Mammoth Mountain’s snow dance pays off with 8 inches of fresh snow

A snowy – and welcome – scene this morning at Mammoth Mountain's Canyon Lodge. (Mammoth Mountain Ski Area photo)

A snowy – and welcome – scene this morning at Mammoth Mountain’s Canyon Lodge. (Mammoth Mountain Ski Area photo)

By Jerry Rice

#MammothSnowDance appears to be working.

After a seemingly never-ending string of sunny days this winter, employees and guests at Mammoth Mountain started performing their best “make it snow” moves for a YouTube video that was posted a couple days ago. The gambit apparently worked because the resort has received more than 8 inches of new snowfall in the past 24 hours.

By any measure, this has been a rough winter for ski and snowboard resorts throughout California. Whether it’s Heavenly and Squaw Valley in the Lake Tahoe area, or Bear Mountain and Mountain High in the Southland, the lack of snowfall has presented an unwelcome challenge. Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge, for example, has a season total of 54 inches – considerably short of the 250 inches of snow received by this time last year.

So resorts with snow-making capabilities have been putting those tools to work whenever possible. At Mammoth, which has an extensive snow-making system, the base depth this morning was 15-25 inches and 16 lifts were scheduled to run today offering access to 52 trails.

But there’s nothing like the natural stuff.

“Keep the snow dances coming – Mother Nature is listening,” says Mammoth spokeswoman Lauren Burke. “The snow is still falling at about an inch an hour, and is not expected to stop anytime soon.”

Want some inspiration before choreographing your own #MammothSnowDance? Here’s the video. >>>

4 Squaw Valley athletes heading to Olympics in Sochi

Four Squaw Valley are headed to Sochi to compete in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Julia Mancuso, Travis Ganong, Marco Sullivan and Nate Holland will all be representing Team USA in their respective fields. They are now part of the largest U.S. Winter Olympic Team in history which consists of 230 world-class athletes.

“We are so proud of all of the incredible athletes who are representing the United States in Sochi,” said Todd Kelly, ski team director at Squaw Valley. “We will be cheering them on from Squaw Valley and hope they bring home some new hardware to show off.”

Representing Team USA in her fourth Olympic Games, alpine skier Julia Mancuso will be competing in women’s downhill, super-G, giant slalom and super-combined. Mancuso has an extensive resume that consists of three Olympic medals, seven World Cup wins and four World Championship podium finishes. Mancuso showed fans her true passion and versatility as a skier when, after winning two silver medals in Vancouver in 2010, she went on to compete in the Freeride World Tour in Verbier – winning third place for skiing a fast and fluid line.

Nate Holland will represent Team USA in men’s snowboard cross. The Sochi Winter Games will be Holland’s third Olympics, where he is expected to be a serious medal contender. Holland has won eight X Games gold medals, including his most recent X Games win on Jan. 24. Inspired by a snowboarding film shot at the mountain, Holland moved to Squaw Valley in 1999 to work as a lift operator, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Squaw Valley hometown hero Marco Sullivan, will be representing Team USA in his fourth Winter Olympic Games. The 33-year-old and former Squaw Valley Mighty Mite made his world cup debut in 2001 and has since had five World Cup podium finishes, including a gold medal in men’s downhill. Sullivan will be racing in men’s downhill and super-G. Beyond his Olympic ski racing career, Sullivan is also regularly a winner of Alaska’s legendary Artic Man race, which pairs the strength of an athlete and the horsepower of a snowmobile.

Travis Ganong will make his first Olympic appearance in Sochi competing in the men’s downhill and super-G. The 25-year-old skier is an Squaw Valley native and got his start on the slopes of Squaw Valley. Ganong topped the podium in the 2013 U.S. Championships. He also took home two gold medals in the 2010 U.S. Championships for the downhill and super-G races. When he is not ski racing, Ganong can often be found freeskiing in the Lake Tahoe backcountry.

Team USA going to Sochi Olympics draws 6 from Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes will be well represented starting next week at the Winter Olympics. The Eastern Sierra community, with a population of 8,234, is sending six athletes to the Games in Sochi, Russia, and they’ll compete in a variety of disciplines from ski cross to snowboarding.

While some grew up in Mammoth Lakes and others moved there later in life to train, they all call Mammoth home.

