Alta and Snowbird – Utah neighbors share a bounty of exquisite powder

Alta Ski Area receives more snow than nearly any other mountain resort in Utah — 540-plus inches on average every year. (Photo by Amy David/Courtesy Alta Ski Area)

By Bob Goligoski

Alta and Snowbird sit side-by-side about 45 minutes outside Salt Lake City in one of the snowiest places in the country. That would be Little Cottonwood Canyon where some 550 inches of light, low-moisture powder drifts down virtually every winter.

These two have been elevated by skiers into a Ski Resorts Hall of Fame. Alta opened in 1938 and Snowbird in 1971.

Way back when, this was mining country. I did not see many vestiges of the mines when I visited the two resorts in late January. But the canyon still sticks to its traditional values which I guess is why snowboarders are banned from the Alta slopes.

Snowbird is big, full of powder-happy bowls, cliff jumps and daring terrain. Some 168 runs cascade down from the 11,000-foot summit of Hidden Peak. Eleven speedy lifts, including the 125-passenger tram to the top, keep snowboarders and skiers on the slopes.

Snowbird also has the longest ski tunnel in the country which skiers and riders glide through on their way to Mineral Basin.

Alta boasts 116 runs and a bevy of quick lifts. It has more of an intimate feel than Snowbird and has more terrain for novices and intermediates. The slopes are tighter and have more trees that makes for better visibility on flat light days.

If you go, plan on lunch at the Summit at the top of the Snowbird tram. The place is full of healthy organic dishes based on French rotisserie traditions. The menu includes gluten-free pizza.

I like groomed single black diamonds and there are few better than Regulator Johnson off the top. Or take the slower, winding Chip’s run which spirals down for 2.5 miles. The best intermediate slopes are in Gad Valley.

For those who search for impeccably groomed intermediate runs, Alta has many choices. Two of the best were Rock ‘N Roll and Rollercoaster.

The two resorts are widely known for some of the lightest powder in the West. The weather Gods dump the higher moisture snow around the West Coast and by the time the storms hit Utah, the powder is insanely fluffy.

Snowbird has a variety of terrain so all skill levels can enjoy time on the slopes. (Photo courtesy Snowbird)

Utah is having a great snow year. In early February, Alta and Snowbird were already approaching nearly 400 inches of snow. But all that snow can come with a price. In mid-January, an avalanche shut down the road to the two resorts for nearly 24 hours.

Andria Huskinson, public relations manager at Alta, told me that thanks to the superb snow and other factors, business was up 30 percent so far over the previous season.

Both resorts typically have an extended late season. Alta usually gets about seven feet of snow in April.

Snowbird has several high-rise hotels at the base. Alta has a number of more traditional sleeping spots including Alta Lodge, Snowpine and Rustler Lodge. Expect to really lighten your wallet if you sleep at the resorts.

We opted to check in to a hotel in Salt Lake City. That was after we perused the Ski City website — www.skicity.com — for info on bus connections.

It really worked out. For $400, our Ski City pass entitled us to ski four resorts in Little and Big Cottonwood canyons and the pass was good for bus transportation to and from the resorts.

Take some time to explore the historical facets of the two resorts. At one time, Alta boasted 18,000 residents, making it the largest city in Utah. Now the year-round population has dwindled to about 400.

Information

Alta: www.alta.com

Snowbird: www.snowbird.com

Mammoth Mountain: Super snowfall slams Sierra Nevada resort

Windshield wipers give away the location of several vehicles buried under the snow. (Photo courtesy Peter Morning/MMSA)

By Jerry Rice

While Super Bowl LIII may not have been all that super, “super” is the perfect word to describe the amount of snow that has dropped on Mammoth Mountain and neighboring June Mountain since Saturday.

More than 10 feet of fresh powder has pounded the resorts in that time, and there’s more on the way. Here are four highlights:

  • Main Lodge at Mammoth Mountain is closed due to blizzard conditions, as is the road to Main Lodge
  • June Mountain remains entirely closed, with crews working to reopen the resort
  • R3 chain controls (all vehicles must have chains, no exceptions) are in place in the town of Mammoth Lakes
  • At last report, the base depth at Mammoth’s McCoy Station is 165 inches, and there’s 195 inches at the summit.

