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.”

Squaw Valley gets Placer County approval for billion-dollar expansion

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Placer County’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a 25-year, $1 billion Squaw Valley development plan that calls for the construction of condos, shops and restaurants. While die-hard skiers and snowboarders welcomed the 4-1 vote, it also drew the objection of many local residents. (Photo courtesy Squaw Valley)

By Bob Goligoski

They were doing a major victory dance at Squaw Valley on Tuesday night. And why not? Earlier in the day, the Placer County Board of Supervisors had given final approval to the long-waited expansion of Squaw Valley, a project with an estimated cost of up to $1 billion.

Although some local residents and incoming Sen. Kamala Harris opposed the expansion, the board gave it the OK on a 4-1 vote. Harris and others had argued that the project would add to pollution, noise and traffic woes. The Placer County Planning Commission had earlier signed off on the project.

Squaw’s Valley’s approved master plan would in effect turn Squaw into a four-season resort. It is already a prime winter ski resort with more than 170 trails and runs spread out across 3,600 skiable acres.

Under the plan, nearly 1,500 motel rooms, condos, timeshares and retail space in Squaw’s Olympic Valley would be built over the next 25 years. A 90,000-square-foot indoor adventure center and water park will be built.

Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley Holdings, said that 90 percent of the development will happen on existing asphalt parking lots at the base of the mountain that are already zoned for such development.

He stressed that the expansion “will position the resort as a true four-season destination, provide more year-round jobs, off-site affordable workforce housing, tens of million of dollars in other benefits to our local community and assist in stabilizing the North Lake Tahoe economy.”

There is no pending litigation at this time that would potentially block the project.

How soon will construction start? “With the project passed, we will initiate the detailed design work necessary to refine the plan and create buildable plans and begin the search for developers to work within the project design guidelines,” said Liesl Kenney, public relations director at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows.

It is estimated that $22 million in annual tax revenue will be generated by the project. The money will help fund public services including schools, road improvements, transit services and public safety.

The resort also issued a statement: “In response to community feedback, the Village at Squaw Valley redevelopment plan has been reduced by 50 percent and is now only 38 percent of what is allowable per the Squaw Valley General Plan and land use ordinance.”

Tahoe Donner cross country resort launches major expansion effort

By Bob Goligoski

Tahoe Donner, one of the largest cross country ski areas in the West, has embarked on a major expansion program.

Earlier this year, already boasting some 100 kilometers of Nordic trails in the Sierra just outside Truckee, the resort bought Crabtree Canyon, an adjacent 640-acre tract of land. Another 16 kilometers of cross country terrain will open in the canyon for visitors this winter.

Steve Miller, board president at the Tahoe Donner Association, said, “There is some spectacular terrain in the canyon with double black diamond, blue and green-rated trails so skiers of different abilities can enjoy Crabtree.

“In the future,” he added, “there is even more terrain in the canyon that can be developed into Nordic trails.”

Tahoe Donner purchased the site from the Truckee Donner Land Trust for $500,000. The trust had originally bought the property from private interests for $2.4 million.

The Tahoe Donner Association purchased Crabtree Canyon from The Truckee Donner Land Trust in April. For next year, the Land Trust is in contract to purchase nearby Carpenter Valley. It will manage the property for year-round recreational enthusiasts. There is a long-term plan to extend the linked trail systems from the Alder Gulch Adventure Center through Euer Valley, Crabtree Canyon and Carpenter Valley to the Independence Lake Nature Preserve.

Perry Norris, executive director of the Truckee Donner Land Trust, said, “Carpenter Valley is one of the most spectacular – and little known – valleys in the entire Northern Sierra. Preserving the pristine natural beauty of our surroundings and ensuring continued recreational access is of utmost importance to us, especially that its less than 10 miles from downtown Truckee.

Once acquired in July 2017, the property will be open to the public for the first time in over a century.

