It’s weather whiplash in the Eastern Sierra.
While much of the Southwestern U.S. endures sweltering heat that continues to topple daily records, historic snowfall has brought an unusually extended ski season to Mammoth Mountain, where snowboarders and skiers continue to soar down the slopes in shorts and sunglasses.
“Even though it’s July 21, it seems like summer is just starting and winter is just barely ending,” said Ashley Strauss, a recreational snowboarder who has lived in Mammoth Lakes since 2010.
Visitors have until Aug. 6 to shred the snowpack, according to an announcement Thursday. This will be only the third season in the resort’s nearly seven-decade history that has extended into August — joining 1995 and 2017.
Usually, Mammoth Mountain receives an average of about 33 feet of snow — enough to fuel a season lasting from November through June.
This winter shattered that norm. A record 60 feet of snow was recorded at the resort’s main lodge, the snowiest season on record.
The tremendous snowfall has not only kept the slopes running longer, but created a unique juxtaposition of Mammoth recreation and beauty.
At the base of the snow-capped mountain, which towers more than 11,000 feet in elevation, vibrant yellow and purple wildflowers bloom where snow has retreated. Formerly easy stream crossings are swollen with cool, rushing water. Several campsites are closed, trails are wet.
And at the Mammoth Lakes Basin, nestled in the Sierra, Lake Mary has swamped parts of the forest with crystal clear water.
Strauss said she’s been waiting all summer for snow-shuttered swaths of the Eastern Sierra to open — such as Tioga Pass, the eastern entrance into Yosemite National Park that opened Saturday after months of being smothered with snow and ice.
“It’s just sort of a completely unique set of circumstances in the area right now,” a Mammoth Mountain spokesperson said, adding that interest in spring and summer skiing is “as high as anyone has ever seen it.”
At the Green Room, a ski and snowboard shop in Mammoth Lakes, screens display live video of the slopes all day. Keith Watson, the shop’s general manager, said he is continuously floored by how much white remains.
“You just honestly stare at the cams,” said Watson, who has been snowboarding for 23 years. “You’re getting the most powder days that you’ve ever had in one season.”
Usually by this time of year, he has swapped out most of the shop’s ski and snowboard equipment for a bike department.
That’s not the case this year. People are coming in who never anticipated being able to ski on their birthday, so “stoke is high,” he said.
“It’s been pretty rad being able to go up and snowboard in the morning, go out and fish in the afternoon, then go stare at waterfalls for the sunset,” he said. “Paddleboarding is far better when you’ve got six waterfalls that aren’t normally around. It’s pretty epic.”
Dave Amirault — a ski industry retiree who held his first poles as a first-grader on the East Coast more than three decades ago — has made the eight-hour drive from Salt Lake City to Mammoth four times this summer to enjoy the “biblical amounts of snow.”
When Salt Lake City hit 106 degrees last week — just one degree shy of its all-time heat record — Amirault was in Mammoth, gliding down the slopes. It was one of the happiest weeks of his life, he said, filled with hiking, paddleboarding and brewery stops.
Each night, he would unwind in a hot spring under the stars, then “wake up and do it all over again,” he said.
While visitors can still ski and snowboard into August, they should anticipate limited operations and terrain, the Mammoth Mountain spokesperson said.
Currently, all operations are based out of the main lodge, with no options for beginner terrain. By the end of the extended season, only one of the resort’s 25 lifts is likely to be operating, the spokesperson said.