Reporting on the record snowfall across the western United States convinced me to plan a last minute trip to Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort in early June. I recruited my husband, fellow meteorologist Jonathan Myers, to venture west with me, to take advantage of the late season snow! We ended up flying into San Francisco, (where my sister lives), and had to drive the looooong way around to get to Mammoth because all of the Sierra Nevada mountain passes were closed (due to the record snow). You know how something that seems likes it’s going to be a huge hassle turns out to be a big blessing? That’s the way our trip went. My Mom convinced us to go to Yosemite National Park to see how the record snowfall and melt had enhanced the waterfalls in the park. Yosemite is not that far from San Francisco-about 4-5 hours. We booked a tent/cabin in Camp Curry and drove over.
This is a picture of our cabin/tent. They have heated cabins, but since we booked at the last minute, we bundled up with wools blankets and sleeping bags with overnight temperatures in the 30s. At about 4am, I started asking if we could just get up and go hiking since I was freezing. Everybody finally got up at about 5:15am and we were on the trail to Vernal Falls by 6.
The hike to Vernal Falls is only about 3 miles round trip. In fact, by 6:40, we only had .3 miles until we got to the top. That’s about 17-18 hundred feet, right? My Mom and I had a little optimistic mid-hike meeting, saying we should go on to Nevada Falls, which is 5-6 miles round trip since we were making such good time. Yeah, no. The last .3 miles is straight up, stairs, with a mist coming off the falls that soaks you from head to foot. You’d be shivering if you weren’t sweating so much from the hike. Don’t get me wrong. It was beautiful, inspiring, something I’m so glad we did. But, it was not an easy 1.6 mile hike. We did continue about a 1/2 mile more to get this beautiful sunrise shot of Nevada Falls.
If I were to do Vernal Falls and/or Nevada Falls again, I would recommend carrying a poncho, water, and snacks! A peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a little coffee would have tasted so good as we watched this sunrise! We were very happy that we got on the trail so early. When we were hiking downhill at 8am, there was a line of summer hikers headed up. It’s punishing to get up before the sun comes up to hike, but it’s worth it when there’s nobody on the trail and you get the sunrise views.
Later, we drove around and looked at some of the other waterfalls, including the famous Yosemite Falls which is the tallest waterfall in the United States. The snowfall over the Sierra this year is 178% of normal, and the output from Yosemite Falls at the time of this picture was 1600 cubic feet per second. It was beautiful.
When we left Yosemite, we had to head back toward the west, then north and then east again because the mountain pass east from Yosemite was closed. If Tioga Pass (Highway 120) had been open, it would have taken us 2-3 hours to get to Mammoth. Instead, it took about 10 hours!!! Thank goodness the views were amazing. As I’m writing this, I’m disappointed we didn’t capture the shot as we rounded the bend on U.S. Highway 50 into South Lake Tahoe and saw the incredible view of the lake, the glacier mountains and the valley floor. It was a very steep mountain pass and there was nowhere to pull over!
As we drove toward South Lake Tahoe, we saw a roadside construction sign that said Monitor Pass was open, so we headed over Highway 89 toward US 395 that would take us into Mammoth. Highway 89 is a remote highway that takes you through Markleeville, California. More windy roads without guard rails, more incredible, once-in-a-lifetime vistas. There is a bike ride that goes over these mountain passes in the summertime called the Death Ride.
We spent two days in Mammoth. Spring skiing is always a good trip because there are less people on the mountain and it’s warmer. The ski conditions were also remarkable for the time of year. The mountain is open daily until July 4th.
On the way back, we found out Caltrans had just cleared Highway 108 or Sonora Pass. A long and windy trail over the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, it passes US military training camps and freshwater rivers filled with recent snowmelt. The top of the pass still had 10-15′ of snow. Incredible.
We ran into a German couple right by this sign, we had both stopped to get pictures of the snow. Luckily, we made it to this sign just before darkness fell. It was still a long drive to the bottom of the mountain and the lights of the interstate.
Dawn Brown, FOX 8 New Orleans
Okay. This is just a fun post. This past weekend, my fiance and I drove 8 hours from New Orleans, Louisiana to Mentone, Alabama to ski at Cloudmont Ski and Golf Resort.
It’s a little hidden resort in Northern Alabama near the Georgia border. The mountain is 1800 feet above sea level, the snow is man-made, but it’s definitely fun!
There are a number of ski resorts in the Smokey Mountains, but this was the closest place to us where we could find skis and a place to ride! It was a blast. There’s a tow-rope to the top of the run, and it took me less than a minute to ride down the slope (without turning). My fiance learned to ski last year in Lake Tahoe, so he enjoyed the chance to practice his skills, and even improve on a relatively easy run.
