Mammoth Mountain: Beginning mountain bikers welcome

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

Beginning mountain bikers should head over to the Discovery Zone to learn the skills they’ll need on Mammoth Mountain. The Pioneer Practice Loop is an easy quarter-mile loop that can build riders’ confidence in being able to handle the mechanical marvels that are today’s mountain bikes.

The Adventure and Discovery trails match a mellow slope with smooth turns and surfaces. Both are great beginner trails served by the Discovery chairlift behind the Main Lodge.

Once the beginner trails are mastered, riders move up to the Explorer Trail with its banked paver turns, slightly steeper pitch and skills park. This park introduces riders to the man-made features on the trails, from small drops to rainbow bridges.

Every Saturday, Woolly, the mountain-biking mascot — joins the riders on the Discovery Trail headed for the Adventure Center. How the rider in the bulky woolly mammoth costume can see where he is going is beyond me, but it is hilarious fun.

The Bike Park closes in late September, but it goes out with a bang with the Mammoth Kamikaze Bike Games Sept. 18-21. The ultimate mountain biking event features pro GRT downhill, the Kamikaze Downhill, enduro, gravity fed cyclo cross, cross country, dual slalom and kids races.

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Mammoth Mountain: Bike park offers 80 miles of single track

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

Mammoth Mountain’s Bike Park boasts 80 miles of single track. With a vertical rise of more than 3,000 feet, the resort offers 3,500 acres of riding.

More than half of the 42 named trails can be handled by beginner and intermediate riders. Another third are reserved for advanced riders, while 20 percent is recommended for professional riders only. They can all be reached from the Panorama Gondola.

Some of the downhill trails have developed a cult following. Some brave riders take Kamikaze, the first trail dating back to 1987, which sends them barreling down 2,000 feet of fire road from the summit to the Main Lodge.

The Twilight Zone ski trail has carved-out berms and pavers. Then there’s Pipeline, a trail with many man-made features including dirt jumps, wooden ramps, trestles gaps and a great step-up jump.

A little less harrowing is Beach Cruiser, a wonderful 4-mile intermediate track. It climbs through large Lodgepole pines before looping around Reds Lake for a long roller coaster ride back to the Main Lodge.

Then there’s Paper Route/Skid Marks/Manzanita, the intermediate course used for the resort’s 8/24 Endurance Race. This rolling loop offers fast downhills and technical sections, as well as a couple switchbacks at the far end. (This year’s race, originally scheduled for this weekend, was cancelled.)

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Take the wheel with High Sierra Jeep Adventures in June Lake

High  Sierra Jeep Adventures splashes through stream outside June Lake near Mammoth. (Photo courtesy of High Sierra)

High Sierra Jeep Adventures splashes through stream outside June Lake near Mammoth. (Photo courtesy of High Sierra)

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

They say necessity is the mother of invention.  So when a lack of snow trashed the economy of the little Sierra ski town of June Lake, civic leaders got together to discuss their plight.

“We were trying to think of more ways to attract tourists,” recalled Ian Fettis. “So I suggested we start a Jeep tour of the local mountains. We would employ local men to serve as the guides.”

The successful mechanical engineer from Costa Mesa knows a lot about starting a new life. The So Cal resident visited June Lake to go skiing and he never left.

“I just fell in love with the little town, so I moved here and built my own cabin,” Fettis explained. He even drives the town’s red fire truck.

“When we get a call, the mayor usually beats me to the fire hall, but he’s also the fire captain,” the amicable engineer reported. “We’re all volunteer firemen helping our community.”

Since it was Fettis’ grand idea, everyone thought he should start the new tourist enterprise. The bearded engineer spent the next two years getting all the permits High Sierra Jeep Adventures needed to carry tourists through the Eastern Sierras.

“We bought some Jeeps because they’re so rugged. Then we put $6,000 worth of custom equipment on them to handle the load,” Fettis explained.

Today, the adventure company takes tourists on four-hour tours of the surrounding mountains. And to add a special twist, they let YOU do the driving. That’s right, they’re happy to turn the wheel over to anyone with a driver’s license.

High  Sierra Jeep Adventures rolls through mountains outside June Lake near Mammoth. (Photo courtesy of High Sierra)

High Sierra Jeep Adventures rolls through mountains outside June Lake near Mammoth. (Photo courtesy of High Sierra)

 

“Our guides teach them how to drive a four-wheel-drive vehicle and guide them along trails that they can handle,” Fettis explained. “We use automatic transmissions so they don’t even have to know how to drive a stick shift.”

