Lack of snow closes small Sierra ski resorts

By Bob Goligoski, Correspondent

Melting snow and warm 50-degree temperatures in the Northern Sierra have forced three smaller ski resorts, and one large cross country ski area, to shut down this week. The four resorts plan to re-open as soon as the next decent-sized snow storm hits.

The alpine resorts – Dodge Ridge, Badger Pass in Yosemite Park and Donner Ski Ranch near Truckee – are all lower elevation resorts with limited or no snow making systems. Tahoe Donner cross country ski area, also on Donner Pass, turned off the lights on December 20.

Skiers returning this week from larger Lake Tahoe area alpine resorts with snow-making systems reported good snow cover at places such as Northstar and Sierra Tahoe with about two-thirds of the runs open.

Sean Waterman, a Dodge Ridge spokesman, said, “We probably could have limped along with some of our learning terrain open. But it’s not quite the experience that we want people to have.”

A spokeswoman for the Tahoe Donnar cross country area said, “We regret to inform you that after doing our best to keep trails open for skiing and snowshoeing, we are closing due to limited snow. When more snowpack allows, the facility will reopen and all programs, clinics and events will resume as scheduled.”

The nordic area is among the largest in the Sierra with 50 plus trails spread over more than 100 kilometers of terrain. The downhill ski area at Tahoe Donner has better snow and remains open.

Forecasters say that the high-pressure system that is blocking storms from reaching the Sierra appears to be weakening and more snow is a possibility for late January and early February.

Sugar Bowl is rated a sweet place to tie the knot on the slopes

While offering skiing and snowboarding in the winter, Sugar Bowl also is a popular wedding venue throughout the year. (Sugar Bowl Resort photo)

While offering skiing and snowboarding during the winter, Sugar Bowl also is a popular wedding venue throughout the year. (Sugar Bowl Resort photo)

Sugar Bowl isn’t just a place for skiing and snowboarding. It’s also for weddings, as the resort recently earned three awards – including its fourth consecutive “Best of Weddings” award – from The Knot, the nation’s most visited wedding planning website.

Sugar Bowl also was inducted into The Knot’s Best of Weddings Hall of Fame, making it one of only six venues the Sacramento/Lake Tahoe/Reno area to earn the distinction.

Wedding experts at The Knot select the annual award from top venues nominated by the site’s brides. Venues selected for a Best of Weddings award four or more times receive an honorary place in the Hall of Fame.

Sugar Bowl’s wedding venue, a secluded mountain lodge with an adjoining private lake, is just hours from the Bay Area, and run by expert staff noted for their attention to detail and personalized approach to wedding planning, according to the resort.

In addition to being recognized by The Knot, Sugar Bowl also was selected for a 2015 WeddingWire Couples’ Choice Award, ranking it among the top 5 percent of venues listed on the website. The recognition is given based on reviews by couples who chose Sugar Bowl as their wedding venue. Dozens of brides and grooms gave Sugar Bowl high ratings for attributes such as “responsiveness,” “professionalism” and “value.”

Tahoe Unveiled also included Sugar Bowl in its Top 5 Receptions of 2014 for “Venue with the Best View.” Tahoe Unveiled was impressed by photographs of a wedding reception at Sugar Bowl that illustrated the rich depth of the scenery experienced by a newlywed couple and its party.

The resort’s High Sierra location features blooming wildflowers, a rolling creekside lawn, and large, open-air fire pits. Sugar Bowl also offers unique details like a private chairlift ride to the top of Mt. Disney for drinks and appetizers on a mountaintop sundeck.

“Sugar Bowl is honored to be selected numerous times this year as an award-winning wedding venue by the brides who have been married here,” said Meghon Shrewsbury, wedding and event manager for Sugar Bowl Resort. “Wedding parties choose Sugar Bowl because of the resort’s unmatched natural beauty and the secluded and intimate setting, but also because our wedding staff is dedicated to getting each detail perfect.”

Sugar Bowl is celebrating its 75th anniversary as a ski resort. On Feb. 14, the popular destination will host its anniversary celebration at Mt. Judah Lodge. There will be live music, numerous activities, and giveaways.

Information: www.sugarbowl.com/weddings

On the slopes: 2015 guide for skiing, snowboarding at June Mountain

One season pass — the Cali4nia Pass — is good for skiing at June Mountain and three other resorts. Mammoth, Bear and Snow Summit also are part of the deal. (June Mountain photo)

One season pass — the Cali4nia Pass — is good for skiing at June Mountain and three other resorts. Mammoth, Bear and Snow Summit also are part of the deal. (June Mountain photo)

This is the fifth in a series of updates from mountain resorts in California and Nevada.

