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Family Ski Vacation: Mammoth Mountain

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 4/11/2015 Max Gladwell

Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort is the first stop on our quest to become a skiing family. DCIM100GOPRO © Provided by The Huffington Post DCIM100GOPRO A major milestone for Project Skiing Family: Riding Discovery Chair together
You can teach your kids to ski, exposing them to the sport through the occasional ski vacation. Or you can commit to becoming a skiing family. These are fundamentally different propositions. One of my missions as a parent is to achieve the latter.
Becoming a skiing family is as much about your family identity as the activity itself. To become a skiing family is to establish certain preferences and priorities. There are only so many weekends in a given ski season and only so many vacations in a given year. Children can only participate in so many sports. The skiing family views all of this through a snow-frosted lens.
As of this writing, my kids, Charlotte and Georgia, are 5 and 8 years old respectively. And while my motivations are partly selfish, to be sure, becoming a skiing family is truly about them. Unlike most other sports they'll pursue -- soccer, gymnastics, and volleyball to name a few -- skiing is something they'll do for a lifetime. It's something they'll pass on to their children. Because skiing is uniquely tied to Nature. It's about the mountains and the elements and the winter season. It's about the physical and mental challenge of performing in this environment. It's about the social experience, on and off the slopes. But young children don't fully grok all of this, which is why parents that want to become skiing families need to be deliberate. Success is not guaranteed.
The immediate goal is for your kids to love skiing -- to love the activity. It's not enough to merely like it because there is so much else competing for their attention and desire. What's more, there are plenty of ways for them to have bad experiences. In order for kids to love skiing, they need to be comfortable. This means having the right equipment. You can't have fun if you're not warm and dry. It also means strategic planning i.e. where to stay, how to get there, ski conditions, and the overall process. Kids need to progress quickly and become proficient such that (a) it's fun to do and (b) they want to get better.
We've been on the path to becoming a skiing family for the past two seasons. We live in Los Angeles, which makes it more challenging than places like Denver or Salt Lake City. But it also encourages broader exploration of the skiing universe. The first stop on our mission was relatively close to home -- Southern California's premier ski resort, Mammoth Mountain.
PMM_9404 © Provided by The Huffington Post PMM_9404 View of Mammoth's volcanic peak with Chair 5 in the foregroundDestination: Mammoth Mountain ranked fourth in last season's "Top 10 Ski Resorts in North America" for its great terrain and reliable snowfall. The latter has been challenging in recent years due to California's epic drought. And though we're hopeful El Niño shows up with 500-plus inches this season, my kids didn't know any different. It's not like they were seeking powder days. And thanks to Mammoth's expansive, top-to-bottom snowmaking and high elevation, the conditions for learning were about as favorable as one could hope for. One of the best qualities of Mammoth: if it's not snowing, it's warm and sunny.
mmi_.winterout_drum_hero_cropped © Provided by The Huffington Post mmi_.winterout_drum_hero_cropped View from the Mammoth Mountain InnAccommodations: The most convenient lodging is found in the Village at Mammoth, where shops, restaurants, and the Village Gondola are just a short walk from the condos. However, in optimizing for ski-school access, we chose to stay at the Mammoth Mountain Inn. Adjacent to the Main Lodge and Panorama Gondola at 9,000 feet, many of the rooms offer panoramic views of the mountain, complete with the ski school in the foreground. Yes, it's that close. This minimizes the distance kids need to walk in ski boots. As a basecamp, the Inn is ideal in that you can drop the kids at ski school, take the gondola right up to the peak, and do big laps with periodic check-ins (and photo ops) during the course of an otherwise superb day of adult skiing. And for younger kids, the daycare facility is located on the ground level.
2015-01-02 15.47.15 © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-01-02 15.47.15 Mammoth's mascot, Woolly, is a big hit with the kids. He's often found skiing on the beginner slopes.Ski School: We've progressed through the Pioneers (ages 3-4) and Explorers (ages 5-7). We're now on the verge of Adventurers (ages 8-12). Packages include rental gear and lift tickets. Ideally, you want to pick up gear and tickets the night before to avoid the morning mayhem. You'll also want to book ahead, which require heights, weights, and shoe sizes. The Pioneers do a half day of skiing followed by lunch and a few hours of daycare. Explorers and Adventurers ski the whole day with a break for lunch, which is included. The groups tend to be three or four kids per instructor, but we had a couple semi-private lessons when other kids dropped out. You'll get a report card at the end of each lesson that tracks mastery of key skills. If you're doing a multi-day trip, these will help to get the most of each lesson because the instructor will know where to start each successive lesson. A full-day group lesson with rental and lift ticket costs $215, and there are price breaks for consecutive days.
PMM_3490 © Provided by The Huffington Post PMM_3490 Dining: The Mammoth Mountain Inn offers a free shuttle to and from the Village, which is the next best thing to staying there because you still avoid driving. This gives you access to the best restaurants in town. And in my family's opinion, Campo is the best of the best. The rustic Italian dining experience from renowned chef Mark Estee is derived from a host of local sources along the 395 corridor, from Bishop to Big Pine, Mammoth Lakes, and Reno. In particular, the meatballs and wood-fired pizzas are exceptional.
Local Knowledge: The Mammoth Mountain Inn also offers strategic access to The Yodler Restaurant & Bar for lunch and après skiing. It's so close to ski school that you can actually watch your kids take lessons from the sun deck, drink in hand.
Travel: From Los Angeles, Mammoth is a five-hour drive. It doesn't sound easy, but the Eastern Sierra scenery helps it to fly by for adults. iPads are critical for the kids, who will still ask, "Are we there yet?" at least a couple times per hour. It's also possible to fly to Mammoth by way of LAX, SFO, SAN, and DEN on Alaska Air and United.
News: Mammoth will be one of the first major resorts in North America to open on November 5th for the 2015/2016 season, having received up to 30 inches this week in the first storm of the season.

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