Words by Natty and Trey
Photos by Devon Balet
Upon leaving North Star, we decided to take the scenic route around Lake Tahoe for one last glimpse of the shimmering, blue water. Once we got away from the lake, the terrain turned to desert sage and gently rolling hills. We spent most of the day driving south to Mammoth California. Typically, on our drives, we go though a period of quiet reflection, followed by a moment of drunken chaos as stir craziness sets in. Even our dog Dude joins in with random sighs. Every fart gets blamed on Dude, poor guy.
We make up songs and sing them loudly. As soon as one person in the truck becomes annoyed, the chaos seems to grow even stronger. One song was dug up from last summer's travels, "Cows on the dirt, cows on the dirt, they got green grass, but the Cows are on the dirt." A sad tune that pops up every time we pass a farm with cows living on bare dirt, while the owners have nice green grass growing in their front lawn. Sometimes, the closer we get to the next location, the longer the drive seems to drag on.
A 168-mile drive in our 13-ton truck camper seems to stretch on far longer than it should. Luckily for us, Yosemite National Park and its stupendous views are only 35 miles from Mammoth Mountain. As a bonus, the Minarets--jagged 12,000 foot cliffs that loom over riders of the bike park--are always in view. This is just our opinion here, but for our money, there is no more beautiful setting than the bike park at Mammoth Mountain.
We were prepared to embrace the two-wheel drift on Mammoth's infamous mountain of pumice. No need to worry about that pumice too much though, the trail crew have expertly placed tons of pavers on berms to assist riders' desire for flow. Along with judicious use of wood for drops, jumps, and wall rides, Mammoth does not suffer a lack of iconic features to challenge and excite mountain bikers of all skill levels.
One iconic trail that deserves a special mention here is called Chain Smoke. We were especially excited to ride this techy DH-style trail, as we had heard that the trail crew had done major work on it since our last visit over a year ago. Chain Smoke has an infamous natural rock feature known as the Waterfall. After lots of scoping and mental preparation, Trey was able to ride it without incident. There's some serious pucker factor with no room for a mistake on this rock roll. The trail-crew installed pavers on the run-out at the bottom of the Waterfall to make it a little safer. In our opinion, it was a good move.
Drops were where Natty found her sweet spot at Mammoth. Last year she was a little frustrated with the pumice, but this year she dialed in the grit and made peace with it. Natty hit a drop that terrified her last year. The drop lives on a trail called Flow. It is a 6-12 footer depending on how much speed you possess off the wood-to-wood launch. She was only willing to try the drop if Trey was willing to tow her in to it. As the story goes, Trey said "you don't need a lot of speed." So, what did Natty do? She felt the need to add in a couple of good pedal strokes and sailed far down the landing ramp with a heavy compression to soak up. Her back tire landed where Trey's front tire hit! An audible buzz was heard as her butt contacted her back tire upon landing. She pulled it off, walked away completely unscathed, and high as a kite on adrenalin. Feeling confident and inspired, Natty tried a handful of drops this year, ones that she only stared at in bewilderment a year ago.
Twilight Zone is a modern marvel of trail building that involves copious pavers to create speed, flow, and sustainable jumps where none could exist otherwise as the pumice would preclude such fun. There's even a 9-foot tall, 50-foot wide wall ride that gives the rider a true sense of what centrifugal force means. Another must-do trail is Pipeline. Jumps rule on Pipeline. Wooden takeoffs translate to a consistent feel with little to no maintenance. Riders have blue or black diamond jump options to choose from on Pipeline. The black diamond rated jumps require the mountain biker to clear a sizeable gap. While the blue rated jumps are tabletops, for those with more self-preservation instincts. It's good to have options!
Riding at Mammoth does require some time to get used to, and it's not just about the pumice. Honestly, we've had some route-finding difficulties two years in a row now! Even with a bike park trail map in hand, we found the trail signage lacking on some parts of the mountain. It was very frustrating to say the least. However, Mammoth is a huge bike park! Depending on which trails you ride, you may end up popping out on the road that leads to the Village at Mammoth and have to wait for a free shuttle bus back up to the Panorama lift. The bus runs every 20 minutes, but the whole process of getting back to the top is time consuming. On a positive note, the lift lines were never long at all! We stayed at the Mammoth Mountain Inn located at the base of the Panorama Gondola. They offered a free van shuttle to and from the Village at Mammoth and the town of Mammoth Lakes where all of the restaurants, grocery stores, and the Mammoth Brewing Company reside. The more time you can spend here, the better.
Natty's favorite: Velocity DH (Double Black Diamond)
Trey's favorite: Chain Smoke (Double Black Diamond)