Winter returns in a big way to Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Mammoth

After going way too long without major snowfall from Mother Nature, the storm system that rolled through much of California at the end of last week left mountains coated in white.

In the Lake Tahoe area, Squaw Valley received 68 inches – more than 5 and a half feet – of snow while sister resort Alpine Meadows received 63 inches. The new snow has created a tremendous base at both resorts and will allow both mountains to open new terrain this week.

At Mammoth Mountain, the storm dropped more than 3 feet of fresh snow, bringing the base depth at the summit to 70 inches. The new snow will allow the resort to open 100 percent of the terrain this weekend for the first time this year.

In addition, Mammoth has some great deals:
  • The resort is selling 2-for-1 lift tickets. For more information, click here.
  • Mammoth is also offering free flights from LAX and San Diego when guests stay three or more nights at any of the Mammoth Lodging Collection properties.
  • To earn the free flights, reservations must be made by March 23 by calling 800-626-6684. Guests can stay through April 6.

Back in the Lake Tahoe area, Squaw Valley had 15 lifts operating today and Alpine Meadows had seven. Lifts slated to run this week for the first time this season include Solitude at Squaw Valley, and Scott and Lake View at Alpine Meadows. Siberia Express also is set to reopen at Squaw Valley starting Tuesday.

“The new snow was just what we needed to really get winter going here at Squaw and Alpine,” said Mike Livak, executive vice president for Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. “Thanks to the storm, we are now able to open new lifts so that our guests can truly experience the diverse terrain that these two mountains have to offer.”

Here’s what Squaw Valley is looking like with its fresh coat of snow. >>>

Mammoth opens more runs with 20 inches of new snow

Mammoth Mountain received 16 to 20 inches of new snow, and the resort has expanded open terrain with 20 lifts running and access to 129 trails, including the Face of Five and the Avy Chutes on Lincoln Mountain. The base depth on the mountain is now 25 to 35 inches and the conditions are great with packed powder.

The forecast shows more snow in the forecast this week so if you haven’t already, make your last minute Presidents Day plans to visit Mammoth.

We have special deals on lodging, dining, activities and retail.

Mammoth offers 2 for 1 lift tickets and 18 inches of new snow

Mammoth Mountain looks a lot different than it did a week ago following a round of much needed storms that dropped 18 inches of snow – and there’s more on the way. The next round of snow storms is just starting to hit Mammoth Mountain and is expected to stick around through Monday.
To help visitors make the most of all this nice new snow Mammoth is offering 2-for-1 lift tickets! To redeem, you just have to “like” Mammoth Mountain on Facebook and fill out the form in the link above to receive a voucher redeemable at any ticket window.

Mammoth Mountain’s snow dance pays off with 8 inches of fresh snow

A snowy – and welcome – scene this morning at Mammoth Mountain's Canyon Lodge. (Mammoth Mountain Ski Area photo)

A snowy – and welcome – scene this morning at Mammoth Mountain’s Canyon Lodge. (Mammoth Mountain Ski Area photo)

By Jerry Rice

#MammothSnowDance appears to be working.

After a seemingly never-ending string of sunny days this winter, employees and guests at Mammoth Mountain started performing their best “make it snow” moves for a YouTube video that was posted a couple days ago. The gambit apparently worked because the resort has received more than 8 inches of new snowfall in the past 24 hours.

By any measure, this has been a rough winter for ski and snowboard resorts throughout California. Whether it’s Heavenly and Squaw Valley in the Lake Tahoe area, or Bear Mountain and Mountain High in the Southland, the lack of snowfall has presented an unwelcome challenge. Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge, for example, has a season total of 54 inches – considerably short of the 250 inches of snow received by this time last year.

So resorts with snow-making capabilities have been putting those tools to work whenever possible. At Mammoth, which has an extensive snow-making system, the base depth this morning was 15-25 inches and 16 lifts were scheduled to run today offering access to 52 trails.

But there’s nothing like the natural stuff.

“Keep the snow dances coming – Mother Nature is listening,” says Mammoth spokeswoman Lauren Burke. “The snow is still falling at about an inch an hour, and is not expected to stop anytime soon.”

