t-minus 72 hours to mammoth opening day: my plan

Yes, there’s a general election happening tomorrow but for anyone in the 93546 zip code Thursday, November 10, 2016 is the big day: Mammoth opens for snow season.

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Looking up at Broadway from Main Lodge. November 7, 2016.

The snow season has been a little “meh” so far, but to be fair it’s on November. If you peel into the data a bit you’ll note that Mammoth’s snowfall really kicks in December – March. So big dumps in November are terrific (but rare) and big dumps in October are like hitting an arrow with a bullet while drunk and blindfolded.

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November gets more than 2x the snow of October, and December is 3x the snowfall of November. I’ve been checking in with MammothSnowman for a while now: it’s a terrific place to get a bit more narrative on conditions. Armed with info from the Snowman it looks like Chair 3 will be open. This is super cool because Chair 3 is totally awesome.

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Short and fun, Chair 3 rocks.

Chair 3 sits just above McCoy Station, which you can take the Gondola (G1) or Broadway Express (Chair 1) to access. It’s basically a bunch of single black bowls which are this author’s favorite thing to shred. Because the base looks pretty terrible on Broadway, it looks like the fun will be had on Chair 3 and heading down to Main Lodge on Broadway will be to stretch some legs but is more about “access” than “fun”. IE: rather than take the gondola back down you can ride down, but don’t expect great conditions.

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Looking up at Chair 3 from McCoy, the gondola’s upper half (G2) on the left. November 7, 2016.

A couple of strategies I employ, consider them for what they’re worth:

  • Don’t go unless you have a season pass. Sure, the tickets are $50, but it’s essentially one chair that’s open with somewhat okay-ish conditions.
  • Don’t bring your good board/skis. With the thinned out coverage you should anticipate some rocks poking up and this is why you should keep your older board/skis around.
  • Remember, you haven’t ridden/skied in months and you’re going to start on a black (again, with less-than-great conditions). Take it slow, stupid hurts, and remember that the real stuff is still ahead.

I’ll be up there for sure with my goal of riding every day that I can this year. But that might mean half a dozen runs to work the kinks out and remind myself where my toe and heel edges are.

See ya up there!

 

the dirt cheap guide to a mammoth vacation

If you want to spend copious amounts of money in Mammoth you certainly can. I’ve written previously about how expensive (and white) snow sports are. And even if you have the cash to blow, I’m a fan of blowing it where I want to, rather than being forced to out of circumstance.

A single night at the Westin in Mammoth Village will set you back over $700 in peak season. Conversely you can be at the EdelWeiss’ Studio for $100 night. Is the Westin vastly “better”? Of course it is. But for my bank account I’d rather pocket the $600 difference and buy a top of the line snowboard with it. Again: let me save money where I like so I spend it where I like.

So here are some ways you can spend (relatively) less money visiting Mammoth:

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Short of sleeping in your car, this is about as cheap as it gets.

You might see two hostel names floating around, but Holiday Hause and Moderne Hostel are the same thing (both at 3905 Main St). Regardless, you can stay in a hostel setting for $41/night. Having stayed in hostels before I actually kind of dig it because you meet new people and can frequently tag along with others for night life.

Note also that the Mammoth hostel also has a kitchen which is where you can save real bucks. Vons is by far the largest (and really the only) grocery store in Mammoth. The prices tend to be a bit higher even before the 1% tourism fee is applied to everything, so consider getting your groceries in advance. Either way, try hard to have your breakfast and dinner prepared in the hostel kitchen.

Stealing from my article on how to save money snowboarding, tuck some lunch in your backpack before you head up to the mountain. One place it’s hard to not spend some money is at the lodge buying a beer at the end of the day. But you can bypass that one too by tucking an IPA into your bag, and nestling it in the snow in a treewell somewhere (make sure to put it on the downhill side of the tree so no one follows your track and nails it).

For lift tickets, the best I’ve found is Costco’s deal of 4 tickets for $300 (this comes and goes by the month). Also consider that with 4 lessons you can frequently get a season pass: something to consider.

But with the Costco deal, staying in a hotel, and $20/day for food you can shred the mountain for $41 (lodging) + $20 (food) + $75 (lift) = $136/day. A four day amazing trip would run the tab to $544. Still less than a single night at the Westin, I might add.

 

how to be a non ultra-rich snowboarder or skier

Snow sports are expensive. I made a handy graph of some industry data, and it shows how stark the divide is between skiers / boarders and the rest of the world.

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Household incomes of skiers and snowboarders, 2013.

Considering that the median household income in America for 2013 was $51,939, nearly 3/4 of skiers/boarders make more than the median, and roughly half of all skiers/boarders make more than double the median. In short: skiing and snowboarding is a sport for people with money.

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Notice: white people with well off families participating in a sport for white people with well off families. 

