This Mammoth Real Estate Q&A was written for the Memorial Day Weekend issue of The Sheet. But the publisher was “struggling” for content this week and decided to run the column this weekend. This weekend’s issue of my newsletter may struggle for content too. But we certainly don’t want to violate Mammoth’s 11th Commandment.
Q: We’re new second homeowners in Mammoth and relatively new to Mammoth. We’ve come to appreciate your writings and thinking and want to know what your best suggestions are for new Mammoth homeowners?
A: Welcome to Mammoth and congratulations on owning your own piece of the Mammoth dream. It would be fascinating to also hear the perspectives of other long-time local residents — to each their own. I’m sure I’ll miss some things but here are my highlights.
When I moved to Mammoth in the early 1980s I had a local mentor who taught me “Mammoth’s 11th Commandment” — Don’t set yourself up for disappointment. It still works for me today. Mammoth can be a humbling place. For instance, there are so many world class athletes, known and unknown, just hanging out in the region that bragging or showing-off is asinine. But people still come and do.
Without a trust fund or some brilliant remote economic strategy, just surviving financially can be challenging. We’ve just been through one of these crisis phases for several segments of our business sector. In the 1980s the local economy (including a booming construction and development phase) died and there was no summer tourism business. It was a great time to be poor and play in the great outdoors. And having trout to eat was a godsend. But many residents simply had to leave to find greener meadows. The weather can be humbling too, especially if you have ever been “caught” in it.
For new real estate owners the most important thing to remember is that Mammoth Lakes is a small town in a remote area with limited resources including human resources. Getting improvements completed at your property can be challenging, especially in a mini-boom period like right now. But getting things done can be hit-and-miss subject to the availability of service people and contractors. There is also a seasonal effect –– the closer to the year-end holidays the less likely something will happen. And acting like a jerk will definitely cause you delays. It does pay to call around and ask various people for recommendations.
Mammoth has more immediate availability to hardware store items than it has ever had. The two current stores carry a wide variety of items large and small to complete an array of jobs. But even the local contractors often make runs to Carson City and Reno to get items. And getting items shipped into Mammoth has been another godsend, even though there appears to be new hiccups in this system.
Many second homeowners bring contractors in from out-of-the-area. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes owners have have previous relationships with these contractors, other times it is simply a matter of availability. And sometimes cost is the driver, but this can be a bugaboo. This can be a good strategy for kitchen and bath remodels, flooring, etc.. But I wouldn’t recommend it for something specialized in Mammoth, like roofs.
One of the secrets, if you have the time, is to head to Carson City for things. Barring any serious delays, you can be at Costco in less that 2.5 hours. There are all the big box stores and plenty of specialty suppliers. The selection improves even more if you drive 20 minutes north to Reno. Many people from SoCal have never done the drive. For the most part it is a spectacular drive. The north part of Mono County has an amazing variety of terrain and beauty. There are interesting stops to take in, short hikes, bike rides, etc.. There are other entertainment opportunities in Reno that are often worth spending the night for. And gasoline is typically a dollar cheaper per gallon than Mammoth so that math can work if you plan right.
The other remote area/limited resource consideration to spending extended time in Mammoth is having adequate supplies in your new home. Society as a whole is beginning to experience supply chain interruptions but this has long been a way of life in Mammoth. In the past, blizzards and wind storms and power outages (including loaders taking out transformers) and the like have all caused interruptions in Mammoth. In the 1990s when earthquakes were common it was advised to never let your gas tank go below half full. I still live by this rule. If nothing else I know I will have some gas for my generator (hint, hint).
So having some food supplies, extra water, basic emergency supplies in your new Mammoth home is a good idea. And maybe some sleeping bags if you don’t have a wood burning heat source. We’ve become overdependent on electricity.
Snow removal operations is also a good thing to understand. In the 80s and 90s you always moved your vehicle when the loader came. Otherwise you might be towed, buried, pushed on top of some snow mound or who-knows-what. Today unmoved vehicles are treated with fragility. The fun is gone. Irresponsibility is rewarded. Snow removal operators carefully and artfully work around them. The lessons of the past are lost on this new generation of Mammoth-ites. But new owners should get smart about how the specific snow removal operations of their property actually work; normal timing, what’s expected, what the outcomes might or might not be, etc.. And there is a difference between residential properties and condo projects. And owning a shovel (or two) is highly recommended.