Want some inspiration before choreographing your own #MammothSnowDance? Here’s the video. >>>

Team USA going to Sochi Olympics draws 6 from Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth Lakes will be well represented starting next week at the Winter Olympics. The Eastern Sierra community, with a population of 8,234, is sending six athletes to the Games in Sochi, Russia, and they’ll compete in a variety of disciplines from ski cross to snowboarding.

While some grew up in Mammoth Lakes and others moved there later in life to train, they all call Mammoth home.

The contingent would be even larger, but one of Mammoth’s most impressive athletes, 13-year-old women’s halfpipe phenom Chloe Kim, is too young to compete. She’ll have her chance in four years at the XXIII Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

In the meantime, here’s a closer look at this year’s Olympic-bound athletes from Mammoth:

  • John Teller was the first American to win a ski cross World Cup event, topping the podium in 2011. Most recently, Teller took first in Val Thorens, France, making him the only American to podium in ski cross this World Cup season, and sending him to Sochi.
  • Kelly Clark clinched her spot on the U.S. Olympic Snowboard Team for halfpipe early in the season. Clark has been to the Olympics three times before, bringing home a gold and a bronze in the halfpipe event. Most recently she took first in halfpipe at this year’s X Games in Aspen.
  • In what was deemed the most surprising result of any Olympic sport this season, Trevor Jacobwon won a World Cup snowboardcross event in Vallnord-Arcalís, Andorra, which placed him on his first U.S. Olympic Team.
  • With a season that included upsetting Shaun White in the first of five Olympic selection events for halfpipe, snowboarder Greg Bretz earned his stripes and his place on the team. It will be Bretz’s second trip to the Olympics. He placed 12th in Vancouver in 2010.
  • Stacey Cook earned two, back-to-back downhill second-place finishes at the Audi FIS World Cup 2012/13, marking the first podiums of her World Cup career and the first step on her road to Sochi. Recently, she wrapped up her spot on the Olympic team with some of her best World Cup finishes of the season. This will be her third trip to the Olympics.
  • Kaya Turski is a Canadian freestyle skier who also is a member of the Mammoth Unbound Freeski Team. She heads to Sochi to compete in the Olympic debut of the slopestyle event. Most recently she won her fourth X Games gold medal for slopestyle in the 2014 event in Aspen.

Snow makers rescue big Sierra resorts as drought bakes smaller ones

Daniel Crandall monitors a fan gun snowmaking machine on the upper slopes at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. The lack of rainfall this winter has left the tourism trade in the Lake Tahoe area in shambles as ski resorts struggle to survive without snow. (Daniel Crandall monitors a fan gun snowmaking machine on the upper slopes at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. The lack of rainfall this winter has left the tourism trade in the Lake Tahoe area in shambles as ski resorts struggle to survive without snow. (Gary Reyes/San Jose Mercury News)

Daniel Crandall monitors a fan gun snowmaking machine on the upper slopes at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. on Friday, Jan. 10. The lack of rainfall this winter has left the tourism trade in the Lake Tahoe area in shambles as ski resorts struggle to survive without snow. (Gary Reyes/San Jose Mercury News)

By Lisa M. Krieger
San Jose Mercury News

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — These are the unlikely saviors in the lofty peaks of the serene Sierra: high-tech snow machines, roaring like jets and spewing million-dollar crystals.

“If it wasn’t for snow making, we probably wouldn’t be open,” said Barrett Burghard, head snow maker at Heavenly Ski Resort, who is propping up the beleaguered mountain economy with his vast computer-driven complex of snow guns, pumps, compressors, pipes, hydrants, nozzles and miles of hoses.

Mother Nature, always fickle, has been especially cruel this drought year to the resorts and mountain communities that depend on snow for their economic survival. Instead of fluffy powder, there’s just granite, mud and manzanita.

So Burghard and other snow makers are fabricating winter where it isn’t.

As the eastern sky turns pink with dawn’s rising sun, his 165-gun system performs alchemy, mixing massive drafts of water, air and electricity to prepare 14 miles of bare ski runs for thousands of visitors. Every night, snowcat crews push piles of the precious product back up the slopes.