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having money in your pocket and enjoying your life. But I think it’s worth reminding ourselves of just where snow sports do and do not exist in the American socio-economic system. To date, I can count the amount of black skiers and snowboarders I’ve met on two hands and still be able to fasten my bindings. Not only is skiing and snowboarding a sport for wealthy folks, but it also is a white sport and I’m not just talking about snow.

And before you spaz out and tell me about your friend Jose or Leroy that you ride/ski with, let’s let the data speak for itself, compiled by SIA/Physical Activity Council in 2013:

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White guys might not be able to dance, but apparently they do a shit ton of boarding and skiing.

This article will not be able to convince people of color and those lacking well-heeled families to participate in snow sports. But, I can offer some tips that make the whole thing more approachable. I’m not the first person to notice that snow spots are steadily becoming a sport for the wealthy, which sadly in this country also has obvious racial implications (hint: a white family on average makes 16x the income of a black family).

So without further ado, here’s the strategy I employ for paying my mortgage and snowboarding at the same time.

1) Don’t do it unless you’re going to do it a lot. Let’s just be blunt: there are a ton of up front costs that you will eat, even if done cheap. If this isn’t a sport you can really see yourself doing, pick something else. If you want to sample it on the cheap, go to a lower-priced resort in the springtime when you hopefully don’t need serious cold weather clothes.

2) Buy your skis, boards, boots, bindings, poles, and other gadgets on Craigslist. You can easily shell out $2,000 for skis/boarding gear and another $1,000 for clothes if you purchase new. For $200 I got a decent 7 year old board in okay condition and bindings that were good enough. Find the guy or gal that bought their stuff new, used it a few times, and fell out of the sport. Also, don’t be that guy or gal yourself.

3) Check the rental vs. buying math. Figure $35 to rent a board, boots, and bindings (similar rig for skiers). I got my board/boots/bindings for roughly $320, so really it can pay to rent for a while unless you know you’re in the sport to stay. Also, get boots first which are harder to size, more personal, and will chop some cash off the rental prices. One benefit to renting that people talk about is that you get a chance to experience different equipment. Truthfully I think that’s horse manure because most folks renting are just starting out and you’re not on some badass Capita Mercury for your rental board, nor should be on one.

4) Buy your clothes at the local big-box sporting goods store. I scored some sweet snow bibs on sale for $30. Do I want the $250 Dakine ones? Hell yeah I do. Are they better? Sure! Do I have $220 left in my wallet to put food in my fridge? Damn straight.

5) Buy your boots new from a store you can take them back to if they don’t fit. Sorry, but you’ll need to drop ~$150 minimum for snowboard boots (no idea on ski boots). Like most shoe purchases, if you get something that doesn’t fit it’s going to be a nightmare and ruin everything. Find them at the big-box stores.

6) Don’t ever buy any food from the lodge, ever, ever. It’s nice to have a warm cup of coffee and some eggs in the morning. Paying $25 for it though is ridiculous. Most lodges have a microwave and it will be your best friend. The food in my backpack generally looks like this:

  • 2-3 Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, ready to be nuked. Bring them in advance or score them at the local big box grocery store.
  • Some paper towels to nuke the sandwiches and to clean up your filthy self.
  • A couple of Monster energy drinks. I’m here to shred, I’ll drink after the last chair. Speaking of chairs, drink your drinks on the chairs to save time.
  • A Cliff bar or whatever is cheap and on sale. These are sort of crap food but if you’re a little hungry it can make the difference between staying on the hill or packing it in early. Warning: cold ones are like eating rocks.

7) Get a season pass if you ski a lot, or look for discount passes. 

  • A Mammoth/June/Summit/Bear pass is roughly $800. This sounds insane except remember that for Mammoth the lift tickets are anywhere from $103-$134 per day. Average to $118/day and the season pass pays for itself on day 7. For those of us lucky enough to ride all the time, if you ride roughly 1/3 of the days the park is open you’re spending $10/day, saving roughly 92%.
  • Costco is known to carry a 4-for-$300 deal for Mammoth, bringing each ticket to $75. While not insanely cheap, it’s still much better than full price.

8) Don’t go to expensive resorts if you’re learning. June Mountain, 20 minutes north of Mammoth, is awesome: long runs, almost always empty, beautiful scenery, and ~60% the cost of Mammoth. The last I checked, lessons were roughly 1/2 the cost of Mammoth. If you’re taking lessons, you’re going to be on a narrow slice of the mountain anyway. Why pay big bucks for a ticket to a mountain that you’ll only see the beginner slopes on? Plus, some spots (like June Mountain) have kids riding for free.

9) Don’t rent from the resort. If you need to rent, you will almost absolutely find cheaper deals and a better selection in town. Look around on Yelp and call around. Also, they probably open earlier and stay open later. You won’t need to cut into your slope time by waiting around in the gross-stinky rental area.

