Between the golden sands of the coast and the glitz of its celebrities, you would be forgiven for thinking California is all about its big city attractions. In reality, the appeal of the Golden State goes far beyond shopping strips and movie studios.
Tucked away in the northern most reaches of this famous west coast destination is Mammoth. It may be renowned in certain circles for its premier late season skiing, but this rural retreat has much more to offer than just snow covered runs. This is something we discovered when speaking to celebrity chef Michael Moore, chef and owner of the O Bar and Dining in Sydney, about his recent trip.
Discussing everything from ski gear and family vacations to where to find an exceptional Flat White in the California mountains, Michael gives us plenty of reasons to get to Mammoth.
I understand you've had a little trip to California?
Yeah, yeah. I've made many trips to California, but this is the first time I've been skiing in California, which was a treat.
What were your travel dates?
It would have been on school holidays, so mid March to the middle of April.
I stayed in America for about a month, but I was in California for just over two weeks. We went to LA and then drove up to Mammoth and spent about 11 or 12 days. Then we drove back down to Santa Barbara for a long weekend.
How did you find Santa Barbara and some of the other areas around California?
Well, I've been to Santa Barbara but my family hasn't. It was fantastic because we were planning on driving to Mammoth then going up to San Francisco. Then down Pacific Coast Highway One, diving all the way back down the coast. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't very favourable for that trip, so we ended up just going to Santa Barbara and it was fantastic!
We'd been in the cold and then we had dream weather in Santa Barbara. We stayed on the beach. It was just fantastic. It was really good. A really good end to a great trip.
Excellent! So you got a bit of both worlds: the snow and the sun.
It was interesting because when we arrived in Mammoth, everyone we met – the people in the petrol stations to the people along the mountain and in the restaurants – were all sort of apologising about how bad the snow was. About how it was the worst season ever and , you know, Tahoe has already closed down ... all this sort of stuff.
There was man-made snow on the runs and on the top of the mountain and stuff, but it was a bit bare. But four days later, they said, 'I think we're going to have some snow tonight', and about four feet of snow fell in one night. Then straight after that, the sun came out. [Laughs] It was perfectly scripted. It was really good!
Ski slopes aren't just for winter. Summer Fun At The USA'S Ski Resorts
Find more fun in California. California Road Trippin' – 7 Drives Worth Taking
Oh that's great! It could have been a bit of a disappointment otherwise.
It was really fantastic. I was most impressed with the weather forecasters because they were saying something like, 'It's going to snow around 9 o'clock tonight, ' Then around five past nine, it started snowing and it just kept coming.
We were only going to stay in Mammoth for about seven or eight days at the beginning, but when the snow came, we changed our trip and decided to stay. We ended up staying for about 12 days. The snow was fantastic; we had time to go out and visit the surrounding areas. It was knock-out!
So, you had more success with skiing after the big snowfall?
Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely. But look, we're maybe intermediate to advanced skiers. Even when we first arrived, the snow was good enough for us. We looked at it and were wondering why everyone was moaning that there was no snow.
There was snow on the runs, but it was bare all around. In between the runs it was just rock. It looked a bit weird, almost like you're skiing in the desert at some points.
Then the snow came and I think they had four or five feet on the mountain with three or four feet in the village. It was incredible how much came down that quickly. It totally transformed the mountain. The last four days were just absolutely amazing. On our last day we skied in t-shirts and the whole family got sunburnt actually.
That's one of the hazards of snow that people don't realise...
Yeah, yeah. When you're up high and the air is thin; you really don't realise how hot it is.
Where did you stay while you were in Mammoth?
We stayed at Snow Creek for the first eight days or so. Then we moved into The Westin in the village after that.
The Snow Creek condos were really good. I was able to shop and cook dinner and all that sort of stuff – make porridge for breakfast. And then, for the last five days we stayed in a hotel where it was all, you know, ski valet and someone else cooks your breakfast. [Laughs]
As family holiday destinations go, what drew you to Mammoth?
Over the years, I've done a bit of work in California. I've been there, I don't know, maybe ten times. They've often said, 'you need to get up there to ski and go see the mountains, etc, etc'.
So it was always something that was in the back of our minds, but it just worked out that this year we were going to do some Spring skiing. We planned to have a summer holiday in Australia and then go skiing around April. And Mammoth really has that reputation as one of the best places in America for late season skiing. For us, it absolutely delivered. It was perfect.
And was it yours or your family's first snow holiday?
