|Now Boarding - Direct Flights from Santa Ana to Mammoth|
Laylan Connelly had the pleasure of taking the first non stop flight from Santa Ana (SNA) to Mammoth Lakes.
|Cabin Fever Episode 2 - Mammoth Unbound Main Park|
Every Week we're checking in with the local's in Mammoth. This week Greg Weaver, Mark Reininga, Mitch Richmond, Chuck Evans and Friends take us through Mammoth's main park. Brought to you by McKenna VW
Flights from O.C. to Mammoth - is it worth it?
Flights from O.C. to Mammoth - worth it?
The text message summed it up: Stuck in traffic. Don't wait up.
I was meeting friends up at Mammoth Mountain on a recent weekend, and while they stared at bumper-to-bumper traffic and felt the frustration of making their way out of Orange County, I got there in less than half the time by air, sitting cozy with a happy-hour cocktail in hand.
Round-trip flights by United Airlines are now available from Orange County to Mammoth Mountain, and after word got out of the new air service I quickly booked my ticket to be on the first departure flight on Dec. 16, joined by others eager quick to ditch the long five-hour-plus drive and instead get to the snowy mountain on a flight that takes about an hour from take off to landing.
Don't get me wrong, there are things I love about the beautiful drive to Mammoth Mountain: Making my way through long stretches of nowhere, my mind drifting away from the stresses of the world as music blares. The slow unveiling of snow-capped mountains, letting you know you're getting closer – and the growing excitement when the white fluff becomes more plentiful surrounding the roads and trees. There's the late night drives when the stars shine brighter than I've seen, or the skies vibrant colors during sunrise during early morning departures.
But there are things I really don't like about driving – like the driving part. There's the pain of gas price increases each year, and the stiff body from sitting still for long hours. The exhaustion as you finally hit your destination. Oh, and of course, the cops laying in wait along the 395 highway, eager and happy to hand out speeding tickets.
More and more airlines are jumping on the air service trend of getting skiers and snowboarders up to Mammoth, the first started with Los Angeles a few years ago, and this year both Orange County and San Diego have launched flights.
Linda Orbin, of Dana Point, was on the first Los Angeles flight three years ago and made sure she was on the first service out of John Wayne Airport.
"It was great, it was really smooth," she said as she walked off the plane in Mammoth. "We were thinking we should wave to the people driving. It was so easy."
Tim Marshall has been flying out of LA for the past few years, and has been doing the drive for decades. The Corona del Mar skier had his whole family in tow for the inaugural John Wayne Airport flights.
"We've been waiting for this flight for 30 years, and it's finally here," Marshall said. "We are stoked, we are fired up. We are going to do it every weekend."
His wife Patsy won't miss the speeding tickets, one of which she got last Christmas, and Marshall joked that he had to take out a home equity line for all the citations he's racked up over the years.
"We can relax, this is incredible," said Marshall, still wearing shorts and flip-flops as he got off the plane in chilly Mammoth. "I even had a vodka soda on the way up here – which I can't do when I drive."
I was surprised at how quickly the flight took, not even halfway done with my beer when the pilot announced we'd be landing soon.
Those fearful of flying might have a hard time with the size of the small plane, which has no more 20 rows, two seats on each side. Although the flight was hassle free, there are a few downsides to flying.
Though the flights are affordable, it's still more than packing four people in a car and splitting gas prices. Flights run from about $150 and $200 round- trip, plus $25 for your first checked bag and another $35 for a second bag if you have a snowboard.
Then there are the time slots out of John Wayne Airport, smack dab in the middle of the day. With driving, you have the flexibility to leave at any time to maximize your snow sessions. With a departure out of John Wayne at 2:10 p.m., it's too late to get on the mountain by the time you arrive. And with return service from Mammoth at 12:15 p.m., you have to book Friday through Monday if you want to get two full days (Saturday and Sunday) of riding.
