Nordic Skiing in Mammoth Lakes, California

I've lived in California for 10 years and I have to say that of all the amazing destinations California has, Mammoth Lakes is one of my absolute favorite places to visit. The eastern sierra mountains off of Highway 395 is something I had never seen before and it takes my breath away every single time. The sierras seem to bolt out of the ground up thousands of feet, their jagged peaks pointing into the bright blue sky that Mammoth sees almost year round. I absolutely love it there and as John Muir said, for me, "Going to the mountains is going home."

Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes is a small mountain town on the eastern side of Yosemite. In fact, its only about a 30 minute drive from Mammoth Lakes to Highway 120, which is Yosemite's eastern gateway via the Tioga Pass (it is, however, closed during the winter.) If you've ever been to Yosemite, but entered through the northern, western, or southern gates, entering Yosemite through Lee Vining is absolutely breathtaking.

Mammoth is known for its huge ski resort and Mammoth Mountain which stands tall at 11,053 feet. The town of Mammoth Lakes sits at 7880 feet in elevation so its always a bit of an adjustment when we travel here from sea level.

We recently spent four days around Christmas here and four days in the middle of January. Most people come to Mammoth in the winter to downhill ski, but Tom and I tend to travel off the beaten path and we came to nordic (cross country) ski.

Ski Rental

Mammoth is a super friendly town and we like to support the locals when we're visiting. We don't own nordic skis, so we've been renting from The Ski Renter. They are incredibly quick and efficient when arriving to rent skis. Winter is their busiest time (obviously) and there usually is a line of people waiting to get boots and skis fitted, but we're always helped almost immediately and they always make sure we feel comfortable in our gear before heading out. You can rent skis online via their website and can save 10-20% by booking in advance. And the best part? You can rent a full nordic ski package (skis, bindings, boots, and poles) for $15.00 for a half day or $18.00 for a full day and a full day rental is considered 7:30am - 7:00pm. 

Where to Ski

There are a ton of ski trails actually in town. Mammoth has a Trail System with groomed and ungroomed trails. There is also the Tamarack Lodge Cross Country Ski Center where they have over 19 miles of groomed trails. You can purchase a trail pass with them and you can also rent skis there. The awesome thing about the Tamarack Ski Center is that they have a double trail which is two side by side trails - one is groomed and one isn't. The groomed trail requires a daily pass and does not allow dogs, but the ungroomed trail is FREE and dogs are allowed on leash! 

Tamarack Ski Trail

Tamarack Ski Trail

This trail is a section of Lake Mary Road that is closed during the winter and not plowed for traffic. Once there's enough snow a ski trail is made for people to use. Its about two and a half miles one way which makes for a good five mile roundtrip. The trail passes through the Mammoth Lakes Basin and is absolutely stunning.

Lake Mary Rd Trail

Great ready for some huffing and puffing, its uphill one way and climbs to about 8900 feet, but the views are worth it!

Mammoth Lakes Basin

Mammoth Lakes Basin

Obsidian Dome Trail

The Obsidian Dome trail is another great ski trail, but a little more rustic than the Tamarack Trail. The Obsidian Dome Trail is about a 15 minute drive out of Mammoth Lakes towards the June Lake area and has a free parking lot and is a hike / ski only trail (no snowmobiles allowed). Its also on National Forest land so Bailey can happily run free without a leash. Be forewarned, the trail is a gentle incline for about the first mile / mile and a half which makes for a bit of a push to get up to the dome area, but a fun return to the parking lot where all you really have to do is glide down.

Obsidian Dome Rd
Obsidian Dome Skiing

Obsidian Dome Skiing

Dog Booties

Bailey loves being out in the snow with us. He loves being off leash and in the fresh mountain air and running to his heart's desire. This past December the temperatures in Mammoth were colder than when we'd been there before (in the teens versus the upper 30s / low 40s) and instead of having wet, melty snow, we had hard, icy snow. Bailey soon had ice balls forming on his paws and in between his pads and it made for a bit of a rough run for him. He kept stopping to chew out the ice. About five minutes after we were back in the car the snow had melted from his paws, but we had a shorter day than we had hoped for. So - what do we do?

RuffWear Summit Trex Boots

We had seen another dog running around with little booties on his feet to protect his paws from the ice while we were skiing and later bought a pair  of RuffWear Summit Trex Boots for Bailey from REI. Here's what RuffWear says about them:

The boots cost $59.95 from REI.

The boots cost $59.95 from REI.

  • High-mileage, nonmarking outsoles sport a flexible lug design that gives your dog tactile control on terra firma
  • Integrated stretch gaiters protect legs and seal out dirt and debris
  • Weather-resistant uppers help block moisture
  • Intuitive, rip-and-stick cinch straps make it easy to put boots onto paws and keep them securely in place
  • Ruffwear Summit Trex dog boots feature reflective trim that helps provide low-light visibility from multiple angles

They key to getting your dog to wear these is two-fold.

  1. Make sure you measure his or her paws across the bottom. Bailey's were 2.5" so we got him the 2.5" set of four.
  2. Practice, practice, practice. I almost died laughing the first time we put these boots on Bailey, as you can hear from the video below:

Luckily, it only took a few more times in the boots and he suddenly was a pro in them:

The back boots kept sliding off his paws even though they were velcroed in place, but I figured out that if I folded over the stretchy material at the top (in half) they stay up.

Bailey was pretty good wearing these boots on the trail, but due to the deep areas of snow, his paws would sometimes get stuck and he'd pull a boot off as he pulled his foot out of the snow. Luckily, we also bought a second pair of much cheaper boots that actually worked better.

Pawz Dog Boots

Pawz Dog Boots are thick rubber balloon-like booties that slip over each paw and are disposable. Bailey broke through a couple of the boots with his nails, but it didn't seem to bug him at all. AND they never came off his feet! Even in the deep snow.


Mammoth Lakes is a stunning part of California to visit any time of the year. If you're ever out on that side of the state, take a drive along beautiful Hwy 395 and stop for a day in Mammoth. It will absolutely take your breath away.