Still, there have been complications with this you-drive-it policy. Fettis said one couple from New York became so freaked out about driving the twisty, bumpy trails that they refused to go any further.

“And another couple from San Francisco said they couldn’t handle the peace and quiet in the mountains,” he said. “They were used to the noise and crowds of the big city.”

Fettis encouraged the couple to relax and enjoy the solitude of the mountains. By the end of the week, the urbanites had begun to enjoy small town life and the beautiful scenery.

He enjoys sharing these stories as well as many fascinating facts during a four-hour tour.

“I don’t usually drive too many tours, but I wanted to get out today and enjoy the mountains,” the busy engineer said.

To allay our fear, Fettis decided to show us what the Jeeps could do in the steep terrain. Soon, we were crawling through the woods, slipping between trees on a windy, bumpy trail bracketed by Jeffrey Pines.

Our red Jeep gamely plowed through the crest of the hill, then dropped us down into another valley. The four-wheel-drive vehicle proved as surefooted as a mountain goat.

“Normally, we try and get a feel for what might suit our guests the best. And go with that,” Fettis said.

Guests can learn about the history of the Eastern Sierras, enjoy some scenic views and test their courage on some hair-raising trails.

Soon, it was time for one of us to volunteer to take the wheel. And a plucky Englishman from Tucson stepped up to the challenge.

“I learned to drive my friend’s four-wheel-drive in Panama and we spent a lot of time driving around Latin America,” the Arizona transplant said.

“This is so cool! Fabulous, fabulous views in the mountains as well as these really rough Jeep trails. And this guy gives me a Jeep and tells me to put in low four-wheel-drive and go anywhere you want to. It’s fabulous driving, I’m having a great time,” Rob said.

He felt that anyone who can drive a car well can handle a four-wheel-drive, though they might have a white knuckled grip on the wheel.

“If you have some experience, you can drop it in low and have a nice, relaxed four-wheel-drive experience,” he continued.

Along the way, we enjoyed some great views of the Devil’s Punch Bowl and other caldera. We made several stops to talk about the region, including a short drive along the aqueduct that provides water to a thirsty Los Angeles.

High  Sierra Jeep Adventures splashes through stream outside June Lake near Mammoth. (Photo courtesy of High Sierra)

High Sierra Jeep Adventures splashes through stream outside June Lake near Mammoth. (Photo courtesy of High Sierra)

Finally, it came my turn to drive and I jumped behind the wheel. It was fun following our guide as we rolled through the mountainside. With steep slopes and no guard rails, I kept our speed down as my confidence rose.

Time flew by and we headed back to June Lake. Everyone said they had enjoyed our afternoon in the mountains.

A four-wheel-drive tour costs $150 for the first person and $50 for each additional person for up to three. For more information, call 949-294-6588 or see their website at www.highsierrajeepadventures.com.

 

 

 

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Soar like an eagle with SkyTime Air Tours over the Eastern Sierras in Mammoth

Aerial view of a lake in Mammoth. (Photo courtesy of Skytime Air Tour)

Aerial view of a lake in Mammoth. (Photo courtesy of Skytime Air Tour)

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

If you want to get a fresh perspective of Mammoth, try the new helicopter tour. I’m using to seeing the Sierras from ground level or even 11,000 feet on top of Mammoth Mountain.

But a flight with SkyTime Air Tours out of the Mammoth Airport gave me a whole other view of the beautiful Sierra mountains. I began to appreciate the ruggedness of this vast mountain range.

We were excited to get an aerial view of Mammoth Lakes. And veteran pilot Steve Roski proved an able aviator as well as an interesting tour guide.

“I grew up in Hawaii and flew helicopter tours in the islands for many years,” the amicable aviator explained. “But I got bored and decided to try some place new. That’s when I got the job with SkyTime Tours. Now I see something different every day and live in another beautiful place.”

After signing the required four pages of legal waivers, Roski led us out onto the airport tarmac, where he described the Robinson R66 helicopter we would be flying in.

Family poses with SkyTime Air Tours in Mammoth. (Photo courtesy of SkyTime Air Tours)

Family poses with SkyTime Air Tours in Mammoth. (Photo courtesy of SkyTime Air Tours)

“This helicopter is one of the few that can fly at this elevation. It’s powerful Rolls Royce turbine is especially built for this aircraft and can deliver up to 1,000 horsepower, while the helicopter only weighs 1,000 pounds,” the pilot said. “It is also specially built for tours with large windows for all the passengers.”

