Mammoth Opening Weekend is always a good time. Even though Mother Nature didn’t decide to drop her bounty until AFTER we took our two runs and were happily back in Portland, my husband Aaron and I got a lot more out of our round trip from Portland to Cali than sore muscles, hangovers and high fives with friends. In fact, when we showed up to Mammoth Mountain Inn on Thursday November 9th, we were not only not married, but we were barely speaking. But I’m getting ahead of myself so let’s start at the beginning.
PART 1- Portland to Klamath Falls Departure: 6 am, November 9th, 2017.
Locked and loaded.
We’d driven 260 miles from Portland the scenic way – down I-5 to 97, through the foliage-dotted expanses of Eastern Oregon, over mountain passes where we saw our first snow of the trip, and were about 20 minutes from Klamath Falls before having a major emotional blow out. You see, I am an artist (read ADHD-riddled photographer who has a hard time passing up any photo op) and Aaron is jujutsu-trained Moto-enthusiast (cars, bikes – if it has a motor, he knows it) who just wanted to fucking get there.
It was our first real road trip together since we’d begun dating April 30th, and we’re still figuring out this whole compromise thing. But one thing we had already agreed on – we’re in love, and getting married the quick and easy way would ensure that our shared stubborn nature would not get in the way of our future world domination as a life team.
Klamath Falls is about five hours from Portland, and as stated we were ALMOST THERE, when I decide I need to quell my anxiety with a road soda. Aaron, who’s worked in the automotive industry for his entire life, was not into the possibility of losing his license so I could “chill out” a little quicker. Long story short, we ended up in a text battle with him walking down the side of snow-lined-highway 395 in a T-shirt and me drinking a PBR a half mile down the road at some crazy logging museum. The trip was off to a great start.
The calm before the storm…
We’d wasted about 20 minutes in the middle of nowhere having this stupid fight before he agreed to get back in the car and continue on the way to K Falls. Once there, he’d either hop on a greyhound back to Portland to move my shit out of his house, or continue on the way to our Mammoth vacation/pending nuptials. On that latter decision, we’d settled for “figuring out” during the drive. Tears, yelling, and all the other emotions that boil up when you’re about to make a lifelong commitment to someone happened, and by the time we got to King Wah, the shitty Chinese restaurant we’d agreed to eat lunch at – we were both too emotionally exhausted to fight anymore.
Aaron quietly ate his General Tso’s Chicken and I picked at my Chicken with Broccoli, while the 80-year-old waitress did her best to flirt with an old man playing KENO and pour us each a drink. Upon realizing a whiskey-ginger have been a bit much to ask – I changed my medicinal-cocktail order to a beer, and struggled to even eat.
The bar wench brought out the check, and with it was two fortune cookies. I took charge of paying for this meal, so I deliberated long and hard before deciding which cookie to open. I signed the check and prepared to toss my fate into the hands of the wise Chinese Fortune cookie gods, cracking it open.
I started laughing hysterically. The kind of laughter that fixes all the world’s wrongs in that one moment. With a renewed sense of commitment – I hopped back in the Highlander, kissed Aaron (who refused to open his cookie), and placed a call to Chapel of the Belles in Reno asking what time we’d need to arrive by in order to get married today.
PART 2 — Klamath Falls to MAMMOTH 1 PM PST, November 9th 2017
Reassured that he was making the right choice to continue on this journey with me, Aaron once again took the wheel. Since I’d assuaged my fear-of-commitment based on the Chinese fortune, I’d brought along the second fortune cookie. It remained unopened, and I set it down in the spacious center console of the Highlander Hybrid (aka ROBOCAR), next to my collection of 90’s CDs, disorganized camera gear, a laptop and a bunch of other crap I’d already managed to accumulate in the five hours we’d been driving so far. I told Aaron it was his time to call the shots, and agreed we would only stop for emergencies from here on out.
Aaron jumps for joy somewhere along the shore of some lake.
About 40 minutes later we hit the California state line, and agreed to an emergency bathroom break in the the town of Tulelake. We took care of our business, and then I ran around snapping photos of hilarious signs, locals and scenery. Aaron was leaning against the Highlander looking at his phone when I returned to give him a big hug and excitedly show him the moments I’d captured. We laughed and decided next time we should pass up Klamath Falls and eat in Tulelake. “Maybe on the way back,” I said knowing full well that on a road trip, you never turn back.
We were logging serious miles and ALMOST made it to where you weave in and out of California on 395 before the gas light turned on (that’s a lot of miles in Hybrid terms) and we were ready to stop again. Unfortunately, we’d already passed ALL THE CIVILIZATION and according to the robocar, only had 7 miles of range when we hit the town of Canby, CA. Aaron ran into the post office to find out it was 19 miles to the nearest gas station.
