On the final stop of his US tour, Pingu pays a visit to California's park paradise. Illustrations by Kieron Black.If you are a snowboarder, you must visit Mammoth.
If you are a snowboarder with mini shreds, you really must visit Mammoth.
If you are a snowboarder and have no money, a fear of flying, are under house arrest, have got Velcro attached to your entire body and have a house full of deep shag carpet, have two broken legs, your front door is locked and you can’t find the key, you have been chained to your fridge, your girlfriend is threatening to dump you and you will lose your job if you go on holiday, are allergic to American pollen spores and you have a rare condition which causes you to spontaneously combust if you touch snow… you should still visit Mammoth.
In my 25 years of shredding, I have never visited a place which felt more like a snowboarders’ “special" place than Mammoth. It isn't just the fact that nearly everyone here is standing sideways, or that the whole resort is totally set up for our brethren; it also has a feel, an odour, an ethereal floating vapour which seeps into your skin and makes you want to push yourself, fist-bump and just shred harder than you’ve ever shredded before.
"If you could bottle the atmosphere in Mammoth and sell it to teenage boys, you would make an absolute killing"
If you could bottle the atmosphere in Mammoth and sell it to teenage boys, you would make an absolute killing. This place is chock-full of the spunk and confidence of youth, overspilling with alpha pheromones like a bubbling science experiment performed by Dr. Shredenstein and has explosions going off on every feature, as yet another super-freak busts out a trick you’ve never seen before riding away like it was nuttin’. This place is how I always imagined California to be - the pinnacle of snowboard energy, talent, bravado and steez.
So you should come here. Even if you have to mortgage your vital organs to medical science, or trick your gran into signing over all her premium bonds into your name, or get your sister to divorce her husband and give you her share of the house, do it.
"It has to be said that the main park has definitely got a vibe... There is no kook-calling, but there is pretty much a total disregard for the normal rules of the park"
You owe it to yourself, and if you have procreated and managed to get the kids riding, you owe it to them too. There is no more inspiring place to be in the entire shredding world, I would assert, than sitting on the Thunder Bound chair which whisks you over the top of the Main Unbound terrain park in Mammoth. Sitting in this chair, which can pretty much give you unprecedented five-minute laps of one of the best parks in the world, you and your groms (if they exist) will be treated to an array of X-Games-podium-bothering manoeuvres. You can almost reach out and high five the riders in the middle of their 1080s.
But with all this sherbet fizz of excellence, you need not feel separated or alienated by the elite action - the parks here are built to wean you into a position where you can step up and join the party. There are roughly a bazillion features here in Mammoth, of all shapes and sizes, which will elevate your skills even if you don’t want them to. Whatever your level of freestyle riding, you will leave here better than you arrived.
It has to be said however that the main park has definitely got a vibe. You can’t take all that bullishness and talent and expect it to be quiet and un-opinionated. There is no kook-calling, but there is pretty much a total disregard for the normal rules of the park. Here, you pretty much have to anticipate that you will have someone following ten yards behind you into a booter, and you have to be no more than about ten yards behind the guy in front in order to not to be burned by someone else dropping in ahead of you. I am obviously exaggerating for effect, and to qualify that statement I was admittedly here during the Volcom Launch and the Peanut Butter and Rail Jam, so the bravado-alpha meter readings were probably way higher than normal thanks to the influx of competitive talent. It all made for a pretty intense, thrilling experience, but it certainly focused the mind on not sketching out on your landings as you were launching.
"There is room for normal resort shredding, or pootling around with kids, just making turns and throwing spray without feeling like you are somehow getting in anyone else’s way"
But taking a step back and scanning more broadly than the parks – which will already be familiar to anyone with a snowboarding-oriented Facebook or Twitter feed – Mammoth mountain presents a full range of shred options. Steeps, backcountry bowls and a huge array of cliff drops will, with sufficient powder inches, bring out your inner beard-sprouting hell man. The natural gullies and undulating terrain makes you imagine yourself bobbing and weaving like a slightly less bouncy Noah Salasnek, and you could also pretend to be Nico Müller as you butter your way through the glades on Mammoth backside, eating leaves and reading obscure 19th century European philosophy texts.
Given that Mammoth reaches up to nearly 3400 metres above sea level, it is usually not short of white stuff - to such an extent that the season usually lasts through to the end of May (at least). In many ways, the pink-rail sunny-slush freestyle image that dominated my outsiders’ internet-fed view is actually not really that representative of what I found here. It is in fact a legit mountain, at high altitude, which gets over ten metres of snow a season (but somehow also manages to pack in 300 days of sunshine per year - which just doesn't seem fair). As such, in a parallel universe, Mammoth could equally portray itself as a freerider’s nirvana.
