It’s a mid-mountain dining option for skiers by day in winter but when summer comes around, McCoy Station is Mammoth Mountain’s largest and most versatile wedding venue.
Situated a short gondola ride up from Main Lodge at just more than 9,600 feet, it’s a multi-purpose space with a few ceremony sites and perhaps the biggest reception space in the Eastern Sierra.
We’ll break this down into two parts: the reception space and the ceremony space. The smaller and more upscale Parallax is also located in McCoy, but we’ve given it its own profile right here.
The ceremony venues:
There are two main ceremony sites in this behemoth; the sundeck and the roof. Here’s an honest breakdown of each.
If I had to choose, I’d pick the sundeck as my favorite of the two for one reason: its protection from the wind.
It’s located in the patio at Steeps Bar near the skiers’ exit from McCoy Station. The exposed side of the space facing Mammoth Mountain is surrounded by a wall of wind-killing plexiglass.
It’s got tremendous views of Chair 3 and most of the top of Mammoth Mountain. The views aren’t as extensive as the roof, but it’s still no slouch in that department.
It’s available year round and can handle 150 guests. It’s easily accessible from the gondola and only a few short steps to the McCoy Station reception space.
Although it’s my second choice, the summer-only roof is by far the most popular of the two.
It’s got superior panoramic views of the ski resort and the jagged peaks just beyond.
It maxes out at 250 people which I believe makes it the largest-capacity venue in the region. As I mentioned earlier, the wind can be fierce here but it’s tough to beat on a calm day.
Here are some reasons why I think McCoy Station is a great spot for your Mammoth wedding ceremony:
- If I had to put myself into a typical couple’s shoes, I’d say the two main reasons people choose to get married here are, in order:
- The views. If breathtaking views of the most iconic parts of Mammoth Mountain and the distant Ansel Adams wilderness (from the roof) are important, you can’t do better than McCoy Station.
- Accessibility to the two reception spaces in the building. Most Mammoth Mountain weddings I’ve shot hold their receptions in Parallax or the main cafeteria room in McCoy. Both these venues are steps away from the ceremony sites. If the ceremony is at Forest Chapel or Sierra Star, you’ve got to get everybody from that part of Mammoth up to Main Lodge and onto the gondola which can be complicated for those who haven’t been here before and it takes up precious time.
- The efficiency that comes with having your ceremony and reception within walking distance of one another is a breath of fresh air. We’ll have more time to create awesome portraits in places like the Top Gondola and there won’t be any reason to be in a hurry.
- Big group? This is the spot. The roof can handle 250 people which is about as many people as you could expect to find their way to this remote mountain paradise.
- As we’ve mentioned in our Parallax and Top Gondola entries, the gondola ride to and from the wedding is a blast. For most people…
Things to think about when planning your McCoy Station ceremony:
- The wind. Mammoth is known for wind and McCoy Station is no exception. This is especially true for the venue on the roof which is super exposed. It’s rarely that bad though, I’ve done some weddings there on blustery days and everybody still had a great time.
- Make sure you and your guests bring warm clothes, even in July and August. It’s predictably chilly at 10,000 feet even if it’s warmer down in town.
- In the winter, if the wind is super gnarly, the gondola shuts down and the only way up is via snowcats. It’s a fun experience but not the fastest or most efficient. The Mammoth Mountain team is as good at contingency plans as anybody on Earth (by necessity) so trust the process, but be ready for last-minute changes in the winter.
- The views from the rooftop looking west, where the guests are pointed, are fantastic. The view of the building in the opposite direction isn’t so pleasing. I’ve found ways to shoot the ceremony there that minimize that part of the space, though it’s impossible to avoid completely.
- The space on the roof was designed to be…a roof—not a wedding ceremony site. The flooring surface is this ugly black rubber material made to handle copious piles of snow. Aesthetically, it could be better, but the mountain views from there will keep your guests’ attention far more than the floor they walked in on.
- Hire local here. The gondola access can be tough, especially for non-local vendors who haven’t been through the process of hauling equipment up. They’ll have to get their gear from the parking lot to the gondola, then off the gondola and into the other end of the building. This even includes another trip up some stairs or the elevator for rooftop ceremonies. Local vendors are going to know this process well, but imports may have problems.
- The high-altitude sun is powerful. Bring sunscreen, it’s easy to fry while seated in direct sun at 10,000 feet for 45 minutes.
The reception venue:
If you’ve visited McCoy Station to grab a bite to eat while skiing, you might not understand how this space could possibly clean up to become classy enough for a wedding reception. For all intents and purposes, it’s a 1980s’ (the heyday of Mammoth construction!) cafeteria that’s seen several renovations to keep it modern.
