By Richard Irwin, Travel Editor
I love villages. Especially when it comes to skiing.
Quaint European villages have always intrigued me with their narrow streets and bustling market centers. I love to amble through these villages, stopping at a pub or beer garden to share a drink with friendly villagers.
Besides, I don’t need a car to get around these small towns. All the restaurants, bars and businesses are located within blocks of each other.
I still remember fondly a ski trip to Oberstdorf in Germany. The town center was blocked off for pedestrians. Only silent, electric buses cruised the main street.
American ski resorts tend to be much larger. Though most offer free public transit, their scale takes away the quaint feeling, as well as the convenience.
Intrawest became a leader in the development of ski resorts with a central village concept. The villages were designed from the ground up with restaurants and businesses on the ground floors, supporting three to four floors of condos.
Located at the base of the ski resorts, these ski-in ski-out properties quickly became a favorite with families looking for convenient ski vacations.
Once the family car was safely secured in the underground parking lots, every one was free to enjoy the amazing amenities of these modern villages.
Whistler-Blackcomb quickly became very popular, as well as Mont Tremblant in Quebec.
Eventually, Intrawest introduced the resort concept in California, giving the Golden State new villages at Squaw Valley and Mammoth Mountain.
While Intrawest no longer controls these properties, these villages still prosper. And so, we spent a free day on a recent ski vacation to visit The Village at Mammoth Mountain.
Located just down the road from the base area of Mammoth Mountain, The Village offers ski rentals, lodging and fine food.
Strolling along, we were impressed by the warm, wooden buildings. The pedestrian passageways wend their way through shops nestled under the mountain.
Naturally, we wanted to check out all the bars and restaurants before deciding where we would have lunch. Our first stop was the Auld Dubliner, which bills itself as “an authentic Irish pub imported directly from Dublin.”
With it dark wooden beams, it did feel like a cottage pub. And the menu offers traditional corned beef and Shepherd’s Pie.
The Dubliner promised a perfect pint of Guinness Draught as one of the many premium beers on tap, including Harp, Newcastle and Bass Ale. A hotel employee later told us the pub was a very popular place because of its live entertainment.
Tucked away in a corner, we discovered Petra’s Wine Bar and Bistro. The quaint shop features dozens of wines by the half-glass or glass.
Other venues included the Old New York Deli and Bakery Company, which makes its own bagels fresh daily. We also saw the Pita Pit and the Smokeyard BBQ and Chop Shop.
Eventually, we decided on dining at the Gomez’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantina. I liked the central location and huge outdoor patio.
We were tempted to try the signature “Mammoth Margarita” that comes in a handblown 22-oz glass from Guadalajara, but we settled for traditional combination platters.
Refreshed, we wanted to check out the lodging for our next ski vacation. The Village Lodge offers rooms ranging from studios to large three-bedroom condominiums.
The desk clerk from Huntingdon Beach was more than happy to show us some of the accommodations. The condos varied widely in size as well as decor.
“The owners decide the decor,” explained the enthusiastic clerk. “One condo may have original works of art while the next has family photos.”
Every condo seemed bright and sunny, with full kitchens so families don’t have to eat out every meal. And large ski lockers were located on the first floor of each building so skiers don’t have to drag their equipment upstairs.
“Guests can also enjoy a heated pool, five hot tubs, three fitness centers and a kid’s arcade,” the hotel employee noted.
No wonder,The Village Lodge was recently named one of Conde Nast Traveler’s top 50 ski resorts.
Prices range from $200 a night for a studio sleeping a family of four to more then $500 for a three-bedroom condo that will sleep eight. We were amused by giant the giant bunkbeds that feature double beds.
We rounded out our day with happy hour at Lakanuki Hawaiian restaurant. Some visitors said the island bar has the best apres ski menu.
With all items running only $5, we tasted several of the happy hour entrees, which range from barbecue pork sandwiches and sirloin burgers to half a rack of ribs and coconut shrimp.
Fortified with fine food, we left The Village, promising to return soon for a longer stay.
626-962-8811, ext. 2801