Information: www.mammothmountain.com

Check out this video, courtesy Peter Morning and the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area:

For California’s mountain resorts, the holiday season was a hit

Coming off a successful year-end holiday season, the neighboring resorts of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows recently reported more than 130 inches of snowfall this season. (Photo courtesy Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows)

By Bob Goligoski

Skiers and snowboarders enjoyed spectacular conditions in the Sierras over the Christmas-New Year’s holiday period as the resorts had one of their best holiday spans over the last five years.

And when conditions are right, the resorts can get about one-fourth of their annual seasonal revenue over the holidays. This can translate down the road into to major improvements including new lifts and runs.

The 2017 holiday season “was challenging for some resorts,” says Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association. “But this season, we had some good snow storms right before Christmas and everyone walked away with a smile from the holidays — and that included guests and resort owners.”

Alex Spychalsky, spokeswoman for Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, said, “The weather was good and that kept the snow in good condition. There were only a few brief periods of strong winds.”

Skiers and riders were delighted to find key runs at both resorts — slopes usually not open until January for lack of snow — open at Christmas. Those runs included Granite Chief at Squaw and Sherwood and Lakeview at Alpine.

While spokesmen for the Sierra resorts we contacted could not be specific about how good business really was, they did acknowledge that there were no sell-out days.

In Southern California, Mountain High experienced a 48 percent increase in business over the 2017 holiday period, according to a report in The Snow Industry Letter. President/CEO Karl Kapuscinski noted that “the major trend was that all first-time beginner programs were selling out daily — over 70 percent of that group was non-Caucasian, with the majority being Asian.”

Up north in Oregon, Mt. Bachelor had its second busiest holiday period since 2003. Visits were up 28 percent over the same period the year before.

Mike Pierce, marketing director at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe, said that the holiday season at the Nevada resort was one of the top five of the last five years. The only downer over the holidays was a burst of strong east winds that prevented the resort from shooting off its annual New Year’s fireworks celebration.

At Diamond Peak, “We got a foot of snow Christmas Eve and that brought the crowds out,” said Jaclyn Ream, marketing coordinator. “The crowds were large but we had all the runs open. The parking lot was full.”

Stephanie Myers, communications manager at Northstar, said, “We had a white Christmas and we were in full operation. December 26 was a ‘bluebird’ day. And the village was very festive with all the holiday activities.”

Tahoe Donner, at the top of Donner Pass, is quite exposed to the weather. But, according to marketing chief Derek Moore, there “were no noticeable impacts to either resort (alpine and nordic) as a result of road closures or high winds.”

The resort’s new Snowbird chairlift moved the skiers and riders along quickly, he added. And with all the fresh snow, Tahoe Donner was able to open about 50 kilometers of nordic terrain.

Spring skiing is in mid-winter form thanks to ‘March madness’ snowstorms

The summit at Sugar Bowl is sporting a base depth of 100 inches, made possible by more than 300 inches of snowfall this winter. (Photo courtesy Sugar Bowl Resort)

The spring ski season is on big time in the Sierra.

Thanks to a “March madness” of epic storms, several ski resorts have extended their closing dates. And those that typically shut down Memorial Day or later – Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Mammoth Mountain – will be open at least until the late May holiday, weather and snow conditions permitting.

Heavenly is set to close a week later than usual – April 22. Mt. Rose also will stay open later – until April 29 – marking yet another six-month season at the Lake Tahoe resort. Homewood has pushed out its shut down date to April 15.

Other resorts are undecided on a closing day, so check with them before you head up the mountain.

Most Sierra resorts enjoyed a March miracle when 18 to 20 feet of snow blanketed the slopes.

Liesl Hepburn, spokeswoman at Squaw and Alpine, recalled a major dump around March 1 that brought seven feet of snow and a mid-March storm hit with another five feet of white gold.

