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December 13, 2007|Dean Kuipers

Since the Mammoth Mountain ski area was sold in 2005, rustic luxury has rapidly replaced the just plain rusted. Stampeding Escalades threaten to overrun the '70s vibe, but even powder hounds with duct-taped jackets can appreciate the night life that has arrived with upscale dining, top-end shopping and increased access to one of the West's best ski mountains -- which is, after all, the point. Or is it that hottie buying you a beer on the sun deck at Main Lodge?

The mountain (, [800] 626-6684) opened Nov. 8 this season, and the good news is that Chair 9, which oh-so-slowly serviced some of the best double-black-diamond terrain, has been replaced by a high-speed quad. And if the 450-foot Super Pipe and 600-foot Super Duper Pipe weren't enough for park rats, the Unbound Park at Main now features 60-foot and 80-foot Boneyard Bonanza Jumps. Also new this year is the Top of the Sierra Interpretive Center at the 11,053-foot summit of the Panorama Gondola, where you'll find exhibits on Mammoth's live volcanic activity (steaming vents everywhere!), views of the Minarets and Mono Lake, and a new cafe.

For a gentler wilderness experience, rent cross-country skis or snowshoes at the Tamarack Ski Center (Lake Mary Road, [760] 934-2442) and schuss along groomed routes in the bucolic Twin Lakes basin. The region is also dotted with wilderness hot springs. The easiest to find is Wild Willy's: Go south on Highway 395, turn east at Benton Crossing Road; at the third cattle guard, take an immediate right onto a dirt road for 1.5 miles (you'll need a high-clearance 4-by-4 if there's snow) till you see the sign.

On the Snow



On the Plate


Also at Tamarack: Not only is the Lakefront Restaurant (, [760] 934-2442) incredibly romantic, with 10 white-linen tables in a pine-walled room, but chef Frederic Pierrel is also raising the bar on local haute cuisine. Try the pokie salad and filet mignon; top it off with a port from the wine list.


The competition stepped up with the opening of Whitebark in the new Westin Monache Resort (50 Hillside Drive, [760] 934-0400), where Brandon Brocia has designed chop-house and small-plate appetizer menus. The lounge has a carved burl bar with suspended river stones overhead. Lulu ([760] 924-8781, restaurantlulu .com), an outpost of the San Francisco Provencal restaurant, serves fare such as fennel-scented pork loin and Brussels sprouts in the Village at Mammoth (, the neo-Swiss condo-hotel complex that serves as a new city center, complete with boutique shopping and bear statue (below).


The hot open secret is that L.A. chef Joachim Splichal's Patina Group has taken over the food service for Mammoth's ski lodges, including the Mountainside Grill in the Mammoth Mountain Inn (1 Minaret Road, [760] 934- 0601). Also revamped are the $139 snowcat dinners at Parallax ([800] 626-6684), which is halfway up the mountain at McCoy Station. Even the Main Lodge's venerable old Yodler ([760] 934-2581) is getting an upscale menu makeover.

On the Town


After the slopes close, you have to head into town to party. Whiskey Creek (24 Lake Mary Road, [760] 934-2555) used to be the only game around, a barn-like party loft open till 2 a.m. and filled with blond wood, blond hair and blown pickup lines. Now there's the tiki-themed Lakanuki (6201 Minaret Road, Suite 200, [760] 934-7447) in the Village. The place you really want to hang out: Clocktower Cellar (pictured), under the Alpenhof Lodge (6080 Minaret Road, [800] 828-0371). The locals who drink and play pool are so good-looking, and drinking so heavily, they have to close at 11 p.m. just to keep from gloating. At which point, they cross the street to Irish pubs Auld Dubliner ([760] 924-7320) or Hennessey's ([760] 934-8444).


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