With a little smart driving, and the backup of EV mode (which has a top speed of 25 mph) we held up all the semi-trucks, while trying to drive as fuel efficiently as possible. We managed to pull into the Chevron station in Alturas, CA.
“I was worried about the extra cookie weight,” Aaron said, gesturing at the emotionally-heavy-but-still-unopened fortune cookie. “But made it. With negative 7 miles to spare!”
We were laughing and enjoying our gas station fried chicken (for the record: WAY better than the K-Falls American-ese) when we passed the California border check point, again. Thanks to our mutual spastic-happiness, we’d managed to go the WRONG WAY and found ourselves in Surprise Station, CA, so named for its random-ass border patrol station. As we flipped a bitch, panic took over Aaron.
“Oh no! We have a Banana!”
I laughed. I mean, as a primarily agriculture-based economy, I know California is strict about outside produce entering the state, but it was one gas station banana with a Star Wars sticker on it in question… I told Aaron to let me handle it.
We pulled up and the very chill, very friendly, female agri-checkpoint agent asked, “Where are you guys coming from?”
I stammered some unintelligible gibberish before calming down. “Funny story – Oregon,” I said with a grin. “And we’re going to Mammoth Mountain. We just realized we were going the wrong way and turned around!”
She smiled, laughed (not with, but at us) and waved us through, without so much as glance at the contraband banana.
3 hours later. 5 PM pacific time.
We pulled into Reno just in time for rush hour. Aaron wanted to stretch his legs and I wanted eat and pee, so I suggested we hit a casino. The Grand Sierra Resort was supposed to be nice, and based on my shaky ‘I’ve-been-here-before’ Reno knowledge, it seemed to be on the side of town closer to Mammoth. Although the bathrooms were swanky AF, it turned out to be an unnecessary waste of time and energy thanks to the enormous parking lot and every vacationer from wherever-the-fuck they were coming from arriving at the exact same time.
The Outlets at Legends in Sparks, on the other hand, were way nicer. We scored some buy-one-get-one-half-off Converse and Aaron got new socks at the Adidas outlet. And I almost killed myself in the bushes trying to get a sick angle of this guy.
We stopped to get our first In-and-Out of the trip (always as good as I remember) and I volunteered to take the wheel. It should be noted here that Aaron gets motion sickness and prefers to be in control. But with 10 hours of driving already logged this day, his 37-year-old bones (many of them repeatedly broken by moto-life) were all set on sitting in one position. I knew I could pull off driving smoothly enough in the Highlander (it rides like a Cadillac – no sponsor plug!) to lull him to sleep, and tough out the windy, shitty part of 395 — across the mountains and into Mammoth — myself.
My eyes were tearing profusely the whole time (I recently spent a lot of money on Lasik; I’ll review that eventually) and the only thing that got me through the curves was the pack of Sour Patch Kids I keep in my car for my income-earning career as an Uber/Lyft driver. Aaron was snoring happily beside me, and woke up just as I finally turned off 395 onto the Mammoth Town loop.
At 11 PM we were both awake and alive, and although we didn’t get underground parking, we did have a baller 3-story room waiting for us slopeside at the Mammoth Mountain Inn. Our crew was already there and checked in, allowing us to bypass the check in process. Keith Rutherford and Madison Blackley were contently passed the fuck out, but being the good mom she may be someday, Fancy Rutherford had cracked open the door to their room and got up to make sure we got in alright.
PART 3 – MAMMOTH Post-opening Day – Nov 10th, 2017
Aaron knows motorcycles. He’s got systems and plans and the way he likes things done dialed. When he brings a new person riding for the first time, he has it figured out. And so when I said, “I got your gear – You don’t need to bring anything except outerwear,” he interpreted that as me having everything he would need to snowboard.
Unfortunately, to me “snowboard gear” means hardgoods. I’d acquired a brand new pair of Vans (courtesy of their amazing PR team), bindings (courtesy of David Marx and the crew at Bent Metal) and board (Capita DOA – hand delivered with some keystrokes from Mark/Cooper and the collaborative efforts of UPS and the C3 warehouse team.) For the sunny, slush or pow I was planning on, this would have been an epic set up. The three helmets I brought for him to choose from (all mine), however, did not actually fit his head, and the extra pair of mid 2000’s Grenade Safety Mitts I’ve been proudly hoarding for such an occasion as Mammoth opening, were too small to fit his manly hands.
As the process of going snowboarding with a group of people who treat snowboarding as a job – (Madison is pro for Bataleon, Fancy and Keith are a media dream team supporting women’s riding through @Powanoia) — ground on, including Instagram tagging and costume coordination etc etc , Aaron’s patience waned. He and I decided to part ways with the crew and meet up after a run or two.
One hour later.