10) Stash your backpack in the trees. If all you have is sunscreen, some food, and an IPA for later sitting in your backpack, go off trail a bit and stash it in the trees. Lockers at Mammoth are $5 per use. So if you go in and out of your locker three times, which is of course why you have a locker, you can rack up $15 right there. Put your wallet/phone/keys on your person and keep your stuff in a bag in the forest. No one wants your crappy old Jansport bag.

11) Stay somewhere cheap. I spent a week with my daughter buzzing June and Mammoth before we moved up here, and I found a $50/night AirBnB in Lake Crowley. It was a little… rustic, but it worked and we had a great time. We brought groceries with us, cooked in the kitchen, and popped the PS4 onto the TV to hang out in the evenings.

About the worst thing you can do is roll into a nice resort armed with nothing but a credit card. The more you need to do in a resort town and the faster you need it done the more you will pay through the nose.

As much as I feel for the businesses that cater to an increasingly affluent white crowd, the business owners and employees of those businesses save their pennies as well. When the owner of the “local board shop” goes on vacation you can bet that he or she is shopping in advance and trying to stretch their dollar. I hope that this article helps other non-ultra-rich snow spots enthusiasts get more enjoyment from an activity which seems to be getting more and more out of reach.

teaching little kids to snowboard: tip number one -prep

I’m not an amazing snowboarder by any stretch of the imagination. My big claims to fame are that I made it down cornice one time without eating shit, love black powder bowls, and carve through trees although an old man with a walker could probably lap me.

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No horizontal snow, no (real) crashing, no chair lifts. Nice and easy.

With both of my kids, my youngest being 3, I try to keep them acclimated to their gear. There are a lot of spooky things going on when you get on a ski slope:

  • Who-the-hell-knows-what kind of winter conditions. Horizontal snow knocking down visibility is a real problem.
  • Gloves that make everything hard.
  • A slippery surface.
  • Parents who know they’ve spent good money to be there that day, understandably a little short on nerves and wanting things to go well.
  • Scary chair lifts.
  • “Cool guys” ripping through the lift lines because they’re too-in-the-zone to slow down.

Anything you can do to familiarize your kids in advance will help. We’re using a Burton Ringlet and just pulling around in the grass. Is it the same as being on snow? Hell no. But do the balance skills, gear feeling, and stance feeling transfer over? You betcha.

Trying the stuff on in the living room is a good start. The worst of all is just grabbing gear from the rental shop and going for it. The more you can do to acclimate your kids to their sport the more you’ll be able to focus on the whole “riding” thing when you’re actually on the slippery white stuff with chairlifts buzzing about.

weight lifting in mammoth lakes

This article is written with a bit of sarcasm, and may offend some readers.
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The author, in his super-bro sunglasses, doing too-high kettlebell swings in Two Harbors, Catalina, a few years back.

Like any minority community, weight lifters live persecuted and scared lives. We are referred to as meatheads, invited over only to help move couches, and in some “fitness facilities” we are actively discriminated against. But hey, that’s cool bro. If I was some puny little dweeb that couldn’t deadlift 400+, I’d probably want to persecute me too. To quote Mark Rippetoe:

Strong people are harder to kill than weak people and more useful in general.

So when we moved up here to Mammoth I realized that there were two choices: The Body Shop and Snowcreek Athletic Club. There’s usually a fairly big cut line between “gyms” and “athletic clubs”; let me break it down for you. There are other types of fitness facilities, but these two classes are common:

A gym:

  • Usually cheap. You’ll hear people bragging about how it’s only $20/month or whatever.
  • Generally full of clowns bicep curling in front of the mirrors.
  • Conspicuously lacking anyone who’s really strong.   Let’s say that “strong” means you can overhead press your own bodyweight.
  • Lots of “lifting gloves”.
  • Packed, crowded, dirty, and usually not with any other real amenities.

An athletic club:

  • Generally more expensive. $100/month is pretty normal.
  • Still full of clowns bicep curling in front of the mirrors, still with “lifting gloves”, and still probably not a lot of really strong people. But there will be a few strong folks.
  • Generally has more fitness gear to pick from. More squat racks. Fancier machines (generally keeping the weaklings off the barbells, which is great). More ellipticals and crap like that to also keep the Cardio Princes and Princesses off the barbells.
  • Saunas, nice lockers, nice showers, swimming pools, places to eat and grab a bite, and nice little touches like hair dryers and shaving gear.

Perhaps one of the biggest things you’re buying with an athletic club membership is just that: a club membership. The community and culture of a gym is generally absolute shit, as where the people in an athletic club while not necessarily a better “class” of people tend to have their act together. They care a little more. They tend to be older and more professional. The treat the place like something they’re paying good money for.