Tahoe Donner is one of the largest homeowner associations in the country with nearly 25,000 members and 6,500 homes and condos spread across more than 7,000 acres. The Nordic and downhill ski areas, along with the golf course and several other Tahoe Donner attractions, are open to the general public.

The cross country area has been surging in popularity. Last season, USA Today took a national poll of skiers, checked out numerous resorts and concluded that Tahoe Donner is one of the top three Nordic resorts in the country.

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Brinn Talbot, director of marketing and member services at Tahoe Donner, said that frequent snow storms last season helped propel both the alpine and cross country areas to record years.

Cross country visitors were up 33 percent over the previous record year and downhill skier traffic increased 17 percent over the earlier record year. The association does not releases visitor numbers. The resort’s popularity also is tied to the fact that nearly all of the trails are groomed.

Tahoe Donner also opened the Alder Creek Adventure Center last year. The large structure serves as the home base for Nordic buffs with a cafe, rental services, wax rooms, a retail store and other amenities.

“The center,” Talbot said, “really put us on the international map. We now have a world-class facility that can accommodate national and international events.”

During the summer, the building houses Tahoe Donner’s Equestrian Center and Bikeworks operation. Many of the Nordic trails are used in the summer by hikers, bikers and horseback riders.

It’s been a blockbuster ski, snowboard season for Sierra resorts

Abundant snowfall this winter at Mt. Rose resulted in lots of scenes like this, which was taken on Jan. 15. The resort reported one of its best winters for skier visits in several years. (Photo by Billy Jesberg for Mt. Rose)

Abundant snowfall this winter at Mt. Rose resulted in lots of scenes like this, which was taken on Jan. 15. The resort reported a record year for visitors. (Photo by Billy Jesberg for Mt. Rose)

Bob Goligoski

Frequent snowfalls, early and late snow, well-timed storms, few highway shutdowns and pent-up demand from skiers and snowboarders added up to a blockbuster season for Sierra resorts in California and Nevada.

“We had a fantastic winter,” said Ashley Quadros, marketing content coordinator at Tahoe Donner. “This was the best season in history for both our cross country and alpine areas. Mother Nature was very good to us.”

Most Sierra resorts do not reveal visitor numbers but the California Ski Industry Association predicts that this season will far surpass the long-term average of 6.5 million visits a year at the Sierra resorts.

Association president Michael Reitzell said that the number so far this season is well past the 4.6 million visits recorded last year.

“With a number of resorts open into May, we have a chance at a record year,” he said.

The old record was set during the 2004-05 season when about 8.5 million visits were recorded by the resorts.

“We had great snow all over California,” Reitzell added. “From Shasta and Dodge Ridge to China Peak, Mammoth and the Tahoe resorts, it was a phenomenal season.”

Most of the resorts are closing around mid-April, but Mammoth, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Mt. Rose will be open into May.

“Mammoth hasn’t closed before Memorial Day in 28 years and that streak won’t end this year,” said Tim LeRoy, a resort spokesman. “With a healthy base of 200 inches (at the summit), Mammoth will remain open through at least Memorial Day and likely later. In years with similar snowfall totals, Mammoth has remained open all the way to July 4.”

I was at Northstar in March and noticed that the coverage was amazing. By that time, it had snowed more than 400 inches; as of earlier today, the total exceeded 455 inches.

Communications manager Marcie Bradley noted that “with all this snow, we are having a great season.”

So many riders and skiers had come to Mt. Rose by early April, officials there said that the resort had broken its visitor records.

“We are still enjoying mid-winter conditions on the mountain,” said Mike Pierce, Mt. Rose director of marketing. “The skiing and riding is so great, we’ve decided to extend the season into May (closing May 8), pushing the ski season to over six months and making this the longest season in Mt. Rose’s history.”

Similar comments came from Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, now under the same ownership.

“We will be Tahoe’s longest-running resort this season,” said Liesl Kenney, public relations manager for the two resorts. “And with Squaw’s High Camp hot tub and parties across the mountain, the spring skiing capital will be in full swing. With the closing date scheduled for May 30, conditions permitting, this will be the longest season we have had in the last 10 years.”

