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.

Squaw Valley sends Siberia Express packing to launch a new lift

Squaw Valley's Siberia Express chairlift will be on its way out during the summer and replaced with a high-speed six-passenger chairlift. (Squaw Valley photo by Scott Sady)

Squaw Valley’s Siberia Express chairlift will be on its way out during the summer and replaced with a high-speed six-passenger chairlift. (Squaw Valley photo by Scott Sady)

The Siberia Express, one of the most popular chairlifts at Squaw Valley, will be undergoing an extensive upgrade during the summer.

Currently a high-speed quad, the Siberia Express will become a high-speed six-passenger chairlift designed to improve reliability, efficiency and operational effectiveness, according to a resort spokesman.

“Our team is committed to continually enhancing the mountain experience at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, and providing our guests with access not only to the best skiing and riding in Tahoe, but to an incredible recreational experience in an iconic destination,” said Andy Wirth, president and CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC, the parent company of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows mountain resorts.

“Upgrading the Siberia Express lift is guaranteed to have a positive impact on the skier experience on the upper mountain at Squaw,” he added. “In addition, the lift has been designed in a way that will improve its ability to operate during inclement weather.”

The chairlift is used primarily by intermediate and advanced level skiers and riders to access Siberia Bowl, Mainline and the Mainline Terrain Park, as well as the sprawling Gold Coast area. The lift will be replaced in its same location during the summer, and will open during the 2015-16 winter season.

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows to get long-awaited linkage

By Bob Goligoski, Correspondent

The long-awaited linkage of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, two legendary Lake Tahoe area ski resorts, will finally take place, according to a report from Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, LLC, which owns both resorts.,

Andy Wirth, president and CEO of the firm, said that it has reached an agreement with Troy Caldwell, owner of a rugged sliver of land separating the two resorts, which will allow the consolidation of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.

Under the plan, the two resorts will have a base to base connection via a new, high-speed, detachable gondola.

“This base-to-base gondola,” said Wirth, “will offer our guests the ability to easily explore and experience the unique attributes of these two mountains via a brand new aerial connection, while simultaneously reducing vehicle traffic between them.”

The drive between the two resorts is probably a good 6 to 8 miles. Right now, skiers and riders at Squaw Valley can gaze down a steep mountainside into the base facilities at Alpine Meadows. The new gondola will travel over KT-22 peak at Squaw Valley.

Caldwell’s private land between the two resorts has long been known as “White Wolf.” There are no plans currently being contemplated to allow skiing or riding down the steep terrain along the gondola route on Caldwell’s land.

The planned connection between the resorts will result in a sprawling winter mecca of more than 6,000 skiable acres, making it one of the largest ski areas in North America. The ski complex will boast 42 lifts and 270 runs and trails.

The plan must be approved by Placer County and the U.S. Forest Service.

Completion date of the project will depend on when the applications are submitted and when government approvals are made.

Michael Gross, director of environmental initiatives for the two resorts, said, “The plan will be executed with incredible care and concern for our environment, and with the intention of taking cars off the road, effectively reducing vehicle travel between the two mountains. Skiers and riders will be able to explore both mountains with a single lift ticket or season pass.”

Design elements in the plan call for minimizing the number of lift towers and eliminating the need to construct access roads.

Surprise snowstorm hits Squaw Valley – season extended

By Bob Goligoski, Correspondent

A surprise spring storm has dumped 20 inches of snow on Squaw Valley and prompted the resort to extend its season to April 19, a week later than the previously announced April 12. Resort spokesman Michael Radlick noted that “there is the potential to offer skiing and riding beyond that April 19 date should conditions permit.”

With the new snow, which fell on the upper mountain, the snow depth base is now 45 inches. Squaw has several chairlifts running on the upper mountain with 37 runs open ranging from novice to expert.

Alpine Meadows, which is just over the ridge from Squaw Valley, closed for the season several days ago. It is owned by the same corporation that bought Squaw Valley several years ago.

With the skiing and riding somewhat limited, Squaw has greatly reduced lift ticket prices. Walk-up adult tickets are $59, children pay just $34 and really old skiers and riders (super seniors) get in for $34.

Radlick added that people who have season passes at other Lake Tahoe area resorts “can present their season passes at Squaw Valley and receive a day pass for a discounted rate of $39.”

Some rain is predicted for the April 12 – 17 period in the Bay Area and this easily could result in more snow in the Sierra as the storm sweeps to the east. As an inducement to lure skiers and riders to the slopes, several live music shows will be staged in the village at the base of Squaw Valley during April.

Snow alert! At Northstar, 16 inches of fresh powder … and counting

Snow, snow and more snow. Here was the scene at Northstar California Resort today at 9 a.m. (Northstar photo)

Snow, snow and more snow. The scene at Northstar today at 9 a.m. (Northstar photo)

As of 11 a.m. today, Northstar California Resort has received 16 inches of fresh snow in less than 24 hours.

The mountain continues to experience very intense snowfall and an additional 6 inches of snow is forecast for tonight. Overnight temperatures are expected to dip into the teens and low 20s.

Information: www.northstarcalifornia.com

Cold temps help Diamond Peak get back in the snow business

Little help from Mother Nature? No problem at Diamond Peak, where crews have been busy making as much as 5 feet of new snow since Saturday night thanks to an abundance of chilly temperatures.

The Incline Village resort currently has nearly half of its trails open (59 percent in trail acreage) with top-to-bottom skiing on runs that drop 1,840 vertical feet. Open terrain includes two major trails off Crystal Quad Express – Flume and Crystal Ridge (voted one of the world’s top 100 best ski trails by CNN Travel).