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The front entrance to the Snow Creek Athletic Club. Looks a little nicer than some dump 24 Hour fitness clone, right?

Snowcreek also has a racquetball court. Multiple trampolines with actual no-kidding trampoline progression. Martial arts. Yoga. Dance. Kick boxing. Zumba (sigh). Tennis courts. Kids programs.

So when you brag about your dump-of-a-gym $20/month membership and laugh at my $160/month family membership to Snowcreek, I challenge you on the math and on the results.

That hefty price tag is for two adults and two kids. Our kids can attend classes, for free. I go roughly five days a week. Charlotte goes at least a few. So for the roughly 34 times a month we go, we pay about $4.50 an hour. Pretty dirt cheap for everything we get. I’m a huge fitness guy, sipping my IPA, and I’ll frequently tell folks that you either spend time and money to be healthy or you spend time and money to be sick later. You still may get sick, but odds are that you’ll be healthy and able to do more with your life for a longer period of time.

What’s the main thing keeping people from snowboarding, backpacking, and mountain biking? A base of fitness. Fit and healthy, you can walk into pretty much any sport and achieve novice level competency in a shockingly quick amount of time: what a nice way to live.

So I was inclined towards Snowcreek Athletic Club, but after going for a week I feel that I made the right decision. Let me show you around.

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This looks like hell to anyone who isn’t into strength training. For the community of weight lifters, an empty room with a cage, chalk marks, and some plyo boxes is gold.

So basically there are three rooms you need to concern yourself with. First, there’s the “box”, which I don’t really know if it has a name, but it’s the classic empty room with a bunch of gadgets, a power cage, and some plyo boxes.

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The gadgets in the box room. Kettlebells, bands, an ab wheel, some balls (lol), balance board, medicine balls, some stupid ab thing from the 80’s, etc.

I don’t know when everyone goes to the gym, but around 8am it’s pretty much a ghost town. There’s maybe two or three other dudes in there all of which are, you guessed it, curling in front of the mirrors. God bless them.

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The squat rack in the box room. The bar is a old and smooth, and the floor is a bit spongy but loaded up it compresses well enough under your feet that I don’t really feel it. A year from now I’m asking to have a wood base put in.

I spend pretty much my whole time in the box. It’s where I feel most comfortable, and you can move around and exercise, as opposed to whatever the hell is going on with all those machines in the other rooms.

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Room number two. I show off the second of the two squat racks in the gym. To the left out of focus are dumbbell racks. To the right you’ll note a gentleman texting while sitting on the bench. At least no “lifting gloves”. Room three beyond it there in the next door frame.

There might be four rooms, I can’t really tell. There are so many frigging machines it’s like walking through a robot factory. But I noticed the chalk on the floor, and the locked up bin of some heavy-ass-lifter’s gear and it made me wonder: I bet there’s a glute ham machine in this joint.

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Some dude’s private stash of gear, all locked up. I saw a chain belt in the unlocked one and let it be. Note the chalk scattered about: this makes me happy.

The glute ham raise (GHR) is pretty much the only machine that anyone should use, except for lawn mowers, snow blowers, drills, and saws. Sadly lacking in almost every gym in the nation, it rocks the posterior chain and makes you strong like bull. But given that there must be a power lifter lurking somewhere near this gym, I wondered: maybe a miracle happened and a GHR is here.

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Holy crap, a GHR. Note the chalked grips.

Not only is a GHR here at Snowcreek, but it’s not the powder coated white of every other machine meaning that it was specifically ordered by someone.

Mammoth truly is a fitness freak’s paradise. Trails to run on. Trails to ride bikes on. Trails to cross country ski. Mountains to ski and board down. Lakes to paddleboard and (if you’re crazy) swim in. Mountains to climb. And now I can positively prove that there is a legit strength training facility to help you take advantage of all of it.

Mammoth Lakes, so far I’m pretty much in love with you.

oh hell yeah: school gets out at 1:30pm

Generally speaking I work 8ish-5ish. Flexibility cuts both ways for me in the sense that sometimes I need to pile on hours at work, pushing through evenings and some weekends. I’ve slept at the office more five times, probably less than ten, when projects have continued on into the wee morning hours.

So I feel zero guilt when it’s a nice day, I have some hours open with no meetings, and bail.

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And now I have learned that Mammoth Elementary gets out before 2pm every day. Better: it gets out around noon on Fridays. And that of course means that during the winter I can meet my kids at school with their boards, we can ride to the mountain on the shuttle, and proceed to shred it up.

There are some things about moving to Mammoth that will be hard (paying a big mortgage), there are things that will be different (working remote so much), and then there are things that just kick ass and make me motivated to deal with it all. Like snowboarding with my kids in the afternoon.