High winds, freezing temps, last-minute ski mounting, and dismal coverage are just a few of the necessary ingredients to pull off opening day at Mammoth Mountain.
Tahoe local Forrest Smith, who has been coming to Mammoth Opening Day for the last six years, camped out in the lift line overnight for the chance to catch first chair of the season on November 9. Mountain ops worked through the night, braving temperatures in the mid-teens and 30 mph winds, to make sure the runs were groomed and ready by morning. "The wind nearly knocked down our tent a few times, but thankfully we had quite a bit of liquid encouragement to help us get through the night,” said Smith, who set up camp at 7 p.m. the night before.
Those lucky enough to snag the coveted first chair had arrived at noon the day prior, almost 20 hours before anyone else would even start to get their boots on. They built a snowman at the base while they waited for the lifties to rope off the lines dictating where to pitch their tent. The only reported casualty from those who spent the night was one melted sleeping bag that got a little too close to a cook stove.
By 8 a.m. the lift lines were packed, music blared from a DJ booth at the lodge, and the anticipation for the chairlift to start was starting to rise. Even though last season had concluded just 94 days ago, with Mammoth running the lifts into early August, it was clear everyone was ready to get back on the snow.
"It's like two runs but whatever, you know?" said Bryan Cornell, a Virginia native who has lived in Mammoth the last three years, describing the two "white ribbons of death" descending from the top of the chair. Looking at the lift line, it was clear everyone shared the sentiment--Who cares what the conditions are, we're skiing!
As the clock hit 8:30, the bell was rung, the chair and crowd roared to life, and Mammoth Mountain kicked off its 64th season. Hoots and hollers could be heard throughout the lift line, on the chair, and all the way down the fine white sheet of snow.
Looking forward to the rest of the season, manager of lift operations Geoff Stuprich says they're excited to get the rest of the mountain open, and they have their fingers crossed for another epic season. Last year, between January 4 and February 28, it snowed 409 inches at Mammoth and this 51-inch whopper set up Mammoth and the Eastern Sierra for a solid stretch run. "We've only had snowmaking temps here for about the last week, so we really turned it on and have been going pretty big here for the last three days straight to lay down a base to get people out riding on the hill," said Stuprich. "We're really going to focus these next couple days here to try and expand the terrain and get a few more chairs running as fast as we can."
By noon, the wind had died down and the sun broke through the clouds gracing Mammoth with near perfect weather for the rest of the afternoon. After every lap it became more and more clear that this level of excitement in the air is just a taste of what’s to come, because although opening day is one well worth celebrating, it’s only just the beginning of the best time of the year: ski season.