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

Heavenly Mountain Resort zips into summer

Riders speed down a four-line zip line at Breckenridge, Colo. When a similar attraction opens this month at Heavenly, riders will be able to race down the four parallel lines at top speeds of 40 mph. (Vail Resorts photo)

Riders race down a zip line at Breckenridge, Colo. When a similar attraction opens at Heavenly, riders will be able to take the four parallel lines at top speeds of 40 mph. (Vail Resorts photo)

By Bob Goligoski

Heavenly Mountain Resort has started construction on a major expansion of its summer attractions that will include a new alpine coaster ride, an extensive zip line network, mountain bike park, multi-use trails and tree canopy tours.

The project, which has been in the works for many years, has steadily been gaining the approval of various governmental agencies. Last month, the final OK came when the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board voted “yes” on the venture, which is dubbed Epic Discovery.

“This is going to revolutionize the summer guest experience at Heavenly,” said Pete Sonntag, Heavenly COO and vice president. “It is about more than the individual activities; it is a cohesive plan that brings together all components under the unified theme of learning about and engaging with the National Forest.”

Construction on the alpine coaster, similar to those at Park City and Breckenridge, starts this month. It will operate year-round after opening late this year at the South Lake Tahoe resort.

Guests ride individual sleds down an elevated track that winds down amid the pines and rock formations. Gravity takes care of the descent while riders maintain control of how fast they want to go.

Also this month, the resort debuts a new four-line zip line called the Hot Shot Zip Line. An existing zip line, dubbed Blue Streak, is slated to re-open late this month.

Some of the zip lines at Heavenly will incorporate tree canopy tours.

Bikers have long eyed the vast slopes of Heavenly, which stretch for miles across California and Nevada, as a place where they might some day peddle to their heart’s content. They likely will have to wait another couple years as the new mountain bike park will take time to develop before it opens.

Work crews currently are busy toiling on a new permanent 35-foot-tall rock climbing wall, which is slated to open in August. It will feature 18 climbing routes with automatic belay systems and a quick-jump 35-foot rapid descent that emulates free-falling.

Another lane has been added to the tubing hill and will be open late this month.

In September, Heavenly will offer mountain excursion tours via 4×4 vehicles. These guided tours will feature narrations on the mountain with information about the history, culture and environment of the region.

And children will have a crack at the zip line experience when a smaller kid-specific 150-foot long zip line opens later this summer.

Information: www.skiheavenly.com

Bob Goligoski, a former newspaper reporter, has been writing about the ski industry for various newspapers and magazines for 45 years. He has skied at more than 125 resorts around the world.

Quebec’s Hotel de Glass dazzles with its fanciful frozen decor

The Hotel de Glace in Quebec features guestrooms with elaborate carved walls and a bed made of ice. Some, like this one, come with a fireplace, though it's only for looks - no heat enters the room. (Photo courtesy Hotel de Glace)

The Hotel de Glace in Quebec features guestrooms with elaborate carved walls and a bed made of ice. Some, like this one, come with a fireplace, though it’s only for looks – no heat enters the room. (Photo courtesy Hotel de Glace)

By Marlene Greer, Correspondent

The bed is made of ice, the walls and floor made of snow, and the ambient temperature is a brisk 24 degrees F. Sound like a place you’d like to spend the night? Surprisingly, many people do.

The Hotel de Glace (Ice Hotel), located a few miles from downtown Quebec, is an imaginative creation of snow and ice, reconstructed every winter in a matter of six or so weeks. From the grand entrance, complete with check-in counter, to the guestrooms, the walls of every room are intricately carved into masterpieces of art, and some of the beds feature massive ice canopies and elaborate headboards.

The hotel is open for overnight stays and to tourists from Jan. 5 to March 22. With 44 rooms, a vaulted hall with an amazing ice chandelier, chapel, bar, disco, and ice slide, there’s a lot to see. Visitors can walk around on their own or sign up for a tour.  We opted for the tour, which included a drink at the ice bar.

Like any hotel, the guestrooms range from the small and simple to elaborate suites with fireplaces, which are for ambience only as no heat enters the room. Most rooms come with an ice chair and ice table (can’t imagine spending much time there!) and have one to three beds. But all feature amazing sculpted decor, every one different from the last.

