Outdoors: Spring has sprung in the Sierra

March 28, 2012 

It's not too late to enjoy the slopes this year. With fresh snow from recent weather systems and more on the way, conditions have greatly improved since the dry days earlier this winter.

Local resorts will continue to provide thrills through April. Badger Pass will finish the season this weekend, but Bear Valley will remain open through April 15 and Dodge Ridge through the end of April.

Early spring can be one of the best times to hit the slopes. Typically the weather is warmer, the days longer, and driving conditions better. Coinciding nicely with spring break vacations, this season can be the perfect time for a family trip to the snow.

This year's "big" ski trip took me over the crest of the Sierra Nevada to Mammoth Mountain. Mammoth has long been one of my favorite places in the Sierra during the summer months, but this was the first time I'd tried out the slopes. It turned out to be one of the best ski weekends that I can remember. Snow fell the night I arrived and through the first day. The resulting fresh powder made for great conditions.

Besides great snow, Mammoth has a lot to recommend. The extensive runs and 3,100-foot vertical descent provide variety, excitement and room to explore. Although I knew that it is recognized as one of the best ski areas in the U.S., I was still surprised at how many foreign skiers I encountered -- especially Europeans.

Conveniently located gondolas connect the resort's lodging directly to the slopes. The local bus system connects a broad range of other accommodations further from the slopes. The selection of food is excellent both on the mountain and four miles down the road at the town of Mammoth Lakes.

In addition to downhill skiing and snowboarding, Mammoth provides just about every other kind of winter recreation imaginable from sledding and tubing hills for kids to sled dog team rides, snowmobiling, and guided moonlit cross-country skiing tours. Just last weekend the resort hosted a biathlon competition.

One of the members of our party had never skied before. A few hours in an adult beginner class proved that all it takes is a willingness to learn and an experienced teacher. By the end of the day she was confidently enjoying the easier slopes on her own.

Mammoth may be a bit further than you can drive for a weekend trip, but it is well within your reach if you have three or more days. Part of the adventure is just getting there. Roughly parallel to Merced, the resort requires a crossing of the Sierra Nevada on highways 88 and 50, or I-80. The whole drive is spectacular with varied scenery, outstanding views, and many activities to stop and enjoy. You won't run out of things to do along the way or at your destination. If you're in a hurry, airplane transportation is available from San Francisco and San Jose.

One last suggestion: No matter where you go to ski, check the resort's website for deals and coupons. Late season deals are often offered.

Adam Blauert can be reached at adamblauert@yahoo.com

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