In Your Backyard: Mammoth Mountain Backcountry + June Mountain
In this edition of "In Your Backyard," FOX26 Sports Anchor Nick King returns to the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Last winter, Nick went skiing at Mammoth Mountain, snowmobiling with Mammoth Snowmobile Adventures, and cross country skiing at Tamarack Cross Country Ski Center. This time around, it's a new adventure at Mammoth Mountain, as well as a trip to Mammoth's sister ski area, June Mountain.
For the 2017-18 season, Mammoth started a backcountry ski school, after lead instructor Davey McCoy noticed a rapidly growing interest in skiing outside the ski area boundaries. “It’s all about being in nature," says McCoy. "It’s all about being secluded out in the mountains and having fresh lines to ski. It’s very peaceful, very rewarding.”
McCoy's been skiing in the backcountry for 35 years.
"If I look back in the history of when I started backcountry skiing, there was a handful of us who would go and boot our skis up on our shoulder or throw them on a backpack and use our Lange ski boots and get to the top of something. Through the years, there’s been a huge evolution of ski manufacturers making wider skis, skins have come into play, mountaineering bindings, mountaineering boots, all the different companies who have made it very convenient and very easy for people to do. Split boarders have gotten into it...so we see a large number of manufacturers in the industry who are turning toward the backcountry ski area."
Mammoth runs two backcountry touring programs, an "Intro to Backcountry Touring," and "Sidecountry Tour to Tamarack." These programs are designed for intermediate-expert skiers and snowboarders, who want to learn the basics, and then get a real taste of things.
McCoy says his main goal in the introductory class is to teach people how to do what he calls, "the progression - how to learn about the bindings, learn about the skins, the skis, how to do the kick turns - that tends to be the hardest part for people. Also, the avalanche and safety awareness. We work with a lot of mountain guides, and so this program teaches you the basic fundamentals of how to be safe and where to go in the backcountry."
McCoy stresses safety, and explains he has a 'golden rule' of backcountry skiing - "I never go in the backcountry unless I wait 72 hours. That gives me the opportunity to watch what the mountains around me are doing, and it gives the snow a change to settle. It’s a powerful thing. Avalanches and mountains are very powerful, and I respect them very much.”
McCoy says for the second portion of the class, the sidecountry tour - "We take it further out. We get to ski down to Tamarack, where in the past it was considered out of bounds, but today it’s not considered out of bounds for our program. And you get a guided trip, you get a backcountry experience, you get to ski way down into a really beautiful area where there are no people, and then we skin back out, head over to horseshoe lake, ski down to tamarack lodge and finish up there for the day."
35 minutes down the road from Mammoth, is June Mountain. June is known as the Eastern Sierra's 'Family Mountain.' In fact, kids under 12 ski free. A Mammoth Mountain lift ticket will also get you a free ride at June.
June Mountain is smaller in size than Mammoth Mountain - six ski lifts serve 41 trails - but it's certainly not tiny. The summit at June is up over 10,000 feet, so the views at the top are still pretty spectacular. Plus, especially during the week, June tends to be pretty quiet and wide open.