While much improved compared with recent years, Sierra resorts did not enjoy a huge snow season. Totals were pretty much close to what was average before 2010, when a multi-year span of skimpy snow seasons started.

Kevin Cooper, senior communications manager for Heavenly and Kirkwood, explained that snow fell in perfect increments, arriving at a rate of 4 to 9 inches at a time. No storm dropped several feet at once, shutting everything down.

“At Tahoe, we had the best snow in the country this season,” he added. “On Christmas Day, we had 24 inches of powder. A lot of people did not get up to the mountains in the last two or three years, so many people were quite excited to get out and ski or snowboard again.”

Sugar Bowl Resort presented a scenic winterscape in mid-January. (Photo courtesy Sugar Bowl Resort)

Sugar Bowl Resort offered a scenic winterscape in mid-January. (Photo courtesy Sugar Bowl Resort)

Kevin Mitchell, general manager at Homewood, said that “the snow continued to pile up all season long and gave us the ability to launch new initiatives including our snow-cat skiing operation and on-mountain drone photography program.”

Peter Avedschmidt, the marketing and sales manager at Sugar Bowl, said that the resort, which is high atop the Donner Pass, “had more powder days than we have had in years. We had high skier counts and this was our best season in the last five years or so.”

The resort caught some of the state’s best snow this winter. As of April 1, some 547 inches had fallen, exceeding the annual average of 500 inches.

Paul Raymore, marketing manager at Diamond Peak, said there is “actually a chance that we’ll break our all-time record of 163,000 skier visits by the time the resort closes.”

Marc Gendron, a spokesman for Bear Valley, noted that “it is the timing of snowfall that is most important, and this season could not have been better. We hit every holiday and most weekends perfectly.”

It was difficult to determine if this winter’s profitable season will result in capital improvements this summer. Most resorts reported that any plans about more lifts or runs had not been finalized.

One spokesperson noted that a big source of spending at many resorts is making snow, but thanks to the generosity of Mother Nature, snow-making equipment was silent much of the season, which added to the bottom line at many resorts.

Ski Canada: Mont-Sainte-Anne is a special place for downhill fun

A skier enjoys one of the many gladed trails at Mont-Sainte-Anne in Quebec. (Photo courtesy Mont-Sainte-Anne)

A skier enjoys one of the many gladed trails at Mont-Sainte-Anne, a resort in the Canadian province of Quebec. (Photos courtesy Mont-Sainte-Anne)

By Richard Irwin

Like the rest of us, Mont-Sainte-Anne is getting older. The historic ski resort 25 miles northeast of Quebec City turned 50 years old this year.

And during those five decades, the unique getaway has recorded many firsts. Among them, hosting the inaugural Canadian Winter Games in 1967 and the first Snowboard World Cup Stage to take place in Canada in 1993. In fact, the very next year it became the first mountain in the region to welcome snowboarders.

In 1971, the cross-country ski center opened with 90 kilometers of trails. Today, it’s the second-largest cross-country area in North America with more than 200 kilometers of trails.

The St. Lawrence River shimmers in the valley below as skiers gather for another exciting run at Mont-Sainte-Anne.

The St. Lawrence River shimmers in the valley below as skiers gather for another exciting run at Mont-Sainte-Anne.

The little ski area began with only 10 trails and four lifts, including the first gondola in eastern Canada. Today, the beautiful resort boasts 71 trails, offering fun runs for beginning skiers as well as the most advanced. These are served by nine lifts, including a high-speed eight-person gondola as well as a new high-speed quad that opened in 2014.

Western skiers may balk when they discover the summit peaks out at 2,625 feet in the picturesque Laurentian Mountains. But in a strange twist, visitors arrive at the summit and it’s ALL downhill from there, falling 2,000 sweet feet to the valley below.