The contingent would be even larger, but one of Mammoth’s most impressive athletes, 13-year-old women’s halfpipe phenom Chloe Kim, is too young to compete. She’ll have her chance in four years at the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

In the meantime, here’s a closer look at this year’s Olympic-bound athletes from Mammoth:

  • John Teller was the first American to win a ski cross World Cup event, topping the podium in 2011. Most recently, Teller took first in Val Thorens, France, making him the only American to podium in ski cross this World Cup season, and sending him to Sochi.
  • Kelly Clark clinched her spot on the U.S. Olympic Snowboard Team for halfpipe early in the season. Clark has been to the Olympics three times before, bringing home a gold and a bronze in the halfpipe event. Most recently she took first in halfpipe at this year’s X Games in Aspen.
  • In what was deemed the most surprising result of any Olympic sport this season, Trevor Jacobwon won a World Cup snowboardcross event in Vallnord-Arcalís, Andorra, which placed him on his first U.S. Olympic Team.
  • With a season that included upsetting Shaun White in the first of five Olympic selection events for halfpipe, snowboarder Greg Bretz earned his stripes and his place on the team. It will be Bretz’s second trip to the Olympics. He placed 12th in Vancouver in 2010.
  • Stacey Cook earned two, back-to-back downhill second-place finishes at the Audi FIS World Cup 2012/13, marking the first podiums of her World Cup career and the first step on her road to Sochi. Recently, she wrapped up her spot on the Olympic team with some of her best World Cup finishes of the season. This will be her third trip to the Olympics.
  • Kaya Turski is a Canadian freestyle skier who also is a member of the Mammoth Unbound Freeski Team. She heads to Sochi to compete in the Olympic debut of the slopestyle event. Most recently she won her fourth X Games gold medal for slopestyle in the 2014 event in Aspen.

Squaw Valley heritage tour highlights venues from 1960 Winter Olympics

With the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, about to start, Squaw Valley is offering a timely look back at the Lake Tahoe resort’s Olympic past with the new 1960 Winter Games Heritage Tour.

The tours are three-hour private excursions of Squaw Valley’s on-mountain Olympic venues and highlight historic moments of the 1960 Winter Games.

Led by some of Squaw Valley’s most qualified professional guides, the tours will take participants down the same trails that were used as Olympic venues during the 1960 Winter Games. The private tours are available for individuals or groups of up to five people and cost $200 ($40 per person for a group of five).

As part of the experience, guides also will share insider details about Squaw’s rich heritage and the incredible story of the 1960 Winter Olympics.

The Olympic bid by Alex Cushing, founder of Squaw Valley, originally began as a publicity stunt to gain awareness for his new resort, though it eventually turned into a potentially feasible plan. At the time of the bid, Squaw Valley was a small, fledgling ski resort with just one chairlift and lodging for 50. After securing the bid for the VIII Winter Games, Squaw Valley emerged as a mecca for outdoor recreation and grew into a world-renowned winter sports destination.

As the first fully televised Olympic games, the 1960 Winter Games at Squaw Valley had a profound impact on winter sports in the United States by sparking an interest in winter athletics that continues to grow today.


Idaho’s Bald Mountain is one of world’s top ski resorts

SUN VALLEY, IDAHO — Three words never heard on the slopes of America’s first winter resort are “carry your speed.”

The flat spots that so often require arduous treks at other resorts simply aren’t part of the landscape or lexicon at Bald Mountain, the broad-shouldered behemoth at desert’s edge in central Idaho. Two words define Baldy: “consistent pitch.” A feature unmatched in North America, it begins at the 9,150-foot summit and ends on the floor of the Wood River Valley, 3,400 vertical feet below.

In between lies what many seasoned skiers contend is the best terrain in the world. After thorough exploration of the mountain and its dazzling variety, disagreeing may be difficult.

That steady pitch can be experienced on delightful long descents that range in steepness from the 19 degrees of College, the easiest run, to more than 40 at the brutal bottom of the misleadingly named Sleeping Bear. (Another word never heard on Baldy is “short.”)

If you’ve never skied this unique mountain, bear in mind that to do it and yourself justice, you should at least be comfortable on slopes intended for intermediate skiers. Although some runs are designated least difficult, they would be rated intermediate at most other North American resorts. The less skilled will be far more comfortable at Sun Valley’s other hill, Dollar Mountain, which also caters to snowboarders.

The first thing that might strike the first-timer is the convenience and speed of the lift system, which boasts 14 conveyances. Eight are fast detachables, including a gondola. Although Baldy is among the truly big mountains of the West, getting from one extremity to another — say from the Warm Springs base lodge to Seattle Ridge — requires but a single lift ride and should take even a slowpoke no more than 15 minutes.
Continue reading

Mountain High lowers ticket price for SoCal residents

Mountain High is offering big savings on lift tickets for Southern California residents.

