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Surfing and skiing in California: can you achieve both in the same weekend?

Simon Calder’s Travel

It’s a shallow approach to Mammoth Mountain from Los Angeles. For five long hours, the US 395 Highway rises slowly across the Mojave desert into the Sierra Nevada mountain range. And then, suddenly, like a blizzard, California’s biggest ski resort hits you full-on.

I arrived on an early evening in February – my mission to discover whether it’s possible to both ski and surf over a long winter weekend in California.

Mammoth Mountain, named after Mammoth Consolidated Mine, the company that unearthed gold here a century ago, isn’t the closest ski resort to Los Angeles – those are in the San Gabriel Mountains, 90 minutes away. But with 175 pistes and 25 lifts across 3,500 acres of skiable terrain, it’s one of the largest, keeping even the most ambitious and athletic skiers occupied. Most winters it lures in more than a million visitors.

The resort is often blessed with huge snowfalls, thanks to its high altitude and location at Mammoth Pass in the Sierra Nevada. Pacific storms regularly funnel up through the deep gorge of the San Joaquin River before dumping snow on the lava dome volcano of Mammoth Mountain, which rises to nearly 3,400m at its summit. It’s not unusual for the slopes to remain skiable all spring and for much of the summer. The 2022/2023 season was reported as the snowiest on record, with nearly 23m of snow measured on the highest slopes.

Mammoth Mountain is one of the largest ski areas close to Los Angeles

(Peter Morning)

Locals told me proudly that, in the three days before I arrived, 3m had fallen. Rising early on my first morning, I carved out lines through this thick snow, down pristinely groomed pistes. And with so many to choose from, I had plenty of space to myself, swooping fast in between groves of tall fir trees, mountain hemlock and western juniper. The queues at the larger lifts were busy, but at the smaller ones I rarely waited for more than a few minutes. This being the United States, it was of course all very orderly.

Après-ski in Mammoth Lakes, the resort village, is fairly low-key. Beers are downed fast at Clocktower Cellar – what the Americans call a dive bar. There’s slightly more sophisticated entertainment at Lakanuki, a Hawaiian bar and restaurant, or at Liberty Sports Bar & Grill, which stages live music. If you’re determined to warm your innards with alcohol, Gomez, a Mexican…

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