Outside Magazine, 1999 Annual Travel Guide
We've all been there: fighting driving wind, rain and snow. Funneling every ounce of energy into holding an edge and staying upright. Bracing for the punishing fall.
And that's just the burrito line at lunchtime.
When your destination is a mega-resort designed for the masses, getting down the mountain in anything approaching style is icing on the preparation cake. And finding some space to yourself is a bona fides bonus.
Chairlifts are four to eight across. Burgers are by the gross ton. Laser beams scan your personal UPC code as if you're a fryer hen as you pass through electronic lift gates. Bars and restaurants are bigger than the parking lot at Alta, Utah.
Grin, bear it, and consider yourself a participant in a great snowbound experiment in democracy. In the alpine equivalent of warehouse shopping, everyone is treated with equal amounts of attention — or disdain. but this isn't necessarily bad. The truth is that walking into a place that serves up more of everything strongly reduces the chances you'll go home with nothing.
Everyone — and yes, we realize the genuine risk of a stampede — should head high on the first sunny day to take in the awesome Lake Tahoe views. Rookies, don't let the first chair ride fool you. Heavenly is upside down. Most of the best green runs are up top, where views are best.
Snapshot accomplished, experts will want to head for Mott or Killebrew canyons. For intermediates, the Ridge Run area off the Sky Express lift is particularly ego-boosting. Snowboarders have full run of the mountain. Freeriders will love the upper-mountain cruisers; soft-booters congregate in the terrain park on the Nevada side and will find a brand-new terrain park on the California side.
At night, country mountain inns meld into casino action. The latter includes the always amusing Nero's 2000 at Caesar's Tahoe/Casino, which will either overwhelm the senses or induce nausea, depending on your sequin-and-spandex tolerance threshold. Lights are dimmer and people are saner at skier-dominated nightspots like The Brewery or the Thirsty Duck Bar & Grill, both local microbrew bars.
Lodging in South Lake Tahoe and busing to the mountain can be fun; try Caesar's Tahoe/Casino or, better yet, Harvey's Resort Hotel. If you're here mostly to ski, stick close to the mountain, where choices range from the deluxe, private-gondola-accessed Ridge Tahoe Resort to the more low-key Best Western Station House Inn, which offers basic motel rooms and ski packages.
Mammoth Mountain, California
First, though, the truth. At some point in the day, everyone skiing at Mammoth, whether they let on or not, will be lost. this is due largely to the fact that Chair 21 might be somewhere close to Chair 19, but Chair 22 is three counties away. This mountain is high (11,053 feet) and spread all over, with three base areas and more trials than you could ski in a month. Masochists will find plenty with which to amuse and/or injure themselves up above 10,000 feet, where sheer plunges such as Avalanche chutes and a half-dozen others await off chair 22. Even higher, Cornice Bowl and Fresno Bowl are must-skis or must-be-rescueds, depending on your skill level. Intermediates can try on straight-on repeat 22 or view-rich Roadrunner for size. Fit? Lots more like them Freeriding snowboarders will be stylin' in the upper bowls; soft-booters have their own expansive terrain park, The Unbound, stocked with halfpipes and jumps.
Down below, Mammoth appears to have been carpet-bombed by condo-laden B-52s. But a few hangouts exhibit some character: The Mountainside Grill at the Mammoth Mountain Inn is a big but downright cozy dinner spot. At night, Goats and Whiskey Creek are notable pub stops, and The Yodler in the Mammoth Mountain Inn is a take-off-your-shoes-stretch place that shouldn't be missed.
Notable exceptions to the condomania are the sprawling Mammoth Mountain Inn, a wonderfully pine-infested, lodge-like hotel close to the base village; and The Silver Bear, a 24-unit condo complex that has the feel of a slightly swank European inn.
