Sprinkling Stardust in the Sierra mountains

mammothWHEN you look for a skiing holiday, the first places you think of are likely to be the French Alps, the Tyrol, the Dolomites, Whistler in Canada or one of the spectacular Rocky Mountain resorts like Jackson Hole or Aspen.

For the non-skiers there are other choices, and for those who want to combine a bit of skiing, walking, shopping and night-life, Norway has a lot to offer, as has New England.

California might not be high on your list of winter holiday destinations, but the gold rush state has dramatic mountains and lakes, many of which are snow-covered for much of the winter.

Mammoth Lakes on the eastern slopes of the Sierras offers everything that you could want for a snowy break – dramatic scenery, some excellent ski runs, a good variety of restaurants, bars, spas and more …

You can even find a rather special bit of musical history in one of the hotels, the Sierra Nevada Lodge, which was originally built in 1967 by Jerry Buss, a property developer and owner of the Los Angeles Lakers baseball team.

With its stunning location, relatively easy access from LA and Buss’s connections with movie and sports stars, Sierra Nevada Lodge became a favourite getaway for many Hollywood stars, including John Wayne, the Rat Pack and Jerry Lewis.

Duke’s bar, in the hotel lobby area, is a 100 year old alpine-style bar from Long Island. It is named after John Wayne who came to Mammoth regularly with his friends for shooting and fishing breaks.

travel-mammothpianoBut it is the lobby piano that rightly attracts the most interest – this famous instrument, a California Bungalow Baby Grand, was built in 1905 by the Stodart Piano Company of New York.

One of its owners was Clark Gable, who gave the piano to his wife, Carole Lombard, as an anniversary gift. They were married in 1939 during a filming break of Gone with the Wind, but Lombard was tragically killed in an airplane crash in 1942. Gable was devastated by her death. Lombard was always known as the love of his life.

The piano however had a happier story – it was acquired by composer Hoagy Carmichael, whoses many popular songs include Stardust, Georgia On My Mind, Heart and Soul, and I Get Along Without You Very Well.

Hoagy Carmichael appeared in the film To Have And Have Not, which starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, and he is seen playing this piano while singing with Ms Bacall.

Carmichael’s songs have been recorded by many of the greats, including Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Nora Jones, Benny Goodman and Bing Crosby.

Sierra Nevada Lodge has recently had a major refurbishment, which included a new Chinese restaurant, The Red Lantern, in addition to the acclaimed Rafters restaurant, part of the original hotel.

Mammoth Lakes offers the full range of winter sports and activities, including dog sledding, ice-skating, snow-boarding, snowmobiling and of course skiing.

There are direct flights from the UK to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, all within reasonable driving distance of Mammoth Lakes.

mammoth 2And if a summer holiday is your preference, this less visited side of California’s Sierra mountain range has wonderful views, historic old towns to visit and easy access to Yosemite National Park, Mono Lake (pictured here and seen on countless rock album covers) and Death Valley National Park. Do be careful to read up first about this dramatic but dangerous area, which in summer is the hottest place in the world. It has no mobile phone reception, no garages or cafes, very few residents and temperatures that regularly go up to 49C (120F).

For more information on Sierra Nevada Lodge and Mammoth Lakes visit www.sierranevadalodge.com

For information on Yosemite or Death Valley visit the US National Parks website www.nps.gov