Sugar Bowl, where nearly 100 runs were still open earlier this week, is another resort continuing to benefit from the late winter/early spring snowfall.

Mike Pierce, director of marketing at Mt. Rose, stressed that “we had an excellent season despite the general vibe that Tahoe had a lean snow start. With a high base elevation and extensive snowmaking, Mt. Rose opened on Oct 27. We also experienced a 40-inch (snow) storm in November when others received rain.”

Kevin Cooper, a senior communications official for Heavenly and Kirkwood, said March had some huge crowds because of all the pent-up demand. There was mostly clear driving on mountain highways which helped resorts attract thousand of skiers and riders during peak holiday periods.

“Our snowmaking systems were absolutely critical this season,” said Hepburn. “While we shut them down earlier in March when ‘Miracle March’ started rearing its head, our snowmaking and grooming teams truly carried the weight for much of the season. We got a lot of comments from guests who noticed the day-to-day additions that our snowmakers were able to make.”

Thea Hardy, communications manager at Sierra-at-Tahoe, added that “we do not yet have a projected closing date. Traditionally, we close in mid/late April. Closing date depends on the longevity of the current snowpack as well as temperatures and changing conditions.”

Northstar, which also benefited from a large snowmaking system, will close April 15.

Many resorts typically have enough snow to stay open longer than they do each season. But when the warm days of spring arrive, many skiers and riders turn their attention to golf, tennis and other pursuits, making it tough for resorts to attract enough guests to turn a profit.

Some of the smaller Sierra resorts, such as Dodge Ridge and China Peak, had a rough time financially this season. Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, was quoted in the Wall Street Journal in mid-March stating that Squaw and Alpine revenues were down about 20 percent from a year ago.

Mt. Rose noted that its revenues and crowds for the season were up about four percent from the previous season.

The Nevada resort is wasting no time planning for next season, announcing that the 2018-19 ski and snowboard season will start on Oct. 26, 2018.

Bear Valley boasts the only new chairlift in the Sierras this winter

A crossbar is installed on one of the lift towers at Bear Valley Ski Resort. The high-speed six-pack lift will be a welcome addition to the slopes for skiers and snowboarders this winter. (Photo courtesy Bear Valley Ski Resort)

By Bob Goligoski

Last season, record-breaking crowds showed up at many Sierra ski resorts, and the cash registers were really jingling. I thought that this would translate into new chairlifts sprouting up at a number of the resorts.

But I can only find one Sierra resort that has built a new chairlift – Bear Valley.

Dubbed the Mokelumne “Moke” Express, the six-passenger, high-speed chairlift will do a lot to enhance the skiing and riding experience at Bear. The express runs from mid-mountain to the top in about three minutes and takes guests to most of the 75 or so runs on both the front and backside of the peak.

I recall riding some of the earlier slow lifts (Bear has 10) and it seemed like I could almost finish half of a Michael Connelly thriller before I hopped off at the top. The express replaces the old Bear chairlift, which chugged to the top in about nine minutes.

Marc Gendron, a spokesman for Bear Valley, said the new chairlift greatly increases the uphill capacity of the mountain’s main artery.

So what did the new lift cost to build? Gendron said the financing is included in the roughly $7 million that Skyline Corp, a Canada-based firm, has invested in the resort since it bought Bear Valley three years ago.

The “Moke” Express is Bear Valley’s first six-pack chairlift.

Because it tops out at 8,500 feet of elevation, the resort typically opens with a slightly later start then the higher Tahoe area resorts. It’s open weekends only in early December and will go into full-time daily operation Dec. 16, weather and snow conditions permitting.

Bear Valley prices lift tickets lower than most Sierra resorts. Walk-up, adult, daily tickets range from $74 to $95, depending on the day.

