Mammoth, June 10-11, 2006

Tony Crocker

Staff member
I reserved this weekend as my younger son Andrew just finished school. Garry Klassen also came along. Based on reports from last week I expected to be working hard in very heavy snow, but that was not the case.

Reported temps were barely hitting freezing at night at the top, and in the 40's at the base of Chairs 1 & 2. Nonetheless the snow had firmed up everywhere overnight and Saturday was clearly the best ski day I've seen this late in the season for surface conditions. I looked up my records, and of the 34 ski days at Mammoth after May 15 it has frozen overnight in about half. There were 6 better than Saturday, and all were in May and better due mainly to more terrain available.

Andrew slept in late and missed this one, but Garry and I got to at Chair 2 about 8:40AM. The Chair 2 groomers were in prime condition about 9AM, and the snow was softening gradually based more on exposure than altitude. So after warm-ups on 2 & 3 we headed up top to NE aspects of Cornice, then Climax down through the Chair 5 area that had been closed since Memorial Day, but where you can easily cruise back to Chair 2.

Chair 23 is closed for June weekends, but we hiked up there and hit Drop Out in optimal conditions about 10:30. Typically only the steeps are good and it's mushy down lower before you get to groomed St. Anton, but this time the broad open slopes had easily cruisable corn. Very similar to admin's Snowbird report from a year ago, except that Mammoth has 5 high speed lifts going so you can rack up vertical (30,200 Saturday and 21,400 Sunday) like it's midwinter.

The other pleasant surprise was the light breeze that prevented the snow from getting sloppy, even down by the Main Lodge. Not that it was cold: I was only in a windbreaker, and I dumped that for the last 2 hours and skied in a T-shirt. The Climax-to-Face-of-5 run was still good at noon, and most of our runs were top to bottom because Broadway, St. Anton and the race course runs were good right up to 2PM closing. Up above we hit Hangman's and a couple more on Climax. On Chair 3 we had a choice of groomed or ungroomed corn, a zipper line of bumps or the Saddle Bowl terrain park.

Saturday afternoon we prowled Mammoth for late season deals (Garry makes a hobby of this) because Andrew needs new gear before the NASJA New Zealand trip. We scored new Rossi B1's for $150, bindings for $80 and a Grenade jacket for another $80. Then it took an hour to find a shop to mount the bindings, as most of the shop techs had closed for the season.

Andrew woke up in a more timely manner Sunday to try out the new skis. His ski months this year will be April, June, July and August. So he was just on the Chair 1 and 2 cruisers Sunday as it was only his 3rd day and he had some boot issues that we fixed on the April trip. He did stay out until 12:30, which tells us something as he's usually picky about difficult snow conditions.

Sunday was a bit warmer and there was no wind, so softening occurred on most runs at least an hour earlier than on Saturday. So Garry and I did the Climax-to-Face-of-5 run just once about 10:30 because we knew it could be slow going getting back to Chair 2 any later. But Cornice, Climax and Hangman's were still great, and the Chair 1 groomers held up well until about 1PM.

The only downside of Mammoth is that the base is dropping fast, and they will do well to have the same coverage for July 4 closing that was there last year. The Wipe Out side of Chair 23 looks thinner, and they will probably have to move snow around again to maintain access to Chair 1 in a couple of weeks.








Looks great for JUNE!

I am trying to understand post-season melt-downs.

This is the RECORD SEASON for Mammoth and the base is not keeping up??!!

Is it due to the cloudless sunny days?

Last year, we had storms into May -- and a big spring!
ChrisC":2olfbx9a said:
Last year, we had storms into May -- and a big spring!

IIRC, you had a cool, wet spring like we did last year, and you've had the same sunny, dry spring that we've been having this year.
The snowfall and snowpack can have some divergences, notably due to water content (more is better) and spring weather. Last year the substantial storms of May 6-10 kept the base near its peak. Late May was hot but mid-June was cool. On June 18 I was wearing a ski jacket and hat, the winds were strong and the snow was hard until 10:30AM. The ensuing 2 weeks were very hot, so July 4th ended up similar to 1993 (previous snowfall record) but not as good as 1983 and 1995. Those 2 years are beyond any others that I've seen for snowpack, though I've heard 1969 was comparable.

This year April snowfall was a record and upper mountain bases were higher than at any time last year by my observation. Most of that snowfall was in the first half of April, and the first heat wave was in the first half of May. When I was there May 20 not only had the base dropped considerably, but there was already suncupping in many off piste areas. The drop in base from May 20 to June 10 looked normal. Temperatures June 10-11 were ideal for spring corn skiing, but from what I've read last weekend was much warmer. In terms of preserving the snowpack I think consistent overnight freezing is the most important factor.

If you're familiar with McCoy Station (gondola mid-loading) the snowpack was level with the deck entrance May 20. On June 10 you had to walk up the top 4 stairs to that deck. On April 10 the snowpack was 6-8 feet higher than the deck. Also many of us observed that while high elevation snowpack was huge, it was only moderately above average farther down. There was no snow at all in town by May 20.

I just analyzed the Mammoth meltdown process in some detail for Patrick, who is coming out and will stay with me up there for the July 4 holiday:

The conversation a year ago was, "Why can't Mammoth go beyond July 4 like in 1983 and 1995?" This year it's "How much work will they have to do to maintain ski access to Chair 1?" I've seen this late season meltdown process many times. It was also explained to me by a former snow safety guy Jack Mason from Winter Park. A deep western snowpack has a below-freezing core, which is almost like glacial ice, refrigerates the snowpack and helps firm up the subsurface. When the base gets down to 2-3 feet this core is gone and the remaining snowpack is isothermic (all at 32 degrees) according to Jack Mason. At this point the snow is very mushy and in the warm weather the residual snowpack melts out at a swift rate.

At Mammoth you can observe this process in action. The bottom of Chair 2 was in the isothermic stage last weekend with the first dirt patches starting to show up. Mammoth closes it at that point because they don't want to do the work of moving snow in to maintain it. This closure also removes the higher Chair 5 area from lift access, plus the convenient parking. Now you have to park along the Main Lodge road and walk farther (no bus shuttles after sometime in May).

There are some upper mountain issues. Skyline (exit right from Chair 23 along the ridgeline) burned off in late May, so access to Scotty's and Paranoid became tedious. With little skier traffic those areas get a lot of suncupping, and the far side of Paranoid bends around into sun and the snow looked bad even on my May trip. On that trip Dave's was good, but by June the traverse over there was burned off and very few people made the hike. The same process can happen to Wipe Out and Drop Out if they don't run Chair 23 for an extended period.

The other key area of concern is the base of Chair 1. When the immediate area around the Main Lodge loses snow they will move in snow every night to maintain access to the chair. Last July 2 this process was just underway for maybe 100 yards up the hill. So they also maintained strips of snow from St. Anton and the race course area. Pictures from July 4 show substantial deterioration on Broadway vs. 2 days earlier. Eventually they give up on the strips from St. Anton and the race courses, which cuts off another chunk of terrain and also puts more bodies on Broadway, accelerating its demise. The next step is skiing on just Chair 3 and the top with gondola transport, which is what the condition was on July 4, 1986. Current management philosophy is not to keep the area open that late if they think it will reach that state.

If it's as hot as last year for the next 2 weeks it is possible IMHO that the only quality skiing (especially on the last couple of days) will be Chair 3, Climax and Cornice, with just a mushy isothermic strip down Broadway below that. I can assure you that Mammoth did make an official announcement about staying open until July 4, and they will do so even if conditions deteriorate beyond what they anticipated.