On the bright side

Our last snowfall of note in Mammoth was on November 20, 2011. I’ve got accustomed to waking up to a bluebird day, the only real variable being how cold or warm it is. I’ve resigned myself to the lack of natural snow. I know where the rocks are likely to be on the ski runs and avoid them, soon I will start giving some of them names as they are a regular feature on the slopes. But all is not lost. The lack of snow has provided opportunities to combine a skiing trip with other pursuits not normally available in Mammoth at this time of year. Here are 5 things you can do in Mammoth look on the bright side and make the most of your trip.

1. Ice Skate! This is one of the best ice skating seasons in a long long time. The area is abound with mountain lakes frozen over offering the perfect natural skating rink. In particular Lake Tenaya on the Tioga Highway is a popular spot. You can now hire skates from Quicksliver in the Village.

2. Visit a Ghost Town. Bodie, one of the best preserved ghost towns in California if not America, is usually off limits this time of year due to snow. An hour drive from Mammoth it will be errily quiet at the moment due to lack of the summer crowds. Take a warm jacket as the wind is often blowing through this desolate spot and spare a thought for those that had to endure winter here. It would pay to call the park before venturing out there.

Bodie Ghost Town

3. Take soak in a natural hot spring. Usually in winter only the hardy venture out to the hot springs, often using cross country skis or snow shoes. No snow this winter means that all the local hot tubs are still easily accessible. They make the perfect foil for the days adventures.

Hill Top Hot Spring

4. Drive over Tioga pass. I could only find records going back to 1980 but the road has NEVER been open this late in that time. The Yosemite Valley is about 2.5 hours drive from Mammoth so certainly achievable as a day trip. On the way you could hike up one of the easily accessible granite domes. I was lucky enough to get up there for a picnic on Christmas Day.

Olmsted Point, H/W 120, Xmas Day 2011

5. Go for a hike. Many of the lower hiking trails are largely free of snow at present. This makes a nice change from the previous two winters where 6 feet of snow covered the ground everywhere. Today I went to check out the Inyo Craters. A fun and easy walk, the road in requires 4WD at the moment although you can walk that section too. Other places to check out are Convict Lake and the Lakes Basin. There is the odd patch of slippery ice so take care.

If these activities don’t keep you busy then you could throw a bike in with your skis and go riding, there’s even some off road trail at Rock Creek. Lastly I bet the golf in Bishop is going off!

So I’ve given up fretting about the lack of snow. I’m starting to embrace this winter for what it is and discovering there is a lot on offer if you are willing to look outside of the box. And hey you can still ski too!

Beautiful Sunset

Beautiful colors at Mammoth Mountain last night!
Mammoth sunset

A Dry December

What a difference a year makes! Last year I seemed to be spending more time digging out our car than skiing – December 2010 had a record-breaking 209” (17.4 ft, 5.3 metres) of snow. This year December is shaping up to be one of the driest Decembers ever with 2” total to date, with only 1976-77 and 1986-87 clocking in lower at a big fat zero!

Luckily, we have an incredible group of people making snow whenever the thermostat dips below freezing and so most of the lower parts of the mountain are open. This bodes well for beginners and intermediates – with experts itching to get back onto the more challenging runs.

Snowmaking at Mammoth

Photo: Peter Morning/MMSA

For a bit of historical perspective, here is a table and graph of snowfall each year from 1969 – click on the image for a larger version.

Mammoth Mountain Historical Snowfall

Mammoth Mountain Snowfall Graph

Snow history data courtesy of MammothMountain.com. Snow history graphs courtesy of Sort Creative.

Grand Opening of High-Five Express!

Originally built in 1964, Chair 5 has serviced some of Mammoth’s most popular terrain as a two-seater, a three-seater and now a brand new high-speed Dopplemayr quad chairlift. This express lift will cut ride time in half as it whisks 2,400 people uphill per hour and services more terrain with new top and bottom locations.

Don’t miss the Grand Opening Ceremony today at 1pm! Complimentary hot chocolate and coffee will be served to keep you warm as you become some of the first people to ride the new lift!

Mammoth's High-Five Express

H2B or not H2B

In the news at Mammoth over the last little while  has been the fact that Mammoth Mountain had their H2B visa application denied by the US government. The H2B visa was a stream of visa that allowed the Mountain to employ foreign workers to fill skilled jobs like ski instructing. It was a big loss for me personally as many of my friends can no longer work here and I miss them. It was also a huge loss for the Ski School as many of those instructors denied visas were supervisors, trainers and experienced professionals. Of course the biggest loss is bared by those instructors who can’t return, some of which have been coming here for more than a decade, some of which called Mammoth home.

