In Search Of: Mammoth snowboarding thrills

'It comes up with the goods'
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The Independent Travel

Snow plummeted down on Mammoth over New Year - it buried every car and slowed each of the resort's chairlifts to a stop. Seven-and-a-half feet. In under a week! And that's no resort propaganda: we were there, sipping coffee and waiting as the locals prepared for a lengthy siege and the men and women of CHiPs (California Highway Patrol - yes, it's real) attempted to clear Highway 395 so that we might leave.

Snow plummeted down on Mammoth over New Year - it buried every car and slowed each of the resort's chairlifts to a stop. Seven-and-a-half feet. In under a week! And that's no resort propaganda: we were there, sipping coffee and waiting as the locals prepared for a lengthy siege and the men and women of CHiPs (California Highway Patrol - yes, it's real) attempted to clear Highway 395 so that we might leave.

Fortunately, there's plenty of time for a return visit. This isn't one of those "wish you were there, shame you missed it, maybe next season" stories. Slap bang in the path of Pacific precipitation, Mammoth regularly boasts one of the longest seasons in the US, opening by November and typically lasting through June. So when this great white whale of a mountain gets hit by the sort of storms that shut down the surrounding Sierras; when the snowfall total at the end of January is already hitting the seasonal average of 400inches; and when the base is a whopping 14ft - it's a fair assumption that there'll be few better resorts to head to this spring. Particularly if you like terrain parks.

Europe's finest have nothing on Mammoth. Here you'll find parks for kids, beginners, intermediates and pros; an all-rail park; and four halfpipes, from gentle trench to superpipe monster. Mammoth's quieter sister, June, boasts another selection, again catering for all levels and encouraging progression from tiny bunny hops to giant booters. And while some resorts claim good parks in their brochures but fail to deliver season-round, Mammoth dependably comes up with the goods, grooming around the clock to keep the pipes, kickers and jibs in good shape.

Come early April, when patches of dirt and grass are spreading across the Alps and resorts in the Rockies are preparing for their last slushy weeks of the season, itinerant snowboarders and freestyle skiers will still be showing up in Mammoth.

Showered in accolades by all the major ski and snowboard magazines, the resort has become a late-season fixture on the international scene, thanks primarily to terrain parks considered the best in the world.

Of course, consistently good conditions are the key to this. Not just in snow, but in blue skies and sunny days: more than 300 winners a year. For those less inclined to get airborne, Mammoth also offers acres of meticulously groomed treelined runs, some challenging upper-mountain faces and mellow, gladed off-piste when conditions are right. The kids' programmes are also excellent: the resort is one of the few to offer snowboard lessons for children as young as three. You'll soon get sick of youngsters showing you up on rails and spinning effortlessly off kickers.

Where Mammoth might be seen to be lacking is in those traditionally British alpine concerns: a pretty village, cosy ambience and slopeside hostelries for long and boozy lunches. Despite forested lanes, attractive logwood homes and a brand new pedestrian village and gondola, the town of Mammoth Lakes sprawls rather than nestles. On busy weekends, the place can feel like a backwoods suburb of LA.

Yet in springtime, when a morning spent baking on the mountain can be followed by a spot of fishing, a leisurely bike ride through resin-scented pineforest or a roll around the new skatepark, topped off with a soak in the local volcanic hot springs before indulging in an exchange rate-blessed splurge on sushi, the Californian lifestyle has its own appeal. And unlike the gamble that comes with booking alpine holidays, there's no need to pray for snow as you hand over the credit card: in Mammoth this year, they may well be skiing into July.

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