Strapping in, we voted to give Los Angeles photographer Ellen Clarke the front seat. She thought she could get the best photos sitting in the glass nose.

My friend Emele from Hawaii joined me in the two back seats. Snapping on our seatbelts, we donned heavy Boss headphones that would cancel out the roar of the mighty turbine right behind us.

We could also talk to the pilot and listen to his fascinating commentary about the Alpine environment. This must be how Eagles feel as they soar through the mountains.

Passing over the thermal power plant, we were soon slipping through the canyons. Glittering lakes dotted the landscape below.

Off in the distance, we saw Mono Lake. It is one of the oldest lakes in North America, forming more than 760,000 years ago.

“Every lake is a different color, depending on the minerals that have seeped into the water,” Roski noted. “Most are different shades of aquamarine, but there’s one lake we call Purple Lake because of its bright purple color.”

Looking down, we found June Lake below, with it’s ski runs cutting through the Pondera pines. This basin had been carved out by glaciers, and was the home of Paiute Indians.  down.

Horsetail Falls spilled over a impressive cliff. It sits just below the 11,000 Carson Peak.

Soon we were climbing toward Minaret Summit. It’s craggy peaks formed a jagged skyline which you’ve actually seen many times before.

“They used the Minaret as the background in flying monkey scene in the ‘Wizard of Oz,” Roski said.

Flying on, we approached a gigantic volcanic dome that I didn’t recognize. But soon, I realized it was the backside of Mammoth Mountain, a place I have skied dozens of times.

Jagged Mammoth Mountains jut up in the air. (Photo courtesy of SkyTime Air Tours)

Jagged Mammoth Mountains jut up in the air. (Photo courtesy of SkyTime Air Tours)

Without its thick mantel of snow, the 11,000 foot peak looked foreign to me. As we circled the gondola station on top, tiny mountain bikers shot off the summit. We watched as they zigzagged down the mountain.

The massive dome was formed in a series of eruptions 57,000 years ago. Even today, it still spews volcanic gases.The ski resort at the base looked like a toy train village.

“One year, a geologist warned that the volcano was going to errupt again and tourists were too afraid to come,” Roski said. “But as you can see, we’re still here.”

Moving on, we ran into Mineral Hill, the place where Mammoth’s gold rush had begun. Thousands rushed to seek their fortunes in the Eastern Sierras.

“They still mine gold there, but they keep it pretty hush hush,” Roski added.

Next up was Convict Lake, so named when a band of convicts robbed local banks and hid out here. You’ve seen the lake in movies such as “How The West Was Won” and “Star Trek: Insurrection.”

Dropping back into the valley, we slowly lost elevation.

“This helicopter loves to climb. It’s hard to get it to fly lower,” Roski said as the airport rolled into view.

Slowly, we sank back onto the tarmac. Ending our thrilling aerial adventure.

“It was great, the mountains were huge,” Emele said. “I’d highly recommend this tour to anyone.”

Clarke was also thrilled by the helicopter ride. The professional photographer couldn’t wait to download the photos she had taken.

The tours are customized for each customer and range from 15 to 90 minutes long. Prices begin at $88 per person in the four-man helicopter for 15 minutes. A 45-minute flight costs $225 per person for four.

For more information, call (321) AIR-TOUR / (321) 247-8687 in Mammoth Lakes. Check out their website at  www.skytime.com.

 

 

 

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Mammoth Mountain offers tons of fun in the sunny summer

Mammoth Mountain Bike Park offers 80 miles of trail. (Photo courtesy of Mammoth Mountain)

Mammoth Mountain Bike Park offers 80 miles of trail. (Photo courtesy of Mammoth Mountain)

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

Mammoth Mountain can be a lot of fun in the summer if you just give it a chance. I’ve only been there skiing in the winter, so I didn’t have a clue about what it offers in the sunny summer months.

So I took some time to visit today during my visit to Mammoth Village. And I’m glad I didn’t poopoo one of my favorite ski resorts just because there wasn’t any snow. In fact, there were still patches of snow on the 11,000 foot summit of Mammoth Mountain.

Just ask Dodger the burly English bulldog. This was Dodger’s first experience with snow and I thought he did RAAATHHEER well, just read that with an English accent in mind. Of course, bulldogs are built rather low to the ground and he showed the typical English reserve the island nation is famous for.