My good friend Jo, one of many not to get a H2B visa

However, some people are happy that the Mountain is forced to employ Americans for the Ski School. This is a valid argument along the lines of Americans for American jobs, especially true in hard times like the present. But I feel this is a simplistic view. The Ski School benefited from having a mix of nationalities on their roster. Ideas on skiing were shared and the skiing public benefited from this. Friendships between instructors meant Americans could get jobs in the Southern Hemisphere through connections opening up opportunities to Americans. Not to mention the fact the Ski School was able to employ more highly qualified instructors. You may think that people are lining up to be instructors and yes the mountain does receive a lot of applications but most of these are from people that have never taught before. It takes a certain person to want to move to a seasonal and isolated resort, especially for more than one year, it takes a certain person to make a career out of teaching skiing. Instructors with experience and qualifications are hard to come by and don’t grow on trees. It is these type of people the Ski School misses the most.

The future of Mammoth Ski School

On the bright side I’ve had the honor and pleasure over the last two weeks to train some of the new instructors the mountain has employed. I’ve been impressed by their eagerness and excitement. I hope that some of them will get qualified, return next year and make a career out of teaching skiing, it’s what the school needs. They have big shoes to fill left by those not able to come to Mammoth but I am encouraged by what I have seen so far. Good luck to them all.

Free Friday!

If you haven’t yet heard the news, Mammoth  Mountain is letting everyone ski and ride FREE today! The idea came from Mammoth’s CEO, Rusty Gregory, who is so impressed with the conditions due to snowmaking he wants to prove to everyone that little natural snowfall no longer means what it used to.  So if you’re not here already, head on up!

Mammoth Free Friday

Hard pack conditions at Mammoth – tips on how to ski ice

Skiing on ice

We haven’t received new snow in Mammoth for two weeks now and some people are getting twitchy. In that time the Mountain has been making snow and they opened Chair 10 so it is not all bad. The groomed runs are still great but it can be on the icy side. It is not quite true ice like you would find at Whakapapa in New Zealand or out East in the States, but when you get spoilt for powder, as we do in Mammoth, we like to call it ice. Most people baulk at the idea of skiing ice, they feel less control, it’s noisy and it hurts to fall on. However skiing ice and mastering it can be both fun and rewarding, here’s a few tips to help.

1. Widen your stance if you have a narrow one.
The first thing to do is look at your stance, having a slightly wider stance than usual helps to give you more support, it also lowers your centre of gravity slightly aiding balance too.
Exercise: Play around with your width of stance, one exercise to try are Cowboy Turns where you pretend to be riding a horse with your feet super wide apart. Try that for a run or two but remember it is an exercise so don’t ski like that all the time!

2. Balance on your outside ski
Make sure you are balanced on your outside ski. Feel like you are standing on the inside of that foot more strongly. This helps to get more pressure on that edge and hopefully gets it to bite into the snow to give you grip. Making sure your upper body is stable is key in this area, if you let it fall to the inside of the turn too much or twist to the inside then your skis are likely to slide out from under you.
Exercise: There are a million exercises to aid balancing on the outside ski. Sometimes just making sure your inside hand doesn’t drop down to the inside of the turn will help. Or next time your skiing on easier terrain try lifting up your inside ski whilst turning and see if you can balance solely on the outside ski.

3. Aim for round turns
Make round turns and use the shape to control speed, you can even direct the skis up the hill a little to help speed control, don’t get this confused with just traversing however which is a waste of time. You could think of slowing your movements down a bit so that you don’t ‘spin out’ or skid excessively. I like the analogy of driving a car on ice, sudden movements on the wheel can lead to loss of traction and control. The same applies to skiing on ice, quick movements can lead to a loss of grip (on ice it is easy for us to over steer our skis into a skid because of the smooth surface). You might ask then why racers often use aggressive movements on icy courses? well they have highly tuned equipment and bodies, whilst it is inspiring to see them ski, replicating what they do is beyond the average recreational skier otherwise we would all be world cup racers!
Exercise:Try to slow down your movements, counting can help with this. Visualize a round arch and try to stay on it.

4. Use sharp skis
Have your skis tuned and edges sharp, no amount of good technique is going to make your skis grip if they have blunt edges.

5. Put your skis on edge
Conversely even the sharpest skis are not going to grip if they are not edged into the snow. By this I mean the ski needs to be tipped onto its side allowing the ski to cut the snow. It is best to achieve this by feeling like you are rolling your ankles and knees into the hill. Try to keep your upper body still when you do this which will help with balancing on the outside ski.
Exercise: Try traversing (it is not a waste of time of it is a drill!) and roll your ankles and knees into the hill, you should feel your ski grip more and the ski will turn into the hill more too. Try this on both sides. Just make sure that when you are trying this exercise that you pick a quiet slope where you can be easily seen from above.

6. Keep terrain in your comfort zone

Take it easier on the terrain you ski. It is a good idea to ski terrain a level or two below what you usually would. For example, if Cornice, a black run at Mammoth, is the limit of your powers then don’t even bother going there on an icy day. On that note I wouldn’t recommend Cornice to anyone at the moment, last time I skied it it was pretty icy with rocks and other hazards waiting for the errant skier.

7. Be aware
Ski safe, by this I mean be aware of others around you, some of which might have less control in the icy conditions.

Skiing on ice is a great learning experience, it certainly points out any deficiencies in your technique out to you. But if you persevere it can teach you a lot of things about skiing, it is just another condition to master in order to become an accomplished skier.