It's the reason my cousin Meagan Connelly – who lives at a mid-point of Los Angeles and Orange County in the city of Lakewood – opted to head to LAX instead, which offered early morning service. By the time I arrived in Mammoth that Friday, she had already come off the mountain after getting a half-day ticket at noon and was able to ride almost all day Sunday, then leaving at about 4 p.m. for LAX and able to make it to work on Monday.
As Meagan greeted us at our condo at Chamonix next to Canyon Lodge, she gave us a full report of the snow: Not great like last December, when Mammoth had record snowfall, but not too bad either.
The mountain has been hurting for snow this year, with few storms passing through the region. But the conditions were better than I thought they would be, with weather cold enough to blow from machines on the groomed runs. It's still early in the season, so hopefully it will start dumping soon, and we'll have another healthy winter of riding. Last season, Mammoth stayed open until July 4.
The folks at Mammoth have done a few upgrades this year, bringing in new mechanical card readers at the lift lines that read your ticket to let you on the chairs, making the waits shorter. Also, they are encouraging people to sign up for the MyMammoth program, which gives you discounted ticket prices ($89 verses $96), and allows you to purchase your tickets online instead of waiting in line.
There's some new stuff on the slopes as well. The new installment of the Art Park just went up, featuring artist Jamie Lynn, with pop-up jibs at the bottom of South Park. I love the creativity and style the artistic features add to the mountain. Also, they've opened up the 22-foot half pipe, the first to open in North America, and voted the second best half-pipe in the nation by Transworld Snowboarding.
A grand opening was held a few weeks ago for the new high-speed quad, High-Five Express, at chair 5. Woolly – the mountain mascot – was one of the first on the new quad, enjoying the fast-running lift that gets you to the top of the mountain faster.
Even with all the changes and upgrades happening at Mammoth Mountain, it's still going to be the same slopes I've come to love through the years – the long rides that make my legs burn at the bottom, the view from the gondola that takes you to the very top of the mountain, the tree runs after a good dump, and the overall feeling of being so far away from the stresses of work and home.
Now, it's just a little faster to get there.
Budget vs. high-end Mammoth getaway:
Mammoth Mountain – California's highest ski resort at 11,000 feet – has something for everyone, whether it's a luxurious vacation or a penny-pinching getaway.
On average, 1.2 million buy lift tickets to Mammoth each year from around the world, the majority coming from Southern California. With 28 lifts giving access to 3,500 skiable acres, there's plenty to discover on this white-capped mountain.
It's a big mountain, so planning can be tough: Do you splurge on the niceties and feel spoiled while going upscale, or do you go frugal during these hard economic times?
At Mammoth, you can do either, or both.
We've mapped out our favorite upscale and affordable accommodations, places to eat mouth-watering or cheap meals, and ways to enjoy Mammoth while cutting down on spending.
WHERE TO STAY:
Places to save:
- Rent a cabin: If you can handle herding a big group together, there's nothing better than cutting costs by cramming a bunch of people into one cabin or condo. That's what we did recently at Chamonix, a condo complex walking distance to Canyon Lodge and the Village gondola. We fit six people in a one bedroom, plus one loft condo that had two bathrooms and a kitchen. Cost came out to about $100 each for two nights. Go through the rental agency at Mammothlakes.com.
More info: mammmothlakes.com
- Just the basics: Davidson Creek Guest House offers hostel-like housing for travelers just looking for the basics. You can find a bed for $35.40, although you may have to sleep in a dorm with strangers. They have private rooms for small families and groups of 3-4 people that go for about $75. The 22-bed lodge has a community kitchen. Rent out the entire lodge for large groups for $774.33, split between 22 people and it's about $35 per person.