Dodger was visiting with the Shryne family of Whittier. The family of four were vacationing at nearby June Lake. They wanted to get some good ole’ trout fishing in, but they decided to take a break and visit the mountain with their sons, Nathan and Brady.

“I wanted to show them the great views and show Dodger some snow,” said Joe Shryne.

Visitors can take the gondola up to the peak. But you may have to share the gondola with a mountain bike. Yes, mountain bikers drag their fancy rigs on board to reach the top of the mountain.

Then they go rolling down the steep slopes, trying not to hit any of the boulders that are usually hidden deep in the snow. I would have never guessed I skiied over such large rocks and boulders.

A Ventura family rolled off the gondola, ready to tackle the mountain. They stopped to ask me to take their photo.

The Bourdeaux clan brought their teenage sons, Tyler and Trevor,  up to Mammoth Mountain for some mountain biking. They had spend the morning riding around the lower trails and were ready for a big ride.

“It’s really, really fun so far,” said mom Tina. “The weather is perfect. They’re taking it easy for me.”

“The gondola does all the work for you. It’s been all downhill, not too much uphill,” the dad said.

The adventurous family was going Off the Top. That’s the name of the intermediate trail zigzagging down the back of the mountain. Just like skiing, the resort has classified the bike trails from beginner to expert.

Mammoth Mountain’s Bike Park boasts 80 miles of single track. With a vertical rise of more than 3,000 feet, the resort offers 3,500 acres of riding.

More than half of the 42 named trails can be handled by beginner and intermediate rides. Another third are for advanced riders, while 20 percent should only be ridden by professional riders. You know who you are!

They can all be reached from the Panorama Gondola. Chair 2 opens on the Fourth of July, when the busy season really kicks off with a bang.

Some of the downhill trails have developed a cult following. Think Kamikaze, the first trail where it all began in 1987 with some brave riders barreling down 2,000 feet of fire road from the summit to the Main Lodge.

Or Twilight Zone, a great ski trail where the berms have been carved out and pavers put down to make a unique trail. Then there’s Pipeline, a trail with many man-made features including dirt jumps, wooden ramps, trestles gaps and a great step-up jump.

Of course, these are all double-black diamond, so I would stand a chance. But Beach Cruiser is a wonderful four-mile intermediate track. It climbs through large Lodgepole pines before looping around Reds Lake for a long roller coaster ride back to the Main Lodge.

Then there’s Paper Route/Skid Marks/Manzanita, the intermediate course for the 8/24 Endurance Race. This rolling loop offers fast downhills and technical sections, as well as a couple switchbacks at the far end.

Beginners should head over to the Discovery Zone, where they can learn the skills they’ll need on the big mountain. The Pioneer Practice Loop is an easy quarter mile loop that’s great to build your confidence as you learn how to use the mechanical marvels we call today’s mountain bikes.

The Adventure and Discovery Trails match a mellow slope with smooth turns and surfaces. Both are great beginner’s trails served by Discovery chairlift behind the Main Lodge.

When you’re comfortable, move up to Explorer Trail with its banked paver turns, slightly steeper pitch and skills park. This park will teach you how to handle man-made features from small drops to rainbow bridges.

Every Saturday, kids will be joined by Woolly, the mountain biking mascot. How the rider sees how he is going in such a large costume is beyond me, but it is hilarious fun. The whole family can ride down Discovery Trail with Woolly for some more fun at the Adventure Center.

There, families will find interesting activities such as climbing wall, a small zip line and a bungee trampoline. When we visited, a family from Alberta, Canada, was tackling the towering climbing wall. With the parent’s loud encouragement, two of the three older kids climbed to the top to ring the cowbell.

If that’s not enough, there’s always the special summer events. Mammoth was gearing up for the huge Monster Energy Mammoth Motocross the weekend we stayed.

On July 19-20, the 8/24 hour mountain bike endurance race was all set. Kids can join in the Adventure Games on Aug. 1-2, followed by the Mammoth Festival Wine, Music and Food.

The Bike Park closes in late September, but it goes out with a bang with the Mammoth Kamikaze Bike Games from Sept. 18-21. The ultimate mountain biking event features pro GRT downhill, the Kamikaze Downhill, enduro, gravity fed cyclo cross, cross country, dual slalom and kids races.

So you better get lots of practice in this summer or you’ll be a real kamikaze this fall.

 

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