And while Mont-Sainte-Anne averages 187 inches of natural snow annually, it has put in a snow-making system that covers 80 percent of the skiable terrain allowing the resort to boast one of Quebec’s longest ski seasons, closing on April 24 this year.

While eastern skiing can be icy and wet, the snow was a light powder when we recently visited. Granted, it’s not the champagne powder of its sister resort Kicking Horse or Fernie, but the conditions were better than the Sierra concrete often found at our local mountain resorts.

Since being bought by Resorts of the Canadian Rockies in 1999, a lot of money has gone into new gladed trails as well as improving the snow-making system. This is a great place for skiing or boarding through snowy glades.

Children use one of the longest magic carpet rides in Canada during a lesson at Mont-Sainte-Anne's ski school.

Children use one of the longest magic carpet rides in Canada during a lesson at Mont-Sainte-Anne’s ski school.

The first glade for kids, La Foret Enchantee, opened on the north side in 1997, along with a glade for experts on the south side. There’s nothing quite like sliding through a stand of snowy pines on a clear winter day.

The mountain offers three faces, each with a personality all its own. One overlooks the majestic St. Lawrence River. The view from the cable car can’t be beat. The trail La Crete provides a stunning view of the river and Quebec City.

On our first day, we took it easy, enjoying the well-groomed runs. The longest, Le Chemin du Roy, is 3 and a half miles long.

Mont-Sainte-Anne has a nice beginner’s area, with one of the longest magic carpets in Quebec. It offers an excellent ski school for the little ones, as well as the rest of us. Most of the easy trails are located east of the gondola.

The ski runs on the south face have the most slope, while north side has the easiest runs. The west face offers only natural snow and is serviced by a T-bar. So check to see if the area is open before going there.

Expert skiers will be challenged by the black diamond and double diamond runs. The resort has marked 20 percent as more difficult and another 10 percent as extreme.

The mountain also offers four terrain parks and a bordercross. A helmet is required in all snowparks. One park, La Cachette, is set in a forest and is lighted at night.

And you can’t beat the price considering the favorable exchange rate, which gave us $1.35 Canadian for every dollar we turned in.

A day lift ticket costs $76, good from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A day/night ticket is $69 and good from 12:30 to 9 p.m.

Night skiing at Mont-Sainte-Anne began in 1986. It has the highest vertical drop for night skiing in Canada.

So give Mont-Sainte-Anne a try whenever you’re in Quebec. You’ll be glad you did.

Rich Irwin is a freelance travel writer and a member of the North American Snowsport Journalists’ Association.

Information: mont-sainte-anne.com

Ski Canada: Discovering all that Kicking Horse and Revelstoke have to offer

With more than 3,10 acres of fall line skiing, high alpine bowls, and gladed terrain, Revelstoke also is the only resort to offer lift, cat, heli and backcountry skiing and snowboarding all from one village base. (Photo by Ian Houghton / Courtesy Revelstoke Mountain Resort)

Boasting more than 3,100 acres of fall-line skiing, high alpine bowls and gladed terrain, Revelstoke also is the only resort to offer lift, cat, heli and backcountry skiing and snowboarding all from one village base. (Photo by Ian Houghton / Courtesy Revelstoke Mountain Resort)

By Bob Goligoski

Like most of you, we’ve been to Mammoth, Squaw Valley, Heavenly, Sun Valley, Jackson Hole and other big-name resorts around North America.

This winter, some friends and I decided to do something totally different and visit Kicking Horse and Revelstoke in British Columbia. These are a couple out-of-way sprawling ski resorts southwest of Banff and surrounded by awesome, cloud-piercing peaks that remind one of the Alps.

Both have at least one thing in common: they have the two highest vertical drops among all Canadian ski resorts. Revelstoke, in fact, has the biggest vertical drop of any resort in North America at 5,620 feet.

