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Destination: Mammoth Mountain - Part 2
A family-friendly ski vacation to Mammoth Mountain and beyond.
By Matt Wilson

Welcome back to our great ski adventure on Mammoth Mountain. And while it's not currently ski season, this week's installment might just get you planning a winter family getaway for next ski season. When we left off last week, we'd just finished an exciting first day of our vacation. Join me now as we continue with day two.

We had a full day planned. A dog sledding tour for the whole family with Mammoth Dog Teams, (Tel: 760 934 6270, $490 to $70 per person); a massage for Janna at the InTouch MicroSpa; snowshoeing up to Lake Tamrac and then sledding at Sledzs winter snow play facility (Tel: 760-934-7533). And finally, a snowmobile adventure in the evening. But when I looked out the window, I saw over eight inches of new snow on the ground with more falling, showing no sign of stopping. With the exception of the massage, all our other planned activities would be closed for the duration of the storm. So our options were: try to ski or stay home. We were going skiing.

Though a snowstorm on the mountain is a blessing for an experienced skier, it is no fun at all for the beginner. So, rather than drag Janna up to the mountain where she wouldn't have much fun, I got her set up with a nice long spa and massage at the InTouch MicroSpa, while I took Zoey to an intro to ski lesson at Woolly's.

Woolly's was empty. The snowstorm had driven most families off the mountain. And with the winds increasing, more lifts were closing by the minute. Zoey and I rushed in from the valet parking lot, the snow stinging our faces and eyes and I could tell from the expression on her face that she was not in the mood to be outside. Zoey is a warm-weather kid and much prefers a ballerina's tutu to a mountaineer's layered gear. She is not yet attuned to the fact that all weather can be enjoyable with the right clothing and she is in no mood to wear gloves, a hat and a coat, much less stand outside in a blizzard on skis. Most of the classes are canceled as the principal training gear, the magic carpet, a green rug escalator that dumps kids on top of the bunny slope, is closed. So I am pretty sure we are going back to the condo when an angel appears. An angel named Mo.

So many people are doing the wrong work. They have compromised their principles. They are chasing dollars. They are developing their weaknesses. So many people are busy either working to live or living to work, that it is both rare and inspiring to find someone who is outside this usual paradigm. Someone who is both developing their strengths and sharing those strengths with the world. Such a person is unstoppable. Such a person may hear the word ‘no' and move right through it. Even a stubborn, cranky toddler is no match for such a person. And such a person is Mo. It took less than a minute for Mo to put Zoey entirely under her spell. Mo understands kids in a way that most people never will and I watched in amazement as she walked Zoey and another boy from one activity to the next, stepping into boots, putting the boot into the alligator's mouth and then stepping on its tail, shuffling across the floor in tiny toddler skis, pulling up the turtle, pulling down the goggles and stepping outside. Into the blizzard and playing in the snow.

I had planned to hold Zoey's hand through the entire lesson but within minutes, Mo had things so well under control that I sped out the door for one quick run. All told, I got a few great ski runs in that day, all thanks to Mo. And Zoey had a great time too. If you go to Mammoth, you can feel good about the facilities that they have for kids. Whether it's the ski school or the daycare with ski lessons attached, Mammoth has the facilities and staff to ensure that while you're out having a great time on the slopes, your kids are having a great time, too!

The daycare facility is located at the Mammoth Mountain Inn, near the ski school at the mountain base. Mammoth Mountain Inn has a relationship with Mammoth Ski School, so kids can go skiing and then back to the daycare multiple times throughout the day. The daycare facility looks terrific and given the great staff at the ski school, I felt totally comfortable taking a run or two while my daughter played and skied. Spaces are limited and reservations are highly recommended at least four to six weeks in advance to be ensured space. Call 1-800-MAMMOTH for more information.

After the lesson, the storm really picked up intensity and most of the mountain closed down. Janna caught a ride up to the mountain from the spa with our friends John, Julia and Zenya Simeon, but with the mountain mostly closed and naptime rapidly approaching, it seemed like we would all be going home. This was a particular shame since I had been counting on John to give me a tour of Mammoth Mountain. John is an ex-ski patrol. His job, besides rescuing broken skiers and firing explosive shells at the mountain to set off avalanches, included exploring the mountain's vast terrain. With John as a guide, I was certain to find a few untouched powder stashes and learn more about what Mammoth Mountain had to offer. But the weather prevailed and aside from one quick dash up a bouncing chairlift, we all ended up back at The Lodges condo. So what do you do at The Lodges when the snow is falling and the mountain is closed? You walk over to the scenic open hot tub! Ahhh.

