Mammoth Trip Report
My dad recently turned 80, so his friends wanted to throw him a party. Due to a history of altitude sickness and a dislike of mountain driving, I really don’t visit Mammoth frequently, but I was particularly motivated for this trip.
Dad recently mentioned that United had seasonal flights from San Francisco to Mammoth (airport code: MMH). Back in the day, there were only flights from the commuter terminal at LAX, and for quite a few years, there weren’t any commercial flights at all. So the revelation was a surprise to me.
So Rick and I booked a trip to visit my dad, flying out Saturday morning and flying back Monday morning so we’d get some good time with him.
My usual allegiance is with Hilton, but there are no Hilton properties in Mammoth, and the only Starwood property is a Westin at rates higher than I’m willing to pay.
Normally, I use TripIt to track flights and hotel reservations.. This has been a real boon in many cases, especially with schedule changes. This trip is the first time it’s ever led me astray: TripIt said the flight was leaving out of Terminal 1, but it turns out the flight operates out of Terminal 3. Neither United’s iPhone application nor the web site had info, nor did the departures board, so, after Rick picked up coffee for us, I actually called United on the house phone to get the information.
Later, people on FlyerTalk explained it for me: it’s a frankenflight. It’s caught in something of a contract issue between United Express, United, and Continental where the flight was operated by Continental but had to be sold as United, and that kind of pain has made its way all the way through the system.
You may recall from prior adventures that I’d flown a lot last year, though a good chunk of it wasn’t on United or its partners, and I flew enough to earn what used to be called 2P status, but, in the post-merger world is called Premier Silver, United’s lowest status tier. Technically, that would waitlist me for Economy Plus, but it wasn’t offered to me on this particular flight even though there was not only Economy Plus, but also First class on the small jet. Oh well, it was a 37-minute flight, no big loss.
The plane was a Canadair regional jet, and it was nicely quiet, surprisingly so. Flying over the Sierras, we saw just how bad some of the snow fall had been this year, sadly.
Our flight was on time into Mammoth, which is a super-small airport with one gate and one waiting area (so they can only have people waiting for one flight at a time). We picked up our rental from Hertz, then went up to my dad’s place past the village near what used to be called Warming Hut 2 but now has a much more high-falutin’ name. It was really great to see dad again!
Dad’s favorite place for breakfast and lunch in town is Good Life Cafe, which had a dauntingly large menu. After determining that my first two choices could be made gluten-free, I had an Eye Opener with mahi mahi. Rick had the Chile Verde. I can’t recall what my father had. The food was good, and we were stuffed through to the dinner party dad’s friends had set up for him. One of his friends got him an awesome 80th birthday cake with ginormous strawberries. On the way there, the weather changed a bit and we had a light dusting of snow, which was welcome by my dad and all his skier friends.
We finally checked into the Shiloh Inn, which was decent enough but a bit drab. We didn’t use the pool, though I regret that choice now. After years of being a pool fiend, I haven’t been using them nearly enough, and this pool was open 24 hours. However, the side effects of the altitude medication meant I was in significant pain.
The following morning, we again headed to get my dad and again went out for brunch at Good Life Cafe, and several of dad’s friends joined us. It was great really getting to spend some time with people he’s known for years and talked about a lot, but whom I’ve barely met before. This time, my dad tried the Chile Verde. I had the same Eye Opener, just because it was that good. My dad was recovering from some illness, so he bowed out for the rest of the day.
Rick and I were feeling up for some extra altitude, so we took the gondola to the top of Mammoth and walked around the top of the gondola. We’d gone up pretty late in the day, so we had about half an hour up there, then went to the bar at the midpoint. Previously, I’d always had a hot chocolate, but none was available, so I had an Irish coffee instead.
We tried to find one place that seemed promising on Yelp, but couldn’t find what we were looking for, so we went to Red Lantern, where they were able to come up with some really tasty gluten-free food.
The following morning, Monday, was our flight out. Catch was, we woke up and it was completely clouded over and snowing. Now, there are quite a few microclimates there, and where my dad lives is a different microclimate from the center of town (where we were staying), which is a different microclimate from the airport. I checked my messages and the flight status and it looked like our flight was still on, so we ate our free breakfast downstairs (which basically only a piece of fruit for me as nothing else was edible) and drove to the airport.
After we arrived, I got an email from my mother and a phone call from United that our flight was canceled — after we’d returned the car. Several people were having meltdowns about that. Skiers who were happy about it were thrilled to change their flights. We were there early enough that we got rebooked for a later flight. By the time all that was done and we re-fetched the car keys from Hertz (who said we couldn’t drive the cars to San Francisco, not that I wanted to), the weather was starting to clear. Of course it was.
We got cocoa in the little refreshment hut, and then headed back to town, where we once again picked up my dad and went out to you-know-where. After that, we finally had enough time at our leisure to check out a place a couple doors down that Jaym Gates told me about: Looney Bean, one of those most beloved kinds of places where you can get good coffee and great atmosphere. Rick and I sat transfixed in front of the fire, mugs in hand.
Now, one of the challenges of Mammoth is altitude. It’s at 7,000 feet, is a difficult takeoff, and skiers are not known for being light packers. Weight and balance are always issues on regional jets, and this one actually has a first class and economy plus to make the load lighter (fewer seats and all that). But sometimes, that’s not enough. Due to the canceled flights earlier, the flight was oversold, so they’d had to involuntarily deny boarding to some people. They’d asked for four volunteers before boarding. After that was done, they began boarding us.
Due to my status, I was upgraded to first, and they accidentally gave Rick’s seat away (he wasn’t upgraded as he doesn’t have status), so they put him in first too. Because they couldn’t move anyone else forward, but because they needed more weight forward, they moved some of the luggage into the other four seats in first class; luggage weighs less than people do. Still, three more people volunteered to be bumped, and, after all that changing people around, we were finally under the projected weight by two pounds.
We had a beautiful and uneventful flight back, and I was happy to see more snow on the mountains on the way back. My full photo set is available on flickr.