How does this translate to the skiing? We took one endless intermediate run at Revelstoke that rolled on for 4,200 vertical feet. That is comparable to skiing top-to-bottom at Lake Tahoe’s Alpine Meadows not once but twice.

At Kicking Horse (4,133-foot vertical drop), where we started our four-day adventure, the 16-year-old resort is 15 minutes outside Golden, British Columbia, which is about three hours west of the Calgary airport.

Kicking Horse is a two-and-a-half-hour drive out of Calgary and is surrounded by six national parks. (Photo by Jeff Bartlett / Courtesy Kicking Horse Mountain Resort)

Kicking Horse is the first four-season mountain resort to open in Canada’s Rockies in 25 years. (Photo by Jeff Bartlett / Courtesy Kicking Horse Mountain Resort)

Kicking Horse has 128 runs, an eight-person gondola, three chair lifts and more than 85 in-bounds chutes.

There is plenty of skiing here for all ability levels, but with all the steep terrain (60 percent of the slopes are rated expert or advanced), this place is a mecca for powder-hungry experts.

Resort owners state that “in recent years, we have been focusing developments on softening the ski experience with increased winter grooming and ongoing slope development projects.”

Perhaps the best vantage point to enjoy the stunning scenery is the Eagle’s Eye restaurant. Located at the top of the gondola, it sits at 7,705 feet and is the highest-elevation restaurant in Canada, offering commanding views of five national parks.

The Golden Eagle Express offers a quick trip up to the mountaintop Eagle's Eye restaurant at Kicking Horse. (Photo courtesy Kicking Horse Mountain Resort)

The Golden Eagle Express at Kicking Horse offers a scenic trip to the mountaintop Eagle’s Eye restaurant. (Photo courtesy Kicking Horse Mountain Resort)

Down lower on the mountain, you can visit with Boo, the on-slope, 900-pound resident grizzly bear. Boo was orphaned in 2002 when his mother was illegally shot by a hunter. He lives in a 22-acre enclosure and has lots of company during warm months when he is not hibernating. Last year, 27,000 people took the chairlift to check out Boo.

If one does not alpine ski or snowboard, you have a choice of Nordic skiing, tubing, snowshoeing, dog sled riding, snowmobiling or ice skating at the rink in the heart of the village. Hotels, B&B’s and condos dot the landscape around the base of the peak.

Nearby Golden is a bustling industrial hamlet of 4,000 souls. It has a large lumber mill and is a transportation hub with the Trans-Canada highway and the east-west railway line running through. It boasts a number of highly acclaimed eateries including Eleven22, Whitetooth Bistro Cedar House and Turning Point.

Next, we headed up the highway for a 90-minute drive to the town of Revelstoke.

The ski resort, which has only been around since 2007, sits just outside of the town, which has a population of 8,000.

Both Kicking Horse and Revelstoke top out around 8,000 feet, so altitude sickness is not much of a problem. Revelstoke has a vast amount of terrain fed by two chairlifts, a gondola and a magic carpet.

One could spend virtually all day here on one run. The Last Spike, a winding novice choice, rolls on for 9.5 miles before it hits the bottom. Revelstoke’s 65 “named runs” includes a good mixture of green, blue and black-diamond runs. Some come here just to ski the trees as the glades are everywhere, both tight and fairly wide open.

The Revelstoke area is known as the capital of helicopter skiing in Canada. The resort is the only ski resort in the world to offer lift, snowcat, helicopter and back-country skiing from one village base.

There are rooms at the base but the clear winner appeared to be the 221-room Sutton Place Hotel, which opened about six years ago. It boasts “luxury ski-in/ski-out condo-style accommodations” with daily rates ranging between $250 and $1,200 during the winter. Food tip – the Thai curry soup at the Revelation Lodge is a 10.

Skiing in Canada is easy on the wallet right now as the exchange rate is quite favorable for Americans. The adult, walk-in, lift tickets at Kicking Horse, for example, are priced at 92 Canadian, which works out to about $65 in U.S. coin. Lift tickets at Revelstoke are even cheaper.