No, we went to Whistler a couple of years ago and we ski around Australia most years. It's something we've really enjoy. My kids are 15 and 13 and skiing is perfect in that it engages everyone. If they want to go up and ski on their own, they can. Or if they want to meet some mates, they can. It works. Skiing is a great holiday option for families with teenagers. It really ticks all the boxes, you know. You're active; you're tired at the end of the day; you've got freedom to do your own thing. We're addicted to it now.
Just along the lines of travelling with your family, do you have any tips for making that journey with a family?
Well, we drove straight from LA to Mammoth. You just sort of have to put your head down and make the drive. It's not that far, but you just have to do it. I wouldn't advise people to get straight off the plane and make the drive to Mammoth. An overnight in LA is a must. But really, my advice is to do the trip as quickly as you can. And once you get there Mammoth really offers something for everyone.
And when you go on these skiing holidays, do you take your own gear?
Yeah, I take my boots, but we rent some of the gear like skies and stuff like that. I took my boots with me this year. It's the best thing. It's like putting on a pair of slippers. Anyone that doesn't travel with ski boots is risking their holiday. [Laughs] They fit you comfortably and you can just carry them. It makes all the difference.
You mentioned that you rented some of the other gear in Mammoth? You didn't run into any issues or surprises?
We rented skies. My son rented a snowboard for a couple of days. Everything's there. These resorts have it so sorted, you know. Everything's there for you. Everything you could possibly want, they can do. They're used to accommodating volumes of people.
Was the majority of your time spent skiing? Or did you have a chance to try out some of the other winter activities?
We had one day out where we visited all the lakes ... Mono Lake, Lake Mary ... We even went up to Bodie. That was an experience! The coldest we were on the whole trip wasn't on the mountain. It was in Bodie. It was freezing and blowing a gale up there! [Laughs] But that was a good day out.
You have to have things to break up the trip. You can't, well I certainly can't ski 12 or 13 days non-stop. It's good to have other things to do.
Most people tend to focus on the Spring skiing, but Mammoth has so many other things going on that are just fantastic. There's all the mountain bike trails. The walks. There are golf courses. My son's a skateboarder, so he went to a couple of great skate parks. The restaurants were good.
There were so many things to do.
Would you consider going back in the summer?
I'd love to go fishing! I'd love to fish on those lakes. That would be really good, and mountain biking and that sort of stuff. It's not just about skiing. The reality is that there's a lot more going on there.
Speaking of all the wonderful things to do, what would be your one experience that best encapsulates Mammoth? Your absolute 'can't miss'?
The lakes around Mammoth are absolutely gorgeous. Certainly if there's snow. We went the day after the snowfall and they were really breathtaking. It really is something.
If you asked me to encapsulate it ... Mammoth is a little bit like Australia in a way. It's a state of mind. It's a chilled out, friendly, easy place to enjoy great skiing, great food and to just relax. It's like a beach community in the mountains. It has that same sort of vibe.
Also, there were a couple of really great restaurants as well. For any Aussies travelling to America, the first thing they ask is where do I get good coffee. There's a place there called Black Velvet. It's down on the main road. Black Velvet delivers a fantastic coffee done by professionals. And you've got a cafe full of Australians, so if you want to catch up with a few Aussies while you're away, it's a good place to start.
Do they do the Flat White?
They do a Flat White there, and even on the mountain they do a Flat White! They're starting to really pick up on that sort of thing. It's this whole coffee culture creeping around the world.
What about the rest of the food? I know your restaurant in particular focuses on the idea of good food done well. Were you able to find anything like that?
You can always go to Vons to buy groceries to cook for yourself if you want to stay healthy, but we went to a few restaurants. There was one we went to that really stood out to me as a chef and restaurateur. It's the Mammoth Tavern.
It's just this really chilled out place that serves exactly the kind of food you want to eat in that environment. We sat there the night it snowed – we got caught in the blizzard – and ate these fantastic pies and things like that.
The Tamarak Lodge is also getting a bit of recognition. There are a few restaurants in the village, but, really, it's all about the mountain itself.
Was there anything that you really wanted to do but you just ran out of time?
I think Mammoth is the sort of place where you leave things undone. Certainly we would have liked to do more of the hiking trails and gone up into the mountains a little bit more but we just ran out of time. My wife and I did a couple of walks that were just fantastic.
We were there for 12 or 13 days, so we got to see a good chunk of it. If you were there for a week, you'd be a bit pressed to squeeze it all in. We loved Mammoth. We'll definitely be going back.