11 Tips for Enjoying Mammoth Lakes When You’re Not Training (From Retired USSA Athletes)

Dec 30, 2022

Noah Hoffman (two-time Olympic cross-country skier), Jess Breda (former Rev Tour slopestyle freeskiing Champ) and Ty Walker (Olympic slopestyle snowboarder) took a self-described “ski vacation,” in early January 2019, staying at the Mammoth Lakes Crib. All three athletes had recently “retired” from their professional careers and are now pursuing college degrees. After years (in Hoffman’s case, over a decade) of doing nothing but training for their respective sports, the three athletes shared their advice for enjoying all Mammoth Lakes has to offer when you’re under 30… and retired.

1. Hang with Stacey Cook

Okay, maybe this is easier said than done for most, but Cook, a pro skier-turned-Mammoth-Lakes-local, is heavily invested in her community and has all the best suggestions for places to eat and drink (Mammoth Brewing Company). Plus, she’s got the recipe for warm fuzzies: Cook can frequently be found hanging out with future Olympians and set up a day for Mammoth Lakes middle-and-high-schoolers to ski with Olympic cross-country skier Noah Hoffman during his visit.

2. Embrace the Chaos

“Some of the most frustrating parts of Mammoth Lakes as a competitor are the best parts as a visitor,” says retired pro freeskier Jess Breda. “The weather can be really harsh, and that makes for great skiing.” Mammoth Lakes’ signature windy days, which can shut down jumps, also fill in tracked-out runs, so each lap can feel like a freshie thanks to the primo wind buff. “When you don’t have to deal with the variability of the area [as a competitor],” says Breda, “you can really embrace it.”

3. Get to Know the Locals

“Mammoth Lakes is a ski town that’s definitely still a cohesive community,” says Breda. “Though you get a large influx of people on the weekends, it still feels like a small ski town. You can walk to everything, bus to everything. It hasn’t been overtaken… it’s not like other ski towns in the West.” The Mammoth Lakes Crib is also centrally-located, so the local vibe is strong. “People still live there, it’s very authentic.”

4. Enjoy the Remoteness

“We have amazing backcountry access, but sometimes you’re on a skin track with 30 people,” Jess Breda says of her homebase in Salt Lake City, noting that the famous Wasatch range is located right next door to a metropolitan area of 1.14 million. “There is some juxtaposition there between the [wilderness] and the city,” says Breda, “and that’s common for a lot of places in the West.” Mammoth Lakes, she says, is totally unique. “It’s a relaxing place to be in the mountains, but it also has amazing access, and that’s still extremely rare.”

5. Ski it All

“One of my favorite things about Mammoth Mountain is that, sometimes when a mountain is really large, it can be difficult to get from one place to the next,” says Breda. “But the way Mammoth [Mountain] is set up, it’s really easy to move laterally across the mountain. That’s rare. I’ve experienced getting stuck in pockets on other large mountains.” Breda says, as a pro athlete, “I always see [excessive navigation] as wasting time, I guess. I love not having to think three chairlifts in advance wherever I go.”

6. Abandon Your Comfort Zone

During Ty Walker’s trip to Mammoth Lakes as a recently-retired Olympic slopestyle snowboarder, getting out of her comfort zone “meant going cross-country skiing.” She also enjoyed a day of snowmobiling. Walker mused, “Sometimes, if you go in with the mentality of ‘I am a skier, I am a cyclist, I am a climber,’ you tend to only focus on the fact that Mammoth Lakes is a mecca for that specific sport.” Mammoth Lakes, Walker says, is special because “I can’t think of one sport that isn’t well-represented, that Mammoth Lakes isn’t one of the best places for it.” She admits she still sees life through the eyes of a pro snowboarder, but during her recent visit to Mammoth, “I just enjoyed the mountains. I didn’t just focus on snowboarding, which I didn’t have the liberty of doing when I was training.”

7. Keep a Bucket List

Due to weather, jobs and school, the trio had to cut their visits a bit short. But it’s all the more reason to return. “My biggest takeaway from the whole trip is that I cannot wait to go back,” says Hoffman, who had to bail early for a work gig (he’s employed by the U.S. Anti-Doping Athlete Commission). The “untouched face shot runs” on Mammoth Mountain’s Dragon’s Tail, after the first big storm of January, stole his heart. Breda was bummed to miss a pilgrimage to the Looney Bean, where she says she spent “countless hours playing Bananagrams” with her teammates when she was training. She also missed soaking at the hot springs in the Long Valley Caldera. Walker’s biggest regret was missing out on Ohanas 395 (the Hawaiian food truck located next to June Lake Brewery). “Like six different people recommended it, so it’s definitely on my bucket list.”

8. Treat Your Body Like You’re Still Pro

“It’s hard to be giving sage advice at 21,” laughs Walker, who went to the Olympics at the ripe old age of 16, “but for me, as an athlete, some of the biggest things that were important to me were very performance-based” such as proper nutrition, enough sleep and staying fit. “There was a period after I ‘retired’ where I let that go by the wayside. I thought, ‘Now I can do whatever I want!’” However, Walker says, “It only took me two to three months to realize those things are still important for everybody, not just for athletes. Even if peak performance isn’t necessarily your job, you should still aim for ‘pretty decent.’” Walker made sure to stay hydrated during her visit (Mammoth Lakes has the best tap water!), eat well (smoothies from Stellar Brew & Natural Cafe) and hit the gym on the regular (see below).

9. Just breathe

Ty Walker sang the praises of Snowcreek Athletic Club, which feels like a “home away from home gym at this point.” She loved being able to enjoy the classes during her recent stay (especially yoga), and not just focus on snowboarding-specific training. “When I went to Snowcreek while I was training, I was there for the gym—and stuff like yoga was secondary. This time, yoga was more heavily weighted in my mind because I didn’t have to focus on these intense gym workouts.”

10. Make New Friends

Noah Hoffman found great value in sharing his stay at The Crib with elite distance runner Mary Cain. “It was so fun to be in the apartment with other elite athletes,” says Hoffman. He and Cain traded stories about their careers as endurance competitors. “It’s so cool that’s a shared venue, and even though I’m ‘retired,’ we can all be enjoying ourselves.” He’s now following Cain’s running career. Also, “Ty and Jess weren’t my direct teammates [during my career], but being able to spend time with them was really fun… We didn’t all know each other super well before” staying at The Crib. “It was an opportunity that brought us a lot closer.”

11. Get the Fajitas

“We went to Gomez’s in The Village at Mammoth,” said Ty Walker, on Stacey Cook’s recommendation. “And every single one of us had the fajitas. They were the best fajitas I’ve ever had.”

Sarah Rea

Sarah Rea has lived in the Sierra for 20 years (eight in Yosemite and seven so far in Mammoth Lakes), but has been eating cast iron skillet pancakes for most of her life. She learned how to make soap from bacon grease when she was four and has always loved picking wild berries. She thinks…

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