If you don't know what MicroSpa means, it's a very intimate environment with just a few treatment rooms. That gives this spa a real advantage; it's big enough to have three people go in for simultaneous appointments, but it's an intimate, nurturing environment with excellent service. You don't feel like just another piece of meat in the room, but rather you are catered to, and the environment is very relaxing and engaged. There's a genuine interest in who you are and what you need, in what would make your spa experience really meaningful for you. The key to their service is a focus on hospitality and on creating a nurturing environment. InTouch MicroSpa is an Aveda spa, so the products are natural/organic and the staff greets you with warm organic tea, a special Aveda blend. It's a dry spa, with massage, facials and other excellent treatments. I set up my appointment with Dan, the owner, who was kind and helpful. I had an hour-long massage with Carrie. She was amazing and I'm pretty picky when it comes to massages. I pointed out a trouble spot in my lower back and in that one-hour massage, she fixed the issue. Love that! I only wished I lived closer so I could go back for another massage with Carrie. All in all it was great and a wonderful complement to learning to ski! InTouch Aveda MicroSpa, Tel: 800-786-4414.

Although our condo at The Lodges had a gourmet kitchen for cooking, Mammoth has so many terrific restaurants that, even with a tired toddler, we were compelled to go out. John and Julia recommend Shogun, a locally grown and owned sushi restaurant.

Everything is close to Snowcreek and within a few minutes of driving, we arrived at the restaurant. Shogun is in a small, unattractive mall probably built in the '70s and walking through the empty hall and up the stairs to the restaurant, I found myself growing concerned. But the restaurant itself more than makes up for its surroundings. The walls and ceilings are covered in carved wood panels and the lighting is subdued through hanging paper lamps. We are seated in a large, comfortable booth with a painting of a samurai fighter overlooking our party. Our server soon greets us. Miso soup. Edamame. Veggie gyoza. There is no hurry here. No one waiting for the table. So we talk and eat and order more and talk some more. The kids walk over to the gigantic live fish tank and press their noses and hands to the glass. All of my favorites are here: Broiled Saba, Ikura, each handled in a way that is slightly new to me. Each dish offers up a twist that I am unfamiliar with and yet pleasantly surprised by. The atmosphere was fun and the food was both creatively presented and tasty. Shogun was a perfect place to bring the kids and eat with friends.

The next day, we woke up to the distant rumble of a snowplow as it tunneled past. The snow was up over the windowsills. The front door was buried almost four feet deep. We were literally snowed in. There would be no activities today. No skiing and our reservation had us checking out today. In less than two hours, according to the itinerary, we would be handing in our keys and driving down the highway. Unfortunately, the highway was closed and no one was leaving Mammoth. And so, faced with the prospect of being ejected into a snowstorm and spending the night in our vehicle, it seemed like a good idea to open the window, squeeze out through the snow and walk over to the hot tub to mull things over. By the time we got back, we had a phone message from Snowcreek management suggesting that we avoid driving and offering us the use of the condo for another day. Gratis. The moment I heard that message, a major weight lifted from my shoulders. I breathed a sigh, sat down in a fat chair and stared out into the storm.

I have become accustomed to the impersonal, international nature of customer service. A customer service agent in Bombay, no matter how pleasant, will not care much for my personal circumstances, much less try to anticipate my needs. So it was a real shocker when a company agent actually anticipated my family's needs and went out of the way to help. It is service and quality that brings people back to Snowcreek. In fact, 65% of their customers return for another stay. Most them are LA weekenders who drive up on Friday, leave on Sunday and demand hassle-free fun. So if you're a casual kind of family and recognize when others are working hard to make you feel comfortable, then you'll love your stay at Snowcreek. Definitely visit the website to select the right unit for you. It's all part of setting expectations upfront. As for our family, that one act of kindness has so completely cemented my loyalty to Snowcreek Resorts, that I now consider The Lodges under Snowcreek our home in Mammoth.

Later that day, with the roads and our driveway somewhat cleared, the Simeons suggest we attempt to get some brunch. Without a hint of irony, John looks at me and says, "We prefer The Good Life," to which I respond, "Show me the way."

Fifty inches of snow overnight and a blizzard in the morning made it nearly impossible to drive. My wife, Janna, was in snow shock. Born in Houston, she had no prior experience upon which to rely. The moment she stepped out the front door of our condo, her senses were overwhelmed. She was still shrieking and shaking, her eyes tightly shut, when she fell into the car. By contrast our daughter Zoey took it all in stride. She laughed. I laughed. Janna glared.

A blizzard can make a short drive long, slow and excruciatingly tense. By contrast, the same blizzard can turn a little café into a perfect oasis. Snow up over the windows, it is warm and cozy and family-friendly. Summer and winter scenes, some of them oddly tropical, are hand-painted on the walls. There is an active buzz to the atmosphere, like a nest of happy bees, with lots of talking and a coffee and bacon smell to the air. The large plates are covered with food. Mine holds the special, Arturo's Rancheros ... a large chili stuffed with cheese and smothered in sauce and eggs with hash browns. Janna is forking the vegetarian special and she has that quiet contented look that I love. We have nowhere to go and nothing to do so we eat and drink for a long time. The Good Life Café, Tel: 760-934-1734.

