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Mammoth: Something old, something new as ski season opens

November 17, 2011|By Sara Lessley | Special to the Los Angeles Times
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

Mammoth Mountain, you’ve only improved with age, yours and mine.

Opening weekend 2011 (Nov. 10 was opening day) brought something new: an RFID ticketing system. And something improved: a smoother-operating loading/unloading zone at Main Lodge.  And, for the young and/or adventurous, some new terrain park features.

Plus something old, of course: the snow Mammoth is known for, still too thin for full-mountain operations but enough (an 18-28-inch base, supplemented with snowmaking) to open at least five lifts, including the beginner Discovery Chair,  the workhorse Chair 1 up Broadway, Facelift Express 3 plus Thunder Bound’s Chair 6 and Panorama Lower Gondola.

For us old-timers--my first trip to Mammoth was about 1969, when Dad decided that little brother and I had graduated from Southern California’s Table Mountain (Wrightwood, remember?)--this year’s new ticketing system is the biggest change.

Gone are the folks with hand-held scanners. The new system reads season passes or day tickets automatically -- the pass can be tucked safely in your pocket -- opening access gates to the lower-level lifts. Plus, once in the system, day-pass users can reload online for another day of skiing.

How did it work? The new access gates balked a few times, but helpful humans quickly smoothed the way. Even better, when the lift lines on Chair 1 got unruly about noon Saturday, a few hosts stepped in to remind the impatient of some basic mountain etiquette: “Alternate, please, a group from this side, then a group from that side. How many? OK, you singles fill it out please.”

 Main Lodge devotees will notice a traffic change. In the drop-off/bus zone, there’s a loop pattern, overseen by hosts, so that it really is a temporary unloading -- not parking -- zone.  (One common-sense way that’s enforced: You can leave your car for a brief errand; you just have to leave your emergency flashers on.)  

Over the weekend, host Steve, a senior mountain exec, and others efficiently guided the cars through the three-lane zone.  Steve cheerfully repeated instructions for vehicle after vehicle, even keeping his cool when a few berated him: “Give us a break; it wasn’t this way before.”  (He was still at it when we broke for lunch. Note to Mammoth founding family member Casey McCoy: Host Steve definitely earned some ski time.)

But in the end, it’s all about the snow and the runs.  Veterans Day brought fresh snow, short lift lines and terrific skiing. The typical weekend crush made Saturday afternoon a bit  tough for everyone. 

But by Sunday, the place had thinned out, and Mammoth’s famous blue-bird sky enveloped freshly groomed runs. The ski team members raced down the mountain, while the rest of us zigzagged around them, soaking up the sun and congratulating ourselves on simply being there for a glorious opening weekend. 

So you couldn’t make it? Guess when the new storm is expected? Yup, snow showers are predicted for Friday, with a possible accumulation of 1 to 2 inches. For current info: (760) 934 2571 and press 6. Adult lift tickets from $69.

Info: (800) 626-6684 or (760) 934-2571

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