Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Freeskiing [Print without images]

Friday, November 12, 2010
Updated: December 22, 7:53 PM ET
Mammoth Mountain opening day


California's Mammoth Mountain opened Thursday with blue skis, six lifts and packed powder.

My first opening day at Mammoth was in November of 2001. A fresh East Coast transplant, I was so excited to be living out West that I made the three-hour drive from North Tahoe to Mammoth to ski the white ribbon of death. It was actually a striped white ribbon because the water-bars were still showing through the snow, diagonal strips of dirt and rocks. The masses were all on this same run, simultaneously shredding and competing for turns on the softer lumps of granular ice.

My second opening day at Mammoth was last season. A freak October dump prompted the resort to open on October 16 with free tickets for everyone. I swear half the population of Southern California showed up, lured in by the free riding. Lift lines were 40 minutes long, the trash cans were overflowing with empty beer cans by 10:30 in the morning, plus sketchy mid-October coverage.

The Panorama Gondola offered riding from the 11,053-foot summit via Cornice Bowl.

If someone had told me a week ago that my third opening day at Mammoth, which was yesterday, Nov. 11, would have been one to remember I would have told them they were crazy. Last week was flip-flop weather, the best mountain biking of the year. Then, last weekend, a storm rolled through California pasting the slopes of Mammoth with one to three feet of new snow. Surprisingly cold temperatures ensued and another five inches a couple of nights ago sealed the deal. Opening day 2010 at Mammoth Mountain would not suck this year, quite the contrary, it would be the best opening day I've seen, possibly ever.

Mammoth opened their lifts to the public for the season at 8:30 a.m. Thursday, with great conditions. It was a typical bluebird California day with some strong east winds that kept the upper mountain closed for the first hour but top to bottom runs soon became the order of the day. Six lifts ran with over 2,000 vertical feet and a dozen runs. The conditions on the mountain were being reported as "powder" (with a base depth of 12 to 36 inches of manmade and natural snow) but I think wind-buff more accurately describes the snow surface out there. Glorious smooth snow just begged you to let it rip but the frequent protruding rocks were a good reminder to exercise prudent throttle control. After all, it's only the first day of the country's longest ski season.