The big melt: Crushed houses, trapped cars and the threat of floods – inside California’s buried ski resort

Mammoth Lakes is entombed under snow and residents are struggling to dig out their houses. But the prospect of what happens when the snow melts is terrifying too.

High in the California mountains, a ski resort sits buried under layers of snow and ice. Residents of Mammoth Lakes fear for their lives, and livelihoods, after a winter of record snowfalls.

Wooden houses are blanketed under white powder, cars are buried beneath cement-like drifts, and roads are lined by colossal snow banks stretching up to 50 ft tall. Every so often a dagger-like slab of snow or ice will slide from a rooftop and shatter on the ground.

They’re used to a lot of snow in Mammoth Lakes. In fact, it’s vital for the economic survival of the town but nobody could have expected what happened this winter.

A series of so-called atmospheric rivers – narrow bands of moisture which carry precipitation from the Pacific Ocean over the west coast of the United States – hit California.

These storms have been unusual in their frequency and intensity following a decade of drought, transforming the Golden State into the sodden state.

In Mammoth, the snowfall was three times the historical average. When we visit, a month past the peak, the walls of snow are still as tall as two double decker buses in parts.

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