What’s new: The Cali4nia Pass allows all-winter access to the slopes at June, Mammoth (where they’re generally more crowded), Bear Mountain and Snow Summit.

For the family: Kids 12 and younger ski for free at the resort all season long.

Hidden gem: “The face at June has some of the best power skiing at any resort — and I’ve skied most of them, particularly in the U.S.,” says Rusty Gregory, chairman and CEO at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, which also operates June. “It’s not that hidden because it’s the first run you see. The geography at June is very European oriented, so it’s steep at the bottom. The face is my favorite run there, and on a powder day my favorite run period.”

Social connections: @JuneMountain on Instagram and Twitter; www.facebook.com/JuneMountain

Information: 800-586-3686; www.junemountain.com

— Jerry Rice

On the slopes: 2015 guide for skiing, snowboarding at Snow Summit

Skiing and snowboarding at Snow Summit offers this bonus: spectacular views of Big Bear Lake. (Snow Summit photo)

Skiing and snowboarding at Snow Summit comes with this bonus: spectacular views of Big Bear Lake. (Snow Summit photo)

This is the fourth in a series of updates from mountain resorts in California and Nevada.

What’s new at Snow Summit: Like its sister resort, Bear Mountain, the season’s biggest new attraction is the Cali4nia Pass, which allows access to the slopes at Summit, Bear and also Mammoth and June mountains.

Best eats: The View Haus, at the top of the hill, dishes up delicious barbecue and, as its name implies, great views of the San Bernardino National Forest. Specialties include the Blazin’ Pulled Pork, with pork shoulder; and the tri-tip sandwich, with meat that’s grilled outdoors and served on bread that’s baked fresh daily.

Après hot spot: Summit’s Slopeside Pub, which serves a variety of brews and hot chocolate.

Hidden gem: Dickey’s Run will reward the more skilled skiers and riders with beautiful views of the Snow Summit pine tree forest and Big Bear Lake. “Exhibition Run (at Bear Mountain) and Dickey’s Run are the favorite spots for locals looking for some good, challenging slopes,” says Dustin Murphy, spokesman for Big Bear Mountain Resorts. “The powdery white snow and the steeper inclines are what makes these runs unique.”

Spotted last season: Paula Abdul, Coolio, Emilio Estevez, Justin Timberlake and Dennis Quaid have been at Snow Summit or its sister resort, Bear Mountain, in recent years.

Social connections: @snow_summit on Instagram and Twitter; www.facebook.com/SnowSmt

Information: 909-866-5766; www.snowsummit.com

— Jerry Rice

On the slopes: 2015 guide for skiing, snowboarding at Mountain High

As its name might suggest, it's possible to see Catalina Island from Mountain High's quarter-mile Catalina Run. (Mountain High photo)

As the name might suggest, it’s possible to see Catalina Island far in the distance from Mountain High’s quarter-mile Catalina Run. (Mountain High photo)

This is the third in a series of updates from mountain resorts in California and Nevada.

What’s new at Mountain High: Terrain features for both beginner and advanced riders, increased snowmaking and the debut of the fourth edition of the resort’s app for iPhone and Android. It features new map tracking to record your runs, a calorie counter and digital badges to earn.

Best eats: The family owned Grizzly Café (760-249-6733, http://grizzlycafe.com) is a casual dining spot known for its large, delicious burgers. For breakfast, order a cinnamon roll then burn off the calories on the slopes.

For the family: The North Pole Tubing Park is the largest tubing facility in Southern California. Tickets are $20 for two hours of tubing.

Hidden gem: Catalina, a quarter-mile run that’s off the beaten path at the top of the East Resort. “It’s one of the highest and most scenic runs in Southern California,” says John McColly, resort spokesman. “You can see the Pacific Ocean and Catalina to the west, the backside of Mount Baldy and Mount Baden Powell to the north and south, and the Mojave Desert stretching out to the east. It’s a unique experience, and you feel like you’re at the top of a mountain range, at Mammoth or Tahoe, looking over the Sierras.”

Spotted last season: Adam Sandler

Social connections: @mthighsnow on Instagram; @mthigh on Twitter; www.facebook.com/mthigh

Information: 888-754-7878; www.mthigh.com

— Jerry Rice

On the slopes: 2015 guide for skiing, snowboarding at Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain is known as a hotspot for snowboarders. (Bear Mountain photo)

Bear Mountain is a hot spot for snowboarders. (Bear Mountain photo)

This is the second in a series of updates from mountain resorts in California and Nevada.

What’s new at Bear Mountain: The Cali4nia Pass was introduced in late September and is good for unrestricted, season-long skiing and boarding at Bear and three other resorts — Snow Summit, Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain.