For a limited time, adult 8-hour tickets start at $36 each day when guests purchase them online at least five days before visiting the Wrightwood resort. Only 50 tickets are available each weekday at that rate; 25 on weekends.

While there are no refunds, the price is a healthy discount off the $69 regular price.

“$36 for an adult 8-hour ticket is unheard of,” says John McColly, resort spokesman.


70 is the magic number at Southern California ski resorts

By Art Bentley

Old age, it is said, is not for wimps. But it could be just the lift ticket for those who would like to ski or ride a snowboard without charge.

To do that in Southern California, all you have to do is live for 70 years and be able to prove it. Once you’ve met those two simple requirements, just stride, stroll, lurch or hobble to the ticket windows at Mountain High near Wrightwood or the guest services office at Snow Valley near Running Springs, display a valid driver’s license, pay a nominal one-time processing fee, pose for a photograph and you’re the owner of a season pass that’s good any time.

Mountain High charges $10 and Snow Valley $20. If you’d rather not pay at the latter, Snow Valley will give you a day ticket whenever you show up with valid identification. The double sawbuck, however, provides the advantage of being able to head directly to the lifts upon arrival.

“We feel these people 70 and over have been supporting the industry most of their lives,” Snow Valley marketing director Chris Toth said. “We want to recognize that and have them come up and ski our mountain. And they might bring the rest of their family and spend some money. That doesn’t hurt.”

Mountain High and Snow Valley, like just about any resort in western North America, could use more snow. Open runs are limited at both resorts. At Mountain High, the east side is shuttered, pending the arrival of natural snow or a cold snap of sufficient strength and length to permit the manufacture of enough of the white stuff to ski on. Slide Peak, beyond the reach of the Snow Valley snow guns, also is idle.

John McColly, chief marketing officer at Mountain High, also doesn’t feel the resort is hurting itself financially by giving away the product to senior skiers and snowboarders.

“For us, it’s a way to give back,” he said. “Not a lot of our guests are over 70, so it’s not a big financial liability and people over 70 really enjoy it. We like to see them up there.”
Continue reading

ESPN’s X Games staying put in Aspen through 2019

Shaun White catches air during his first run in the men's snowboard superpipe finals at the 2013 Aspen X Games on Jan. 27, 2013. (Photo by Mahala Gaylord/The Denver Post)

Shaun White catches air during his first run in the men’s snowboard superpipe finals at the 2013 Aspen X Games on Jan. 27, 2013. (Photo by Mahala Gaylord/The Denver Post)

By Jason Blevins
The Denver Post

The X Games will remain in Aspen through 2019.

X Games owner ESPN and the Aspen Skiing Co. announced today a deal that would keep the winter carnival of now-Olympic athleticism at Aspen’s Buttermilk ski area for another five years. The X Games launches its 13th year in Aspen this week. By 2019, the Roaring Fork Valley will have hosted the iconic contest for 18 years.

“It’s amazing how X Games has seemingly become part of Aspen/Snowmass’ identity over the years,” said Aspen Skiing Co.’s John Rigney, who spent countless hours negotiating renewal contracts with ESPN in 2004, 2007, 2009, 2012 and 2013, in a statement released today. “There’s a rich cultural history here and we’re fortunate to host many world-class events, but I can’t think of a single event that resonates so well with kids and young adults as X Games does — and that’s a win for our resort, and more importantly the sports we love. Our community is proud to collaborate with ESPN and we look forward to five more great years together.”

Aspen beat out several other bidders to host the snowy bacchanal. Park City in Utah initially expressed interest but wanted the event to reschedule to April. Two Lake Tahoe ski areas in California — Squaw Valley and Heavenly — submitted a joint bid that would have separated X Games events into two venues across the lake. Whistler in British Columbia pondered hosting, but local officials demurred at the idea of flipping, racing snowmobiles, a lucrative staple of the X Games. Quebec City in Canada also submitted a bid.

But Aspen emerged as a clear favorite. The valley, populated with four ski resorts, provides an entire ski area — family-friendly Buttermilk — to ESPN for months as the network assembles the venue infrastructure and technical networks required for hosting the sprawling event. ESPN takes over an entire base-area hotel for several weeks while it prepares for the X Games and tears the venue down after the four-day, 200-athlete circus.