- Mammoth Mountain Inn: You can't get closer to the mountain than Mammoth Mountain Inn. Just steps away from Main Lodge and the lifts at an elevation of 9,000 feet, this quaint inn offers everything you need for reasonable prices. The rooms have beds with big, plump pillows and blankets, but there are hints of the inn's age, like hard-to-open room locks. The inn has everything from single-bed, hotel-like rooms to condos. Rooms are available for as low as $143, but be aware that there is an additional $20 resort fee at check in. Address: 1 Minaret Road. Link:
More info: www.mammothmountain.com/Lodging
- Westin Monache Resort: The addition of the Westin – the only four-star resort in town – a few years ago elevated the entire mountain in class status. Inside you'll find what you'd expect at a Westin - spotless tile floors, perfectly dressed employees, candles lit for ambiance, and the feel of an upscale hotel. Cost per night starts at $309. Address: 50 Hillside Drive. Link: www.westinmammoth.com
WHERE TO EAT:
On the cheap:
- John's Pizza Works: There's nothing like coming off of the slopes starving, and chowing down on a big, warm pizza. John's Pizza Works has been around for 20 years. This place has hands down the best pizza I've tasted. The crust is filled with herbs, the cheese is gooey, and if you like it spicy, don't miss the Pizza Picante (sausage, mushroom, pepperoni and jalapenos). Address: 3499 Main Street, Mammoth Lakes.
- Roving Mammoth: Don't want to deal with the crowds or costs at the lodges? Mammoth last year introduced the Roving Mammoth - a take on the food-truck craze that offers burritos, calzones and drinks out of a snowcat. This is a great way to eat cheap - find breakfast, chicken or beef burritos for $5.50.
- Parallax Snowcat Dinners: Try a rare experience at 9,600 feet on the mountain. A luxury snowcat picks you up at Mammoth Mountain Inn, and you are greeted with a glass of champagne. The snowcat takes you to Parallax for a five-course, pre-fixed meal. You can't beat the romantic view from McCoy station, with the white snow surrounding you all around. Cost is $79 per adult, $29 for children under 12. Seating is available Friday and Saturday and during holiday periods. Reservations required.
RELAX ON THE SLOPES:
- Luxury Spa treatment: There are surprisingly few luxury spas around Mammoth, but one that stands out is the Double Eagle Spa, a full-service spa with 40 different types of massages, facials, body treatments, manicures and pedicures and more. If you get a 50-minute or more spa treatment, you also get access to their club if you'd like to work out, take a yoga class, or sit in their steam rooms, spa or pools. Try the Creekside Signature Massage for a relaxing experience at $95 for 50 minutes, or work out the knots from a day on the slopes with a 50-minute deep tissue massage for $110. Link: www.snowcreekathleticclub.com
- Spas on the cheap: Check out one of the several hot springs around Mammoth. Even with snow everywhere, there's a few that stay warm year round (although they are tougher to get to in winter). The natural minerals are sure to loosen tight muscles after working out on the mountain. There's the Hilltop Hot Tub that is the only spring easily visible from the main road, and sits on a hill with a view. It sits several people, but gets crowded on weekends. Find more locations at Trails.com.
There's no cheap way around this one, it will cost a bit to get up there. But there are a few ways to save a few bucks.
By car: A gas calculator shows that a regular sedan will get you there from Orange County at $3.25 a gallon for about $175, and if you're in an SUV it will cost about $267 round trip. Cut costs by stuffing four of your friends in a big car, and you can get away with splitting gas costs for about $67 each.
By plane: United has just introduced flights from John Wayne Airport from as low as $150 round trip. They only run four days a week – Friday through Monday - and times are limited. AlaskaAir offers flights from Los Angeles (LAX) or San Diego daily. Take a cab into town from the airport, or if you're staying at one of Mammoth's properties, airport shuttles are free.
- Snow-mobile tours: If you're not a skier or snowboarder, you can still enjoy the snow. Guided adventure tours lasting an hour and a half or three hours run throughout the day weekends and weekdays, taking you through back country, meadows and pine forests. Cost starts at $95 weekdays, $130 weekends.
- Snow tubing: If your kids aren't ready to strap on skis, why pay the cost for a lift ticket? Find the snow tubing area on Minaret Road on the way to the Main Lodge. Cost is $40 for two hours. More info: mammothmountain.com
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