"Main Street isn’t really the main street, The Village is nothing like a village and the some of the best bars are hidden away in buildings where you’d think you’re more likely to find someone with a combover trying to sell you competitive rates of household insurance"
But there is room - between the future Olympian slopestyle medallists busting off the booters, the pipe jocks throwing down double corks into Bud Keene airbags and the cliff-jumping hairy chested beardy men - for normal resort shredding, or pootling around with kids, just making turns and throwing spray without feeling like you are somehow getting in anyone else’s way.
There are myriad groomers on which to perfect your Vitelli turns, and plenty of mellow runs on which to hone your skills if you are just starting out your relationship with your board. For kids who aren't yet throwing 900s (seemingly unlike most of the under-14s here), there are acres and acres of perfect terrain for getting those turns on lock and learning the first clutch of flatland tricks.
So, from a shred perspective, it has everything you could ever need to justify the transatlantic and trans continental flight, the jet lag, the altitude sickness and the new outfit you will have to buy yourself to fit in.
Which brings me neatly onto the shred steez in Mammoth. Now I have already had a good middle-aged harrumph on the issue of peculiar snowboarding fashions, in my Breckenridge missive. Over the course of the season, I did however become immune to the sartorial daftness on display in America’s resorts, such that by the time I arrived in California I thought it was entirely normal to see people wearing nappies on top of wetsuits on top of onesies with the sleeves cut off, and neon leg warmers rolled over their wrists with plastic bags for gloves and egg boxes covered in tinfoil on their heads.
"If you slightly zeach out on your back lips, the fact your trousers are slightly the wrong shade of grey will land you in all sorts of trouble"
The good doctor Illicit pointed out that Brits are usually the worst show ponies on the slopes. Based on a season in the US, I would actually say the Yanks take the biscuit - but the big difference is most of them are actually strong enough riders to pull it off. If you can 720 onto a rail and then front flip into a nose manual into a butter 360 and then backflip off a three-inch-high death cookie, then you can turn up wearing a pinafore and a pair of sexy panties (and mitts, of course) and people won’t even so much as blink an eyelid. If you slightly zeach out on your back lips however, the fact your trousers are slightly the wrong shade of grey will land you in all sorts of trouble.
I can kind of understand the renaissance of the salopette / dungaree look, and I sort of get why people might wear sunglasses and a helmet, and lots of people tell me that massive mitts in spring are actually really practical, but I simply don't get why anyone would want to roll their trousers up over their boots to look like someone who forgot how long their legs were when they bought their outfit. Based on my fact-based empirical study over the course of two weeks, lots of people in Mammoth don't know how long their legs are.
"If you turn up in Mammoth Lakes trying to find “the centre" or “where all da action is bro" you may struggle, because it is a peculiar doughnut configuration"
As anyone who has done GCSE geography in the last 25 years will know, most UK towns conform to a fairly standard functional distribution. Central Business District (CBD) in the middle, surrounded by suburbia where people with life goals mow their lawns, within which is usually a discrete education zone, and then outside that is usually mud flats, boiling lakes of lava and shark infested swamps.
In the US, most places seem to have a cryptically titled “Main Street", either side of which are shops, bars and places to buy ammunition. This makes it easy for outsiders to understand where to go if they want to eat a hot dog whilst getting drunk and shooting at things after day of shred.
If you turn up in Mammoth Lakes trying to find “the centre" or “where all da action is bro" you may struggle, because it is a peculiar doughnut configuration, whereby all the residential housing is in the middle, encircled by what would look to a European like a full-blown motorway (and thus the last place you would expect to find a bar or any shop other than a Currys, Pet World or Morrisons).
Mammoth Lakes is thus confusing for GCSE students, and even more so for middle-aged men reared on a diet of European ski resorts which have all the stuff you need (snowboard shops, bars, crepe hut, cheese shop) is near the lifts in the centre of the town. Main Street isn't really the main street, The Village is nothing like a village and the some of the best bars are hidden away in buildings where you’d think you’re more likely to find someone with a combover trying to sell you competitive rates of household insurance.
Once you rip up your school textbooks and preconceived ideas of what “normal" is, you will however find it much easier to discover some fantastic places to hang out and feed. The Mammoth Brewing Company or The Tavern will serve you good locally brewed beer and food, and The Stove is a little gem which serves the kind of scran you would expect someone’s lovely American auntie to make. If you need to satiate your competitive edge, then you can also head to Rock and Bowl, which has ten pin bowling and meat / non-meat based products to consume faster than your friends.
But to be honest, all of this is detail / a herbaceous border / salad dressing.
Because, if you snowboard, you have to visit Mammoth. That’s it.