California is full of surprises. For one, a lot of people don’t know that you can ski here. For another, my home state is so big and geographically diverse that even natives like me discover new places in California all the time. Like Mammoth, with its snow-capped mountains, eerie ghost towns, and spectacular lakes…
I’ve heard so much about Mammoth from my friends in Southern California (or SoCal, as we call it) that I’m surprised I’ve never been here before. It’s the go-to ski destination for SoCal residents, what with it being within driving distance of LA and San Diego, or a short flight if you’re pressed for time like me. It’s also right next door to Yosemite, one of California’s most beloved national parks, which makes it all the more appealing to visit in any season.
This being winter, I’m here to spend a few days skiing on Mammoth Mountain and exploring the surrounding area. I’ve heard so much about the lakes and ghost towns that in addition to hitting the slopes, I can’t wait to see a new part of my state.
Skiing is the first item on my Mammoth itinerary. Having grown up skiing in Lake Tahoe, Mammoth’s northern neighbor and the go-to ski destination for NorCal residents (yep, that’s short for Northern California), I feel a bit of a rivalry with Mammoth. Could it possibly be as good as Tahoe?
As it turns out, yes. My inner NorCal kid might hate to admit it, but skiing in Mammoth is pretty great. VisitCalifornia, my host for the trip, puts me up at the Westin Monache Resort, which is right by the tram that takes skiers up the mountain.
Even more convenient is the fact that my ski clothes are mailed to me by GetOutfitted, a ski clothing rental company that allows me to not have to haul my ski stuff all the way from London. Similarly, Black Tie Ski Rentals comes straight to my hotel to outfit me with skis and boots on my arrival, saving me the time and hassle of having to go somewhere to get them. All of my travel efficiency dreams have come true.
The skiing itself is great, too. We’re in Mammoth mid-week, so we have the entire mountain to ourselves, and the California sun has come out to say a shiny hello as we bomb down the glistening white hills. It’s good to be home.
But if the skiing is great, the area around Mammoth is even better. I’ve always been a big fan of California’s natural beauty, and as soon as I reach June Lake I wonder if I’ve ever seen anything this awe-inspiring in all my travels. The reflection of the mountains in the glassy water is matched only by the profound silence of nature, and I want to stay forever and take it all in.
The same thing happens when I reach nearby Mono Lake. Its heavy saline water reflects the spotted clouds and bright blue sky like a mirror to the heavens.
But perhaps the most enchanting thing about the area around Mammoth is the ghost town.
Bodie was booming during the famous California Gold Rush in the mid-1800’s, but over time its residents trickled out, leaving everything they owned behind until all that was left was a perfectly intact town with nobody in it.
Bodie remains like that today, lost in time.
Dust has settled over the desks in the school and the goods in the shops.
Rust has spread over the cars and rot over the farming equipment.
Buildings have started to tilt on their foundations, and the church pews sit patiently empty, waiting for new souls to fill them.
I walk through Bodie quietly, afraid to disturb the ghosts that surely haunt this town.
It’s a miracle I’m even here; in most years the road is snowed in during the winter. But this year the drought has made traveling down the dirt road possible, and as I press my nose against the dusty glass of Bodie’s abandoned houses and shops, schools and churches, I find myself peering into history. It’s haunting and magical.
Back on the road to Mammoth, I pass by more high desert scenery and stunning mountain lakes, all the while wondering how I spent the better part of my life in California without witnessing all of this beauty. I haven’t come close to seeing everything Mammoth has to offer, but even if I had, I know I would be back. I’ve traveled to 100 countries, but there’s nothing quite like California. And this particular part might just be the best.