Mammoth the windy Mountain

Mammoth is known for its wind. Sometimes this produces awesome wind blown snow affectionately known by locals as “the buff”. The buff is basically fine snow with a buttery texture that gets naturally filled in by the wind making for amazing skiing, often with fresh tracks every run. However sometimes the wind will scour a slope out back to hard pack or ice leaving it with a moon scape texture which isn’t that great to ski. A lot of the time it depends on wind direction as to where will be good and where will be bad so local knowledge helps in seeking out the buff.

Skiing the buff under Chair 1

I got talking about wind because we had a storm roll in last night that came with a lot of wind but unfortunately not much snow. The bad news with this storm too is that it has an easterly component to it which produces less buff and more moon scape. Winds from the east basically strip the mountain of snow and blow it over to Fresno. It is pretty much the last thing we needed right now with a minimal snow pack so far this year.

Ski Patrol reported the winds at the top of Mammoth to be in excess of 150 miles per hour (hurricane force), that is as far as their instruments will measure so it could have been more! here is a neat graph showing the speeds from last night.

Wind speed at the top of Mammoth

I ventured up the hill this morning to see what was going on and to pick up some pay checks. It was blowing pretty strong and I was surprised to see snow making going. Here are a few shots from this morning.

Chair 6

Looking up towards Gold Rush (Chair 10)

Other than stripping the snow there are a few hazards that the wind can produce, obviously with all the snow being moved around it can form dangerous slab avalanches where it settles. Another hazard is driving with snow blowing on the road and obscuring visibility.

Wind blown snow on the road

At Mount Hutt (New Zealand) this is a particularly dangerous problem as there are no trees to provide reference to the ground once the snow starts blowing about. I’ve also been on the Mount Hutt road when the wind has picked up rocks the size of large marbles which smashed the windows out on several vehicles in our convoy, that was pretty scary. In the video below you can see how quickly visibility can diminish to a few feet with blowing snow.

Untitled from kiwiski on Vimeo.

So wind can be our friend at Mammoth as it usually comes with snow and produces the legendary buff, but it can also be damaging and dangerous and deserves our respect.

So how cold is it?

Coming from New Zealand where we use Celsius to measure temperature it has taken me a long time to get use to thinking in Fahrenheit, (let alone feet, pounds and quarts!)

The Fahrenheit scale was invented back in 1796 and was superseded by the Celsius scale by most countries except the United States, Cayman Islands and Belize (wikipedia).

To me the Celsius scale makes more sense, water freezes at 0C, boils at 100C (or close to it depending on atmospheric pressure) but then again I grew up with that scale. Back in New Zealand I knew single digits were cold, twenties were nice, anything over thirty was hot, if you were crazy enough to live in Australia it would get into the forties.

Me and the flies in the Desert heat of the Outback, Australia

I guess you grow up associating the number behind a particular temperature with an expectation of what to expect should one venture outside. Moving to the States threw that out the window somewhat. After living here for two years I now know I need air conditioning if it’s in the nineties, I’ll be fine wearing a T-shirt in the seventies and that I should put an extra layer on and break out the hand warmers if it gets below thirty!

Best to put on another layer

If you are good at maths it is not that hard to convert temperatures between the two scales, just use this ‘simple’ equation.

Tf = (9/5)*(Tc+32)

Tc = (5/9)*(Tf-32)

One of my favourite weather sites is www.snow-forecast.com, it provides a good six day forecast for any resort you can think of and I’ve found it to be pretty accurate. It has a neat feature where you can change between metric and imperial measurements giving you both Celsius and Fahrenheit. Also here’s a table to help give you an idea of different temperatures on each scale.

°F Description
100 212 Water boils
40 104 Hot Bath
37 98.6 Body temperature
30 86 Beach weather
21 70 Room temperature
10 50 Cool Day
0 32 Freezing point of water
-18 0 Very Cold Day
-40 -40 Extremely Cold Day (and the same number!)
(bold are exact)

Interestingly the only time the two scales intersect is at -40C/-40F, I hope I never get to find out just how cold that is, at least not here in Mammoth! Whilst I’m talking about measurements, and don’t get me started about miles and kilometers, I’d like to know why we measure skis in the US in centimeters and everything else in inches?

New Snow at Mammoth for Thanksgiving

It has been a difficult few days for weather forecasters at Mammoth. First we had snow predicted with a storm that hit on Friday, all we got was 100 mile an hour winds, any snow that may have fell got blown into Nevada and beyond. That was meant to be it but a sneaky second storm rolled in on Sunday with barely a days notice from the weather guys. This storm delivered a much needed 12 inches of snow to the mountain and has set things up nicely for Thanksgiving week.

The Mountain has plans to open chair 2 this week which will be great. They have also stated they would open 10 and 4 provided there was enough snow, fingers crossed on that one.

Here’s some photos from this morning

Top of Mammoth through the trees

Sunrise to a Winter wonderland

The Sherwins


Today should be one out of the box, with bluebird skies, no wind and new snow! Have a good day out there if you are lucky enough to be on the hill, and happy Thanksgiving!