Want to feel like a Mammoth local? Read this quick overview about Mammoth’s geography and weather patterns and you’ll be on your way.
Mammoth is located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains about 30 miles south of Yosemite National Park, 100 miles south of Lake Tahoe, and about 30 miles west of the Nevada border. The most important factor for weather at Mammoth is its elevation, which is quite high and more comparable to resorts in Colorado than in California. The town of Mammoth Lakes sits at about 8,000 feet while the main base area is at 8,900 feet and the summit crests to just above 11,000 feet.
This high elevation means lots of snow, lots of wind and also a very long season. Since Mammoth is located just 175 miles from the Pacific Ocean, it has no problem generating tremendous snowfall as the moisture arrives from the west and makes a direct strike on its 11,000-foot peak. However, this type of direct strike also means that the storm winds can affect the upper reaches of the mountain, and large storms often suspend lift operations as wind gusts can reach 100 mph or higher. When you look at the combination of snowfall, strong winds blowing snow onto certain sections of the mountain, and a high elevation that ensures colder temperatures, it is no wonder that Mammoth can offer high-quality skiing through the spring with the lifts often turning through Memorial Day.
If you’re searching for the next storm heading toward Mammoth, look no further than a recent satellite image of the eastern Pacific Ocean. Storms can often be seen swirling over the ocean heading east toward the U.S. The best scenario for deep and light snow at Mammoth is to have a storm move south from the northern Pacific Ocean. This type of storm will bring plenty of moisture for big snow and with its roots in the north, cold air will ensure that the snow stays light and fluffy, at least at the higher elevations. Storms that head toward Mammoth from the central Pacific Ocean near Hawaii can bring enough moisture for record-setting snowfall (called the “Pineapple Express”), though these storms are often warmer than their northern cousins.
Snow reports for the mountain are measured at two locations; at the main lodge at 8,900 feet and a bit higher at McCoy Station at 9,600 feet. The long-term record shows an average seasonal snowfall of 352 inches, and the highest snowfall occurred during the 2010/2011 season when 661.5 inches was recorded. During that season, a monthly record was also set when 197.5 inches fell in December 2010.
Now that you know the local weather patterns at Mammoth and how much snow is possible at this high sierra resort, the only thing left to do is enjoy your powder day!
Joel Gratz is a meteorologist & the founder of OpenSnow.com.