Don’t get me wrong, there was definitely an incline on this mountain. There is a chance to gain some speed and practice your skills. That’s why it was such a great opportunity for us as we plan another trip to Tahoe this Spring.
I loved the slope-side chalets, the lack of TV, radio or internet, and the isolated surroundings. There’s not much to eat at the resort, but nearby Mentone, Alabama is a quaint village with scrumptious homemade food and some cozy inns. We arrived at about 8pm Saturday night, took in about an hour of night-skiing, and then went straight to bed! (Nothing else to do, no TV or internet.) The next day, after about two hours of skiing, we decided to head into nearby Mentone to eat at the Wildflower Cafe. It came recommended, but there weren’t a lot of choices. I loved the homemade spinach quiche and tomato pie. Then, we decided to visit Desoto Falls and hike along Little River Canyon. It was such a nice trip.
I think we’re going to try out the nearby Dude ranch next.
With the incredible amount of fresh powder we are seeing this ski season, I’ve decided to hook you up with the snow & mountain conditions at ski resorts across the United States. Keep in mind this is not a complete list. For a more complete list of resorts, go to ultimate-ski.com or skiresortguide.com. The pictus are from Diamond Peak Resort in Lake Tahoe in January 2009. A fairly nice resort with a couple of steep runs. It’s not too crowded. Amazing views of Lake Tahoe!
Also, check out this article from Travel & Leisure magazine, it may help you plan your trip!
California/Nevada – I grew up in Southern California and learned to ski at Mountain High! Woo-hoo. It’s a tiny mountain, but if you want a one day escape from LA, it provides it. Of course, a lot of people from Southern California go to Big Bear Mountain and Mammoth Mountain. I grew up skiing at Mammoth Mountain. I love it. It’s a huge mountain. When I lived and worked in Reno, Nevada, I used to snowboard at Alpine Meadows quite a bit. They have the best overnight groomers, and great back mountain terrain. (I didn’t go into the back country without my friend Jay Abdo, who’s an experienced guide.) Now he works at Diamond Peak. Squaw Valley has to be my favorite mountain in Lake Tahoe because it has my favorite run, the face of KT-22. I wouldn’t ski it now, but when I was in great shape in college, it was a blast.
Southern California: Big Bear Mountain, Mountain High Central California: June Mountain, Mammoth Mountain Northern California: North Lake Tahoe: Alpine Meadows, Diamond Peak, Mt. Rose, Northstar-at-Tahoe, Squaw Valley, Sugar Bowl South Lake Tahoe: Heavenly, Kirkwood
Colorado – My step-dad grew up in Colorado, mostly skiing the local resorts near his hometown of Rifle, Colorado. We’ve been out to Colorado a few times. The nice thing about Colorado is the amount of high-quality resorts. Most of the recommended ski resorts by high level skiers are in Colorado. I’ve skied Vail, Snowmass and Beaver Creek. I had a great time at Steamboat Springs. Very low key. I love Crested Butte! It’s a small town in the Southwest corner of the state. They have great deals in the end of March, beginning of April. (I think most of the resorts do.) If you want to hang out with the likes of Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Oprah Winfrey, apparently they have their winter homes in Telluride. I’ve never been there, but I keep dreaming!
New Hampshire – I’ve never heard of Mad River Glen growing up on the West Coast, but I want to check it out!
Oregon – Another mountain on my list—Mt. Hood, Oregon. It looks like a challenge.
Utah – My brother worked at a ski resort in Utah one winter, so my friend Deanna and I went out to visit him. It was a great time. Large mountain. We skied one lift most of the time that takes you to the top, and the run continues for about two and 1/2 miles. Here’s the link to all the resorts in Utah: Skiing in Utah. I have them listed individually below with the links. Apparently, Alta, Utah has the cheapest one day lift tickets and largest average snowfall. Gotta’ go!
Salt Lake City: Alta, Beaver Mountain, Brian Head Resort, Brighton Resort, Powder Mountain Resort, Snowbasin Resort, Snowbird Ski & Summer, Solitude, Sundance Resort, Wolf Creek Utah Park City: Deer Valley Resort, Park City Mountain Resort, The Canyons Resort
When I started skiing, my parents were able to do it fairly inexpensively with hand-me-down equipment and clothing, fairly cheap lift tickets, and lunch in a bag. I think you can still do it that way if you plan right. There are great deals to be had. The only thing I would recommend if you take up skiing is spending the money on a lesson. Usually the resorts will offer an all-in-one package for equipment, tickets and a lesson. Have a great time, and if you have any recommendations, please let me know.