Best eats: Silver Mountain Eatery offers three primary cuisines — Asian, Mexican and Italian — along with salads, smoothies and more.

Après hot spot: World Famous Beach Bar has live music acts performing regularly on a 13,000-square-foot sundeck.

Hidden gem: Exhibition Run, which is one of the steeper runs at the resort. “Most intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders enjoy this run because it’s the least-crowded run,” says Dustin Murphy, spokesman for Big Bear Mountain Resorts. “Riders can take their time enjoying the slopes and cruising down, while taking in the view of Big Bear Lake.”

Spotted last season: Eva Longoria and Dermot Mulroney out on the runs. In recent years, Paula Abdul, Coolio, Emilio Estevez, Justin Timberlake and Dennis Quaid have been at Bear or its sister resort, Snow Summit.

Social connections: @Bear_Mountain on Instagram and Twitter; www.facebook.com/BearMtn

Information: 909-866-5766; www.bearmountain.com

— Jerry Rice

On the slopes: 2015 guide for skiing, snowboarding at Mammoth Mountain

(Mammoth Mountain Ski Area photo)

Mammoth Mountain has received more than 75 inches of natural snow this winter, as of Jan. 15. When conditions have allowed, the resort has added to that total with machine-made snow. (Mammoth Mountain Ski Area photo)

This is the first in a series of updates from mountain resorts in California and Nevada.

What’s new at Mammoth Mountain: While there were no major capital projects to introduce this winter, the resort is part of the new Cali4nia Pass, which also includes June, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Also, four acres of bowls, berms, banks and bumps await all skill levels at Mammoth’s Rhythm Ridge. This winter’s expansion of direct air service from Las Vegas and Denver is making it easier for skiers and boarders from the East Coast and overseas to get to the resort. (The United Kingdom has long been a big market for Mammoth.) Flights to and from Denver started Dec. 20, while service to and from Las Vegas started Jan. 15. Also new: a promotion for kids 12 and younger who will get to ski and stay free in February and March.

Best eats: The Brasserie at Mammoth Rock ’n’ Bowl (www.mammothrocknbowl.com) has a menu that was created by executive chef Fredric Pierrel, who was classically trained in Gerardmer, France, and graduated with honors from Lycee Hotelier et Culinairer. Selections include braised Australian lamb shank, elk medallions and natural pork mignon — certainly not your traditional bowling alley fare. For pre- or post-dinner entertainment, there are 12 bowling lanes, ping-pong tables, foosball, dartboards, golf simulators and a bar/lounge with a dance floor.

Après hot spot: Mammoth Tavern (www.mammothtavern.com). “They serve up the freshest cocktails in the coolest rustic alpine space with fun, creative dishes like the swordfish BLT and fried chicken sliders,” says Lauren Burke, Mammoth spokeswoman, adding that the Tavern Margarita is a must-try. “I’m claiming it as the best in town,” she adds. Another option is the Mammoth Brewing Company tasting room (www.mammothbrewingco.com), which is located at Main Street and Lake Mary Road just below the gondola, and has 13 beers on tap, including Imperial Root Beer.

For the family: Woolly’s Tube Park has high-speed snow tubes, a large snow play area and merry-go-round tubes for the littlest ones. There will be tubing under the disco lights on select dates in January and February.

Hidden gem: Coyote, between chairs 3 and 5. “People know about it, but it’s not intuitive how to get to it,” says Rusty Gregory, Mammoth’s chairman and CEO. “You ski down the face of Chair 3 and make a right and kind of go past some trees and then you’re in this great run that drops you to the bottom of Chair 5. That’s my favorite getaway spot at Mammoth.”

Spotted last season: Jonas Brothers, Gavin Rossdale and his family, Adam Sandler, Seal, Gwen Stefani, Harry Styles from One Direction, Ashley Tisdale

Social connections: @MammothMountain on Instagram and Twitter; www.facebook.com/MammothMountain

Information: www.mammothmountain.com

— Jerry Rice

Lake Tahoe resorts score big during the holidays

By Bob Goligoski

Blessed by early December snow storms and sunny bluebird days during the Christmas-New Year’s Day span, Lake Tahoe area resorts saw the biggest holiday crowds in four years.

“The ski resort business in the Sierra over the holiday period was up substantially over last year, and the resorts had more people coming since the holiday season in 2010-2011,” said Bob Roberts, CEO of the California Ski Industry Association.

Cold nighttime temperatures during most of December allowed the resorts to generate plenty of additional snow with snow-making systems that resorts have been expanding in recent years.