Information
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort: kickinghorseresort.com
Revelstoke Mountain Resort: www.revelstokemountainresort.com

Planned gondola linking Alpine, Squaw resorts moving closer to reality

There's plenty to love about the skiing at Alpine Meadows, and once the gondola between the resort and Squaw Valley is operating it will open new opportunities for skiers and snowboarders at both resorts. (Photo courtesy Alpine Meadows)

There’s plenty to love about the skiing at Alpine Meadows, and once the gondola between the resort and neighboring Squaw Valley is operating it will open new opportunities for skiers and snowboarders at both resorts. (Photo courtesy Alpine Meadows)

By Bob Goligoski

The long-awaited gondola between Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows has been put on a fast track to completion, with resort officials saying that once construction starts it will take only about 10 months to finish the job.

Work cannot start until the owner of the two resorts – Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC – wins approval from Placer County and the U.S. Forest Service. Applications were submitted to the county and agency, but it is unclear how quickly they will act on the proposed gondola.

I don’t know of any major opposition to the project. It does not appear to be controversial, so I suspect approvals may come quite quickly.

The gondola, which would run between the base areas of both resorts, would entail putting up about 37 lift towers and be some 13,000 feet in length. The land on the Alpine side is covered by a use permit on the Tahoe National Forest while the Squaw part of the ride would glide across lands owned or leased by Squaw Valley Ski Holdings.

No skiing, snowboarding or other on-the-snow activity would be permitted along the gondola route. Standing at the top of Squaw and gazing down into the Alpine base area, one is impressed by the steepness of the terrain going down to the Alpine lifts.

Resort officials pledged to take many steps to reduce the environmental impact of the gondola. The eight-passenger gondola will be operated at a relatively low speed; skiers and riders will have about a 13-minute trip to get from one resort to the other.

A typical high-speed lift transports at least 2,000 people per hour, while initial plans call for the gondola to move 1,400 people an hour. This is being done to minimize the number and height of the lift towers.

The gondola cabins will be removed from the gondola cable each summer to “reduce impacts on the surrounding view shed.”

A Q&A document released recently by the project builders would be of interest to many who frequent the slopes of Alpine and Squaw.

That document states that there are no plans under which the gondola cost would result in any increase in lift ticket prices or season passes. The gondola, it states, “would simply make it easy for skiers and riders to explore both mountains with a single lift ticket or season pass, without needing to travel between the two by car.”

It also notes that guests will be able to disembark at the Saddle mid-station on the Squaw side and then ski or snowboard down to the bottom of Squaw Valley.

Some skiers and riders like the slower pace on the slopes at Alpine Meadows but bemoan the fact that the resort has limited commercial activity. Once it starts operating, they will be able to ride the gondola to the Squaw Valley village and enjoy the 50 to 60 restaurants, bars, shops and art galleries located there.

When the link-up is completed, visitors will have access to 42 lifts and 270 trails spread across more than 6,000 skiable acres.

Bob Roberts, longtime ‘voice’ of California skiing, calls it a career

In his roles as manager of the Mt. Shasta Ski Area and, later, leading the California Ski Industry Association, Bob Roberts Here, he meets with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1984, the same year Schwarzenegger starred in "The Terminator."

In his roles as manager of the Mt. Shasta Ski Area and, later, leading the California Ski Industry Association, Bob Roberts, left, has met with many movers and shakers. Here, he visits with Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1984, the same year the actor starred in “The Terminator.” Nineteen years later, Schwarzenegger would become California governor. (Courtesy photo)

By Bob Goligoski

After 40 years as the “voice” of California skiing and snowboarding, this is the first winter in decades without Bob Roberts as president and CEO of the California Ski Industry Association.

As chief strategist and lobbyist for the organization’s 29 California and Nevada winter resorts, the 78-year-old Roberts has played a major role in the development and success of resorts across the Sierra Nevada.

