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OC WEEKEND GETAWAY : June Lake Offers Fine Alternative Casual, Family-Style Resort Features Mammoth Changes From Nearby Neighbor

March 11, 1993|RON EGGERS | Ron Eggers is a free-lance writer who occasionally contributes to The Times Orange County Edition.

California's eastern Sierra offers some of the best skiing in the country and, with more than 380 inches of snow this season, there are currently some of the best conditions since the early 1980s.

And when you think of skiing in this area, you think of Mammoth Mountain. However, there's a hidden treasure not too far from there that's often overlooked as a skiing destination, and that's June Lake.

Only six miles north of Mammoth as the crow flies, the June Lake ski area is about 25 miles from the Mammoth lifts by car, and a world apart in atmosphere and attitude. June is a much more casual resort and much more family-oriented than its neighbor to the south. It's an ideal destination for a weekend getaway or a midwinter vacation.

About two miles east of the community of June Lake, the ski area sits on more than 500 acres of High Sierra national forests. The central point of the resort is June Meadows Chalet, midway up the mountain. Skiers and non-skiers can take the high-speed, cable-car tram from the base to the chalet, where there's a restaurant and snack bar, equipment rental facilities and a ski school.

With seven lifts and 35 runs from casual to extreme, June is a particularly good place for a family or group that includes skiers of various abilities.

Even beginners can get away from the bunny slopes; about a third of all the runs are easy enough for them to handle. Runs such as Silverado, Comstock and Mambo let unsure skiers get the feel of what it's like being high on the mountainside without getting in over their heads. Another 40% of the runs are for intermediate skiers. They can challenge themselves on such runs as Surprise or lower Schatzi, venturing into a little more difficult terrain without having to fight the moguls.

There are also expert and double-black diamond runs. The Face, a run from the chalet down to the base Tram Haus, is one of the steepest runs in the country. And runs such as Powder Chute and the Pro Bowl at the top of June Summit are difficult enough for even the best skiers. But be forewarned: Though the runs are plenty steep, their numbers are limited.

Lift capacity is about 7,500 skiers per hour, but the crowds are far less than that. On the average weekend, there are around 2,000 skiers on the hill. The weekday average is even less than that, only about 400. You hardly ever have to wait in a lift line, and even casual skiers can experience the solitude of the sport.

For snowboarders, June was one of the early resorts to encourage that sport. With three special snowboard runs and a "half pipe" for snowboarders to "get air," it has become a popular destinations for both beginning and longtime enthusiasts.

One reason June has been ignored, even by those people who knew about it, is that it had a somewhat shabby reputation. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, maintenance fell off and scheduling was inconsistent. People would go up from Southern California for a ski weekend and find the facility closed or the runs in poor condition.

In 1986, however, that changed. Dave McCoy, owner of the Mammoth ski area, bought June. His daughter, Kandi, is now the general manager.

Since the McCoys took over, the facility has been modernized and expanded. High-speed lifts were added, and new runs were carved. It's now a top-notch ski area.

Prices for lift tickets are $35 for a full day and $25 for a half day.

Non-skiers will enjoy the trip as well. It's a great area to explore. Try an afternoon at the tufa formations of Mono Lake, just a few miles to the north, or do some cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.

There are a number of fine restaurants in town, but night life in the area is a little slow. Remember, though, the restaurants and night clubs of Mammoth are only 20 minutes away.

There are numerous Alpine lodges, quaint cabins and motels in the area. Fern Creek Lodge, Whispering Pines and the June Lake Motel offer rooms for most budgets, ranging from $40 to more than $150 per night. Decent accommodations are available in the $65 to $75 range.

Getting there is as easy as going to Mammoth. Out of Orange County, take the Santa Ana and Golden State (I-5) Freeway north to the Antelope Valley (14) Freeway, just north of San Fernando. Or you can take the San Diego (I-405) Freeway north to the Golden State Freeway and then take the Antelope Valley Freeway. Follow the Antelope Valley Freeway past Palmdale, Lancaster and Mojave, until it merges with U.S. 395 near Ridgecrest.

U.S. 395 continues north along the eastern Sierra through Lone Pine, Independence and Bishop, among other hamlets. About 15 miles north of the Mammoth cutoff is the southern entrance to June Lake Loop. It's about 370 miles of relatively easy driving from Orange County.

If you don't want to drive, Alpine Air offers two to seven day ski packages out of John Wayne Airport and Los Angeles International Aiport, with round-trip air fare ranging from $145 to $316.

For Additional Information:

June Lake Ski Resort

(619) 648-7733

June Lake Chamber of Commerce

(619) 648-7584

Alpine Air

(800) 421-9353

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