LINES, BOTH LONG AND DOWN
Sunday, Jan. 1. Around 4 p.m. I didn’t notice, because the living room lightbulb finicks. A few seconds passed. The bulb stayed dead. So, I checked the kitchen lights. No power. No fridge, no heat or hot water. No TV, no stove, no oven, no lights. No TV. No WiFi.
I did have candles.
So I lit them. Not enough light to read, so I sat. For a bit. Played some guitar. Drained my cell service. My girlfriend came home. Saw the candles, the guitar. Probably thought I was stoned.
“No power,” I said. We ate dinner at Mammoth Brewing with some friends, came home, grabbed an extra blanket (wool, from her family’s farm), and went to sleep.
In the morning, the power was on. Others weren’t as lucky.
Jon Stewart, manager of Mammoth’s Ski Trails Mobile Home Park, has been in town for about 44 years. “That’s the longest amount of time that it’s been out… which was a long time,” said Jon.
When I called, he was with his daughter, Kendra Stewart. She lives in Ski Trails, too. “[The outage] was hard for us because my Mom’s disabled, so she can’t walk or talk,” said Kendra.
“She’s got a lot of medical equipment that we’re not able to use, obviously, when the power goes out.”
One night is understandable, Kendra said. Enough time to repair the transformer, or clean off the line, or whatever Southern California Edison does to restore power.
One night is fine. “But 52 hours – [getting into] three days is kind of insane,” said Kendra.
A lot of mobile homes don’t have a second source of heat. Homes like Kendra’s. The power outage froze her pipes, which burst. She called the water district. They came and shut off her water. Now, there are plumbers working at her house.
“Yeah,” says Jon. “That’s one scenario.” He has 50 homes in the park. His became a callcenter for the neighbors and tenants that were looking for answers and help.
Answers that kept changing. “It was just really frustrating,” said Jon, “because [SCE] would send you a text, an email, and a voicemail stating that [the power] should be on by… the first time I think it was like 11 o’clock the first day.” Then five. Then eleven again.
“It was just like dangling a carrot over our head,” said Jon.
Jon did what he could. A neighbor on oxygen (who only had so many portable batteries) called 911, upwards of three times, according to Kendra. When that didn’t work, he called his Senator.
Jon went down to the man’s house twice to make sure he was alright. Took his trash out.Chipped the ice off the communal trash can. “Just made sure my mobile home park was doing the best it could,” he said.
Barbara Taylor, Ski Trails resident since 2012, said the outage was “kind of boring.” She lit her candles. Did some yoga. Finished a crossword puzzle with paper and pen. Dressed her 7 pound chihuahua, Olive, in two coats.
To Taylor, it seemed like it was just Ski Trails without power: “Right behind me, we have the ranches. Multi-million dollar homes. They have power. The Lodges are right behind us. They have power.”
Why didn’t Ski Trails?
“The Ski Trails area was affected by a power outage due to a downed power line,” said Gabriela Ornelas, Southern California Edison’s Media Relations Advisor for the region. “And that was likely related to the [winter storm] over the weekend.”
Ornelas explained that repairs take time. Local crews on stand-by responded to the incident.
She understands the hardship of a winter outage and said that SCE consciously prioritizes the issues that pose the greatest hazard to life, property, and the environment.
“It’s just frustrating, too, because you see The Stove’s [got power], and Carl’s Jr., and you’re just sitting here trying to keep your wife alive” said Jon, whose attitude about the situation was remarkably resilient and understanding. “It was challenging, to say the least. But that’s Mammoth. You know, we’ve got to deal with the good, the bad, and the ugly.”
Ski Trails wasn’t the only neighborhood without power. One home in the Manzanita neighborhood was without power from Dec. 31 at 11 p.m. to Jan. 3rd. The third night without power, temperatures dipped enough to warrant an exodus from the residence for a night of warmth at a neighbor’s.
John’s Pizza was forced to close on New Year’s Eve because they were without power for three hours.
Such was the nature of the storm, which dropped about five to seven feet of wet, heavy snow onMammoth Mountain during one of the resort’s busiest times of the year. The heavier the snow, the harder it is to deal with it. Plus, the cloaks of rain that fell before the massive snow dump set the stage for thick rime ice to develop on wet equipment, including but not limited to lift equipment.
The moisture of this most recent storm have caused the “resulting ice and snow conditions” to be “extra challenging,” -mailed Lauren Burke, Communications Director for the Mountain.
“Any time we experience this much snow, particularly when it comes in as wet and windy as it did, it takes a significant amount of time and effort to safely open terrain,” explained Burke.
“Deep, heavy, wind-impacted snow makes travel on the mountain much more difficult (for example, it might take an hour to get a patrol team somewhere that typically takes five minutes), extensive Cat work is required to create access to roads and runs, extreme icing across lifts can take hours or days to remove, and the smallest pieces of ice easily can trip up the thousands of sensors that are installed across the lift network,” Burke continued.
“Signage and ropelines must be removed before new snowfall and then re-installed before runs can open,” Burke wrote. “Avalanche mitigation work becomes more challenging, and wind-loading can reload avalanche prone areas very shortly after initial work, requiring additional work. These are just a few examples.”
The closure of upper terrain – as well as the closure of Chair 16 out of Canyon (which, at a lower elevation, surrounded by warmer air, probably had much ice) – created long lift lines at Chairs 17 and 8 as vacationers poured into the lodge from the Village Gondola and easy-to-access streets.
One skier, Miles Rubens, waited in line at the Chair 4 singles line for close to an hour. “I’ve been skiing at Mammoth for almost 20 years,” said Rubens, “and [these were] some of the worstlift lines I’ve ever seen, even during the holiday times.”
It wasn’t all bad, though. “When it did open and you could actually make it there, [the skiing] was pretty sweet.”
Plus, the lift line antics added some spice to the wait. “Every time someone would go up on a not-full chairlift, there would be some really loud booing from all the people in the line, which I thought was pretty funny,” said Rubens. “And then, the people next to me were looking for their friend Daniel…”
They called out his name. Daniel didn’t respond. Soon, everybody in the lift line was yelling out Daniel. “It was just, like, a whole bunch of people yelling ‘Daniel’ for like 30 seconds,” said Rubens.
It’s the little things.
The silver lining: all of this snow sets the stage for a long, fruitful season. John Urdi of Mammoth Lakes Tourism predicted a closing date of July 4th for the mountain. Lauren Burke expects“100% of our terrain open” after the storm window closes and “a very long ski season.”
With the storm rolling in this weekend, there’s only one thing to do. Get out your skis, say thanks to Lift Maintenance and Ski Patrol, and wait.