In a long-ranging interview, Roberts reflected on his many years at the helm and talked about what he sees in the future for the winter resorts.

“The drought,” he said, “is the biggest problem facing the resorts. People who own resorts tend to think that the glass is half full, not half empty. They are usually very creative and inventive in solving problems. But if the drought continues, we could lose a few resorts. There will be a shakeout, I suspect.”

In recent years, two Colorado-based corporations – Vail Resorts and KSL – have acquired major California ski resorts, including Heavenly, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Northstar and Kirkwood. He does not see that trend continuing and does not expect other out-of-state corporations to acquire and consolidate resorts in California or Nevada.

California ski resorts are a key component in the state’s tourism boom. Some 7 million skier visits to the resorts are recorded every winter. It’s a $1.5 billion business that generates more than $100 million per year in state and local taxes. Some 16,000 people work full-time and seasonal jobs at the resorts every year.

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#WinterIsHere, so Mammoth Mountain opens early

Mother Nature gave Mammoth Mountain a a beautiful 12- to 30-inch base for the winter season, which opens at the resort on Thursday. (Mammoth Mountain Ski Area photo)

Mother Nature gave Mammoth Mountain a beautiful 12- to 30-inch base to start the winter season, which opens at the resort on Thursday. (Mammoth Mountain Ski Area photo)

By Jerry Rice

For skiers and snowboarders eager to get back on the slopes, the wait will be over in a few hours.

Mammoth Mountain, which received up to 30 inches of fresh powder from the first major snowstorm of the season, will be opening Thursday — a week earlier than planned. Which means the #WinterIsComing hashtag can now be replaced by #WinterIsHere.

“Opening day is always a blast, add in a couple feet of powder and you’ve got the recipe for a great opening,” said Lauren Burke, resort spokeswoman.

Broadway Express (Chair 1), Facelift Express (Chair 3) and Discovery (Chair 11) will be spinning with access to Saddle Bowl, Broadway, Andy’s Double Gold and Sesame Street. Lift tickets for opening day are $50, and first chair is at 8:30 a.m.

With conditions taking shape that forecasters predict will lead to a lot of precipitation, this could be the winter skiers and snowboarders have been dreaming about for years.

“We’re expecting a great winter in Mammoth with the strong El Nino, but for the snow to come this early and this heavy is a huge bonus.”

Information: www.mammothmountain.com

Mammoth Mountain countdown: 100 days to skiing and snowboarding

First day of school? First day of the NFL season? For skiers and boarders, nothing beats the first day of the winter season — and at Mammoth Mountain it's only 100 days away. The resort opens Nov. 11. (Mammoth Mountain photo)

First day of school? No way. Start of the NFL season? Nope. For skiers and boarders, not much tops the first day of the winter season — and at Mammoth Mountain it’s about 100 days away. The resort’s lifts are scheduled to start spinning on Nov. 11. (Mammoth Mountain photo)

By Jerry Rice

While thermometers flirt with triple digits in much of Inland Southern California, we have our eyes on the century mark for another reason: On Monday, it will be 100 days until the Nov. 11 start of the winter season at Mammoth Mountain.

And thanks to the strong El Nino weather pattern developing in the Pacific Ocean, climate scientists are saying that more than normal rain and snow could be on the way, giving skiers and snowboarders a reason to get excited. During the two biggest El Ninos on record — in 1982-83 and 1997-98 — Mammoth received 546 and 451 inches of snow, respectively, according to the website mammothsnowman.com.

Last winter, with California in the fourth year of drought, a relatively paltry 238 inches of the white stuff fell at Mammoth.

“As El Nino continues doing its thing, there’s plenty to look forward to,” says resort spokesman Tim LeRoy, pointing to the season ahead.

For one, the resort has a lift and lodging package starting at $99 per person per night. The deal must be booked by Aug. 31 to lock in what LeRoy says will be “the steepest savings offered all year.”

Let the countdown begin!

Information: www.mammothmountain.com