“For the last 13 years, Aspen/Snowmass has been a fantastic location for the Winter X Games and we’re excited about extending our stay in Aspen/Snowmass and continuing our great relationship with Aspen Skiing Company,” said Scott Guglielmino, senior vice president, programming and X Games, in the statement. “While the level of interest from other locations was excellent, the opportunity to continue our collaboration with Aspen Skiing Company proved the most promising for long-term growth and development of the event.”

The X Games draws about 120,000 visitors every January to Aspen, swelling the valley’s lodges and hotels to capacity and mirroring the valley’s New Year’s Eve and Labor Day holidays.

While the network and privately-owned ski area don’t discuss the economic impact of the X Games, Aspen’s city sales tax reports reveal healthy bumps in lodging, restaurant and bar spending during the X Games. But the cash is only part of the benefit.

ESPN’s splays snowy Aspen into more than 260 million homes in 200 countries, a marketing boon that is hard to quantify for a ski company that thrives on powder-hunting visitors.

ESPN in October last year nixed a global expansion of the X Games into Spain, France, Germany and Brazil a mere 18 months after launching the international plan. The network in 2012 trumpeted three-year contracts with Barcelona, Munich and Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil as well as continuing support for its European Winter X Games in Tignes, France. In October, the network killed those global events after only one event in each location.

The Summer X Games ended an 11-year run in Los Angeles last summer. The wildly popular summer contest will be held this June in Austin’s 1,500-acre Circuit of the Americas sports complex.

Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, or

Snow makers rescue big Sierra resorts as drought bakes smaller ones

Daniel Crandall monitors a fan gun snowmaking machine on the upper slopes at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. The lack of rainfall this winter has left the tourism trade in the Lake Tahoe area in shambles as ski resorts struggle to survive without snow. (Daniel Crandall monitors a fan gun snowmaking machine on the upper slopes at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. The lack of rainfall this winter has left the tourism trade in the Lake Tahoe area in shambles as ski resorts struggle to survive without snow. (Gary Reyes/San Jose Mercury News)

Daniel Crandall monitors a fan gun snowmaking machine on the upper slopes at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. on Friday, Jan. 10. The lack of rainfall this winter has left the tourism trade in the Lake Tahoe area in shambles as ski resorts struggle to survive without snow. (Gary Reyes/San Jose Mercury News)

By Lisa M. Krieger
San Jose Mercury News

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — These are the unlikely saviors in the lofty peaks of the serene Sierra: high-tech snow machines, roaring like jets and spewing million-dollar crystals.

“If it wasn’t for snow making, we probably wouldn’t be open,” said Barrett Burghard, head snow maker at Heavenly Ski Resort, who is propping up the beleaguered mountain economy with his vast computer-driven complex of snow guns, pumps, compressors, pipes, hydrants, nozzles and miles of hoses.

Mother Nature, always fickle, has been especially cruel this drought year to the resorts and mountain communities that depend on snow for their economic survival. Instead of fluffy powder, there’s just granite, mud and manzanita.

So Burghard and other snow makers are fabricating winter where it isn’t.

As the eastern sky turns pink with dawn’s rising sun, his 165-gun system performs alchemy, mixing massive drafts of water, air and electricity to prepare 14 miles of bare ski runs for thousands of visitors. Every night, snowcat crews push piles of the precious product back up the slopes.

Innovations in technology — such as the $40,000 Super PoleCat, with a built-in automated weather station that alters man-made snow characteristics — make it possible to produce an acre of thigh-deep snow in an hour.

That’s enough to blanket a football field with snow 8 feet deep during a three-hour game.

In this dry and balmy winter, the small, historic and family-owned resorts without extensive snow making — such as Donner Ski Ranch or Dodge Ridge — haven’t opened, costing jobs and starving local businesses. The National Winter Trail Days event at Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe Center was canceled.

But big corporations running Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Mammoth Mountain have made major investments in snow-making tools. Squaw Valley alone has spent $5.2 million since 2012. This month virtually all of the snow at the resorts came out of machines.

The goal is to survive not just dry years, but what could be a parched future.

“The larger resorts have the capital resources to do extensive snow making,” said Bob Roberts of the California Ski Industry Association.

At South Lake Tahoe’s Powder House, where equipment rentals have fallen from 120 to 60 a day due to lack of natural snow, technician Michael Breshears said “they have technology on their side, and Heavenly has by far the best snow making around.”

“It is the saving grace,” said skier Colleen Tanaka. Tracking California’s weather from her home in Hawaii, she says “we were a little bit bummed. It is a little disappointing. But thank goodness that Heavenly makes their own snow so we can still have a nice white winter.”

Continue reading