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Run of the Week: Climax

January 28, 2011

Climax, at the top of the mountain near the gondola station

On Mammoth Mountain, where great skiing at all levels is bountiful, only a few can be classified as iconic.

The runs might include Broadway, or Dave’s Run, or St. Anton.

Perhaps the most iconic run, though, is Climax, the aptly named bowl just to skier’s left of the Upper Gondola at 11,053 feet.

It is a wide-open double-black, although by the time spring comes and the bowl is filled in, a skier could probably move that rating back to a single black diamond.

Getting there is easy.

Step off the gondola and you’re there. Peering over the edge for the first time is a bit daunting, but it’s certainly not as daunting as back in the day, before the gondola was built, when huge cornices formed on the lip.

Not only is Climax the face of Mammoth Mountain, this slope is where one of the most famous runs in Mammoth Mountain history happened – the 1968 straight-down-the-face run of Phillippe Mollard.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands by now, claim to have seen it.

Dozens of versions of his run float on the wind.

One says that he pointed his skis (“short” Rossignol 207s) downhill, flew straight down the face, hit the lip of the Back of 3, got airborne and landed perfectly, not missing a beat until he got to the bottom of the ski hill.

That’s hardly possible, but that’s the popular version.

A few years ago, Mollard set the record straight in an interview.

He said the run was definitely in the spring – March or April. The bowl was fairly filled in. The sun was warm, the snow smooth and slippery, and not a track on it.

“I was by myself,” he said. “There was one ski patrolman at the top of the mountain outside the gondola. We exchanged a few words and I just went right down.

“At Dry Creek, I just stopped.”

It sounds like an utterly frightening run, but Mollard says no.

“I was in control,” he said.

“The story that I’ve heard,” said Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory recently, “is that he went by at some huge rate of speed, looking relaxed and smiling.”

There really is nothing complicated about Climax. It’s a straightforward bowl.

But because of that run, with others, the ski area took a look at the chutes to skier’s left of the Paranoid Flats and named them Phillippe’s.

Fair enough.

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