The highway opens early in the evening. There is a break in the storm and though we are advised to stay put, we decide to move on. As we make our way over the ice and snow, a single thought compels me on into the night. I have one last chance to find hidden powder stashed among the trees and to worship the mountains on an altar of snow. Tonight we will sleep at the Simeons' home in Mono Lake and early the next morning, we will drive up to the forgotten sister to Mammoth, June Mountain.

I had been to June Lake, in the shadow of June Mountain, many years prior to this visit. Back when Zoey was still a dreaming probability and Zenya was maybe a zygote. It was summertime and John and Julia were getting married. It was the marriage ceremony for family and friends. The second ceremony. The vows were originally spoken to the wind atop a large spire of rock somewhere in the Sierras. To be at that ceremony, you either had to be an expert rock climber or own a pair of wings. June is every bit as beautiful now as it was then, though now it is covered in several feet of snow and the indigo blue of the lake is blanketed by ice. Through the small and picturesque sierra town of June Lake, we drive up to the foot of the ski area and park the cars. June is a unique ski mountain in that to get to the skiable area, you first have to ride a chairlift up to the lodge. It is also unique in that it still feels like a small mountain town ski area. Though owned by the same large corporation as Mammoth, whatever corporate dreams drove the development there, they are noticeably absent here. As are the people.

Once we get to the top of the chairlift, I set both Janna and Zoey up with skis and lessons. Most of the instructors are already out so they share lesson. They come away feeling ever more confident about their abilities and with a greater appreciation of the sport, however, the instructor was nowhere near as good as Mo or Wes. June Mountain is as picturesque as it is quiet. It is a skier's paradise but if your family doesn't ski, you will be better off in Mammoth. For example, the amenities and services, such as the restaurant, retailers and childcare options are limited compared to Mammoth. It's a gem to be sure, but not for everyone. June reminds me of Killington Mountain, Vermont in the 1970s and 1980s ... minus the crowds. I absolutely loved June but I would rather stay in Mammoth; it was better suited to the non- or novice-ski family.

After setting Janna and Zoey off on their adventure, I strike out on one of my own with John and Julia. John has tried unsuccessfully to kill me on a number of occasions. Each attempt starts with a simple proposition. "We could try avalanche chute?" or "You wanna hike?" In fairness to John, he gives me far more credit for being in good physical condition than I actually am. And in fairness to my own seeming lack of judgment, I don't give John near enough credit for being as conditioned and hardy as he actually is. But today could be different. And Julia is with us. And I don't think she wants to kill me. So, when John lifts the boundary marker line and indicates that our way leads out of the marked terrain, I give it only a passing glance.

And we did discover the hidden caches of snow. Endless runs though steep, deep forests, glades and open fields. Massive old growth trees hung heavy with snow. Tight stands of naked aspens. Bus-sized boulders with nothing below but pillows. It was euphoric. Sublime. And it went on and on.

The avalanche started with a whisper. A sigh. A sound not unlike snow falling through the boughs of a fir tree. First, the mountain shifts beneath my skis and then I am sliding down the slope, embedded in a wave of snow crashing through an aspen grove. In the end, it was more a slump than a slide and though I am shaken, I am unharmed. It's quiet in the forest now and rather than jump to my feet, I savor that stillness, so alien to me, and pause to reflect on the journey here.

Our trip did not go smoothly. Many of the things I had hoped to experience and share with my family never materialized. We were blessed with too much snow and cursed with too little time. And yet, my daughter learned ski. She laughed on skis. She danced in the snow. And my wife learned to ski. And she fell in love with the mountains and with the mountain towns of both Mammoth and June. We stayed in a stately mountain condo and a beautiful, spirit-infused home. We ate delicious meals at unique and family-friendly restaurants. And we discovered a winter gem in June. All told, it was a fun family vacation and one we will certainly do again.

Note: This trip was sponsored by SnowCreekResort.com.

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Pics From

The Trip


Mammoth Gondola Closed


Woolly's Ski School in Blizzard


Zoey and the Bear

Matt in Trees

Shogun in Old Mammoth

Shogun Sushi Restaurant, Mammoth

Sushi Restaurant, Old Mammoth

Shogun Sushi

Snowed in in Mammoth

Buried at The Lodges in Snowcreek

The Good Life Café in Old Mammoth


The Good Life Café

Family Dining in Mammoth

June Lake View

Town of June Lake in California

June Lake

Out of Bounds, June Lake

Ski June Lake

Ski June Mountain

Steep and Deep


Heroic Powder


Powder Skiing

June Mountain Paradise

Family Ski Vacation

View of June Lake Mountain Lodge

Zoey at June

Ski School at June Lake

Happy Girl

Skied That Ridge

Small World Daycare

Daycare Facility

Daycare in Mammoth

Heading Home


Rental Car

* Some photos taken by John Simeon

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