Mount Bachelor, Oregon
That's all the more remarkable considering nobody — not even the company president — has ski-to-the-door lodging here. Bachelor, a 9,065-foot cinder cone square in the midst of Deschutes National Forest, has no slopeside lodging. Everyone commutes from lodgings at nearby Bend or the resort community of Sunriver.
But the mountain more than makes up for the half-hour drive. Bachelor is a cruiser's delight, with broad, open runs literally skirting all sides of the mountain. Wide, medium-steep runs below the Pine Marten lift will give shaped-ski-riding intermediates severe goosebumps. Experts will find plenty of drool material off the Summit lift, in the Outback area, or in the steep glades and deep drifts of runs off the newly opened Northwest Express. Novices have a refreshingly large open area above the Sunrise Base village.
Nightlife, once pretty much limited to late-night Cheetos acquisition at Fred Meyer, picks up more each year. A popular hangout is the Deschutes Brewery, where the Obsidian Stout is almost stout enough to hold up a spoon by itself.
Lodging offerings are increasingly diverse in rapidly growing Bend, but a favorite is the Inn of the Seventh Mountain, seven miles from Bend and the closest lodge to the mountain, with an outdoor ice rink, heated pools, and rooms from studios to full-blown condos. At Sunriver Resort, a 30-minute drive from the mountain, rentals range from single rooms to five-bedroom executive homes.
Park City Mountain Resort, Utah
Few mountains consume and digest mass quantities of skiers with the burpless grace of Park City. You don't even have to go all the way to the mountain to reach it — it comes after you. The Town Lift, a reliable triple chair, picks up bodies right from Park Avenue and shuttles them to a a big, diverse snowplay area.
Rookies will love Park City's rare treat: Green trails that can be followed from the top of the chairlift all the way back into town. Cruisers — on skis or snowboards — often fall in love with this mountain; the bulk of the 3,000 dry-snow-flanked acres are open to them. Do like everyone else: Start out front on the ego snow of Payday; move up as you warm up. Experts can stay busy here, too. The mountain has 650 acres of fine upper-bowl skiing, but the truest mettle testers here are park City's steep, narrow tree runs, such as Six Bells and Portugese Gap.
At night, downtown Park City, historically registered and hysterically quaint, serves up steak at the Claim Jumper of Tex-Mex grub at the Baja Cantina in the base village. Nightlife ranges from warm to medium hot at local spots like Steeps, at the base, or The Cozy, a popular downtown hangout.
The mountain's 4,644 acres of skiing and riding space include soothing beginner terrain (there's an easy way down from every lift on the front side) and truly raucous intermediate offerings, ranging from the bumps of Whistle Pig to the long, fast flats of Lionshead runs such as Simba, Bwana, and Born Free. Experts come here and never leave after skiing China, Siberia, and Inner and Outer Mongolia bowls, and scary bump faces like Prima Cornice.
Snowboarders are warmly embraced, then directed, en masse, via special riders' guides, to their choice of snowboard-friendly trails and two terrain parks: one, the Tag Heuer Halfpipe at Lionshead, for experts, the other for posers. The mountain also has a large and notable snowboarding school. And nonskiers can show they're just as nuts by running Vail's 2,900-foot, lightning-fast bobsled run.
Dining and lodging are split into four main base areas spread over seven-plus miles. You don't pick a street address at Vail, you pick a town. Highlights include dinners at the bright, fusion-influenced Sweet Basil or the heavily antlered Tyrolean Restaurant, which serves up a Noah's ark-and-a-half of wild game. Afterward, show off your first-run-down-China-Bowl leg cast at the notorious The Red Lion in Vail Village or at Garfinkel's, a snowboarder magnet at Lionshead Mall.
Retire to the sprawling, Euro-influenced Vail Village Inn, where rooms range from four-bedroom condos you can't afford to double rooms that you can. Other options are the classy Bavarian Sonnenalp Resort and the plush Christiania Lodge plus a bewildering array of condo and hotel rooms available through Vail Central Reservations, 800-525-2257.
Copyright 1998, Outside magazine