Here is something I didn’t know. “Something” that might be a game changer although how the game might change and when is not clear:

Aspen bought Mammoth. MMSA, which owns Winter Park, Steamboat, Snowshoe and Squaw Valley along with several other ski areas recently closed escrow on Mammoth Mountain buying it from Mammoth Resorts.

Will Mammoth become Aspenized, plush and a playground for the mega rich, or will it retain some of its Eastern Sierra funkiness which has made Mammoth a uniquely California resort relatively affordable to generations of families not all who have seven and eight figures in their bank accounts?

For now, it’s still Mammoth (already a new gondola is planned and a $20 million infusion in Canyon Lodge). It’s still four hours from Bakersfield, six from LA and eight from San Diego. Mammoth is still California’s favorite ski area, and in the summer and fall, with its seven plus thousand feet elevation, possessor of the most heavenly climate in the world – 40s and 50s at night and 70s and low 80s during the day.

The drive alone is worth it, no matter what time of year. The high desert, the Sierras rising majestically on one’s left and towns like Lone Pine, Independence, Big Pine and Bishop. City and work stress melts with each mile. Exhale.

However, after exhaling, maybe you’re hungry. A friend suggests the Copper Top Barbeque in Big Pine on the way up or the way down after a vigorous Sunday ski session.

Bishop has a newish bakery called the Great Basin Bakery which makes terrific sandwiches as well as fresh baked bread and goodies.

Try driving by Mahogany Smoked Meats in Bishop without stopping. If you like jerky, you’ll be in heaven and if you don’t, you will be tempted.

Mammoth has had a boom or bust mentality depending on the amount of snow. This economic uncertainty has given the town a feeling of timelessness but it is not always fun for local merchants and restaurateurs.

The ability to make snow, and lots of it, has helped steady Mammoth’s fortunes and made it possible for the mountain to open earlier, this year on November 10th.

Lift tickets are not cheap – most topping $100 – for skiers unable or unwilling to buy season passes,

but there are ways of maximizing your skiing investment.

Longtime Mammoth resident Buck Wahl suggests “hitting the slopes at 8:30 when it opens and getting in an hour of skiing before the crowds descend” or in this case ascend.

“What makes early skiing possible is that the grooming is fantastic,” Wahl said. “You look up at the mountain at night and there are cats (Caterpillars) all over the place. The snow in the morning is corduroy. No more mogul skiing (and probably not as much ice either).”

Wahl also suggests Chairs 9 and 22 for fewer people and Chair 14 for afternoon sunshine runs. Mammoth, founded by Dave McCoy in 1955, has

28 lifts, three gondolas and an assortment of high speed quads in the mix that can move an enormous number of people up the mountain quickly.

A full day of skiing under your belt, now you’re thirsty and starved. There is nothing hungrier than a hungry skier breathing all of that crisp, clean Eastern air while feasting on one gorgeous view after another.

My friend from Bakersfield says Nevados is the best restaurant in town “(Big pours, great food and great prices.”) He also suggests Petras (“Eat at the counter, great wine list”), The Lakefront Restaurant  

at Tamarack Lodge (Romantic getaway), “best and only brewery,” — Mammoth Brewing Company, Apres ski bar (next to Canyon Lodge), Austria Hof and the Mill Cafe.

For pizza, Giovanni's Pizzeria and Nik-N-Willie’s, try the steaks and salad bar at the Mogul Restaurant and Roberto’s may be the go-to Mexican restaurant. It’s hard to beat The Stove, the Breakfast Club and Stellar Brew & Natural Cafe for breakfast.

If eating out is not your thing, Mammoth has about the best and most fully stocked Vons you’ll ever see.

Eat in, eat out, it doesn’t matter. What does is to avail yourself of one of the most beautiful places on earth. Stunning, no matter who owns it.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or (661) 395-7279.

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