Touching down at Mammoth Yosemite Airport—less than an hour after we’d left San Jose—that last seven-hour Sunday slog from Tahoe back to the Bay Area fades away. The pilot tells us to buckle up, folks, we’re coming in for a landing. Already? I’m just getting comfy with my peanuts and in-flight magazine.
As I step out onto the tarmac, surrounded by a 360° kingdom of Swiss Alps–style peaks, it’s official: I’m gobsmacked. One hour and $188 later, hello, good-mood ski weekend.
Until a few years ago, the Eastern Sierra’s Mammoth Mountain has been almost exclusively the winter playground of SoCal-ers who’ve made the six-hour trek by car. Now, flights from the Bay Area mean this eastern front—only 32 miles southeast of Yosemite but as good as unreachable by car in winter—is finally a Tahoe alternative.
For convenience: You’ve seen a faux Alpine village at a mountain base before, but you can’t beat the Village for ease. It’s steps from the gondola, and everything—coffee, rentals, groceries—is right here. The Village Lodge condos (pictured) have kitchenettes and hotel-ish perks like robes, a pool, and a concierge. Now, ski home on the new (as of last year ) Village Ski Back Trail. $910 for 2 nights and 2 lift tickets for 2 days; mammothmountain.com/lodging.
For off-the-charts charm: Be prepared to fall hard for Tamarack Lodge , a way-charming 1924 throwback hideout at Twin Lakes, where afternoons are made for sipping hot buttered rum in front of the fireplace, or strapping on cross-country skis and gliding right out the door into the forest. You’ll need a car to get here (it’s 2.5 miles from town), or hop on Mammoth’s free shuttle, which swings by every hour. Lodge rooms from $119, cabins from $299; 2-night minimum; tamaracklodge.com.
For a slopeside crash pad: Powderhounds can ski in, ski out at Mammoth Mountain Inn, near the Main Lodge (from $125), or Juniper Springs Resort, by the Eagle Lodge (from $150) mammoth mountain.com/lodging.
Breakfast Club makes cinnamon rolls, hearty scrambles, and the Hangover Burger. Portions are I’ll-never-eat-again big. $; 2987 Main St.; 760/934-6944.
Schat’s bakery (pictured) is a carboloader’s dream, with 23 breads pulled from the oven daily (asiago, Basque, ciabatta, Russian rye, stone ground) and a fullspread sandwich bar that’s a great budget bag-lunch option. $; 3305 Main; 760/934-6055.
The sceniest spot in the Village is the Hyde Lounge. Aside from the bumpin’ music and nightclub vibe (at its peak after dinner), the food and drinks are good. Try the white grapefruit cosmo, burger, or tapas. $$; 6201 Minaret Rd.; 760/934-0669.
Whitebark at the Westin is stylish—all blond wood and artistic light fixtures. It feels like a special-occasion, leave-the-kidsat- home option (read: entrées are more than $30); you can always pop in for truffled mac ’n’ cheese and a glass of Pinot. $$$$; 50 Hillside Dr.; 760/934-0460.
For tiki drinks: A tiki bar in a ski town? Genius. When you step off the gondola, it’s good to know that a pint-size mai tai and a Kahuna Burger are waiting for you under the (indoor) palapa at Lakanuki . $; 6201 Minaret; 760/934-7447.
For a nice Spanish cava: A ski town is lucky to have a wine bar like Petra’s Bistro, with a hearty wine list, apps like baked brie, and couches by a roaring fire. 6080 Minaret; 760/934-3500.
For on-mountain beer and brats: Pull up a seat and a stein by the fire at the Yodler (pictured), a Swiss chalet– style spot at the mountain base. On sunny days, the deck is the money spot. $$; 1 Minaret; 760/ 934-0636.
For a pint and a steak: Whiskey Creek is an old-school Mammoth mainstay, a folksy place where you can have a house-brewed beer in the pub and then sit down to a steak dinner. $$$; 24 Lake Mary Rd.; 760/934-2555.
Stake out a hot spring: Mammoth’s volcanic valley floor is peppered with natural hot springs where you soak in a big steamy tub with mountain panoramas as your backdrop. To find Hilltop Hot Tub, head east on Benton Crossing Road (look for the funky green church). After the third cattle crossing, around 3 miles later, pull over and look for the trail crossing the snowy meadow to the tub in the distance.
Hike in the snow: Tamarack’s full-moon snowshoe (Jan 17–19) is a chance to get the particular thrill of tromping around in the wild at night. Dessert and hot toddies served by the fire when you’re back. Through Mar; $40; tamaracklodge.com.
Hit the sledding hill: There are several sledding spots, but for tube rentals and the bonus of a rope tow, try Sledz (tubes $25; on Minaret Rd. near the Main Lodge; 760/934-7533).