WBP Review: Mammoth Mountain
29 Jun 2015
Mammoth Mountain’s opening weekend, yes please! Actually, Mammoth began its 2015 operations about a month earlier with a bus and shuttle service to the base of the mountain from town. There is a large network of XC and all-mountain trails that can be found easily at the base. But, when we heard the lifts would be rolling up to the very top of the mountain, for the first time in the 2015 season, we packed up our gear, jumped in the camper, and started to head south from Stevens Pass Bike Park. (review here) It only took four days to get there and the only heartache was the heat. We had to travel through eastern Washington, Oregon, and California during a record-breaking heat wave. It was HOT, with temperatures in 100s! We could not wait to get to the base of Mammoth, which sits at 7,953ft, and cool off a little bit. We arrived on a Thursday late in the day and woke on Friday morning ready to hit the mountain. With four days allotted for riding to look forward to, we knew there would be plenty of time to hit-up all the trails that were open. This was our third summer visiting Mammoth Mountain. The last couple times were in 2012 and 2013 for BIKE Magazine’s “Heavy Pedal Tour.”
Mammoth Mountain is known for its high alpine (11,053ft. off the top), breath gasping, epic terrain, and piles of pumice waiting for you in corners. Mammoth’s Bike Park has been around forever and is one of the oldest bike parks in the U.S. One of their biggest battles on the mountain is the nature of the terrain, which erodes, and leaves behind fine pumice. The trail crew works diligently laying pavers in berms and wooden structures to help with this issue. It can be quite a surprise when you come around a corner and find yourself fishtailing and thretching in a foot-deep of fine pumice. Some will say it takes a totally different riding style to master the trails at Mammoth. Most of the riders who frequent Mammoth know the bike park inside and out. Depending on the conditions, they know which trails are best to ride and which ones are best to avoid. For anyone new to the mountain it can become a bit confusing, as there are a few dead-zones on the mountain where trail markers are missing or the trail map is no longer accurate. (We thought a “how to” video for newbies at Mammoth would be a good idea.) At one point, Trey got turned-around and ended up descending on a fire road trying to hook back up with the trail called Break Through. Bike park patrol spotted Trey and wanted to know why he was riding off-trail? Trey explained himself to the guy and offered up advice that perhaps a proper trail sign might be the answer to the problem (as he found out from bike patrol that riders have been getting lost at that spot for several years!) We are happy to say that later that day there was a new sign at the road crossing where Trey went right (down the mountain) instead of left (up the hill). Props to bike patrol for placing the new sign right away!
There were a handful of trails that were not open yet for the season but rumor had it that by the next weekend, all the trails would be in full force. We did ride absolutely everything else that was open. We were fortunate enough to have had both our trail bikes and DH bikes on that trip. Mammoth Mountain has a lot of variety on the hill. One can show up with an assortment of bikes and ride half the day on a XC bike (maybe even a fat bike) and the second half of the day on a DH or freeride bike. In the past we have avoided some trails because we knew that they would be better suited for a trail bike. The XC trails have fantastic, long, descents with epic views and tight turns. Might we recommend Off the Top -to- Beach Cruiser -to- Mountain View ending back on Beach Cruiser all the way back to the base. We tried this route once on big bikes and cursed whoevers idea it was! Unless you study the map or know someone who knows the trails, you can end up riding trails with up-hill climbing. The map has directional arrows but don’t let them fool you, it’s best to ask questions at the base if you have never been to Mammoth before. There is a booth at the base with a trail-guru ready to answer your questions about which trails will best suit your riding preference. The route above is much better suited for an all mountain bike as it has very few features, but the trails are packed with alpine mountain-views of the Minarets and even a lake view. For those riders who just want to focus on what features they need to conquer next, then Mammoth Bike Park lives up to its giant, hairy elephant trademark.
(Velocity DH trail: Pro-Line)
Opening up the bike park map, you will see a number of “Advanced”(single black diamond), “Expert”(double black diamond), and “Pro”(red triangle) rated trails that are all chock-full-O’-fun and challenging features. Many of our favorites are the natural, rock variety, found on “Pro” rated trails like Techno Rock, Velocity DH, and Chain Smoke. These can all be accessed via the Panorama Gondola leaving from the Adventure Center. If flow/jumps is the name of your game, then head over to Recoil (double black diamond) and connect with a very unique “all-paver” trail called Twilight (double black diamond). Also not to be missed is Flow, Pipeline and Shotgun. These trails are packed with features (mostly drops, jumps and wall rides), many of which have options to go even bigger if you’re feeling like a superstar! Bullet DH is the go-to trail for those riders that prefer rock gardens and more vertical terrain. Recently Mammoth has incorporated the “Pro” rating for some of their trails, with the real difference between “Expert” and “Pro” mostly having to do with the mandatory nature of some drops or the requirement that the rider clear a gap with no go-around. In our opinion, this is a good thing. It might help to keep riders off certain trails that they really don’t have the skills to safely negotiate.
(Sunset over the Minarets)
“The greater the difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it”. Our experience over the years at Mammoth Bike Park has been frustrating at times. The pumice takes patience and practice. The mountain is big…with multiple lifts and bike shuttle pick-up locations. Trail signage is lacking or not always evident. Often there’s a bit of up-hill pedaling before you can reach the down-hill fun. And, the ever-present, lung-crushing, rarified air at greater than 9,000ft. is often enough to make you want to just find a lounge chair and chew on coca leaves all day. But, if you study the map, ask questions, and give it some time, then Mammoth will be one of those bike parks that you can’t wait to ride again and again!
Newbies rejoice! There is a short lift called “The Discovery Chair”, that will take you up to 4 short trails…(2 green, 1 blue, and 1 black trail). There is even a skills area with a few small drops and wide ladder bridges (some with turns and another with an undulating wave) to learn on. This beginner’s area is a dream for anyone new to the sport. It is something that we wish we saw at every bike park. Having a separate skills area really helps new riders hone their skills without the stress of speed demons whipping past them.
Mammoth Mountain has a restaurant at the base called “The Yodler” and we are sorry to say we missed a chance to eat there, but we arrived just in time for last-call at the bar. This is the first time we have seen this restaurant open. In the past, if you wanted a post ride après and a beer, you would have to ride or drive down the mountain and go into town. So this adds a nice addition to the lunch scene but you have to get there early as they close at 4:30.
(Earthquake Fault Line)
So-called “intangibles” and “ the life-style” that characterize a bike park make it not just good, but great! Mammoth’s location in the high-sierras with the Minaret mountains, Reds Meadow, Devils Postpile National Monument, Rainbow Falls, and Tioga Pass entrance into Yosemite National Park place it squarely in one of the most beautiful regions of the entire U.S. Amenities such as restaurants, breweries, grocery stores, coffee shops and hotels are in abundance as well just down the road in the city of Mammoth Lakes. For sure, we’ll be back again soon!