Innovations in technology — such as the $40,000 Super PoleCat, with a built-in automated weather station that alters man-made snow characteristics — make it possible to produce an acre of thigh-deep snow in an hour.

That’s enough to blanket a football field with snow 8 feet deep during a three-hour game.

In this dry and balmy winter, the small, historic and family-owned resorts without extensive snow making — such as Donner Ski Ranch or Dodge Ridge — haven’t opened, costing jobs and starving local businesses. The National Winter Trail Days event at Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe Center was canceled.

But big corporations running Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Mammoth Mountain have made major investments in snow-making tools. Squaw Valley alone has spent $5.2 million since 2012. This month virtually all of the snow at the resorts came out of machines.

The goal is to survive not just dry years, but what could be a parched future.

“The larger resorts have the capital resources to do extensive snow making,” said Bob Roberts of the California Ski Industry Association.

At South Lake Tahoe’s Powder House, where equipment rentals have fallen from 120 to 60 a day due to lack of natural snow, technician Michael Breshears said “they have technology on their side, and Heavenly has by far the best snow making around.”

“It is the saving grace,” said skier Colleen Tanaka. Tracking California’s weather from her home in Hawaii, she says “we were a little bit bummed. It is a little disappointing. But thank goodness that Heavenly makes their own snow so we can still have a nice white winter.”

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When teaching kids to ski, it’s all about keeping it fun

A ski instructor coaches young Alex Faerber in a class for children at Mammoth Mountain. (AP photo by Fritz Faerber)

A ski instructor coaches young Alex Faerber in a class for children at Mammoth Mountain. (AP photo by Fritz Faerber)

By Fritz Faerber
Associated Press

A hard wind pelted exposed areas of our faces with tiny pellets of sleet and drove the 16-degree air through any chink in the ski gear covering my 4-year-old son Alex and me. He’d just fallen getting off a ski lift at Utah’s Brighton Ski Resort and I could see the tears welling up through the goggles.

Swift, decisive action was essential.

Minutes later, we were sharing a large hot chocolate, a plate of cheese fries and planning our afternoon away from the mountain. A full belly, time at the hotel pool and a nap rescued my future of skiing with my son from a miserable morning on the mountain.

“Let’s go to Snowbird,” he replied, referring to one of the ski resorts, when I asked if he wanted to ski or go into the city on the third day of our weeklong trip. Music to my ears.

I was determined to share my love of skiing with my son, but wondered if I was pushing it when I put him on the slopes at age 3. And since we live far from snowy mountains, I worried we wouldn’t get out often enough for it to take. But at 4, he showed mastery of the basics, and at 5, he can’t wait to go back.

For other parents out there wondering how to ignite a love of skiing in little ones, here are some tips on what worked for us.

First off, as most parents know, the kid is in charge. If he or she doesn’t want to learn, there is no amount of coaxing, bribing, pushing or fooling them into doing it.

With Alex, I made sure to promote a love of snow. The sporadic snowfalls in St. Louis, where we live, always result in snowmen, snow-gorillas and other unrecognizable sculptures in our front yard. In fact, we’ve even resorted to stealing the snow from all our neighbors’ yards, when the snowfall is too scanty for our own allotment to build anything of substance.

Much like Dad, Alex loves gear. Playing with this helped build excitement for skiing. At age 3 he started wearing ski goggles and helmet while riding in his car seat during winter time. Used skis and ski boots off eBay came cheap and meant he could get used to stomping around in the boots before we even left St. Louis.
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Mammoth midweek pass good for 20 weekdays for $299

The Mammoth midweek pass is back. At $299, it’s just a bit more than a standard three-day pass and is valid for 20 weekdays in January and early February. Here’s the deal:

  • Valid from Jan. 13 to Feb. 7, Monday through Friday
  • Blackout dates: Jan. 18-19, Jan. 25-26 and Feb. 1-2
  • Valid at Both Mammoth and June Mountain
  • The midweek pass also offers a 25 percent discount to Mammoth’s multiple lodging properties, including Mammoth Mountain Inn, Juniper Springs, Tamarack  and the Village Lodge
  • Available for purchase here, or by calling 800-626-6684

