It has been a hectic two weeks here on the mountain! I’ve been working more hours to save for my ‘fun fund’, which has given me plenty of practice with downhill skiing (I work on the ski lifts if this is your first visit to my site 🙂 ), but has also thoroughly exhausted me.
Thankfully, my weekends have been perfectly recharging. There’s nothing like hitting the sweet spot in elevation where the whole world goes silent except for the rushing wind or the sound of a bird’s wings beating as it flies. It’s like a dose of Nyquil for the soul.
Anyways, to the point! Here’s a super legit review of my experiences cross country and downhill skiing, and which I prefer!
Cross Country Skiing
At the advice of a new friend, I decided to give cross-country skiing a try on my day off.
On Mammoth Mountain, the rental shack and most of the cross country trails are at the Tamarack Lodge, located in the Lakes Basin.
I caught the orange line bus very intentionally at 12:30pm, because the cost to rent cross country skis drops to the “afternoon fare” at 12:30pm. Combined with my employee discount, it was just a couple bucks to try a whole new winter sport.
I was a little worried about being able to ski in the cross country style. They do offer classes and so I asked the rentals supervisor if I should look into taking one, but he told me that if you’re experienced in downhill skiing, cross country skiing is fairly intuitive. Unless you try a black diamond trail or go in a carbon dioxide danger zone, neither of which I plan on doing.
Carbon dioxide DANGER ZONE? No thank you!
I asked which trails I should take, and was told to try the Twin Lakes Loop, then if I still had time before the shop closed, I could ski to Lake Mary.
The rental’s supervisor is totally right! Cross Country skiing is pretty intuitive.
You can either ski your own way on the flat, snowy paths, or you can set your skis in the two grooves laid into the snow, and let those steer your skis like you’re a cart on a roller coaster track. I tried both, and honestly, prefer to use the pre-laid tracks. It was a little hard on my knees, and I tripped and fell a lot. More falling happened here than in my downhill skiing escapades! But it was so much fun.
The Twin Lakes Loop was very short, but the views actually dropped my jaw. The frozen lakes are just starting to melt here in early spring (we’ve had a very warm season!). With the porous cliff faces rising all around, the Lakes Basin has been the prettiest place I’ve visited in the Seirras thus far.
I completed the loop in no time at all, which I suppose makes sense because sliding is a little faster than walking. So I decided to slide towards Lake Mary.
Well, I guess it’s more shuffling than sliding on this part. As I climbed the gentle uphill trail, I finally started to get a hang of the shuffle-motion needed to build momentum and move quickly. I had to spend a lot of time looking down to make sure I didn’t veer out of the tracks, but when I did look up, it was so beautiful- snowy pines, mountains in the distance, and complete quiet. The introvert in me was soaking up every moment!
After about 3 miles, I got to Lake Mary. I actually almost passed it because the lake is frozen and covered with a blanket of snow. It honestly looks like an open snowy field.
A granite mountain crest surrounds the frozen lake, and smack dab in the middle is a huge pillar of rock called Crystal Crag rising above the rest of the mountains. After asking a rental team member, I learned that Crystal Crag was formed when the softer minerals eroded away, leaving this monolith behind. I sat here for awhile, both because I was very tired and because the views across the lake were impossibly lovely. Take a look!
Since I had plenty of time left, I went a little further along the Lake Mary trail to see Lake Mamie. Lake Mamie is also frozen, and the views are similar to those of Lake Mary, but it was still lovely and made for a great resting spot.
Then I decided to head back to the rental shop to make sure I could turn in my gear before they closed.
It was absolutely amazing going back down the Lake Mary trail because it sloped gently downhill this time. Since I barely even had to shuffle or use my ski poles, I could actually look around and admire the mountain geology and forests around me as I glided along the snow.
It was so much fun, in fact, that I missed my turn and had to ask for directions back to the Tamarack Lodge! All’s well that ends well.
It’s been on my Mammoth Lakes bucket list to try skiing the green circle (easy) slopes at all three lodges at Mammoth Mountain: Main, Canyon, and Eagle Lodge.
I finally got to try them last week, and it was truly an adventure of epic highs and lows.
At Main lodge, there’s really just one chair that has green circle slopes, and since I work that chair fairly often, I get to ski there almost every day. Skiing on different types of snow has been fantastic practice- from icy to slushy snow. I much prefer the “fresh pow!” as the professionals call it.
There’s also a beginner terrain park, and I’ve gotten up the courage to hit the double ramp a few times! You really get your speed up by the second jump, and it’s such a thrill.
When skiing at Canyon Lodge, I’ve found that this is the best place on Mammoth Mountain for beginners. The beginner trails are way longer, and they go through the woods which is a ton of fun. The trails are also very wide so that you can experiment with different inclines (relative steepness? I can’t think of the word).
I actually also tried the blue squares, which is the next level of difficulty after green circles. They were a little more narrow but not too difficult! I did get a little too big for my britches, though. Thinking I was a blue-square aficionado, I tried a blue square at Eagle lodge, and promptly fell on my butt, sliding alllllll the way down the hill until I got back to the green circle trail. Total “Jerry” moment, as the ski pros call it.
I remember frantically looking around to make sure no one was filming me. If I ended up on one of the Jerry-shaming instagram pages, I think I’d die of embarrassment!
Oh well, I truly believe there’s a little Jerry in each of us.
My Verdict: downhill or cross country?
I’m going to be boring and say there are merits to both!
Downhill skiing, even if you’re a beginner like me, is a total thrill. I like to think of it as “controlled falling”, though my coworker’s analogy of “stand-up-sledding” also fits.
It reminds me of learning to drive, where the second I hit a speed that I think is too high, my brain goes on panic mode and wants to stop, and so I’ve had to override that part of my brain by compromising- slowing down is far more conducive to the cause that dramatically flopping down on my butt.
Downhill skiing has given me so much confidence, though. I’ve never really been good at sports, but being able to make it down the mountain, no matter how gentle the incline, makes me feel like a capable winner. I think I’m sticking to green circles this winter, but am happy to have laid the groundwork for learning this new, fun way to enjoy the mountains!
Cross country skiing was a delight from the very beginning. It combines a few elements of skiing with one of my favorite activities- hiking. It certainly helped that the cross country ski trails are located in one of the most beautiful spots on the mountain.
I loved just getting to enjoy the sights without worrying about really injuring myself or running into other people, I barely saw anyone on the cross country ski trails. It’s also a great workout, I was sore afterwards!
So my verdict is this: While there are definitely merits to both, I think as a beginner, I prefer cross country skiing.
While it doesn’t have the distinct culture and popularity that downhill skiing has, it just checked every box for me when it comes to having a fun time. I also think I’d feel differently if I was a more talented skier. I watch people take on the double black diamonds when I’m at work, and imagine how exciting it is to conquer those steep, bumpy runs while flying at breakneck speeds! Must be amazing.
I’ll continue to practice both, and am excited to get better at them.
In this totally epic and super debate, which side are you on? Feel free to argue, scream and throw things. Maybe I’ll join in 😉