A report from Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows corporate headquarters was typical of comments from Sierra resorts. “With all of the early season snow – 110 inches total at 8,000-feet in December – we saw great crowds over the holidays and New Year’s, including locals driving to the resorts and visitors staying in the Village at Squaw Valley,” said Melissa Brouse Matheney, a spokeswoman for Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows. “We were even able to run the aerial tram until 7 p.m. Dec. 27-30 so guests could get some turns in under the lights.”

In years gone by, many Sierra ski resorts collected a third of their annual revenue during the Christmas holiday season. But now, explained Roberts, a resort may generate half of its annual ticket sales with the early season sale of annual lift passes.

Many skiers and riders have discovered that if they only get out on the slopes five or six days a season, that pretty well pays for the price of an annual pass, he added.

All of the 27 ski resorts in the association had enough snow to open for the holiday season.

Skyway to Heavenly invades Los Angeles

Heavenly Mountain Resort will host a rocking après ski party in Los Angeles on Thursday. A group of four lucky friends from the City of Angels will head directly to the airport from the party to embark on their own all-expenses paid ski and party trip of a lifetime to Heavenly.

Heavenly will ignite the après ski-themed party with casino games, drink specials, giveaways, shot skis, and the gorgeous Heavenly Angels.

“Skyway to Heavenly has become a staple in the L.A. area, with its high-energy vibe and small taste of what a ski trip to Heavenly and South Lake Tahoe is all about,” said John Wagnon, Heavenly’s senior director of marketing. “Attendees should come prepared to ‘Go All In’ in an effort to win the ultimate ski trip.”

Heavenly will bring Tahoe to LA on Jan. 15, as the party starts at Busby’s West at 8:30 p.m. with three unique qualifiers to win at the party*: most liked Instagram photo tagged with #HeavenlyOrBust; highest casino winnings; top two most creative photos in the Heavenly photo booth.

The winners of each method will proceed to the final round – a sudden death flip cup race. Chug. Flip. Win. Get on a plane and go.

The weekend trip for four, valued at more than $10,000, includes a roundtrip flight on a private jet to South Lake Tahoe airport, a three-night stay at MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa, three days of skiing or riding at Heavenly with equipment and lift tickets included, a mountain tour, $450 spending money and a $75 mountain money voucher per person, VIP admission and table reservation at MontBleu nightclubs, on-call concierge, and a reserved table at Unbuckle at Tamarack après ski party. Everything will be over-the-top and out-of-control.

It could be the unforgettable trip you won’t remember.

From the DJ cat to Unbuckle après parties featuring the lovely Heavenly Angels, Heavenly’s events exude high energy.

On April 4, 2015, High Roller Hold ‘Em will take place on World Cup run featuring Olympic athletes like Sage Kotsenburg, Billy Morgan and Chas Guldemond. Infusing an X Games-worthy big air competition with a little South Lake Tahoe casino gambling twist, High Roller Hold ’Em features a monster big-air jump, a $50,000 jackpot, and, the highest stake, a 2016 X Games Big Air event exemption for the overall winner.

*All qualifiers and winners must be 21-or-over.

Squaw Valley opens 3 glades by removing trees

By Bob Goligoski, Correspondent

Squaw Valley has removed more than 5,000 dead or diseased trees from its lower mountain enabling it to open three new glade area for skiers and snowboarders.

About 100 acres of new terrain was added to the slopes with the addition of the three new tree skiing areas – Red Dog Glades, Paris Glades and Heidi’s Glades.

The tree removal project, which employed the use of helicopters to remove the trees, also added a new connector trail off the Champs Elysees run to give skiers and riders easy access into the new glades.

All the new terrain, rated upper-intermediate to expert, is in the Red Dog region of the resort. Access into the area previously had been very limited because of the dense population of standing or fallen trees.

“The current drought and the King Fire bring into sharp focus the issue of forest health and how it affects our community right here in Squaw,” said Peter Bansen, Squaw Valley fire chief.

“Thinning provided valuable benefits by effectively utilizing the available water for the most viable trees and the removal of dead or diseased trees dramatically reduced the risk of fire,” Bransen said.

He added, “While this work was expensive for a private landowner, our community will benefit from Squaw’s investment in fuels reduction and forest health and I commend the company for doing the right thing.”

Most of the trees were processed for timber use and other tree material was chipped for further use at the resort. By using helicopters for the work, there was no need to skid or drag the fallen trees along the ground in sensitive areas, thus minimizing adverse environmental impact.

“Our goal was to return the forested areas in the Red Dog region back to a more natural and healthy state by removing potentially dangerous overgrowth and deadfall. Although the project was costly, it was worth the investment to improve the environment while also improving skiing and riding at the resort,” said Mike Livak, executive vice president of Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows.