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Inbounds Profile: Mammoth Mountain’s Endless Steeps

The winds are your friends at Mammy. They'll bring you endless refills of pow. Peter Morning photo.

To ride Mammoth Mountain’s steep trees, wide open bowls, and vast array of terrain, you’ll want to know where to go when the wind blows, on bluebird days, or in the eye of the storm. With 3,500 skiable acres of inbound terrain, 300 days of sunshine per year, and average annual snowpack of 400 inches, Mammoth definitely lives up to its hype and there are plenty of pockets on the mountain for maximizing the conditions.

Here are the zones you don't want to miss.

Chair 23- Steep and Deep

It’s the highest chairlift on Mammoth Mountain and tops out on the summit ridge below the Panorama Gondola, but more than just vertical, Chair 23 serves up some of the best snow on the mountain especially when the wind is blowing.

“When you get 20 miles per hour southwest winds the whole face gets smeared like cream cheese,” says Gabe Taylor, pro snowboarder and Mammoth Mountain marketing manager. “Wind buff is really original to Mammoth. It’s something you have to experience to understand, but once you do its as fun as anything.”

Nicknames the "Mothership," Chair 23 accesses the steepest terrain on the mountain–and its peak elevation helps hold the snow. Peter Morning photo.

The chair accesses some of the steeper terrain and because of its above tree-line exposure and north facing aspect, Chair 23 is ideal when the winds blow. The face gets refreshed and offers free refills until last chair. You’ll find yourself lapping fun fast fresh runs, digging the edges in, and making big arcing turns.

Just beneath and on either side of the lift, Wipeout and Dropout Chutes get skied first because of the accessibility. The chutes fill in deep with fresh snow and offer a long sustained straight fall line pitch back to the chair and are coveted lines on powder days.

A short groomer from the top of the lift can access the some of most popular and prominent lines on the mountain—the Paranoid Flats. The series of chutes that are affectionately known as “The Noids,” range in pitch from slightly hair-rising to full-on breakneck and typically hold the best snow off of summit ridge on powder days. You’ll need to carry your speed on the groomer to the top of the chutes and skate along the ridge to find your drop-in zone. While most riders head further along the ridge, some of the earlier lines can be overlooked and stay fresh longer.

Like we said, 23 gets DEEP. Peter Morning photo.

“Ideally a storm leaves fresh powder in the morning then the wind picks up and you get buff in the afternoon,” says action sports photographer and longtime Mammoth local Christian Pondella. “When a storm clears, it’s often a smaller line on 23 than on the gondola, but on a wind buff day it is definitely the chair.”

Cloud 9 Express- Chase the Dragon

The old-growth Jeffery pine trees on the Dragon’s Tail make for a steep tree skiing area that holds snow. The large trees create a protected area from wind, and the snow can often be twice as deep as other areas on the mountain even with its lower elevation. And the glades beneath the chair line can also offer fun and long fall line turns through rollers and gulleys all the way back to the chair.'

Chair 9, located to the far left of this photo, holds snow longer than most of the mountain, and allows you to access the immaculate Dragon's Tail. Peter Morning photo.

“The Tail on a powder day is the one of the best spots to go to especially if a cold storm comes in,” Pondella says. “It’s north facing so it doesn’t get affected by the sun, and the trees are thick so the wind doesn’t hit it—the tail is definitely the most protected little zone for tree skiing on the mountain.”

The rest of the East facing slopes off of the chair get sun baked, so on warmer days head for the shade. To get to the Tail you’ll need to have some traversing skills, especially on a snowboard, or hope that there is enough snow on the ridge to take the Dragon’s Back all the way to the tail from the Gondola. The terrain can be difficult to navigate for those unfamiliar with the mountain, so it’s best to follow a knowledgeable and willing leader, or simply follow traverse lines and know that you’ll be getting seconds. Whatever you do, don't drop over the east-southeast side of the ridge, as there are a series of cliff bands with fatal drops.

“You have the crazy traverse to get over there. And there are these main entrances that channel people, but if you are willing to explore a bit you can find a fresh line,” Pondella says. “It’s thick trees at the top, but it is going to open up below.”

Don't rush to Chair 9 first thing in the morning though. The slopes have considerable avalanche danger and won’t open until Ski Patrol has done a lot of control work. This is often the last spot to pop on a powder day.

Chair 22– Storm Riding and Afternoon Refills

When the top of the mountain is socked in and the storm riding is on, there is no better place than Chair 22. Lincoln Mountain is a sub-peak of Mammoth Mountain and offers different aspects. Riding the lift you’ll be protected from the winds, until the chair crests the top. For a few minutes of getting blasted by wind and snow, you’ll be rewarded with wind lip ridges, chutes, bowls, and fun glades that are often filled in with deeper powder than other wind affected areas on the mountain.

Chair 22 is your place if you're looking to send it off a variety of natural features. Peter Morning photo.

“It’s the best storm skiing on the mountain for sure—midweek,” Pondella says. “It’s the late afternoon spot too. Ski the top of the mountain and then get a couple laps on Lincoln for the last hour if you want to close down the mountain.”

Even though it is the place to ride on a storm day, the lines can be long and often frustrating on weekends, Taylor admits. “You have to curb your expectations. On a storm day, you know if you are going to Lincoln you’re going to get one epic run and not going to stress about it.”

“The best days on Lincoln are the stormy days that are super windy, the top isn’t open, and 22 is not actually running,” Taylor says. “They’ve done avalanche control and you can hike up the back from Chair 10 if the rope is pulled. It’s like a five-minute hike up a groomer and you get an untouched Chair 22—those are the best days by far, but those are pretty few and far between.”

Depending on the season and snowpack, a few cliff bands and rocks offer a natural kicker for the show boaters who want to get some air beneath the lift and provide entertainment for those on the riding the chair. With technical landings between the trees these hits are extreme and for the highly skilled riders only.

“There are quite a few bigger airs on 22,” Taylor says. “But if those are the ones you really want to send, you’ll want to wait for appropriate conditions.”

From the north-facing avalanche chutes to the Grizzly Gulch and the Sunshine Ridge’s wave-like feature–Lincoln Mountain offers a variety of terrain at all aspects. You’ll most likely be able to find stashes somewhere off of this chair even when the storms are thick and most of the chairlifts are on weather hold. Be sure to have a face mask stashed in your pocket as the winds can be blasting getting off the chair and sometimes upslope in the Avy Chutes.

Chair 14 – Bluebird Powder Days

The sunny two-seater Chair 14 is a respite from the busier lifts in the Main and Canyon Lodge areas with its laid-back vibe on Mammoth’s backside of the mountain. Steeper pitches are flanked by low angle glades and are best in 6-to-8 inches of fresh snow since the coverage can be thin otherwise.

“14 can actually open earlier than everything else (on a powder day), so if your mind is set on it you can lap chair 12 to keep an eye it, and even take a lap on 13 to see if starts spinning,” Taylor says.

There may be no terrain on the mountain as universally admired as the Hemlocks. Peter Morning photo.

“It is flat at the top and the bottom, but there’s lot of pitch in the middle with a bunch of different aspects.” Taylor says. “There are cliff drops that lead into steeper trees, or exciting rollovers.”

Taylor recommends skiing a few laps off the chair before hiking to the Hemlocks, which most locals consider the real prize of the backside. There you’ll find a ton of different lines like blind rollovers, tree gullies, and the steep east face. And with the addition of the Unbound Terrain Park’s natural features the area is one of the more coveted zones on the mountain for advanced riding and brings a backcountry freestyle type features in-bounds. It will take some dedication to lap the Hemlocks. The ten to twenty minute bootpack is steep, but well worth the effort. The terrain is some of the best on the mountain and because of the hike, it stays fresh longer than anywhere else. Natural hits combined with man made features offer something for every freestyle rider.

A short bootpack is a small price to pay for untouched Hemlocks pow. Peter Morning photo.

Though it’s a higher elevation zone on the mountain the west facing slopes have a full sun exposure in the afternoon, which heats up quickly turning fresh snow to sticky a mess. Exposed slopes have thin coverage. It’s best to tuck into the shade of north facing trees and glades on powder days.

Unbound Terrain Parks

Once you’ve had your fill of narrow chutes and open bowls and want to have a bit of fun in the park, you’re in luck, as Mammoth’s Unbound Terrain Parks have been at the forefront of innovation and progression for more than 20 years. With over a dozen unique terrain parks to choose from, Mammy has something for everyone, regardless of skill level.

Our suggestion is to hit South Park under the Roller Coaster Express chairlift. It has the most variety in terrain from tranny parks to kickers to pump tracks to jibs accessible from directly beneath Roller Coaster. It’s lower mountain park, which makes for great springtime laps for those looking to push their abilities without getting too burly.

Mammoth's park crew is second to none throughout the U.S. Peter Morning photo.

If, however, you’re a park master–and completely fearless–Mammoth’s Main Park might be your cup of tea. It features an array of XL hits that allow you to send it into orbit if you feel so inclined and a 22-foot superpipe for anyone really looking to get after. And while the features are definitely massive at Main Park, it should be noted that Mammoth’s Unbound crew does an immaculate job of dialing in the lips and landings of all its features, so the kickers tend to ride pretty smoothly.

And now with the new Progression Bag, Mammoth is the maintaining its status of leader in innovation for slopestyle freeskiing and snowboarding. At 192 feet long and 76 feet wide, it’s one of only three such bags in the world, and allows athletes the chance to attempt tricks in the most realistic training setting possible. The result: a safer and radically sped-up learning curve for big air athletes. The bag will be available to the public during select camps and training sessions during the 2018 spring season if you’re hoping to maybe start to build up your park abilities.

I have been living in and skiing Mammoth for 40 years….never get tired of it, and always wonder why I go anywhere else to ski.  This mountain has it all, and a crew that keeps conditions unreal even in low snow years.  Then there are the times Mother Nature blows….the windbuff is epic.

This year is my sixth season pass at Mammoth and I still got the shakes reading. I skied Utah, Tahoe, and Japan in the last month and absolutely can’t wait to get back on 23.

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