? Intermediate. And it did seem like I belonged here. The course was going well. I had dredged up some basic ski knowledge and a bit more confidence. I had followed Liz & Brian’s tips and now I was all caught up.
When we hit the first actual slope, I was completely unprepared. It may not have seemed like a cliff to Olympic Ski champions, but I would have rather found a hollow log and descended Splash Mountain style than swallow my pride and commit suicide on skis. Liz stared up at me in confusion.
“I can’t do it,” I admitted from the edge of the cliff, “I’m too scared. It’s too steep!” I stood there for an immeasurable amount of time, stranded on this obviously mislabeled course, holding up my friends. Could I roll down? Where was the emergency exit? Weren’t there hidden stairs?
There didn’t seem to be any other choice, so I started skiing sideways towards one side of the mountain. When I got close to the trees, I turned super fast, expecting to tumble forward, but I found myself headed towards the other tree covered mountainside at a slight angle. I continued this extreme zig-zag slowly down the hill. Whenever I felt myself going too fast I sat in the painful crouch Liz had showed me. I was probably the slowest skier in human history, but I made it.
Brian gave me a chiding look at the bottom of the hill, “I said to stay to the left.”
For some reason they humored me, and this time I got more confident and skied in less of a perpendicular criss-cross. And I fell and slid face first down half the mountain. But this taught me that with my helmet and absurd amount of winter padding, falling wasn’t that painful. And it saved you plenty of skiing if you slid far enough. That added to my reckless confidence and I rallied for more intermediate slopes.
Lucky for me, my on-the-slope confidence was probably the main missing ingredient from the start, or perhaps it was learning how to actually use my poles rather than tripping over them. But by the end of the day I made it down most of the intermediate slopes without falling an embarrassing number of times. And I had garnered several more complements on my ‘awesome’ goggles. I guess if you let something sit in a drawer for long enough it becomes ‘retro’. It’s kind of depressing, however, to know that I’m now old enough to label my childhood wardrobe as ‘vintage’.
Other highlights of the trip included having a Russian conversation with the gentleman sitting next to us at lunch at the Lodge and finding out he was Maria Sharipova’s dad (positive highlight), and having the waitress at the bar where we had dinner spill a tray of dirty drinks down my back (negative highlight). Her response was: “Sorry. But Jesus, I got wet too, ok?”. Ahh Mammoth…known for customer service. Whisky shots all around made up for that, though my aunt’s “ski overalls” still smell like screwdriver.
Brian rolled his eyes. “I’m an intermediate. Have you seen what those guys on the black diamonds can do? I think you’re ready to call yourself a strong beginner. But your goggles are freakin’ awesome.”
I had the easy task of finding cheap housing for 7 people, walking distance to the lifts. I started with Craigslistand found some great deals and nice helpful people. If you are ready to act fast, craigslist is a great way to go. Just search ‘Mammoth’ under ‘vacation rentals’ and contact individual apartment owners with the dates you want.
Since we were searching for a holiday weekend and my friends were indecisive, we lost out on most of the craigslist deals, so I turned to Mammoth Mountain Vacations . The website itself was not that helpful, but when I called and talked to an actual person and told them all my requirements and preferences, they were AMAZING. They went above and beyond give us exactly what we wanted. I highly recommend them and contacting them by phone, because they can accommodate date and lodging preferences the way the website cannot.
Ski & Snowboard Rentals:
Restaurants: I definitely don’t recommend Lakanuki…if you read the above story, you know why. Take the pictures on the website and add three layers of grime to the counters and floor and you will have a better idea what this place looked like. And the staff was impolite verging on cruel.
We did have a great time at Robertos Mexican Café, which had a fun bar section with tables and where we split a ton of cheap delicious food and chatted with fellow Mammoth snow bunnies. They also have a main restaurant section that looked nice but had a long wait.
We had a filling traditional diner breakfast at The Breakfast Club on our way home. The food was good, but the quirky cow-themed décor and the humorous waitress made this a place I would definitely go back to. The bar stools had udders for goodness sake.