The view from June’s Antler Bar. (Photo: McKenna)
June Lake is one of those places where time seems to almost stand still — and you don’t get this feeling just by spending too much time at the Tiger Bar.
It’s a sleepy, mom-and-pop-type of town, where they don’t measure days with a calendar, but rather by the growth of kids and beer bellies, by big winters and the tales of trout caught long ago that get bigger with each passing season.
June seems especially small and quiet when compared to its big brother, Mammoth and its massive ski mountain. June Mountain has just one-quarter of the lifts, one-seventh of the skiable acres and about 600 less vertical feet than Mammoth Mountain does. But June Mountain, which tops out at 10,090 feet above sea level, has been open to alpine enthusiasts for just about as long Mammoth has, and arguably has just as much character (if not a little more) than its better known, bigger neighbor some 20 miles to the south.
Way back in 1961, a fella named Bud Hayward first started carving a ski area out of the face of June Mountain. Actually, “The Face” is the first thing you see when you arrive at June and its steep, bumpy Double Black Diamond demeanor can be a bit disconcerting for first timers to June. But rest assured, June Mountain actually works like many of its ancient alpine brethren in Europe, which hide much of their terrain atop the mountain.
You have to take the old, rickety, two-seater J1 up to the Main Lodge. A chair that, much like the timeless town it overlooks, seems to almost stand still. Of course, J1 is part of June’s charm and the main reason the place never — even on big holiday weekends — seems crowded.
Upon finally arriving at the top of J1, the alpine enthusiast is not only is rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding Eastern Sierra, but often also has “numb butt.” Naturally, if there’s one thing numb butts know well, it’s barstools, and as luck would have it, June Mountain offers a legendary one.
Upon exiting J1, to the skier’s immediate right, tucked underneath the wooden pillars of the June Meadows Chalet, you can find the World Famous Antler Bar (actual name). The bar affords breathtaking views of the “Switzerland of the Sierra,” the June Lake Loop, with Gull and June lakes glittering below, and the metallic glow of Mono Lake off in the distance.
After a couple of Mammoth Pale Ales to get the rest of you feeling a little numb, it’s off to the slopes.
The vast majority of June’s terrain is in the beginner to intermediate range, making most of the runs very family friendly. Still, there are plenty of steep and deep shots available on June, especially long after storms that have already seen Mammoth wiped clean of “freshies.” And just off the backside of June, for those knowledgeable and skillful enough to take advantage of it, is some of the best backcountry skiing the Golden State — heck, the globe — has to offer.
“June can kick your ass!” legendary skier Big Balls Billy (not real name) once said.
“June is a real hidden jewel. Fresh tracks last longer there and the place just has a great attitude,” longtime Eastern Sierra resident Meri Jolley (real name) said.
Of course, no trip to June Lake is complete without a stop at the community’s other world famous watering hole, the Tiger Bar. Apart from the unavoidable hangover, the homemade “Tiger Chips” are worth it.
As for whether or not a day on June Mountain is worth it, the secret is getting out. It’s awfully tough to top a day on the slopes of June.
“There are no secrets better kept than the secrets everybody guesses.” -George Bernard Shaw