Mammoth Mountain: The resort that Dave built celebrates a milestone

While no longer under the leadership of its founder,
the Eastern Sierra getaway is still going strong at 60

Mammoth Mountain’s original warming hut, which opened in 1953, was nicknamed “The Pit.” In part of the design, Dave McCoy incorporated a downward-pointing arrow, using black rocks from Westgard Pass, to show skiers that this was the place to be, according to the book “Tracks of Passion” by Robin Morning. (Photo courtesy Mammoth Mountain Ski Area)

Then: Mammoth Mountain’s original warming hut, which opened in 1953, was nicknamed “The Pit.” In part of the design, Dave McCoy incorporated a downward-pointing arrow, using black rocks from Westgard Pass, to show skiers that this was the place to be, according to the book “Tracks of Passion” by Robin Morning. (Photos courtesy Mammoth Mountain Ski Area)

By Jerry Rice

Mammoth Mountain.

The name says everything a skier or snowboarder needs to know about a resort with some of the country’s most desirable terrain, spread across 3,500 acres and reaching an elevation of 11,053 feet.

But for many veterans of this place, it’s more affectionately known as “Dave’s Mountain.” That’s in deference to Dave McCoy, the legendary founder of the ski area that this winter is celebrating its 60th anniversary.

Dave McCoy, founder of the Mammoth Mountain ski resort, on the slopes likely in the 1980s.

Dave McCoy, founder of the Mammoth Mountain ski resort, on the slopes likely in the 1980s.

McCoy, who was born in 1915 in El Segundo, has been in the area since 1935 when the freshly minted high school grad landed in the nearby hamlet of Independence. He started earning money as a soda jerk — the same job he was working when he met his future wife, Roma Carriere — and saved up to buy his first Harley-Davidson.

In 1937, McCoy wanted to set up a rope tow on McGee Mountain, just off Highway 395 south of Mammoth. He used his motorcycle as collateral for an $85 loan to get parts for the device, which was powered by the motor from a Ford Model A truck. Eager skiers paid 50 cents to be pulled up the hill, and a business was born.

Soon, McCoy found work as a hydrographer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, sometimes in the winter skiing 50 miles a day to measure snow depths so officials could predict how much water would be available in the spring and summer.

“I enjoyed being outdoors all the time,” said the 98-year-old in a recent phone interview. “You enjoy life a lot more if you’re doing what you want to do.”

When the Forest Service sought bids to build a full-fledged resort in the area, McCoy used his knowledge of snowfall and snowpack trends and picked what he thought would be a prime location. In 1953, he was awarded a permanent permit to operate Mammoth Mountain. He built a warming hut that summer, and by November, shortly after the birth of their sixth child, McCoy told Roma he was quitting his job to put all of his energies into building the ski area.

Much of McCoy’s story — which is intertwined with that of the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area and the town of Mammoth Lakes — is documented in “Tracks of Passion,” written by local historian Robin Morning. In snippets of text and lots of vintage photos and illustrations, it captures the challenges McCoy et al. needed to overcome to turn a stunning mountain in a remote area into what has become a world-class destination.

More recently, that transformation included the 2003 opening of a four-story, pedestrian-oriented shopping and condominium complex, the Village at Mammoth, and then McCoy’s decision in 2005 to sell his controlling interest in the company to Starwood Capital Group for $365 million — one of the highest prices ever paid for a ski resort at that time.

Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge today offers all of the amenities that skiers and snowboarders have come to expect – apparel and gift shops, equipment rentals and demos, restaurants and other diversions. (Photo by Peter Morning)

Now: Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge today offers all of the amenities that skiers and snowboarders have come to expect – apparel and gift shops, equipment rentals and demos, restaurants and other diversions. (Photo by Peter Morning)

What makes Mammoth such a special place? Ask McCoy, and his answer is simple and direct: “The snow and the mountain.”