Information: www.bearvalley.com

At Mammoth Mountain, winter is making an encore appearance

In a scene that could pass for the middle of winter, this is what Mammoth Mountain looked like this morning near one of the lifts. The resort received 20-26 inches of fresh snow overnight. (Photo courtesy Peter Morning / MMSA)

By Jerry Rice

It’s spring, but someone apparently forgot to tell Mother Nature because about 2 feet of fresh powder fell overnight at Mammoth Mountain – and even more is expected during the next 36 hours.

By the time the storm passes through Saturday evening, according to a National Weather Service forecast, there could be another 2 to 4 feet of snow at the top of the mountain.

So far this season, more than 560 inches of snow has fallen at Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge, where the base is 165 inches. At the 11,053-foot summit, the base is 320 inches, the deepest of any resort in the country, according to a spokesman.

Other resorts, including Heavenly, Kirkwood and Squaw Valley in the Lake Tahoe area, have a base of 183 to 247 inches, and in Utah the resort with the most snow is Alta, which was reporting a 124-inch base this morning.

Back at Mammoth, sunny skies were expected to return by Sunday, when highs will reach the upper 30s. The 10-day forecast shows another possibility for snow next Thursday and Friday.

The resort is selling 2017-18 season passes at an early bird rate that allows skiers and snowboarders access to the slopes for the remainder of this season, which is expected to continue at least through July 4.

Snow brings good news and not-so-good news to Sierra ski resorts

Thanks to lots and lots of fresh snow this winter, Mammoth Mountain is expected to be open for skiing and snowboarding through at least the Fourth of July. Other California resorts also are planning to extend winter activities into late spring and early summer. (Photo courtesy Peter Morning/Mammoth Mountain Ski Area)

By Bob Goligoski

It is a “feast or famine” season for many Sierra ski resorts.

The “feast” part is the deluge of snow that has fallen in the first half of this season. As of early February, the Sierra snowpack was the deepest it had been in 22 years for the mid-point of a ski season, according to state officials.

One example: Mt. Rose near Reno. In early February, it reported that its season-to-date snowfall total was 555 inches, breaking its total seasonal average and “putting us on track for one of our snowiest years in history.”

The “famine” part came on some days when skiers and snowboarders could not get to resorts because either they had shut down due to conditions or guests could not get to the slopes because of closed roads or violent storms. One especially vexing period occurred in early February when Highway 50, the main artery connecting the Bay Area and South Lake Tahoe, was closed following a huge landslide, and I-80, the link between the Bay Area and North Lake Tahoe, was mostly shut down at the same time due to another slide.

Two examples: Mt. Rose was closed on nine days prior to Feb. 1 because of storms and road closures. The cross country ski area at Tahoe Donner was shut down for six days during that period “due to heavy snowfall and power outages.”

Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association, said, “Despite all the challenges, most resorts are having a very good year. The Christmas season was quite good and business generally also was strong on Martin Luther King weekend.”

Because of all the snow, he noted that “some resorts likely will stay open later this year. Unless of course, everything drys up.”

That is unlikely, according to several resorts, considering that February-April weather patterns indicate a lot more snow is coming.

“The odds are that we will be open through mid-May. It really depends of demand,” said Mike Pierce, director of marketing at Mt. Rose. “Right now, the storms are continuing to come in, confidence in the Tahoe snow product is high and in great demand.”

Lauren Burke, a spokeswoman for Mammoth Mountain, said, “It looks like we are still  heading into a record-breaking season and will be skiing well into July.”

In mid-February, Mammoth double-checked the snow depth at the 11,000-foot level and concluded that the base depth there was 28 feet at the time.

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are two other resorts that typically are open into the summer months after copious amounts of snow fall.

Marcie Bradley, senior communications manager at Northstar, stressed that “January was an incredible snow months and folks were very patient when at some points we had to dig out of 80 inches of snow at one time. All of this bounty has allowed us to open special terrain like White Rabbit and Sawtooth Ridge, which is a huge surprise and delight for our guests.”

Homewood ski area, which is in a somewhat protected area on the west side of Lake Tahoe, was only closed for two days prior to Feb. 1 because of storms and power outages that affected the region.

