The Mammoth Gondola

The height of the gondola was daunting. This wouldn’t be my first trip to Mammoth Lakes in California. My original trip to Mammoth was for a wedding, some ten years ago. Happening in the middle of the summer, no snow was to be found. On that particular trip, I passed up the opportunity for a gondola ride. With my fear of heights, I felt it would be too fearful for me to attempt in that moment. Traveling back to Mammoth under different circumstances, for the chance of skiing. I felt no different about the prospect of riding the gondola to the top of the mountain. Because the opportunity to ride up would be likely on this trip. I spent some time doing a little research. With the ability of finding so many different items on YouTube. There were videos to be found of the Mammoth gondola ride. Starting from the base area, past the mid-mountain station, and on to the top. People had filmed the entire ride to provide an idea of what it might be like to ride. From the videos, I learned the highest part of the ride, where the gondola was furthest from the ground, was during the final section. Leaving me to feel like there would be no way in which riding to the top was feasible. The lower section, from the base area to mid-mountain, looked like a fun ride. Traveling over the terrain park and above some of the chairlifts. But, for me, the top felt out of the question. 

Those were my emotions going into the trip. The idea of riding on the upper section of the gondola wasn’t a possibility. Even getting on for a ride to the mid-mountains station felt like a reach. However, I was excited to see the gondola in person, rather than just on video. On the first day of skiing, the second chairlift ride took us up and over a face. For me, it looked like many of the chair climbs at my home mountain. The ride was a little longer than our warmup run and climbed steeper. Leaving me to not think much about what might be on the other side of this face we climbed. I believed from my limited experience, we would simply disembark this lift, and ski back down the mountain. My thinking couldn’t have been more incorrect. When we came up over that face, the entire mountain opened up. The picture was like nothing I had seen before, with different ski runs running off an even higher peak. I could see different chairlifts going in all sorts of directions and the gondola traveled above it all. The terms coming to mind when we crested that rise was majestic and awe inspiring. It was the widest open picture of a mountain I could have imagined. There was an overwhelming desire to stand and take it into my memory bank. I wish a picture could have capture the image of my eye. But, I don’t think an image would do the vision justice. 

After seeing the image, just moments before unloading chair 1 at Mammoth resort. I couldn’t wait to start exploring the mountain. We took some time enjoying the view and weighing our options. Looking around, the upper half of the gondola was traveling above everything. Trying not to spend much time looking at it climb the mountain, I felt riding it was an impossibility. We took off back toward the base. Getting a feel for an intermediate run at Mammoth, which provided a comfortable challenge. Upon arriving back down at the base, it was decided to go on a mountain exploration. The next couple hours were spent on a variety of chairlifts. Along with a variety of ski runs, we arrived clear on the other side of Mammoth resort. During the adventure, I skied a variety of beginner and intermediate slopes. At one point, even getting involved with a diamond run. Which, I surprised myself by skiing in a satisfactory manner. On the return trip, traversing the mountain again, to arrive at the point of origin. The same chairlift wasn’t taken twice. It was incredible to see just how expansive the resort was and the terrain offered at Mammoth. From most places, I found myself on the mountain, the gondola could be seen high above. I watched it move toward the top of the resort. Over its highest point, above the snow below, and continued giving myself no chance of going for a ride. The gondola looked majestic each time I peered up and watch it climb. Breathtakingly cool, with the Mammoth logo covering the side doors. I smiled inside each time I looked, as the gondola appeared to be watching over the mountain. 

The first day of skiing came to a conclusion with a late lunch. Satisfied with the excitement brought on by success, the wheels began spinning for Sunday. Following the continuing awe, I felt from looking up at the gondola. The prospect of riding it didn’t become any more likely. My emotion was shared on different occasions throughout Saturday, I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea. But, there was a chairlift not far to the side of the gondola. It would not take us to the very top, but a peak just down from the highest peak of the resort. The concept of making it to the top wasn’t simply for the amazing views. There was a cat track run, which wound its way along the back side of the mountain. Leading the skier back to the main lodge where our ski day had begun. The run would begin at the top, where the view would be spectacular. All the way down, the images along the back side of the resort would be eye popping. The adventure didn’t need to be taken, but it could be fun. The intermediate cat track run would also allow for experiencing the entirety of the resort. Minus a section in the middle, where construction was under way to replace a chairlift. The decision would be left for the following morning and no pressure applied. So, I didn’t really think about it until the following day of skiing. 