This year’s theme is “Space-Time,” and as visitors wander from room to room, they journey from ancient times into the future. On our tour, we saw one room depicting humankind’s space exploration with a relief of the Space Shuttle and a full-height sculpted astronaut, and another showcasing automobiles, complete with an ice car bed.

Our guide Sara explained that in the evening, the guestroom areas are closed to the public, cleaned and prepared for those staying overnight. A mattress and an isolating bed sheet are placed on the bed to keep the cold from seeping in, and each person is given an arctic sleeping bag. “We advise guests to take a warm shower before bed to increase the body temperature. This will help you stay warm throughout the night,” she said.

After visiting the entrance hall, several rooms, the chapel and disco, the tour ends at the ice bar – a popular stop apparently from the size of the crowd. Sara explained the beer, wine and alcohol are stored in refrigerators not to keep them cold but to keep them from freezing. Everything from the bar counter to the lounge chairs and tables are made of ice. Even the drinks are served in an ice glass, a bulky square block of ice with a hole in the center to hold the liquid.

The first ice hotel went up in 2001, and it’s been a popular winter attraction ever since. With the outside temperature only in the single digits, standing at a table in an ice bar enjoying a vodka and cranberry juice cocktail out of a frozen glass in an ice hotel at 24 degrees feels downright warm.

The ice bar at the Hotel de Glace. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

The ice bar at the Hotel de Glace. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

Racing canoes on ice-covered St. Lawrence River among events at Quebec’s Winter Carnival

Two crews in the elite male class compete in the ice canoe race on the St. Lawrence River during Quebec's Winter Carnival. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

Two crews in the elite male class compete in the ice canoe race on the St. Lawrence River during Quebec’s Winter Carnival. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

By Marlene Greer, Correspondent

Standing on the edge of the St. Lawrence River watching a group of five women power their canoe over the ice-crusted surface, all I could think of was, “You go, ladies!”

The women are among the 10 teams of elite female crews competing in the ice canoe race, one of many events and competitions at the Winter Carnival in Quebec City. In addition to the women, there are 10 teams in the elite male class, and a whole lot of brave souls in the amateur sport class. (I stopped counting at 25 boats.)

From where we stand near the starting line, we can hear the canoes coming before we see them. We hear the voices of the crew, but mostly we hear the scraping of boats over ice. The ice on the river is broken up in huge blocks, and navigating them takes great physical effort and group coordination.

Wearing spiked shoes, holding on to the gunwale, and kneeling on one knee in the boat with the other leg dangling over the edge, the crews propel their canoes up and over the chunks of ice. The crews do this for half a mile up river before reaching flowing water where they jump in and start paddling.

For today’s race, the temperature is in the single digits, sinking into sub-zero with the fierce wind blowing across the river. But the cold weather doesn’t keep bundled-up spectators from lining the riverbank, four and five deep. Nor, apparently, does it bother the racers.

When I marvel at the utter craziness of it all, a native Quebecer standing next to me counters, “I’ve done it once; it’s a lot of fun!”

The ice canoe race is a carnival staple. It’s been held every year since the carnival’s inception in 1955. The first women’s team participated in the race in 1966. The race begins in Quebec City, and teams navigate a course across the river to Levis and back. The elite male class must complete the circuit twice.

So why a canoe race on a frozen river? According to the Quebec City Tourism website, carnival competitions were created to represent Quebec winter traditions. The canoe, dogsled and sleigh are traditional modes of transportation and were important to the settlement and history of Quebec.

Quebec’s winter carnival ends today with the sleigh races and the closing ceremonies.

A crew in the elite female class work to get their canoe across the ice. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

A crew in the elite female class work to get their canoe across the ice. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

Everyone loves the parade at Quebec’s Winter Carnival

Spectators line the streets to watch the night parade in Quebec. Photos courtesy Quebec City Tourism

Spectators line the streets to watch the night parade in Quebec. (Photos courtesy Quebec City Tourism)

By Marlene Greer/Correspondent

Lights, camera (yours) and lots of action.

That’s the night parade at Quebec’s Winter Carnival, a 17-day long celebration of all things snow and ice. The parade is so popular it’s done twice – once in the suburb of Charlesbourg and a second time through the streets of Quebec. The Charlesbourg parade was held last weekend, and the parade in Quebec is set for Saturday.

