Sierra winter resorts have lots of new attractions for skiers, snowboarders

Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows received more than 700 inches of snow last season — that’s 60 feet! The jury is still out when it comes to the amount of snowfall expected this winter. (Photo courtesy Ski California)

By Bob Goligoski

Last winter, a bonanza of skiers and snowboarders descended on the Northern Sierra ski resorts. Lured by epic snowfalls, 7,118,427 skier and rider visits were recorded at the 32 member resorts that belong to Ski California, the trade organization of the California and Nevada resorts.

That number of visits was the highest since the winter of 2010-11.

Some 719 inches, or about 60 feet, fell at Squaw Valley-Alpine Meadows. Down at the lower elevation lake level, Homewood got 600 inches of white gold.

Will there be a repeat performance this winter? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is being coy. Weather patterns are fickle right now so there is no clear sign of another great snow — or drought — season ahead.

Most Sierra resorts plan to open, conditions permitting, this month. Mammoth Mountain, for example, opened on Nov. 9. With its high base elevation, Mt. Rose got an early start and opened Oct. 25 with one lift and several trails.

Forecasts often do not seem to matter anyway, according to Mike Reitzell, president of Ski California.

“It has been pointed out,” he said, “that most of the forecasts for the Sierra were dead wrong last year. The snowfall was supposed to be below average but we ended up well above average.”

He noted two trends contributing to last season’s excellent numbers. For the first time, visitors arriving with season passes surpassed the number of guests buying daily tickets. The price of passes has come down so much — and daily ticket tabs have risen — that after three or four days on the snow at a particular resort, the rest of the days there are essentially free.

And after snowboarder visits tumbled earlier this decade, snowboarder guests were up for the fourth straight year and are now back at previous levels.

Many visitors to the Lake Tahoe area bed down in Truckee. In December, the 114-room Marriott Spring Hill Suites Hotel will open within walking distance of the historic downtown. This is the first new hotel to open there since the early 2000s.

So what’s new for skiers and riders at the resorts this winter?

Well, you won’t see a lot more new lifts and runs. Most of the resorts are pretty well filled out with lifts and trails already.

But you will see a number of new restaurants and bars, more snowmaking, fat tire bikes on the cross country trails at Kirkwood, a 13-foot mini-pipe at Sugar Bowl, snowshoe hikes at Tahoe Donner Cross Country and a dog race at the Tahoe Donner downhill area, among other attractions.

Reitzell explained that the resorts “are focusing on making sure that guests have a good experience regardless of the snowfall or weather.”

The only new chairlift opening this season in the Northern Sierra is a $10 million detachable, high-speed quad chair at Alpine Meadows called the Treeline Cirque chairlift. It promises to dramatically improve the skiing and riding experience at Squaw’s sister resort.

The lift will transport guests from the base area to Sherwood Ridge in just five minutes. Right now, to get up there it will take you two or three lifts. So this new lift, scheduled to open in December or January, will reduce your ride time by a whopping 35 to 40 minutes.

After four minutes of the ride, you can get off at a mid-station point and sample the mostly lower intermediate runs in Sherwood Bowl. Or you can ride for another minute to the top and ski the expert runs in several bowls including South Face or Big Bend or drop down into expert terrain on the front side.

About the only other new lift for the mountains this winter is being built at Sugar Bowl. This is a 240-foot covered surface lift designed to protect skiers and riders from the elements. It replaces the the old Flume surface lift.

Snowboarders likely will rush to Sugar Bowl this season to hop in the new 13-foot mini-pipe going up and a top-to-bottom terrain park with all new features including a 20-foot chubbie box and a 10-foot wallride.

An expanded terrain park and improved snowmaking capabilities were among the off-season updates at Diamond Peak in the Lake Tahoe area. (Photo courtesy Ski California)

Here’s a look at several resorts which have made notable changes since last season:

Mammoth Mountain: A new bar-restaurant opens in Canyon Lodge with other new eateries to open also. Some $1.3 million was spent to expand the snowmaking network.

Boreal: A new on-mountain dining experience dubbed the Hub & Spoke will open. An RFID ticketing system is being installed, a women’s snowboard park camp will operate in April and Woodward Tahoe will offer a number of new programs for freestyle skiers and riders.

Diamond Peak: This Nevada resort has expanded its terrain park and beefed up its snowmaking system.

Heavenly: Look for events that allow you to ski and ride down the peak with the ski patrol after the lifts close.

Homewood: This lakeside resort has doubled its snowmaking capabilities and will for the first time offer backcountry and snowcat guide training to guests.

