California's Family Mountain
Story and photos by Larry Turner (

High on Adventure, January 2020


Skiing and boarding June Mountain ( in California’s fabled Sierras is like being in a time warp ... more like the 1960s when I first started skiing. No lift lines, no big fancy lodges, no uppity fashion statements being made on the slopes, no five-star slope-side dining ... just pure skiing with family and friends in a simple setting with awesome views and equally awesome snow. Many call the area the Switzerland of California. The entry sign at the base of the mountain proudly states: California’s Family Mountain.

Washington cousin Laura Sanders and lifelong friend author/activist Jorge Cervantes (from Barcelona, Spain) joined me for several days at June Mountain, followed by a week in Death Valley National Park.

June Mountain is the younger sibling of the renowned Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, which is 30 miles south on Highway 395. Mammoth owns June; both resorts were purchased by Alterra Mountain Company in 2017. Alterra is a conglomerate of several ski resorts that offers a combined season pass called the Ikon. After 50 years of operation, Mammoth announced the closing of June Mountain in 2012. I happened to be skiing Mammoth at the time and witnessed several local protests against the closing as there was a legitimate argument about sustaining the local economy of the June Lakes area if the mountain closed down permanently. Local activists were able to convince Mammoth to keep June Mountain open, although they did for that one season, reopening for the 2013-14 season with new strategies in place—including snow-making, aggressive marketing and a new chairlift—to maintain June.

  June Mountain dining lodge   June Mountain dining lodge  
  June Mountain Chairlift   June Mountain, author and George  
  Entry to June Mountain   June Mountain  exit  
  June Mountain poster   June Mountain Sichi family  
  June Mountain  summit chair   June Mountain  lunch break  


June is a throwback, hearkening to earlier years of skiing/boarding as opposed to most contemporary resorts. There is a timeless purity about June, even with its modern lifts, that will always have a place in the snowsport world. It is off the beaten path, there is a vibrant local community that supports it, there is nothing lavish about it (but there is lavishness nearby if one seeks and can afford that), its central core is family oriented.

I met elementary school teacher Tom Sichi and his family of four - wife Cindy and their 8-year-old Aylia and 6-year-old Tenaya. Tom said, “We love June because it is a family mountain. It is laid back, friendly and the staff is extraordinary. I come from multi-generations connected to June. My dad came when I was young, teaching me how to ski. We come for summer activities, too, including fly fishing. This is a special place for all of us.”

  June Lake and Mono Lake view   June Mountain Jorge Cervantes skier  
  Pointing at map of June Mountain   June Mountain fresh powder snow  
  June Mountain solo run   June Mountain ripping it  
  Sierra and June Meadows Chalet view   June Mountain view  
    June Mountain fresh powder snow    


During our first day skiing (a Sunday), the mountain accommodated 600 folks. Two days later (an epic powder day), 125. With an average of 250 inches of heavenly white a year, June’s 1,500 acres is not lacking for abundance. When those dumps come, the local powder hounds come out from the woodwork, as did we, fortunate to be there. Jorge and I made fresh tracks through pow up to our waists. Laura stuck to the groomed which became like the lost treasure of the Sierra Madre. Eventually she relented, slipping into the pow. Midway through the day, Jorge had an accident in the pow, leading him to befriend the June Meadows Chalet and its’ renown Antler Bar where he instantly made friends with many. We joined him later for some well deserved margaritas on the rocks, salted rim. Before that though, Laura and I had many runs to ourselves, making freshies with each descent. Among my favorites were the black diamond runs of Schatzi, Sunset, Matterhorn and the double black diamond Powder Chute. Fun blue runs included Silverado, Gunsmoke, Rosa Mae and Lottie Johl. The morning of our departure to Death Valley, we scooped off two feet of fresh powder that had accumulated overnight on our vehicles. I found out later that 4-5 feet had fallen on the mountain. And the following morning, we got word while hiking Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley that an avalanche had closed down Mammoth Mountain for the day, trapping a few people who had to be rescued.

June Mountain actually has two summits: Rainbow and June Mountain, both above 10,000 feet. There are 35 trails, a terrain park, and a fair amount of off-piste. One retro aspect of June—unlike any other but one (Silver Mountain in Kellogg, Idaho) resort that I know of—is the fact that to access the mountain, one has to take a lift from the parking lot at the lower ticket office to June Meadows Chalet. From there, there are lifts to both summits where the fun begins. Depending on the snow year, one can ski back to the parking lot, or not. If ‘or not,’ you have to take the lift back down.

  June Mountain backcountry skiing   June Mountain freshies  
  June Mountain fresh powder   June Mountain snowboarding deep powder  


One of the beauties of June Mountain is the access that the more adventurous have to back-country skiing/boarding. The adventurous will take the lifts to the top of June Mountain, then skin up to places with names like Carson Peak, San Joaquin Ridge, Fern Creek, Four Seasons, Devil’s Slide, Negatives, affording 5,000 foot descents through untracked snow making June Mountain one of the best lift-accessed back-country places in the West. Without the ski lift access, what normally would be an all- day ascent and descent is cut in half, if not more. Though I didn’t experience the back-country treks myself, I had the pleasure of photographing fresh lines made by the trekkers. Next time!

  June Lakes Brewing taps   June Lakes Bresing  
  June Meadows Chalet   June Mountain Eagles Landing Restaurant  
  June Meadows Chalet fireplace   June Mountain order bar  
  June Mountain Eagles Nest Saloon   June Mountain Aspen Meadows Airbnb  
  June Mountain terrace outside Antler Bar   June Mountain The Lunchbox  
  June Mountain bar treats for dog   June Mountain The Lunchbox  


We found a wonderful two-story condo (Aspen Meadows) for our several-night stay. It had easy access to June Mountain and was within pleasant walking distance to places such as the Double Eagle Resort & Spa (, known for fine cocktails, dining and full spa amenities. In the future I would like to experience the European-like Heidelberg Inn ( with its Bavarian Alps gingerbread architecture. It was a popular movie location in the 1930s, frequented by stars such as
Clark Gable, Betty Grable and Charlie Chaplan.

Most meals we prepared in the condo. However, when skiing, we ate at the June Meadows Chalet Cafe. I fell in love with their pastrami sandwiches and fresh soup, consumed with extraordinary Sierra Mountain, Mono Lake and June Lake views. The famous Antler Bar at the Chalet has a great outside deck with breathtaking views, especially on a sunny day. I met a gentleman named Howard there and he glowingly said (between gulps of stout), “I much prefer June over Mammoth because there are fewer people, and the folks her are kinder and less rushed. Mammoth gets a lot of L.A. folks coming from a faster lane.”

  June Mountain Eagles Landing Restaurant door  

One early evening we drove into the small charming town of June Lakes, walked around, then settled ourselves for an hour at June Lakes Brewing ( where we sampled their wonderful beers and consumed fish tacos and poke bowls from Ohanas, a bright orange food truck parked outside the Brewery. There are a variety of other options for dining in June Lakes.

Also, make sure you visit June Lakes General Store. And if open, drive the June Lakes Loop Road for enchanting views of the region.

Important Info:

Getting There: Via vehicle, five-hour drive from L.A. and Las Vegas, 3 ½ hour drive from Reno. Via airplane, arriving at Mammoth Yosemite Airport (MMH). Winter service via United from LA, Denver and San Francisco (

Season Passes: 12 and under ski for free. Adults $619.

Web site:


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