Minaret Vista, Bridgeport Winter Recreation Area, other areas, now covered in snow
Last weekend’s storm brought enough snow to higher elevations to open more terrain to the public—specifically cross-country ski and snowmobile areas.
From the unplowed road that leads past Mammoth Mountain Ski Areas Main Lodge to gorgeous Minaret Vista to the snow-drenched Mammoth Lakes Basin and the high country around Bridgeport, there are plenty of places to ski and snowmobile once again—with a little bit of effort.
There are two different kinds of lands near the town of Mammoth—federal lands and Town of Mammoth Lakes facilities, such as the Mammoth Lakes Bike Trail, which is open for skiing and walking in the winter.
The regulations are different for each area, so a good map is recommended, which can be picked up from the California Visitor Center at the east entrance to Mammoth Lakes on the north side of S.R. 203 (see box below, for more information). The visitor center has an map called the “Mammoth Lakes Winter Recreation Map” and the map is also available online at the address in the box below.
GROOMED AND UNGROOMED SNOWMOBILING
Bridgeport Winter Recreation Area: The four-day storm hit the Sonora Pass west of Bridgeport, leaving between three and five feet of new snow and opening the Bridgeport Winter Recreation Area on Monday, Feb. 10, for the first time this winter. This area can be accessed via the Sonora Pass Road north of Bridgeport, where the road is no longer plowed.
Unfortunately, the dozens of miles of roads that are normally groomed for snowmobiling near the Scenic Loop Road that connect Mammoth to June Lake are largely below 8,000 feet and the U.S. Forest Service (which does the grooming) requires an 18-inch deep base before it can groom the trails. A storm forecast for early next week could open this area up but the snow cover is currently too thin to support grooming, according to Deb Schweitzer, the public information officer with the Inyo National Forest.
The Sherwins: Once it snows, some of the Sherwin range is accessible by snowmobile by driving Old Mammoth Road until you cross Mammoth Creek. Then, take a hard left on Sherwin Creek Road and drive a quarter mile. Park in the big parking area near the big propane tanks.
GROOMED CROSS COUNTRY SKI TRAILS
Tamarack Cross Country Ski Area: in the Mammoth Lakes Basin above Mammoth is the best place to ski if you want to ski on groomed trails. There is a fee to use the expertly groomed ski trails. The Mammoth Mountain Ski area-owned resort is groomed to accommodate both skate and classic skiing. Dogs, snowshoers and snowmobiles are not allowed on the groomed trails.
However, skiers with dogs on a leash and snowshoers can access the Lakes Basin backcountry via the east side of Lake Mary Road, which is free and groomed flat to allow easier access to the Lakes Basin backcountry.
Shady Rest Cross Country Ski area: If this weekend brings another storm as forecast, it will improve the free, several kilometers of groomed skate and classic ski trail system behind the California Visitor Center and Shady Rest Campground at the east entrance of town, right off S.R. 203. If not, the grooming is currently a bit thin, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
UNGROOMED CROSS COUNTRY SKI OPTIONS
Minaret Vista: Head up to Main Lodge and ski the two miles to Minaret Vista on the unplowed road now covered with good, packed snow. It’s a safe, easy place to ski and Minaret Vista is one of the most spectacular views in the eastern Sierra. Snowmobiles are also allowed as far as Minaret Vista. Beyond that, experienced skiers can head into the backcountry between the Vista and June Mountain or down to Reds Meadow—and beyond.
The Lakes Basin: Cross country skiers and snowshoers can access the Lakes Basin backcountry via the unplowed section of Lake Mary Road and the parts of the Lakes Basin that are not contained within the Tamarack Cross Country Ski Area fee area by staying on the Mammoth Lakes Bike Trail system through the basin, which is now covered with snow.
According to the Town of Mammoth Lakes Public Works Director Peter Bernasconi, whose department manages the bike trails during the winter, skiers, snowshoers, and walkers are allowed on the trail system, as long as they do not step onto the groomed trail system that occasionally shares the bike trail.
“As long as they can bypass the groomed trail so they don’t destroy the grooming for the paying customers, they can use the bike trail system in the winter,” he said. Dogs are allowed on the bike trail on a leash.
Access is via the Lake Mary Road, beginning where it is unplowed. Park and then walk or ski or snowshoe along the east/left side of the road. Stay off the groomed trail or you could get a citation.
As soon as it snows below 8,000 feet, the entire Mammoth Lakes area opens up to skiers, snowshoers and in some cases, snowmobilers. Old Mammoth Road accesses two good areas; the Sherwin Creek Road and the gravel road on the north side of Mammoth Creek.
Dogs are allowed off leash, if they are under voice command.
The Mammoth Lakes Bike Trail system that leaves from the Mammoth Creek Park just past The Stove along Old Mammoth Road and which follows Mammoth Creek both west and east is another option. This trail system is within the Town of Mammoth Lakes boundary and as such, is not open to snowmobilers and dogs must be on a leash.
Information and the Winter Recreation Map for the Mammoth area are available for federal lands from Conway Summit south visiting www.fs.usda.gov/activity/inyo/recreation/wintersports 
For the Bridgeport area and all areas from Conway summit north, visit www.fs.usda.gov/detail/htnf/about-forest/offices/?cid=fsm9_026951  and search under ‘Recreation.”
For information regarding trails within the Town of Mammoth Lakes, visit mammothtrails.org.