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

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:

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.

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.

Mammoth Mountain + more March snow means skiing until Memorial Day

Workers shovel the snow off the roof of the Mammoth Mountain Community Foundation. (Photo by Kevin Westenbarger/Courtesy Mammoth Mountain Ski Area)

By Jerry Rice

Thanks to another a huge storm that dumped 5 feet of new snow (and counting) in the last 24 hours, it was announced this morning that Mammoth Mountain will be open for skiing and snowboarding through at least Memorial Day.

With 132-plus inches of snowfall since March 1, this month has been by far the best of current winter season. January brought 36 inches of fresh powder.

The latest snowfall brings the season total to 238 inches at Main Lodge; there’s a 140-base at McCoy Station and 175 inches at the summit. The weekend forecast calls for highs in the low 20s on Saturday and Sunday — winterlike conditions a few days into spring.

Mammoth Mountain is closed today due to the heavy snowfall, and is expected to open Friday at 8:30 a.m.

Information: www.mammothmountain.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.