How to Survive A REAL Mammoth Lakes Winter

Jan 20, 2023

Mammoth is known for BIG storms, but this January has been a REAL reminder of how UNREAL our storms can be up here. With the last storm bringing over 7.5 feet of snow in a 48-hour period and more than 400 inches of snowfall already this year, Mammoth Lakes has the most snow in the country at the moment and more is on the way. UNREAL.

Most winter travelers visit Mammoth for skiing and snowboarding, snowmobiling and sightseeing, but with winter recreation comes winter travel and sometimes it is not as smooth as we all hope. A big snowpack means plenty of snowstorms and travel can be difficult, even dangerous. The best way to handle mountain travel in the winter is to be prepared physically and mentally. Flexibility and a positive attitude are key.

While we are always excited to welcome everyone to town to enjoy the new snow, please note that when we have this much snow, you are in for a different type of vacation and we need you to pay attention. Most places would view what we just experienced in Mammoth Lakes as a natural disaster. While we are celebrating it, there are things you MUST keep in mind with this amount of snowfall in town, especially since another storm is on its way.

Be Patient (and Thank a Local)

Please remember that locals have been shoveling non-stop just to get to work to help our town operate and get you on the slopes. We are tired, but we are here for you! Please thank a local if you have a chance.

With large amounts of snow, town can begin to feel tight. Snowbanks are HUGE and often tough to see around whether you are driving or walking, and parking lots are tight. Please use extreme caution and be patient when looking for parking spots and when driving to and from the mountain. Our normal four-lane roads have now been narrowed to two and sometimes even one lane. Being patient helps everyone stay safe.

*DO NOT pass snow removal equipment on the roads, this includes: snow blowers, front end loaders, plows, etc.

*DO follow @mammothmountain for live and hourly mountain updates, which can include notifications regarding lift operations and openings.

*DO remember that traffic rules still exist even if it is snowing, and traffic lanes still exist even when covered in snow.

*DO clear all the snow off your roof. Snow can shift during driving, and you will get a ticket for driving with snow on your roof.

*DO take our public transit whenever possible. IT’S FREE! Buses may run slower during storms but be patient. They will get you to your destination with the least amount of frustration. AND you don’t have to try to find a parking spot.

What to Pack in Your Car for Mountain Travel

If you are driving to Mammoth Lakes for a winter vacation, be prepared for snowstorms. The region can have treacherous storms with rain, hail, and snow even in the summer. It’s best to be ready for weather anytime you are traveling in the mountains, but even more so in the winter months. You’ll want to pack a few things in your car in case of weather delays.

Always carry snow chains for your vehicle in the winter months – It’s the LAW. Even if you own a four-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive vehicle, snow chains are sometimes required, and the Highway Patrol will check to make sure you have them. Have an ice scraper and shovel handy in your vehicle, so you can clear your windshield of ice and snow and dig your car out of the snow.

Pack warm blankets, extra clothing, food and water in your car when driving in the mountains. The extra warmth will make a delay or road closure more comfortable. Water and snacks are also nice to have handy for delays and in general during winter travel. The speed of travel can be slow and there are long distances between amenities on Highway 395.

Tips for Winter Travel

Before you set out on your mountain adventure, check CalTrans for road conditions. If a storm is happening, check back often as conditions can change quickly in the mountains. Call 800-427-7623 or visit CalTrans online for up to the minute highway conditions. You can also download the CalTrans Quick Map app for use on your mobile device.

There are different categories of road conditions and chain controls issued by CalTrans used to communicate the degree of hazard on the roads: R1: Chains are required, snow tread tires allowed; R2: Chains are required on all vehicles except four-wheel-drive vehicles with snow tires on all four wheels; R3: Chains are required – all vehicles – no exceptions.

Do not try to take side roads to get around road closures. If the highway is closed, there is a reason for it. CalTrans does a great job of maintaining the road and clearing it of snow. Chances are Highway 395 is in better condition than any detour routes you may try, and heading off on alternate routes can be dangerous or deadly.

Many mountain passes are closed in the winter. If you are planning on crossing the Sierra Nevada, check the highways before you go. Tioga Pass, Sonora Pass, and Monitor Pass are all high elevation mountain routes that are closed seasonally. Plan accordingly if you want to travel to Mammoth from Yosemite or the Bay Area.

Anytime you travel in the mountains you are advised to slow down and enjoy the experience of mountain travel. Driving in snow or icy conditions can be stressful and will only be more dangerous at higher speeds. Even if there is not a storm, shaded or north-facing areas can have snow or ice on the roads. Be sure to read all road signs as speed limits are changed during weather events and travel advisories are often posted.

Keep your car fueled when driving in the mountains. There are long distances between gas stations on some sections of the highway. When driving in the winter you may experience travel delays or may be turned around.

Be Considerate 

Remember that everyone who is in town is going to be struggling through the snow, and the town is doing its best to create space for everyone to get around as best they can. Help others if you have a chance and be considerate in town and on the mountain. Remember that we operate on “mountain time” up here (i.e., a slower pace of life), so don’t worry about taking things slow. Better to arrive in one piece at your destination.

No one knows how to navigate after a storm like our locals do, and they are here to help you, but please remember what they have been through. Shoveling 6-7 feet of new snow to get to work takes its toll. A lot of times when we get to work we have to do it all over again. Please thank a local if you have the chance.

*DO put chains on your vehicle as soon as you enter a chain required area.

*DO give yourself 3x the stopping room at lights, stops signs and when following other vehicles.

*DO wear bright, reflective clothes if you are walking around town. It is difficult to see people walking in a snowstorm.

*DO NOT create your own parking spot.

For the weekend of January 20 – 22, 2023, the Town of Mammoth Lakes has designated temporary overnight parking sites for lodging guests and visitors in need of parking. Due to record snowfall, parking is limited at all of our lodging properties. The temporary overnight parking location is the Hillside Parking Lot, located adjacent to The Westin Monache Resort on Hillside Drive. Visitors will not be ticketed during their stay but are asked to vacate the Hillside Parking Lot by no later than Sunday, January 22, 2023 at 5:00pm.

Chances are you’ll have no problems traveling to Mammoth Lakes in the winter, but if you happen to be on the road in a closure, never leave your vehicle. Always obey closures and take the advice of CalTrans and California Highway Patrol. 

You may need to spend an extra night in Mammoth Lakes if the weather does not permit travel. Typically, when you are snowed-in, others are snowed-out so finding somewhere to stay is rarely a problem. If your hotel or condo is completely full, ask for recommendations on other lodging. If you need emergency shelter, call the Mammoth Lakes Police Department to learn about options.

If you should be “so lucky” to get snowed-in in Mammoth Lakes, remember that no one can control the weather so you might as well enjoy an extra day of winter vacation.

Be Kind

We know you’ve heard it before, but kindness goes a long way when it comes to situations like the one we are in. There is a ton of snow, more on the way and nowhere to put it. Let’s all try to remember our human compassion and be kind to everyone. 

Extend your kindness to our hardworking locals and give them a shout of thanks when you see them.

*DO pack extra blankets, food and water in your vehicle in case you end up stranded in it for an extended period of time.

*DO NOT abandon your cars, even just briefly overnight, it creates plowing issues and likely damage to your vehicle

We are all in this together so please help us to help you!

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