Road Trippin’: Mammoth Mountain Getaway

Words and Photos by Chili Dog

Pink and orange cotton candy clouds stretched out above our heads and the Sierra Mountains surrounded us, lit by the soft light of the setting sun. As we lay in the natural hot springs with our feet kicked up, we couldn’t do anything but absorb the moment. It was hard to believe that just a few short hours ago we were in the middle of Los Angeles. It was the kind of moment that makes the Sierra Mountains, and Mammoth in particular, worth the drive. It sure doesn’t hurt that Mammoth also plays host to a kick ass bike park and more fun activities than we could possibly cram into our three-day trip.

It was still dark out when Marshall Mullen and I loaded up and hit the road leaving L.A., but there were no tired eyes or complaints. The drive up to Mammoth through the Mojave Desert and the Owens River Valley is gorgeous in itself, and is something I actually look forward to every time. Along the way there are plenty of cool spots to stop and ride, off road, eat or just get out and explore. If time allows and it’s not too hot, a quick diversion to Death Valley is always worth the effort. This time around we stopped at the ancient cinder cone and fossil falls, thinking that we would have a chance to ride down the red lava rock piles like a scree slope. That didn’t quite work out as planned, but the ensuing face plant left us with something to laugh about for the rest of the trip. Our next stop was the famous Eric Schat’s bakery. Located just outside Mammoth in Bishop, the bakery always has a line out the door with the epic sandwiches, pastries and bread. Pro tip: the cheesy garlic bread is kick ass. Once loaded up with sandwiches and garlic bread, we finished the drive to Mammoth. We arrived around noon, grabbed our lift passes and hopped in the gondola.

Mammoth Bound during the Golden Hour

It was my first time riding Mammoth in the summer, although we always make sure to go up during the winter for some snowboarding. This past winter was one for the books with an absolutely unreal amount of snow. All that snow made for some epic winter conditions, but also made it hard for the trail crew to get the bike park open. It wasn’t until deep summer that the bike park even began to poke out from its snowy covering. Even then, some of our favorite trails were closed off because the trail crew simply hadn’t had time to work on them yet. Despite the setbacks, a lot of the well-known trails were open and running better than ever.

For those that haven’t ridden in Mammoth, it’s a pretty unique environment. The trails are like riding in kitty litter with plenty of jagged, insanely technical rock gardens thrown in for fun. The decomposed granite soils are different from probably anything else you’ve been on, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to slide around in. If you like high speed drifting, and massive clouds of dust, you’ll be in heaven. This is not the place for party trains. The mountain has also put in a lot of effort developing their flow and jump trail system. The new jump trails were fast, fun and had some decent size hits on them too. It is a testament to the trail crew that they are able to take some very challenging terrain and make use of boulders and pavers to maintain trail consistency for these fun lines.

Cookin' over the rocks at Mammoth

We started out the day on the lower mountain, riding the tech trails like Chain Smoke and Techno Rock to get acquainted with the new dirt. After getting warmed up, we took the gondola all the way to the top, at 11,500 feet of elevation. The wind was howling as we dropped in on Skid Marks for some epic singletrack back down to the mid point of the mountain. Jagged rocks jutted out of the trail and tight switchbacks made for some epic fun and roosting. We also took the opportunity to hop up on the unmelted snow, sliding around and laughing uncontrollably before dropping into a steep loose hill that we could carve from left to right while kicking up massive amounts of dust. Once we’d had our fill of tech, we lapped the jump trails, trading off leading to see who could get the nastiest whip. Needless to say when the mountain closed at 5 o’clock that first day, the stoke was high and we were pooped.

Just because the lifts close down doesn’t mean the fun is over though. We swapped out our riding gear for swim trunks, and hopped in the truck to drive out to the hot springs. Located a few miles off the highway down a dirt road, the hot springs are a must. The region is rich with geothermal activity, and there are several hot and cold springs in the area that make for great secret spots to soak yourself after a long day in the park. Tucked in an empty field with nothing but a couple of cows and the Sierra mountain range surrounding you on all sides, the idyllic Wild Willy’s hot springs are something out of a post card. Yeah, this beats going to any bar in town. When the sun finally set, we reluctantly dragged ourselves out of the springs and back into town for a burrito at Roberto’s. Showing up at 9 o’clock is the only way you’ll actually get a table without an hour wait at this killer Mexican joint. Even if you do have to wait, the smothered and fully loaded burritos the size of your head are still worth it. If you’re smart, you’ll save half to eat for lunch the next day.

Baskin' in the Hot Springs

We woke up on day two and headed into town for the best breakfast place around. If you know The Stove, you know. It’s hard to beat home cooking in a tiny cabin style house that serves up killer biscuits, muffins, omelets and pretty much anything else you could ask for. Our personal favorite, the Sierra Sunrise, is a skillet filled with griddled hash browns, veggies, eggs, cheese and ham. If you still have room after breakfast, the pies are pretty damn stellar too. After stuffing ourselves, we hit the hill.

Our day started with a bang as we ripped the jump trails straight away. Once we’d logged our sky miles for the day, we swapped out the jumps for more of the rocky delicacies. Things were going well until Marshall took a nasty high speed fall that left him with shredded shorts, a scratched goggle lens, a broken GoPro case and a helmet that looked like it got thrown off a cliff. The call was made to clean up and keep riding, since we were both having far too much fun to stop. Apparently my clean kit was jealous because I overcooked my line on the very next run. I sent it into a rock garden and the next thing I knew, I was sailing over the bars and headed for a rendezvous with a granite slab. When I put my hand out to catch my fall, I heard that awful “snap” no one ever wants to hear as my right hand rolled over on itself.

Mammoth sized sunset from the mountain

“This wasn’t how we had planned things to go,” I thought to myself as I sat on the cold white sheets. Somehow our epic road trip had landed us in the place no mountain biker ever wants to be – the hospital. After X-rays and a cast, we left the hospital bummed out and bound for Mammoth brewing Company to wash down the hurt and dust. A few beers and left-handed games of giant Jenga later, we were feeling better. Even though I wasn’t able to ride, Mammoth still has plenty of things to do. After dinner, we hopped in the truck and drove out to Red’s Lake, located down a dirt road that takes you onto Mammoth Mountain along the lower portion of the famous Kamikaze trail and back behind chair 14. After a few miles or so of driving, you’re greeted with an epic alpine lake and a gorgeous view of the Minarets, a series of jagged rock formations that lie behind Mammoth’s peak. It was a good ending to an otherwise bad day as we watched the sun set behind the minarets. Since bikes were now out of the question, we resorted to hooning around in the truck until well after dark.

Kitty Litter Bermin'

Our final day was supposed to be one for the books but thanks to my hand, I was relegated to hiking while Marshall rode the park. Though the trip didn’t pan out exactly how we have planned, it was still a damn good time. Sometimes when it comes to mountain biking you just gotta roll with the punches. We all accept that we’ll get hurt from time to time, and this was my time. Mammoth was normally a winter destination on my list but after this trip I can’t wait to come back for some fun in the sun. As we drove home, both of us licking our wounds, we still couldn’t help but think back on the trip positively. There’s just something about the Sierra Mountains that will always keep us coming back, and Mammoth’s bike park is absolutely worth the trip. The natural terrain coupled with the unique dirt makes for a truly unforgettable riding experience. Add in the killer food, endless activities and a gorgeous setting, and you have the recipe for a stellar road trip.

Thats a wrap for Mammoth
Down the chute