Aaron and I trekked through the maze that is the Mammoth Base Lodge — I’m convinced this place used to be a prison before it was a ski lodge (that would be SO CALIFORNIA)– to fulfill his needs. We stopped in to and see Lauren Burke who’d hooked up baller condo and tickets for the whole crew. I went down to cash in our ticket vouches and Aaron headed off to get a helmet from the demo center and a pair of the cheapest Dakine Mitts money-could-buy in the shop and $120 later we were ready to hit the lift line.
We must give kudos to Mammoth’s best efforts to blow snow and set up features to be ready for an opening planned months in advance. But in the interest of being real, when we finally made it on-hill, we found one crowded, icy (by west coast standards) run, and every asshole from Southern California (who were maybe a little too amped), clamouring to remember how to strap in and wait in in line.
I always enjoy a warm up beer before I ride…
Aaron, whose ability level is somewhere in the inexperienced and intermediate range, was used to riding hand-me-down sticks from dudes who only do aggressive carves in Oregon, and was NOT used to a playful board with no torsional stiffness. Especially not on windblown ice. I was too busy trying to be nice to some dude from Tahoe who wanted to tell me about his homey-snowboard brand, as well as capture social media moments for the Yobeat Insta story to help him out and well…
In the honor of moving this story along, let’s just say, we needed that “warm-up” PBR I’d carefully packed in my giant Dakine Bootpack and made Aaron schlep around (quick review: it fits A LOT of beer, and the padded/tarp lining helps insulate.) As we approached the top of the lift, I spazzily grabbed the bag from him, nearly ripping off his arm in the process, and then attempted to not fall over, while turning back to make sure Aaron was ok. Seconds later, I was sprawled out on the unforgiving icy ground, hurrying to collect myself and get the hell out of the way.
Aaron managed to make it down to the “safe strap-in zone” without falling – but informed me this would be his only run and he would need to figure it out on his own. I ripped to the bottom, where I figured I’d wait for Aaron, as well as Fancy, Keith and Madison, who’d texted me to tell me they were getting on the lift as we were getting off. I was concentrating on getting a sick shot of some ski blades when Aaron rolled up with his hand out for the hotel key. Minutes later the rest of the crew turned up too.
We had a quick team meeting and decided that maybe a scenic gondola ride to the top would provide better ‘gram opportunities. Aaron, meanwhile, would go kick it with the dogs in the hotel to wait for us. Maybe we’d all head back out later when the sun was warm and the park crew had worked their magic – but either way, none of us really wanted to ride just yet.
Back in Mammoth Mountain Inn, we started scheming. Aaron, who’d assumed Fancy wasn’t Fancy’s real name and did not know that Mammoth Opening is more like a trade show for the Cali snowboard scene than an actual day of snowboarding, was figuring it out. Fancy and Keith are married and they are as real as can be. Madison is living her dream of being a pro snowboarder and was excited for the working vacation. No pretenses here, just people being themselves and doing exactly what they want. (Mostly they want more Instagram followers.)
The dogs were not impressed by our shittalk.
Couldn’t resist this photo op.
We devoured chips, salsa and guac and had a shit-talk-session-for-the-ages before Aaron and I decided to foster our relationship and headed off to check out the other offerings of Mammoth Lakes.
We ate Lobster Enchildas at Roberto’s (official review – shoulda gone carnitas) and stopped by Wave Rave to do market research (official review – awesome staff, awesome selection, AMAZING metal work.) Then we hit a liquor store boasting 150 beers and picked up some whiskey to chase with the genuine Portland-sourced PBR we’d brought down with us. And then we hit the Brothers Memorial Skatepark – where I did my best to impress teens with my old-lady boardslide skills.
Sweaty and accomplished we headed back to the Condo, where we found our crew exactly where we’d left them. Keith glued to a computer screen and Fancy and Madison playing with the dogs. (We’d later find out we’re not actually allowed in the “dog friendly” room without letting MMI know before hand and had to pay $300 pet fee. Whoops.) Our friends were hungry, but Aaron and I were not, so we passed on their plans to head to happy hour at the Inn to log some chill time before Tim Humphreys was set to show up for an EXCLUSIVE interview we’d lined up via Instagram earlier in the day.
About 10 minutes later, Aaron and I were bored with chilling and decided to wander out into the wilderness to find the fabled MMI happy hour, which was definitely in one of the buildings nearby. At 10,000 feet, without the sun, it’s cold and windy, and all the buildings look basically the same, but we managed to locate our friends without any major squabbles. Turns out they’d jumped the happy hour gun and were yet to even be served.
A round of Happy Hour burgers (official review: small, but tasty and filling, and definitely the only thing on the menu which wasn’t going to be massively over priced) and a great conversation in which we all learned enough about time to log a great interview back in the room and we were all ready to go get some actual work done.
The interview went great. We talked and talked and talked and covered a lot of ground, so stay tuned for that in the coming weeks, but until then, keep reading…
If you’re looking for a last minute stocking stuffer, hit up vrzr.life. The full Hump Day will drop soon!