They start by surrounding the room with partitions to give the space a more intimate feel. When everything is opened up for skiers, the room is built to handle about 500 people which is way too big for most weddings. For groups of the capacity size of 250 and smaller, the partitions come in to close down the room and it really helps.
From there, lights, flowers and decorations are hung. There’s usually a spacious dance floor in the center, and the extensive bridal party table is placed in front of it all.
There are panoramic views of Mammoth Mountain through the windows and the indoor section of Steeps Bar is located conveniently at the far side of the room.
Here are a few reasons why I’d recommend choosing McCoy Station for your Mammoth wedding reception:
- I’ll start this one with a wildcard: if you’re a skiing/snowboarding couple and there’s still snow on the mountain at the time of the wedding, shred into the party. In July 2019, after one of the biggest winters on record, I joined the couple at the Top Gondola after the ceremony and they snowboarded in to McCoy Station for their grand entrance. It was epic. The sun was still high in the sky at 7:00 p.m. and the snow was great. That was the grand entrance to end them all and I don’t see why it couldn’t happen again (with some help from the snow gods). Check right here for more from that day.
- It’s the biggest event space in the region. In a compact town surrounded by Forest Service and BLM land, only the ski resort could provide a space this big and that’s the selling point.
- It’s steps away from two awesome ceremony sites.
- The indoor bar is built for massive crowds and it’s ready for anything your college buddies can throw at it.
- Most Mammoth venues have a small dance floor space which makes it tricky to set up lights. This space is as big or as small as you need it to be and light stands for flashes and DJ equipment isn’t as much of an imposition as it might be at other venues.
- There’s room for a big stage. I’ve done weddings here with bands and it’s such a cool experience. Other venues can have live music, but it’s usually pretty cramped and the dance floor has to shrink to get everybody in. McCoy Station has room for an ensemble and a raging dance floor.
- There’s amazing access to sunset portrait spots here. We can keep it close to McCoy Station and find killer views of the top of Mammoth Mountain from down below, as well as out to The Minarets and beyond. Or we can jump in the gondola and hit the most dramatic sunset spot in the Eastern Sierra.
- I love sneaking couples out for night portraits here. There are ample spots around the building to get away from the ambient light and to shoot couples beneath the stars with iconic Mammoth Mountain terrain in the distance. This is even cooler when there’s snow on the ground because it shines at night during a long exposure photo. Click here for more about that and a gallery that includes several night sessions at McCoy Station.
- California is prone to wildfires so we can’t have proper sparkler exits outdoors anywhere, but I’ve seen them done in the (very protected) indoor gondola room before couples jump on the gondola to leave at the end of the night. You can’t do that anywhere else in Mammoth, though some couples opt for fireless options.
- If you can snag the date they do 4th of July fireworks (which probably won’t happen on the 4th, but that weekend), grab it. There’s no better spot to watch them from than the roof at McCoy and it’ll be all yours.
Things to think about before planning your McCoy Station reception:
- We mentioned this earlier, but it’s not an easy space for vendors like photographers, videographers, DJs and bands to haul equipment. Unless you’re one of the few who drives up there in the summer, everything ascends on gondola cars.
- The gondola-only access creates logistical challenges for set up and clean up. It’s not a big deal, just something to plan for.
- It’s not as high as the Top Gondola, but partying (and breathing!) at 10,000 feet is tough. Especially if your guests are coming from sea level and haven’t had a few days to acclimatize. Make sure everybody is well hydrated and rested.
- The gondola ride up can be tough for people with acrophobia or those who aren’t used to being suspended above the ground like that. It can also be disorienting descending in the dark. This is unlikely to pose any issues but I’ve seen wedding guests have a hard time with the gondola.
- Even if you do your ceremony elsewhere, bring warm clothes to this venue because it’ll be cold when we’re out shooting portraits.
- On the topic of wardrobe choices, it wouldn’t hurt to plan footwear accordingly. The building was designed for skiers. We might be on stairways with metal grates built for ski boots. Heels hate these stairs. Bring some flat shoes for the outdoor rendezvous. We may also be trekking around in snow, even in summer.
- Other than our outdoor photo jaunts at sunset and later for the night shots, this is very much an indoor venue. Some couples encourage smokers to hang on the sundeck (the first ceremony venue I wrote about) but this isn’t a space where you can expect guests to hang outside for very long. If an open-air party is your jam, this isn’t the spot.
That’s all for McCoy Station. It’s a really cool space that serves several roles on wedding day. Other than the potential for wind and the unique ski resort aesthetic that might not suit everybody, is a great place to put a ring on it or party down until the last gondola leaves the building.