In North America’s Snowiest Place, Residents Dig Out as Tourists Flow In
A team from Plow Brothers, a snow removal business, worked to clear the roof of the Mammoth Mountain Inn on Saturday.Credit…Jennifer Whitney for The New York Times
MAMMOTH LAKES — Sun stretched across snow-capped mountains that gleamed against a clear, blue sky. And everywhere — in 15-foot-high berms along sidewalks, building-height piles in parking lots and mounds stacked against windows and walls — there was snow. So much of it, in fact, that the town was still digging out.
Saturday was the first bluebird weekend day since a series of winter storms pummeled the state for more than three weeks. While the storms caused destruction and human loss in the Central Coast, this mountain town along the Eastern Sierra was left with more snow than any place in North America — more than 500 inches this season — making it a wonderland blanketed in beauty.
Saturday, in other words, was the kind of day that passionate weekend-warrior skiers and snowboarders like me dream about. After seeing countless social media posts last week of people surfing across deep, untouched snow, I set off from Los Angeles on Friday bound for Mammoth Lakes, with visions of untracked, perfect pistes dancing in my mind.
The last time the region had a bounty of such epic proportions was the winter of 2016-17, when the season total hit 608 inches. In a place where the vast natural playground is the main draw for residents, abundant snowfall can feel like one long, incomprehensibly lucky party — like there’s no place on earth one would rather be. Beyond the ski resort lies endless terrain for backcountry skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and more.
Yet this amount of snow brings headaches, too. Grocery stores in Mammoth experienced food shortages because of highway closures during the most recent squall. Some residents were parking their cars at the high school or the airport because their own lots were storing so much snow. There was a run on fuel earlier in the month, because oil delivery trucks couldn’t get into town and the propane tanks that store fuel here were all buried.
While thousands of people lined up on Saturday to hit the slopes, hundreds of others in town were focused on clearing snow. On street after street, crews of three and four were working to remove the more than six feet of snow that had accumulated on the roofs of houses, apartment complexes and businesses, threatening to drop massive cornices and human-size icicles at any time.
That much snow, when left untouched, can lead to problems like leaks, structural compression, caved-in ceilings or serious water damage, not to mention injury or worse. Though it had been days since the most recent snowfall ended, teams were still working 14- to 16-hour days to clear it.
“In a year like this, there’s just never enough people to keep up,” said Ben Atwood, the owner of Plow Brothers, a snow removal business. “It’s insanity.”
This complex dance between the abundance of “white gold” and the strain it puts on already strained infrastructure is a bellwether of things to come, Mayor John Wentworth of Mammoth Lakes said.
More on California
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- Fast-Food Industry: A law creating a council with the authority to set wages and improve the conditions of fast-food workers was halted after business groups submitted enough signatures to place the issue before voters next year.
- Oil From the Amazon: If you live in California, you may have a closer connection to oil drilling in the Amazon rainforest than you think.
- Storms and Flooding: A barrage of powerful storms has surprised people in the state with an unrelenting period of extreme weather that has caused extensive damage across the state.
Over a foamy cup of coffee on Main Street, he said that his city was on the front lines of climate change. Five hundred inches of snow, he said, or 600 or more, is not the ceiling. His town and others like it must focus on long-term resilience.
For the moment, though, there’s a lot of skiing to be done — and endless shoveling. Forecasters say there’s a chance for storms to return in early February.
“Right now, it’s everybody pushing to uncover the town,” he said, adding that, soon enough, “we’re going to do it all over again.”
Anna Dimond is a journalist based in Los Angeles.
The rest of the news
Fast-food labor conditions: A coalition of restaurants and trade groups have temporarily stopped a California law meant to improve working conditions in the fast-food industry from taking effect. Voters in the state will decide on the issue next year.
Students changing their gender identity: Educators are facing new tensions over whether they should tell parents when students socially transition at school — changing their name, pronouns or gender expression.
Exporting waste: California sends nearly half its toxic waste across its borders, often to states with weaker environmental regulations, CalMatters reports.
Ritzy real estate: A huge, 260-acre property in Bel Air is up for auction. Three times the size of Disneyland, the land has been up for sale since 2013, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Hospital closure: The lone hospital in Madera County in the Central Valley closed its doors this month. Legislators and industry officials say other hospitals across the state may suffer the same fate.
Half Moon Bay shooting: The town’s immigrant community is reeling from the mass shooting of farmworkers.
Pelosi attack: A San Francisco judge ruled on Wednesday that footage of a home intruder’s attack on Paul Pelosi, the husband of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, could be released publicly over the objections of prosecutors.
The San Francisco Inquirer: A consultant for a Bay Area tribe created a website publishing false, unconfirmed and unsourced articles on California lawmakers, saying they have blocked the tribe from federal recognition, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.
What we’re eating
Farro broccoli bowl with lemony tahini.
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Carol Ann Meme, who lives in Fresno:
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected] We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
And before you go, some good news
As you know, California is experiencing one of its wettest winters in recent history.
In Petaluma, north of San Francisco, the rain has been a boon for newts. The torrential downpours spurred thousands of California and rough-skinned newts to emerge from their burrows and set out in search of a lake, stream, pond or puddle to breed in. And for the first time in many years, the newts have a plethora of water bodies to choose from.
What the newts need now is a safe way to get to their rendezvous points. Newts can be killed by cars as they try to cross roads that separate them from their breeding grounds.
But don’t worry, humans are here to help.
For the past four years, volunteers have spent their winter nights shepherding newts across a one-mile stretch of Chileno Valley Road, a winding country road in the hills of Petaluma. They call themselves the Chileno Valley Newt Brigade, and their founder, Sally Gale, says they will keep showing up until the newts no longer need them.
On busy nights, as many as 24 volunteers gather on the road.
“It’s such a huge cross-section of people, and we haven’t met a bad one yet,” said Katie Brammer, a graphic designer and newt brigade captain. Among her fellow volunteers are schoolteachers, students, naturalists, business owners and retirees.
Brammer and her husband, Rick Stubblefield, have been newt brigade captains for just over a year. They say the charisma of the newts got them hooked on helping. “California newts are quite endearing,” Brammer said. “They hold onto your hand as you’re carrying them across the road.”
Read more from The Times.
Thanks for reading. We’ll be back tomorrow.
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.
Soumya Karlamangla, Briana Scalia, Isabella Grullón Paz and Lyna Bentahar contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].