MMSA renovates interpretive center at summit.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (MMSA) unveiled an updated interpretive center, café, movie theater, and learning stations in time for the holiday weekend, named Eleven53 after the elevation of Mammoth Mountain’s summit.
Tom Johnson, Senior Marketing Manager for MMSA, said the goal of reinventing the interpretive center is to create a “connection to place” where the “local population and guests are a little more connected to the history and science of the mountain.
“There was an interpretive center but it just needed a facelift,” he said. “It wasn’t as robust of a presentation as we are able to give now. It’s more of an immersive experience than it was before. Before, you read a couple of signs and then were just left to look at the view.”
To start with, Johnson has set up a small movie theater in the Ski Patrol room in the Upper Gondola building where informational videos will be played on loop, starting with the Dave McCoy story. He plans on introducing new films throughout the summer, such as a short film about drought conditions currently played at the Mono Lake interpretive center.
“You can spend ten minutes in there you can spend hours in there,” Johnson said.
From there, visitors can walk downstairs and visit the full interpretive center in the rotunda, where Forest Service volunteers and MMSA paid docents are available seven days a week to answer any questions about the new displays.
“We have a lot of stories to tell, but just not the physical space to do it in big exhibits,” Johnson said. The interpretive center has seven new screens in order to cycle through short run exhibits depending on the season.
“It’s not just about Mammoth. We’re promoting the region as a whole,” he said. “We see ourselves as a central part of that story, but we want people to get out to McGee Creek and other places.” Eleven53 displays feature a hike each week, as well as seismic activity, local flora and fauna, a hands-on geology exhibit, mining history, and a 3D topography map of the Sierras. Johnson also bought a set of skins and skulls, although they have borrowed a set from the Forest Service in the past.
Johnson’s favorite display is a slideshow of photographic images painted on glass by Frederick Maude. “This guy was known for photographing the Grand Canyon and Native American Tribes, but no one ever knew he took photographs of this whole area,” Johnson said. “One of our Forest Service volunteers happened to find a listing on a manifest of a defunct museum in Los Angeles and we paid them for the rights to display them here.” The photographs are from the late 1800s to early 1900s and feature Twin Lakes, Tamarack Lodge, and the old log cabin, whose hearth and chimney are still standing on the trail to Devil’s Postpile.
Johnson worked on the content for the interpretive center with the Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey, and scientists from Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory (SNARL).
Johnson has also partnered with these collaborators on four different learning stations around the Mountain that are still being built. Johnson plans on rolling out a new station each week and said everything will be complete by August.
There first station is located at the Lakes Basin overlook and focuses on the geology of the region. The weather station will be at the Long Valley Overlook and will incorporate a viewing of the SNARL study site near McCoy Station.
“It turns out that this is one of the more researched places on earth,” Johnson said. “The composition of these mountains and the weather is very common to that of Afghanistan so the Army is very interested in the research that these guys are doing here.”
On the east side of McCoy Station, Johnson is building an outdoor museum with Dave McCoy’s old equipment, including an original Gondola car, a chair from the original Chair One, some old grooming equipment and an old avalanche gun.
The last station will be below McCoy Station on the Discovery Nature Trail and will describe the flora and fauna of the area. Johnson would like to set up guided tours of all four learning stations with the Forest Service volunteers, but the start date on that is yet to be determined.
“The idea is that over time, we’ll just continue to add content,” Johnson said. “We anticipate building on the program for the next two to four years.”
Johnson said that MMSA has been talking about revamping the interpretive center for the last several years but it has only been in the last couple months there has been the money for it. “It’s been a big push,” Johnson said. “But it’s been on people’s radar that this is an offering that we should give the public.” When asked how much the project cost, Johnson said. “We’re spending significantly. We’ll top six figures this year.”
Johnson anticipates a busy summer season and said, “For July and August, we’re pacing better than last year, and last year was our record year, so we are on point.” Eleven53 can be accessed by purchasing a scenic gondola ride or bike park ticket. It is part of MMSA’s ‘Explore Mammoth’ summer package, and will be open until Labor Day.