“The parade in Charlesbourg is held earlier in the night at 6 and is better for children,” said Paule Bergeron of Quebec City Tourism.

Standing with the crowd in Charlesbourg, a look across the street at the row of children lining the parade route definitely gives the impression this is a family event. And the zero-degree temperature hasn’t spoiled the fun. But it does make for a lot of stamping of feet, clapping of hands and dancing around by spectators just to stay warm. Even the marching bands had to wrap their instruments to keep them from freezing.

The parade begins with groups of jesters and jokers who dance, mime and perform acrobatics. Spectators blow their long, red plastic horns, a carnival necessity, in approval. There are musicians, singers and marching bands, playing mostly Canadian tunes, but we did recognize the familiar “Eye of the Tiger.”

This wide-eyed creature is just one of many in the parade.

This wide-eyed creature is just one of many in the parade.

It’s the colorful lighted floats, however, which are the most interesting. A long procession of sea creatures, magical creatures, and what looked to me like dancing snow wolves entertained the crowd.

At the end of the parade came Bonhomme, the carnival’s mascot. Bonhomme is a snowman who wears a red cap, an arrowhead sash and a big smile. And just like with Mickey Mouse at Disneyland, the kids, parents and tourists all clamber for a photo with the famed character. Bonhomme’s been around since the first carnival in 1955, and kids seem to love him.

The carnival concludes this weekend with the snow bath (put on your swimsuit, some boots and roll in the snow), Quebec night parade and after-party on Saturday and the sleigh race and closing ceremonies on Sunday.

Bonhomme waves to the crowd.

Bonhomme waves to the crowd.

Enjoying the Carnaval de Quebec with an ice castle, rides and caribou

Ice castle at Carnival de Quebec (Photo by Marlene Greer)

Ice castle at Winter Carnival in Quebec. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

By Marlene Greer, Correspondent

Bundled up in several layers of clothing, we braved the single-digit temperatures for a sled ride down an ice track, a round of bumper rafts on ice, a drink of caribou at the ice bar, and a walk through an ice castle. We even made our own “maple-sicles” in the snow.

It’s all part of Carnaval de Quebec, a 17-day long celebration of all things snow and ice. Quebec City, like much of the northeast in early February, was in the grip of a deep freeze, but that didn’t keep families from bundling up in their snow gear for some winter fun.

Christian, a native Quebecer there with his two children, the youngest he was pulling around in a sled, joked, “We have to do something in winter.”

The carnival is spread across the Plaines D’Abraham just outside the old walled city. In addition to the rides, food, music, snow sculptures and events at the Plaines, parades, concerts and races take place throughout the city.

Making maple popsicles (Photo by Marlene Greer)

Making maple popsicles. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

The first thing you notice – and can’t miss – at the carnival is the large ice palace, a tradition going back to the first carnival in 1955. As you go from room to room, you can lounge in an ice chair, check out the ice bar, and explore ice tunnels (for kids, except for one parent we watched crawl in to retrieve her wayward toddler).

Then there are the beautiful to fantastical snow sculptures. The international snow sculpture competition has been part of the carnival since 1973. Sculptors from around the globe come to Quebec to create these intricate and realistic works of art. A trail winds among the sculptures so you can view them from all sides.

Being Canadians, of course there’s a small hockey rink, where kids can grab a stick and join in. There’s also ice fishing, dogsled rides, a tubing hill, and bumper rafts, where you just sit back and enjoy the spin as the boats (on wheels) are pushed around the ice. And what’s a carnival without food and drink? We tried the make-your-own maple pop and caribou. To make a traditional Canadian maple pop, a foot-long strip of warm maple syrup is poured on top of snow, and you take a popsicle stick and roll the slowly hardening syrup around the stick. As for caribou, with a name like that how could we resist? Caribou is made with Canadian port, vodka and brandy and is served warm – perfect on a frigid winter day.

The carnival concludes this weekend. Special events include the night parade and after-party, a sleigh race, and the crazy snow bath.

Snow sculpture at Carnival de Quebec (Photo by Marlene Greer)

Snow sculpture at Winter Carnival in Quebec. (Photo by Marlene Greer)

 

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