Mammoth Mountain is expecting up to 10 feet of snow over the next few days as a powerful and dangerous winter storm continues to blow through the Sierra Nevada, paralyzing travel but bringing desperately needed precipitation.
By noon Wednesday, the atmospheric river-fueled weather system had already dumped more than 3 feet of new snow on the popular mountain about 250 miles north of Los Angeles, with 2 feet coming overnight, according to the ski resort’s website.
“SnOMG!” read a post on the mountain’s Facebook page Wednesday. “The dumpage continues with another 10ish inches since early this morning bringing totals to about 29-36” and counting.”
Another 5 to 6 inches was reported within the next two hours.
More fresh powder is on the way, and totals from the storm are expected to approach 10 feet by the end of the week, according to a Mammoth Mountain spokesman.
The storm is bringing much needed precipitation to California, which has seen a very dry winter so far, with most of the state in severe or extreme drought as of last week.
When the high-pressure ridge that had prevent storms from reaching much of California finally lifted, rain and snow entered the forecast.
A blizzard warning went into effect for the region Tuesday night and is scheduled to last through Friday morning. During that time, the National Weather Service warned of the potential for heavy snowfall, high winds and mountain whiteout conditions.
Forecasters also warned of extreme avalanche danger in the Sierra Nevada backcountry.
The weather service said that “thundersnow” is a possibility between Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
Between whiteout conditions and a blizzard warning, Mammoth Mountain operations will likely be limited through the end of the week.
Only five chair lifts and 17 trails were open as of midday Wednesday, accessible from Canyon and Eagle lodges. Operations aren’t expected at Main Lodge for the day.
The resort also warned that indoor lodge capacity remains limited due to the ongoing pandemic, meaning visitors should be prepared to spend all day outdoors.
Temperatures are forecast to hover in the 10s and 20s through Saturday.
Travel to the area will also be difficult or even impossible at times, especially for those coming from Southern California. Highway 395 — the main road to Mammoth Lakes — has been shut down in most of Mono County due to the the heavy snow and dangerous road conditions.
Late Wednesday morning, the northbound highway was closed from Gorge Road in Inyo County to the Nevada state line, while all southbound lanes were shut down between State Route 203, which leads into Mammoth, and the Nevada state line.
Caltrans announced later in the afternoon that the 395 would be shut down overnight from just north of Bishop to the Nevada state line amid concerns of heavy snow, ice and winds.
“Maintenance leadership will assess the reopening of this route tomorrow,” Caltrans said in a tweet.
But as conditions worsened during the day, the weather service urged people to avoid all roads and stay home.
“This is a life threatening situation. Do not attempt to travel!” forecasters warned. “Even a short walk could be deadly if you become disoriented.”
Prior to the weather service’s dire assessment, Mammoth had urged anyone planning on heading to the mountain to take the proper precautions.
“Planning ahead is more important than ever. Dress warm, be patient, ski and ride with caution, and enjoy what looks to be some deep pow days ahead,” the resort’s website stated.
Officials there also reminded skiers and snowboards that they must purchase their lift passes in advance, except for passholders who do not need a reservation.
The winter weather comes just days after California relaxed the regional stay-at-home order, allowing Mammoth and other areas to rescind state-imposed restrictions on lodging and hotels for leisure visitors.