Photos by Ryan Freitas
Skiing June Mountain is bittersweet today. While I’d normally relish having a mountain all to myself, it’s kind of sad here now. The ghosttown feel is heavy. Although there are still a handful of homeowners and businesses in the June Lake area still trying to muscle through, it’s evident that last summer’s announcement from Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory that June would close after 50 years of continuous operation hit Mono and Inyo County hard. No one seems happy with this decision.
June was the lazy, hometown resort for locals and backcountry skiers. Those in the know would scramble to June and its world-class terrain parks and superpipe to avoid the swarms that descend on Mammoth every weekend. It also offered unmatched, lift-served access to the Sierras and unbound exploration from here to Yosemite.
Fortunately for backcountry skiers, the US Forest Service softened the closure blow. Inyo National Forest leases June’s operating permit to Mammoth so when Mammoth yanked their operations, the Forest Service rules went into effect- “the land will generally remain accessible to the public for backcountry skiing, snowboarding or snowshoeing. Under the plan, ski patrollers are authorized to prohibit access to the area during avalanche control activities. The ski area remains prohibited to entry by snowmobiles and other motorized use by an existing Forest Order, except by special use authorization,” the Mammoth press release states.
And so June was “open” for skiing this year. Local mountain guide Doug Nidiver commented, “It’s surprising how many tracks there were this season.”
Even better is that dogs are allowed now!
At times the parking lot was full but not today. We packed up the water, the ProBars, the skins and the poop bags and headed up the service road toward the Chalet. The rise of the J1 lift and its face looked intimidating. I couldn’t wait to ski it but climbing it? Not so much.
We stopped for a water break and views on the Chalet’s deck and Nidiver reminisced about riding the lift, taking in the views, having a tasty meal- “the food was excellent up here” and then venturing out of bounds. Locals had long whined for a backcountry lift where they could pay a reduced rate for lift-accessed OB but that had never happened.
Today, we skied the ski area. The conditions in the hot sun have shifted to spring corn and crust. It didn’t matter where we went so it was easy just to trek straight up the face.
Four hours later, we reached the 10,000-foot summit. We had no trouble skinning except that my hip flexors were a bit out of shape.
After the Kodak moment we ripped the skins, clicked in and dropped into Deer Bowl. We had to be nimble with the breakaway layer but after the first ten turns the trail turned into a smooth table of corn. Over the face and down IQ, the snow became dimpled with sun cups but we were able to ski all the way back to the car. Nearly 3000 vertical for the afternoon.
In my head, I could hear the whoops and hollers of my fellow Utahns enjoying the 10 inches of fresh powder back home. Sigh. But there’s something to be said for solitude, sun and blue skies for the end of March. I had a wicked body buzz going and a deep appreciation for spring skiing. I’m not sure that I would want to be anywhere else today. I’ll be back in Utah soon enough!
P.S. It’s not official yet but all signs are pointing to June reopening for winter 2014.