Kirkwood: The resort will have fat tire bikes on hand for guests to explore 37 miles of groomed trails at the Kirkwood Cross Country and Snowshoe Center.

Mt. Rose: An additional $1.5 million was poured into on-mountain improvements including more snowmaking and a new RFID ticketing system which means skiers can leave their tickets in their pockets when they go through the lift gates.

Northstar: A high-end Michael Mina Bourbon Pub Northstar will open. It’s a must-stop for foodies who can dine on truffle tater tots and cheddar brats wrapped in puff pastry.

Sierra-at-Tahoe: Get on the slopes faster this season with an RFID ticketing system.

Squaw Valley: The new Tram Car Bar opens on the Olympic House deck. This is a restored 1970s era Squaw Valley tram cabin. And the new Tremigo Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar will open near the lifts in the village.

And if you are in the Lake Tahoe area in mid-December, drop into the Tahoe Donner downhill area on Dec. 15 — customer appreciation day. Lift tickets are just $15.

 

 

 

 

 

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Mammoth Mountain gets the ski and snowboard party started

Woolly — the Mammoth Mountain mascot — had a breakthrough moment this morning while opening the resort’s 2019-2020 ski and snowboard season. (Photo by Peter Morning/Courtesy Mammoth Mountain)

By Jerry Rice

Let the skiing and snowboarding begin!

Mammoth Mountain opened this morning for the 2019-2020 snow season. First chair was at 8:30 a.m., and the winter kickoff party continues all day with live music on the Main Lodge sundeck and an après party tonight that includes a screening of “Joy: A Snowboard Film.”

Three lifts and four trails were open, with the slopes pretty much exclusively covered with manmade snow at a base depth of 12 to 18 inches. While there’s no snow from Mother Nature on the horizon — the 10-day forecast has lots of sunny and mostly sunny days — overnight lows in the teens and 20s means there’s a nightly opportunity to make even more powder.

In any event, there was plenty of excitement on the slopes this morning. Here’s what that looked like:

The opening weekend celebration continues Sunday, with more live music on the Main Lodge sundeck, and free skiing/riding for active duty military and veterans on Monday, which is Veterans Day.

For the latest conditions and information, visit www.mammothmountain.com.

In the weeks ahead, Mammoth Mountain will be joined by several other resorts for skiing and snowboarding up and down the state. Among them:

  • Snow Summit and Alpine Meadows/Squaw Valley, Nov. 15
  • Bear Mountain, Mountain High, Heavenly and Northstar California, Nov. 22
  • Snow Valley, late November
  • Kirkwood Mountain Resort, Nov. 27
  • China Peak and Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Center, Nov. 28
  • Sugar Bowl, Nov. 29
  • Mount Baldy and Tahoe Cross Country Ski Area, early December
  • Diamond Peak, Dec. 12
  • Badger Pass, Dec. 20

 

 

 

 

It’s still summer, but at Mammoth Mountain it’s already snowing!

The slopes received a nice dusting overnight at Mammoth Mountain. (Photo by Peter Morning)

By Jerry Rice

Summer still has a few days left, but that didn’t stop Mother Nature last night from dusting the mountains at Mammoth with snow.

“The transition from Summer to Winter has begun,” said a posting this morning on the resort’s Facebook page.

Indeed it has.

This is the last weekend for summer activities at the Mammoth base area, including the Mammoth Bike Park, says a resort spokesman. Then the focus turns to the 2019-20 ski and snowboard season, which starts Saturday, Nov 9.

The resort is offering discounts on lift tickets and lodging, if purchased by Nov. 8. For information, visit www.mammothmountain.com/email-landing-winter/earlywintersavings

With lows in the 20s tonight and Friday night, there’s the potential for a little more of the white stuff, according to The Weather Channel.

(Photo by Peter Morning)

At Mammoth Mountain, skiing and snowboarding until the dog days of summer

(Photo by Peter Morning/MMSA)

By Jerry Rice

And the snow keeps coming.

The slopes at Mammoth Mountain have received 29 inches of snow since the first of the month — and, remember, this is the merry, merry month of May, not December, January or February.

The total is a May record for the resort, breaking the previous mark by an inch set in 2015. And with even more snow predicted for Sunday, look for even more records.

Mammoth Mountain announced the record-breaking month this morning in a tweet:

All that snow adds up to even more skiing and snowboarding before the extended winter season is done. Previously, it was announced that Mammoth Mountain would be open until at least the Fourth of July. Now it appears the resort will be open into August.

