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Mammoth is not Disney on snow: Mammoth Mountain Sales & Marketing Director Michael Vanderhurst interview

What does Mammoth Mountain have in common with Disneyland? Aside from its Californian location and popularity among Australian travellers, it would seem very little. But according to Mammoth Mountain Director of Sales and Marketing Michael Vanderhurst, that’s not the case with all American ski resorts.

What does Mammoth Mountain have in common with Disneyland? Aside from its Californian location and popularity among Australian travellers, it would seem very little. But according to Mammoth Mountain Director of Sales and Marketing Michael Vanderhurst, that’s not the case with all American ski resorts.

“If you’re going to go to Disneyland, you go to Disneyland. If you want Disneyland on the snow, then that’s not Mammoth. I can name a lot of other resorts that do have that,” he tells Karryon in a recent interview. And predictably, that’s the way the ski town likes it.

Vanderhurst describes Mammoth Mountain as “very authentic, very much Western heritage, with a lot of the Old west in our DNA”. 

To put it another way, he says that if you took the Californian mountain town of Tahoe City, or Truckee, “and put it at the absolute base of [ski resort] Palisades Tahoe, that would be Mammoth”. 

“We actually have a fully mature town that is not manufactured right at the bottom of our hill. It just makes it feel very legitimate,” he explains. 

Mammoth Lakes
Main Lodge at Mammoth Mountain ski area.

Obviously, Mammoth has other distinguishing features as well – like its snow (kind of a big deal for a ski resort). 

“The other big difference for us is… because the town of Mammoth Lakes and the Mammoth Mountain ski resort, which are kind of one and the same… because our elevation is so high – the town sits at about 2,400 metres and the mountain goes up to 3,400 metres – what that equates to is a really long ski season,” he says. 

This year, the resort was open until the end of May. 

“Last year, we skied until the first week in August,” he adds. 

“It’s the length of season and the predictability of the snow [that makes the difference].”

Then there’s Mammoth’s value for money, an important consideration for a style of holiday often regarded as pricey as its peaks. 

“As far as ski passes, lodging, accommodation, food and beverage, Mammoth is going to be a little bit more on the bargain side [compared] to some of the other peer resorts,” he notes.

Mammoth Mountain
Mammoth Mountain skiing.

Instead, he says, it’s the cost of long-haul flights and the exchange rate that are “the biggest hurdle that I’m hearing [from Australian and New Zealand partners]”.

But with “more lift being activated between California and eastern Australia”, Vanderhurst is optimistic the market from Down Under will continue to thrive.

“It seems like monthly, a carrier announces a new flight, a new route. So eventually, I think all that competition is going to drive down that long-haul flight,” he remarks. 

But once you’re there, Vanderhurst says Mammoth Mountain is “a bargain”. 

“It’s really very affordable, especially if you want to compare it to Europe or Japan,” he explains. 

“The one that might be even more of a bargain for you guys would probably be Canada. But we’re not Aspen, we’re not Vail. We don’t price ourselves on the same level of some of those other resorts.”

That value might also be helping Mammoth attract visitors during its off-peak season. But there’s also now a year-round tubing park and a recently opened single-person mountain coaster.

“Australians have always historically been one of our top markets for ski for winter. But you guys are also becoming a super important market for us in summer,” he tells Karryon.

The Mammoth Mountain Bike Park
The Mammoth Mountain Bike Park.

“Our numbers from Australia in the summer have risen every year. We’ve blown back past 2019 numbers for summer and winter from Australia. So you guys are back.” 

Aside from its authenticity, great snow and value, there’s also a spiritual draw for Aussies.

“I think there’s such a similarity between the lifestyle in eastern Australia and the lifestyle of California,” says Vanderhurst, as he talks about the similar “vibe, the open-mindedness”.

“The non-pretentious nature of it… like you guys want to come and you want to play hard. You want to hit the snow or you want to go for a fantastic day hike,” he says.

“You’re not really worried about what everyone’s wearing, or the latest fashion trends, all that kind of stuff. You’re more about outdoor experiences.” 

When it comes to the average Australian guest, the American flags families as a big market, especially during the colder months. That’s not to say it gets that cold.

“The winter visitor tends to be a lot of families. Because you know, you’re talking about California weather when it comes to skiing. So a whole lot of sunny days and good groomer conditions,” he notes.

“As crazy as we all are about powder… there’s something to be said for a bluebird day with pristine grooms. It’s about that too.”

Mammoth Mountain
Mammoth says families are one of its biggest markets from Australia.

Australian couples are also falling for the resort. 

“In the summertime, we get an awful lot of honeymooners. Maybe, they’re on a two-week honeymoon in the western United States,” Vanderhurst says.

“We get them for part of that stay, but boy, they love getting that Mustang convertible, putting the top down, punching the gas pedal and driving the big open highways of the Western US. We catch them for two, three nights in an overall two-week itinerary.”

Not that you need to drive to get to or around Mammoth Mountain. 

According to Vanderhurst, “probably the easiest way” to get to the mountain for winter travellers who don’t want to rent a car is to fly to San Francisco and then hop on a connecting flight on United Airlines that goes from SFO to the local airport, “in a neighbouring community called Bishop”.

It’s then a 25-minute shuttle ride, or Uber or taxi ride to downtown Mammoth.

Mammoth Mountain
Mammoth Mountain apres ski.

“You don’t need a car even if you rent a car. You don’t need it once you’re in the resort,” Vanderhurst explains.

“The mountain and the town are one and the same – it’s a ski-in, ski-out town. And we also we also have a very, very efficient public transportation system in the winter… and in the summer, it’s open-air trolleys.”

In this respect, Mammoth again represents good value.

“We have five separate lines for a town four by four square miles. So it goes everywhere. They run every 15 minutes. 100 per cent free, no tickets, no vouchers. And it runs until two in the morning, which is kind of when American bars close.” Cheers to that.

It’s not Disneyland, but Mammoth Mountain could just be the happiest place on the snow.

Mammoth Mountain Michael Vanderhurst
Michael (far right) at this year’s trade and media après ski event in Sydney with North Lake Tahoe CVB Director of Sales Bart Peterson (far right) and Gate 7.