The plan for the second day of skiing was to do the unimaginable. At least, something I would rarely think to be a possibility. The idea was first entered into my mind years prior. The concept of skiing and playing golf in the same day. An adventure taking place during the spring months at Mammoth. Where the warmth of eighty degree days could be found just forty-five minutes down the road. To accomplish this feat, meant skiing a couple runs in the morning, before getting changed, and heading down the mountain. So, the long cat track, beginning at the top of the mountain, would be a great way to check the box of skiing for the day. It would also be an amazing culmination to the first experience at Mammoth resort. But, my fearful nature could be a bugger sometimes. The plan was great, but who knew if the challenge could be accepted. As the challenging two-part day began, the same warm-up chair was taken. Just like the prior morning, one beginner slope was enough, before heading to load chair 1. Up the hill we climbed to the midsection of the resort. Taking in that same majestic view as the chairlift crest that first small peak. It took my breath away, again. From the mid-mountain point, there were two option to arrive at the high ridge of the resort. The chairlift, in view to our left, immediately appeared too scary. Then, there was the gondola, which had appeared out of the question for me, the entire previous day. The third option, was skipping out on the mountain peak, all together. What to do, was rushing through my bones. 

When looking over at the chairlift option, the panic felt inside was undeniable. Moving my attention away from the option. Plus, taking the chair felt like the half-hearted effort and really wouldn’t bring me to the top. My thought in the moment was of skiing down to the mid-station of the gondola and feeling it out. On the short ski from the unloading chair 1, to the mid-station of the gondola, one thought kept invading my mind. You can’t come all the way to ski Mammoth and not take the gondola. It felt like I would regret it as soon as I walked off the mountain. By the arrival at the mid-station, my skis were being unclicked, and I was determined to get aboard the gondola. The wait inside the station wasn’t short, probably about ten minutes. Providing plenty of time for my anxiety to build into a panic. The possibility of getting scared and turning around was giving plenty of opportunity. But, instead of fear making its way through the body, things felt pretty calm. Arriving at the front of the line, I watched a couple loaded cars from the bottom, move through the mid-station, uninterrupted. Then, an empty one came into the loading zone. My skis were handed to someone who placed them into a slot and it was time to climb inside. This was a bit challenging, as the car slows to be loaded, but doesn’t stop. It took me a couple bobbled attempts, but I finally fell in, and took my seat, facing back down the mountain. Off we went, climbing to the top. 

My ride up the gondola was full of nerves. Having an understanding of the path might have made it even scarier. With the understanding, the most nerve-racking part of the trip would be the final section of the trip. I sat with my back toward the top of the mountain, looking out the window only at a few moments along the ride. The snow below could be seen, with skiers periodically moving under our car. Then, the time arrived for moving over the large drop off at the top. My eyes took one more glance, as we left the comfort of the ground below. I attempted to fix my gaze on the metal floor of the car. Taking one or two glances out the window, trying to capture short images of the moments. Overcoming the fear of riding up the gondola was worth capturing in my mind. At one point, the gondola slowed. Before I was able to identify what had happened, the car began to slowly move, again. I looked out the window, wondering if the gondola had stopped. But, when I peered up the mountain, I was pretty sure we were still climbing. I found out later on, the gondola had stopped, for about twenty or thirty seconds, and began moving slowly, again. In hearing the story after disembarking, the car came to a stop at probably the worst possible moment. Sitting high above the mountain below, just minutes short of the top terminal. The situation left me thankful for being unaware of the complete stoppage. 

Unloading the gondola car was much easier. With a trusted hand to help me depart, I popped out of the door with little trouble. The excitement flowing through my body from the accomplishment. I couldn’t hide the excitement over what I had just achieved. The top of Mammoth resort was spectacular. Providing a feeling of almost being on top of the world. Looking in every direction unlocked majestic pictures of the mountain range surrounding the resort. Windows covered every wall of the observation area and glass enclosures housed artifacts with noteworthy information. Walking out onto the snow was even more magical. The energy of excitement could be felt, as people took pictures, and soaked in the bright sunshine. I could not have imagined a better day to be at the top. The moments were worth the effort of pushing through every bit of fear. I took some extra time on top of Mammoth mountain. Trying to capture the entire experience. Even skiing over to the edge, where people would drop into the most challenging slopes in the resort. But, fear of fall off the ledge kept me a good distance from the edge. After some time spent taking in the moment, the cat track awaited, leading back down to the base of the resort.  

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