The return of a big winter to the Sierra has brought to the mountains many winter sports enthusiasts who have not traveled there for some time.

Derek Moore, a spokesman for Tahoe Donner, noted, “We are seeing a lot of new folks taking lessons at both our downhill and cross country resorts. The buzz around all the snow Tahoe has received this year is driving a lot of visitors to the resorts to enjoy great skiing and riding conditions.”

Reitzell was asked if additional profits the ski resorts should tally this season will translate into spending money for new lifts and runs this summer.

“It is possible we may see more capital improvements,” he said. “But the process for these projects often takes two years or more because you usually need approvals from the Forest Service and local agencies.”

Here’s what happens when 8-10 inches of snow falls at Mountain High

Mountain High received 8-10 inches of snow today, thanks to a storm that was expected to continue dumping more fresh powder tonight and into Friday. Forecasts showed overnight lows dropping to the low- to mid-20s, with daytime highs reaching the low- to mid-30s throughout the weekend, according to The Weather Channel.

The West Resort was expected to be 100 percent open by Friday morning. Mountain High’s North Resort also could be open during the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend.

Information: www.mthigh.com

Mammoth Mountain: New year, lots of fresh snow

By Jerry Rice

2017 is getting off to a snowy start at Mammoth Mountain, with the resort receiving up to 7 feet of fresh powder since Tuesday – and more is on the way. Lots more.

Another 15-20 feet of snow is expected courtesy a string of potent winter storms moving through the Sierras during the next 10 days. In addition, the National Weather Service has issued several weather-related warnings for the mountain range.

During that time, normal resort operations could be affected, according to a Mammoth Mountain spokesman.

So far this winter, the resort has received more than 12 feet of snow at Main Lodge.

For the latest conditions, visit www.mammothmountain.com

(Video courtesy Peter Morning/Mammoth Mountain)

Sierra ski resorts mix snow with turkey for Thanksgiving weekend

Sugar Bowl Resort, which has already received more than 6 feet of snow, opened Friday with top-to-bottom skiing and riding. (Photo courtesy Sugar Bowl Resort)

Sugar Bowl Resort, which already has received more than 5 feet of snow, opened Friday with top-to-bottom skiing and riding. (Photo courtesy Sugar Bowl Resort)

By Bob Goligoski

It took a last-minute flurry of minor snow bursts but many of the Sierra ski resorts got their big wish – a Thanksgiving weekend opening. And with long-range forecasts promising off-and-on snow for December, along with temperatures dropping enough to make snow, it looks like the resorts will enjoy a white Christmas.

Mt. Rose and Boreal actually opened a little earlier in mid-November. But turkey weekend was the season debut at Heavenly, Squaw Valley, Sugar Bowl, Northstar, Alpine Meadows and Kirkwood. As usual, Mammoth opened in early November.

Initially, skiers and riders will not find all of their favorite lifts and runs open on their first visit. But more terrain and lifts will be opening all the time so be sure to check with your target resort as to how much of the mountain is open.

Some resorts were luckier than others. Sugar Bowl, perched at the top of Donner Pass, opened with top-to-bottom skiing and riding. Mt. Rose, with the Tahoe region’s highest base elevation at 8,260 feet, had numerous runs open early.

Some later season openings include Homewood on Dec. 9, June Mountain on Dec. 10 and Diamond Peak on Dec. 15.

Thanks to the long drought the Sierra experienced in recent years, many resorts expanded snow-making networks. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, now under the same ownership, spent $8 million on snow-making equipment over the last six years and then paid out another million to beef up snow-making even more for this season.

Sam Kieckhefer, a spokesman for the two resorts, explained that “snowmaking can occur once air temperatures drop below 39 degrees. However, as relative humidity increases, the ambient temperatures required to make snow decrease.”

The California Ski Industry Association noted that “history suggests a snowy winter ahead. For example, when the Lake Tahoe region receives more than 8 inches of rain in October, the region has above-average snowfall more than 75 percent of the time. More than 19 inches of rain fell on Tahoe in October.”