Google ‘best mountain town’ and you will get over five million results, many of which are listicles claiming they have discovered the top mountain towns in the US or even the world. So what makes a great mountain town? I would argue that quick access to the mountains is a no brainer. Also history (no Disneyland-esque ski towns need apply). Then there is culture, quality of life, and the ability to make a living. By these criteria, Mammoth Lakes, California has it all.
I visited Mammoth Lakes for the first time last month (I know. I know. I’m a bad Californian.) thanks to the Outpost Trade event. The crown jewel of the Eastern Sierras, this mountain town is just a short flight away from both LAX or SFO, or an incredibly scenic 5-6 hour drive from either along the US 395 corridor.
With a rich history that dates all the way back to the original Native Americans that called this area home, the endless outdoor adventure possibilities, craft breweries, and a concerted effort on the part of the city to attract not only remote workers, but small businesses, Mammoth Lakes should be a top contender for any best mountain town list.
Just a short drive away from downtown, Mammoth Mountain is the epicenter of outdoor activity every day of the year. With over 3,500 acres of skiable terrain, the mountain offers everything from beginner runs to expert-only terrain down the chutes off the top. From the 11,053-foot high summit, you are treated to a 360-degree view over the craggy peaks of the Eastern Sierra. And because the mountain sits so high, it generally gets and retains more snow than some (not all) resorts further north in Tahoe.
An average year will see 400 inches of snowfall (this year, it’s sadly only 270 inches so far at the summit) — couple that with 300 days of bluebird sunshine and it makes for some prime California-style skiing. When I was there in early February, we saw great spring skiing conditions with warm, sunny days and corn snow, and even some windblown powder in the top bowls.
During the summer, this mountain converts into a lift-served mountain bike paradise, offering over 80 miles of singletrack. Not to mention you are right on the doorstep of some of the best wilderness in the entire country — Yosemite, Ansel Adams and the John Muir Wilderness.
The Mono were the first people to live in the vicinity of Mammoth Lakes, calling it home for thousands of years. The first Europeans arrived in the late 1800s in search of gold and silver. In 1878, General G. Dodge of San Francisco purchased a majority of the mining claims and consolidated them under the Mammoth Mining Company, referencing the supposed vast mineral wealth of the area and not fossils of extinct mastodons. The Mammoth Mining Company only lasted for 2 to 3 years (not as many mineral deposits as they thought), and the ruins of this boom-to-bust mining can be found all along the Eastern Sierra.
One of my favorite old mining towns is Bodie, CA, just over an hour’s drive north of Mammoth Lakes. Abandoned in the 1940s, this ghost town has since been turned into a state park where it remains preserved in a halted state of decay. Walking through the town, you can envision miners stumbling out of the numerous saloons, while peering into house windows you get a sense for how people lived in the early 20th century. The brick bank vault and elaborately decorated safe still stands, even though the surrounding building is long since gone. Bodie is a fascinating place.
No mountain town would be complete without a few craft breweries in which to celebrate a great day spent outdoors. Mammoth Brewing Company has been brewing award winning beers since 1995 — my favorite is the Epic IPA. Located right downtown, the brewery also houses a restaurant called The Eatery, offering everything from burgers, steaks, and flatbread pizzas to salads and appetizers (don’t miss out on the tater tots) made from locally sourced ingredients.
Black Doubt Brewing Co. prides itself on creating one-of-a-kind craft beers, specializing in sour beers, barrel-aged creations and Belgian-style ales. The brewery has anywhere between six and 13 craft beers on tap at a time and their brews are sold only on-site. Growlers and cans can be refilled with any of the beers on tap.
Work as Well as Play
Similar to Boulder, Colorado or even Bend, Oregon, Mammoth Lakes is looking to become the next hub for both outdoor and even tech companies. To help facilitate this, the city installed a fiber optic cable — one of the only mountain town to have one. You’ll also find a new coworking space called The Fort, with offices both downtown as well as right on the mountain in the Main Lodge. On a powder day, you can catch first tracks, break for a conference call and some emails in a professional work environment, then head back out for a few hot laps. Membership is available in daily, weekly or monthly increments for $25-$200. The price includes access to high speed internet, and a quiet place to work with dedicated rooms for phone calls. Even better? The Work + Play membership is a 12-month membership that includes a ski pass, mountain biking pass, and unlimited access to The Fort coworking space.
Since everyone in Silicon Valley seems to be talking about how everyone is leaving Silicon Valley, maybe it’s time to pack up and head to Mammoth Lakes. Just don’t everyone go at once.