The season’s snow total is approaching 500 inches — and 715 inches at the summit.

Information: www.mammothmountain.com

Ski Utah: Brighton and Solitude are two Wasatch wonders

Solitude Mountain Resort features more than 1,200 acres of skiing and riding, with about half divided between beginner and intermediate terrain, and the other half advanced. (Photo courtesy Solitude Mountain Resort)

By Bob Goligoski

God blessed Utah with two remarkable side-by-side canyons — Little Cottonwood and Big Cottonwood.

Little Cottonwood Canyon is better known as it is the home of Alta and Snowbird. But any skier or snowboarder who ventures into the Salt Lake City area really has to visit Brighton and Solitude — two resort gems up near the top of Big Cottonwood canyon.

Smaller in stature than Alta and Snowbird, Brighton and Solitude share the same Wasatch mountain terrain and are hit with the same light powder storms that regularly dump about 500 inches of fluff every winter. It has been a sensational snow season. By mid-February, Solitude already had racked up 342 inches.

Brighton, with 1,875 feet of vertical, has 66 runs, five terrain parks and four high-speed quad chairlifts. Solitude has 79 runs, three bowls and eight chairlifts spread across 2,047 feet of vertical.

From the top of the lifts at both resorts, there are many avenues to the bottom ranging from double diamond to mellow intermediate runs. We found the grooming impeccable at both resorts.

Half the runs at Solitude are rated novice or intermediate. But the place has plenty of chutes and other gnarly terrain for the skilled skier or rider. With injuries and age behind me, my days of skiing off-piste are over. So I rely on one reviewer who noted after a day at Solitude that “this is some of the most impressive off-piste terrain in the country.”

For a very scenic jaunt, you can ski or ride from the slopes of Solitude down into the terrain at Brighton. Look for the Solbright run off the Summit Express lift at Solitude.

At Brighton Resort, 100 percent of its terrain is accessible by high-speed quads. (Photo by Jovvany Villalobos, Courtesy Brighton Resort)

Skiers discovered Brighton in the 1930s. Some ski clubs and individuals started cobbling together surface lifts. There was no owner. But gradually the place found some investors who turned the place into a ski resort.

Solitude was founded in 1957 by uranium miner Robert Barrett. As the yarn goes, he decided to build his own ski resort after he was denied use of the restrooms at Alta which concluded he was not an official guest there.

Each resort has charms and selling points. You can ski under the stars at Brighton six nights a week until 9 p.m. And if you are 10 and younger, two of you can ski and ride free when accompanied by one adult.

Solitude has a nordic center and 20 kilometers of cross-country trail. If you would rather snowshoe, the resort has a 10-kilometer network of snowshoe trails.

Brighton attracts some of the best terrain park amateur artists that I have ever seen. Ride the Majestic chairlift and you have a front row seat to the show-off performers who fly over the berms with an array of mind-blowing tricks.

Over at Solitude, one pleasure stop to catch your breath between runs is the Himalayan Hut in the Roundhouse. Sit back on the sun-splashed deck and enjoy some curry fries, saag paneer and a brew.

Solitude has quite an attractive base village with lodging at the 46-room Inn at Solitude and an array of shops, condos, bars and cafes. There are 10 places to dine on the peak and in the village.

Frequent guests at Brighton camp out in the rustic 20-unit Brighton Lodge by the lifts. The hot tub always fills up by 4.

Most visitors elect to bed down in Salt Lake City, which is usually a 40-50 minute drive to the two resorts. We rode the UTA bus (www.skicity.com) which has some nice connections — and good price deals — between the city and Brighton, Solitude, Alta and Snowbird.

Speaking of prices, there are several reduced price options online for lift tickets.

If you are an adult and just walk up mid-week, the ticket is $109 at Solitude and $89 at Brighton.

Information

Brighton Resort: www.brightonresort.com

Solitude Mountain Resort: solitudemountain.com

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.

Mammoth Mountain opens 2019 with snow, snow and more snow

Mammoth Mountain received a nice amount of snow overnight both Saturday and Sunday. (Photo by Peter Morning/Mammoth Mountain Ski Area)

By Jerry Rice

Looking for fresh powder for skiing and snowboarding? Mammoth Mountain has it. Lots of it.

The resort received 4.5 feet of new snow at the summit and 3 feet at Main Lodge thanks to a productive storm that passed through the Sierra Nevadas over the weekend.

And that’s only part of the story.

Weather.com predicts Mammoth Mountain will receive snow or snow showers during six of the next 10 days — certainly adding to the resort’s 60- to 80-inch base.