For many, if not most, of the 1.3 million skiers and snowboarders who frequent the resort every winter, that truly is the long and short of it.

Others may point to the fact that Mammoth Lakes is essentially a 4.5-square-mile island in the middle of hundreds of thousands of acres of undeveloped public lands. That’s a big part of the appeal for Jack Copeland, president of the Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce.

“There’s no urban or suburban sprawl here,” he said. “We don’t have a cute little 19th century mining town because the ones we did have burned down in the 19th century. What we have now is close proximity to unspoiled wilderness and fabulous weather — great for summer and for winter.”

It likely will remain that way since much of the region is national forests, national parks and property overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. The DWP also is a huge player, after it bought up nearly all of the land in the Owens Basin and the accompanying water rights that stretch essentially to the foot of Mammoth Mountain.

So, in effect, one outcome of the California water wars of the early 1900s is that the region around Mammoth Lakes will never get built up like many other winter destination communities, such as the ones along Interstate 70 in Colorado or those in the vicinity of Park City, Utah.

That, Copeland adds, is a good thing.

“I know a lot of people who like Park City, but the main attraction at a lot of those other big resorts is not about skiing, it’s about retail, frankly,” he said. “We really specialize in outdoor wilderness and mountain experiences. That’s who Mammoth is for — people who want to be close to the mountains and either actively participate in recreational activities or want to relax and enjoy the view.”

It’s the same outdoors, and the same mountain, that Dave McCoy embraced all those years ago.

>>>>>

5 RESORTS: NEW ON THE SLOPES

Ski and snowboard resorts invested big during the off-season. Here are highlights from five California locations. For information about resorts throughout the state, visit www.dailynews.com/travel and www.insidesocal.com/snow.

Bear Mountain
43101 Goldmine Drive, Big Bear Lake
909-866-5766, www.bearmountain.com
• What’s new: For snowboarders, the Red Bull Plaza has been revamped and now includes a city-inspired parking structure, billboard wall ride, Dumpsters, close-out rails and a multi-use object called the City Center.
• Social connections: @Bear_Mountain, www.facebook.com/BearMtn

Mountain High
24510 Highway 2, Wrightwood
888-754-7878, www.mthigh.com
 What’s new: A Rossignol Experience Center, expanded Children’s Sports Center and new snow cats and terrain features are among the more than $1 million in improvements. The current snow-making system is 30 percent more efficient than it was a decade ago, allowing the resort to make more snow than ever using fewer resources.
• Social connections: @mthigh, www.facebook.com/mthigh

Snow Summit
880 Summit Blvd., Big Bear Lake
909-866-5766, www.snowsummit.com
• What’s new: Big Bear Mountain Resorts, which owns this property and Bear Mountain, has invested more than $12 million to improve snow-making capabilities at both resorts in the past few years.
• Social connections: @Snow_Summit, www.facebook.com/SnowSmt

June Mountain
3819 Highway 158, June Lake
888-586-3686, www.junemountain.com
• What’s new: The resort returns after a one-winter hiatus with on-mountain experiences suited for all levels, especially families and entry-level skiers and snowboarders. The Mammoth Mountain MVP season pass also includes free access to the slopes at June.
• Social connections: @JuneMountain, www.facebook.com/JuneMountain

Mammoth Mountain
10001 Minaret Road, Mammoth Lakes
800-626-6684, www.mammothmountain.com
• What’s new: The 60th anniversary season brings with it many improvements, including a $700,000 renovation of the Mammoth Mountain Inn and the debut of the Underground Lounge nightclub with space for live music. Kids are sure to enjoy the upgrades to the Unbound Playgrounds and Adventure Zones, part of which will have a Sesame Street West theme. Top skiers and snowboarders will come to town for pre-Olympic training at Mammoth before heading off to Sochi for the Winter Games. The Sprint U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix, Jan 18-19, will conclude with the announcement of the 2014 Olympic Snowboarding Team for halfpipe and the new Olympic event of slopestyle.
• Social connections: @MammothMountain  www.facebook.com/MammothMountain,
www.youtube.com/user/MammothMTNOfficial