Another good thing to understand is that roofs can shed snow. There are signs attached to buildings all over Mammoth that say “Caution Roof Sheds Snow.” But just like the “No Overnight Parking” signs they are generally ignored. But Mammoth’s history has unfortunate incidents of roof shedding instances where persons were serious hurt or died. Snow and ice and freeze/thaw can do lots of weird things. Heavy masses falling from above can do serious damage. In an era of lacking situational awareness, this should come high on your priority list during Mammoth winters. And not necessarily just in “big” winters. A 3-4 foot storm in the middle of a drought winter can create unpredictable conditions. Just like having your Tips Up when getting off the ski lift, looking up and paying attention while hanging around roof lines is a wise decision.
And the “Don’t Feed Our Bears” thing is for real. It is far more than signaling from the rear of your vehicle that you spend lots of time in Mammoth. Bears have caused significant property damage to homes and vehicles. Trust me, you don’t want one getting ahold of a big bag of chocolate covered coffee beans and then getting lost in your house. This happened to one of my neighbors in Old Mammoth. Bears, among other things, are also amazing climbers and can make their way into second story accesses. They also have acute senses of smell. Best advice is don’t invite them into your house, or get close enough for a selfie. You’d be surprised at what people do.
The good news in Mammoth is that our bears aren’t typically predators like you find in more northern latitudes. Most are just looking for a snack and a comfortable place to take a snooze. If there is one under your deck, just let him or her be. I had one under my deck for weeks but the snoring got so loud I finally had to roust him. But otherwise he was welcome. Momma bears with cubs can be especially entertaining but command extra caution. Like all moms they can be ultra-protective. And cubs alone are super cute but momma is certainly lurking somewhere close by. I certainly don’t advise letting your dog chase any bears. Dog owners have paid local veterinarians large sums to sew their pets back together. Ultimately, don’t feed the bears, intentionally or accidentally.
Speaking of wildlife, there are deer hanging in town througout the warmer months. It is a good reason to slow down in your vehicle. They don’t use the crosswalks or abide by signals. And don’t be surprised if they come by and eat your freshly planted flowers. Some people come upon deer and look in amazement. I still do sometimes. They’re cool but I’ve come to think that are almost like giant rodents. And when people are checking out a nice buck, I like to say “check out the moose.” Of course there aren’t any moose around here but they’ll have a good story to tell.
Don’t put your fireplace ashes (or BBQ coals) in a paper bag and put them on a wood deck. If you look north up to the hillside above the Village you can see what happens when people do this. The summer of 2021 is the most critical fire danger period I’ve experienced. But it is amazing how the forest re-generates after 30+ years. Let’s try an avoid this. The Knolls loop is a nice walk or bike ride from town. The forest has regenerated nicely in the past three decades.
And then some driving tips. Mammoth has periods of no clear traffic lines on the road due to snow cover or worn-out paint in the spring due to excessive snow removal. This doesn’t mean you can just drive down the middle of the road. Try to conceptualize where the lines might be, and tend to stay a little right. In white-out conditions navigate by the snow stakes and tend to stay right. And just because you have the latest-and greatest four wheel drive (yes, you with the new Range Rover) please don’t think you are invincible. Four wheel is great for traction but isn’t so great for stopping, especially once things get really icy.
The post office parking lot is counterintuitive, but it was designed by the federal government so what would you expect? The Yield sign got taken-out and wasn’t replaced. If you display that you don’t know how it flows you are certainly a newbie.
Please enjoy riding bikes on our wonderful bike path system and the access out to endless dirt trails. You don’t have to be some world class athlete to enjoy all of them and electric bikes are turning it into a somewhat crazy scene. Many of these new riders seem to be in their own little world and oblivious to cars and traffic and common courtesy. You can’t “hear” electric cars. All of it spells the need to pay attention. Riding opposite the traffic makes you blind to left-hand turning vehicles, so plan to get taken-out eventually. In the summer there are accidents waiting to happen all over Mammoth, so wear a helmet. Find a nice dirt road to go off on to get away from the mayhem. Take you cell phone in case you get lost. And don’t forget there are mountain lions in the area. But they do prefer venison.
Most of Mammoth survival is common sense. I am often reminded that visitors and second homeowners are “just excited to be here” so we need to give them a break for doing something stupid. This is a good thing to keep in mind. And after all, I’m still excited to be here.
Ultimately, the Keep It Simple rule works very well in Mammoth. And don’t set yourself up for disappointment….your kitchen remodel will get done sooner or later. Go for a hike in the meantime.
If anybody would like to add to the list, please feel free to in the Comments section.