“Crews are working diligently to safely open terrain, but it will take some time with that amount of snow,” says spokesman Tim Lyman. “Check the Mammoth Mountain website for real time terrain updates.”

It’s a winter wonderland of white on the streets in Mammoth. (Photo by Peter Morning/Mammoth Mountain Ski Area)

Roads are being cleared of snow. (Photo by Peter Morning/Mammoth Mountain Ski Area)

Workers are busy shoveling snow at the lodge near the Broadway Express chairlift. (Photo by Peter Morning/Mammoth Mountain Ski Area)

A Mammoth Mountain marker rises above the snow — but not by much. (Photo by Peter Morning/Mammoth Mountain Ski Area)

Skiing in the Sierras starts with the help of new snow-making systems

Electric power needed to run the lifts at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows now comes from 100 percent renewable sources under a deal with Liberty Utilities. (Photo courtesy Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows)

By Bob Goligoski

This year’s Sierra ski season started with the whimper, not a bang. A couple of the usual early starters — Boreal and Mt. Rose — opened with minimal novice-type terrain on man-made snow in late October.

Snow-making systems cranked up big time in mid-November as temperatures dropped. Northstar, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Soda Springs, Mammoth and others opened then with limited terrain. Finally, forecasters said the first storms will arrive in late November.

Mother Nature is fickle. Ski resort owners know that. So they bought even more snow-making equipment for this season to keep things white.

Sugar Bowl was the big spender, investing $3 million in a planned $8 million expansion of its snowmaking network. More than 100 new snow guns were installed along with 17 tower-mounted fan guns.

Mt. Rose in Nevada added a bevy of snow guns as part of a $2 million outlay in new mountain projects for this season. The man-made snow systems are now reaching into the Subway terrain area at Alpine Meadows. Boreal opened a new snow-making system near its bunny terrain.

“There is no doubt that the ski resorts are less dependent now on natural snow then they were five or 10 years ago,” said Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association. “So much snow-making has been added in recent years.”

The new Snowbird fixed-grip triple chairlift, which replaces a ride up the mountain installed in 1971, improves access to the beginner terrain at Tahoe Donner. It’s one of several improvements debuting at the resort this winter. (Photo courtesy Tahoe Donner Association)

New lifts, terrain parks

Skiers and riders will find a few new lifts and terrain parks in the Sierra this season. Tahoe Donner erected a new triple chair called Snowbird, which replaces an old chair that opened in 1971.

Boreal built a new lift dubbed the California Cruiser. It’s for novice skiers and riders and is designed to help them progress into more difficult terrain. Diamond Peak carved out a new terrain park on its lower mountain which visitors can access by taking the Red Fox lift.

Family friendly tubing comes to the Overlook above the village at Northstar. This new experience will debut Dec. 21 and will be open days and most evenings.

Heavenly took over management of nearby Lakeland Village, a townhouse style resort, to give guests a lake-side home while they ski. The resort also will start hauling visitors around the upper reaches of the peaks in utility task vehicles — a sort of plush scenic tour.

Mammoth Mountain has introduced a couple back-country programs which will allow the adventuresome to explore new terrain with instructors and guides.

This season, all the electric power needed at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will come from renewable sources under a deal worked out with Liberty Utilities.

Some $1.4 million was spent at Alpine Meadows for extensive base area renovations. The base lodge will have a new look and several features including a self-serve barista bar and a bigger Last Chair bar.

Passes and prices

Liesl Hepburn, public relations director at Squaw/Alpine, noted that this will be the first full-season for the new Ikon Pass at the two resorts. It’s a season pass that allows skiers and riders to visit the two resorts and also provides access to 34 other resorts around the world.

“Because of the new pass, we expect to see new skiers and riders here who have never visited before,” she said.

Can skiers and riders, without season passes, expect to pay more at Sierra resorts this season? There is no clear answer as the answer differs from resort to resort depending on pricing policies.

A number of resorts, including Squaw/Alpine, use a dynamic pricing model which means that pricing varies with demand and other factors.

“The earlier you buy online, the greater your chances are of getting the lowest prices,” Hepburn said.

A dining tip for peak lovers: Probably the tastiest chow I have had in the Sierra is at the Smokehouse BBQ at the top of Sierra-at-Tahoe. It just had a major face-lift which now gives diners sweeping views of Lake Tahoe and the Desolation Wilderness.

Some lower elevation resorts in the Sierra, such as Homewood and Dodge Ridge, may be opening a little later this year. Dodge has set its opening for Dec. 22.