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Big mountain adventures year-round in Mammoth

SmarterTravel

In summer, they call it Yosemite without the crowds. In winter, it’s known as a less-packed Tahoe. Detecting a theme? Mammoth Mountain may seem isolated, but stand on its peak, from which Yosemite and Mono Lake are visible, and you’ll see how this year-round outdoors destination fits into the necklace of Eastern Sierra jewels. Although Mammoth is more popular in the summer and winter, fall is the area’s insider secret. This in-between season is a value triple threat, with lower prices, smaller crowds, and summer and winter recreation opportunities.

Consisting of Mammoth Mountain and the town of Mammoth Lakes, the area of Northern California referred to as Mammoth is full of outdoorsy appeal. In summer, it has all the features of glorified summer camp. Mountains, lakes, and waterfalls are surrounded by expanses of protected wilderness. Visitor favorites throughout this warm season include camping, hiking, boating, mountain biking, golfing, fly-fishing, hot springing, and relaxing in the sunshine. In winter, Mammoth is a popular ski destination that retains its uncrowded feeling even as visitor numbers climb. And with 28 lifts, 150 named trails, and an annual average snowfall of 400 inches, Mammoth is large enough to keep up with its increasing popularity.

Autumn bridges these two most popular seasons in Mammoth, but it’s one of the area’s best-kept secrets. It encompasses both summer and winter activities, and it’s also when the foliage colors are at their most vibrant.

Mammoth in autumn

In September, many summer activities are still available to fall visitors. The mountain bike park, with its trails for both body-armored vertical thrill seekers and those looking for smaller doses of adrenaline, remains open through most of the month. Also, boats are available for rental at the lakes, and buses continue to shuttle people down to Reds Meadow, a popular camping and day hike jumping-off point.

By October, the change of season is more apparent. The days grow shorter and chillier as the leaves begin to turn. Foliage enthusiasts who don’t want to make the trip back east will find brilliant color and reasonable prices. October is also the quiet month between the summer closures and the ski park’s opening day, when there are often special rates for accommodations.

By mid-November, summer sports and foliage are all but forgotten, and skiing is the main activity on everyone’s mind. Ski buffs brighten at the mention of Mammoth’s challenging mountaintop runs, open boundary policy, and ski season that can run all the way to June. Less serious skiers have plenty of easier runs to choose from, and can remain close to aprés options by choosing ski-in, ski-out accommodations where warm drinks and dry socks are never far from any slope. Ask a local nicely and you just might find the way to one of the area’s hidden hot springs for a relaxing swim after a cold day on the slopes.

The ski park is set to open November 10 this year, and early to mid-November is the time to go to beat the rush and find the season’s ski vacation bargains. Depending on snowfall, there can be early-winter opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and snowmobiling as well.

Saving on a Mammoth trip

Wisely choosing when to go, where to stay, and how to book can go far towards getting the best value out of a Mammoth trip.

When to go to Mammoth

Autumn is a slow pocket between the busy summer and winter periods, and tends to offer better prices on accommodations. The winter season kicks into high gear after Thanksgiving and stays busy through March, with its high-season peak falling around the winter holidays. Except during holiday weeks, accommodations rates and lift ticket prices are cheaper during weekdays than on weekends, making a midweek stay the most economical option.

If a weekday trip is not a possibility, look for packages as a way to cut costs. Booking accommodations bundled with another element, such as fly-fishing lessons (in fall), skiing (in winter), or a fine meal (anytime), can sometimes offer savings and take some of the hassle out of booking trip components separately. Other package options bundle multiple nights for a discount on the total price. Mammoth.com currently has packages for fall and early winter, and VisitMammoth.com offers a variety of packages throughout the year.

Where to stay in Mammoth

The variety of lodging possibilities means visitors can choose accommodations that best suit their budgets and preferences. People looking for the cheapest option will want to compare prices at the many motels and inns that line the town’s main street, while those looking for maximum convenience can explore the possibility of ski-in, ski-out accommodations at the base of the mountain. House and condo rentals, available all over town, can offer savings for groups and families, because they sleep more people and offer kitchens and food storage facilities that can help to cut down on dining costs. VisitMammoth.com conveniently presents all the accommodations options in a grid format.

When to book

For weekday stays in late fall, book a week or so ahead; for late fall and early winter weekends, it’s best to book a few weeks to a month in advance. Last-minute offers are available for much of the year, though you won’t find the same variety of choice that comes with booking early. Keep in mind that if you’re interested in going during the holiday season, it’s better to book sooner rather than later, as some Mammoth enthusiasts book six to 12 months in advance to secure their preferred accommodations.

By car, Mammoth is under six hours from Southern California or Las Vegas and three hours from Reno. From the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s six hours in summer and seven hours in winter. Currently, the area is served only by charter flights, though there is talk of commercial air service coming to the area within the next few years.

A trip to Mammoth is a true getaway. Shielded from the bustle of city life by hundreds of miles of pristine wilderness, it’s a resort town that has gone to great lengths to appeal to outdoors enthusiasts year-round, with activities galore and plenty of amenities. A little advance planning makes a Mammoth vacation possible for almost all budgets, and the fresh mountain air and inspiring views are included at no extra cost.

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