“Our mixture of snow-making technologies allow us to maximize our ability to make snow across the resort,” said Brad Wilson, the resort’s general manager.

Information: www.diamondpeak.com

Here’s a video that shows the snow-making team in action:

Superb snow at Squaw Valley despite warm temps

By Bob Goligoski, Correspondent

I could have been playing 18 holes along the Pacific. Or biking around the bay. Or just working on a tan at the nearby beach.

But as a dedicated ski writer for 45 years, none of that would work for me. I just had to get to the Sierra to see if we still had a ski season. Recent temperatures in the 60’s on the slopes had left the perception that maybe the season was melting away in February.

It was 64 degrees on Feb 18 when I arrived in Truckee, some 10 miles from Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. But on my next day at Squaw Valley, it had probably cooled down about five degrees.

I was quite amazed at the scene at Squaw. Some 23 of the 29 lifts were operating and the snow was in superb shape.

Keeping mostly to the north-facing slopes and looking for runs where the trees protected the runs from the sun, I skied for about five hours before I noticed the first signs of soft, slushy spring-like snow. In all that time, I only scraped across one rock.

The next day at Alpine Meadows, 10 of 13 lifts were humming along but a number of runs that I favor were closed because of thin snow cover. There was plenty of skiing, some of the runs had a boiler-plate like surface while others had loose snow or were turning quite soft about noon. There were a few rocks but they were easy to avoid.

Mid-week, walk-up adult lift tickets were $119 at both resorts but Squaw was a much better buy. The two resorts are owned by the same corporation.

Melissa Matheney, public relations coordinator for the resorts, smiled as she looked at the large crowds of skiers and snowboarders. It was a semi-holiday week as there was no school for many children.

“We are still counting on more snow,” she said, “as we get about half of our annual snowfall in February and March. Business has been strong recently and the great weather here is one of our main attractions.”

Unfortunately, Squaw Valley has had to cancel a week of World Cup skicross and snowboardercross races set for March 4 – 8 because of the scarcity of snow. This was the first World Cup-level event scheduled for Squaw Valley since 1969.

The U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association Hole Shot NorAm and U.S. Revolution Tour skicross and snowboardcross events planned for March 9 – 13 at Squaw Valley also have been cancelled.

I asked Matheney about the rumors that Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will be merged into one huge resort with the erection of a lift between the two resorts. She responded that talks are on-going about that possibility “and we hope to make an announcement in the future.”

North Lake Tahoe resorts are decorated in a fresh coat of white

Squaw Valley received nearly 2 feet of snow during the weekend, and the resort has 14 lifts running, accessing 23 runs. (Squaw Valley photo)

Squaw Valley received nearly 2 feet of snow during the weekend, and the resort has 14 lifts running, accessing 23 runs. (Squaw Valley photo)

Thanks, Mother Nature.

A snowy weekend has resulted in a wealth of skiing and snowboarding opportunities at North Lake Tahoe resorts. Seven locations in the area have opened a combined 230-plus runs – with excellent conditions reported on terrain ranging from beginner to expert.

Here are the numbers for each of the resorts:

Alpine Meadows
Storm total: 16 inches
Lifts: 7
Runs: 36

Boreal Mountain Resort
Storm total: 15 inches
Lifts: 4
Runs: 23

Diamond Peak Ski Area
Storm total: 22 inches
Lifts: 5
Runs: 15

Mt. Rose Ski Resort
Storm total: 30 inches
Lifts: 5
Runs: 40

Northstar California Resort
Storm total: 19 inches
Lifts: 13
Runs: 70

Squaw Valley
Storm total: 23 inches
Lifts: 14
Runs: 23

Sugar Bowl Resort
Storm total: 18 inches
Lifts: 3
Runs: 31

For information about snow conditions in North Lake Tahoe visit, www.gotahoenorth.com. For lodging, activity and ski deals, visit www.gotahoenorth.com/cooldeals.

Snow alert! Fresh powder will be served all weekend in Lake Tahoe

It was a winter wonderland today at the Village of Northstar, where a trio of skaters had the 9,000-square-foot ice skating rink apparently all to themselves. (Northstar photo)

A snowy winter wonderland enveloped the Village of Northstar, where earlier today three skaters seemed to have the 9,000-square-foot ice skating rink all to themselves. (Northstar photo)

Just what skiers and snowboarders have been wanting: snow, snow and more snow.

Here’s the latest from the slopes in the Lake Tahoe area. Check back for updates.

Northstar: “Heavy, intense” snowfall was reported Friday afternoon. New accumulation was expected to reach 4-8 inches overnight, with 6-12 inches coming Sunday and another 5-10 inches on Monday.

Sierra-at-Tahoe: 3 inches of snowfall since the storm started late Friday morning and, according to a resort spokeswoman, “We expect to receive much more overnight.”

Sugar Bowl is rated a sweet place to tie the knot on the slopes

While offering skiing and snowboarding in the winter, Sugar Bowl also is a popular wedding venue throughout the year. (Sugar Bowl Resort photo)

While offering skiing and snowboarding during the winter, Sugar Bowl also is a popular wedding venue throughout the year. (Sugar Bowl Resort photo)

Sugar Bowl isn’t just a place for skiing and snowboarding. It’s also for weddings, as the resort recently earned three awards – including its fourth consecutive “Best of Weddings” award – from The Knot, the nation’s most visited wedding planning website.

Sugar Bowl also was inducted into The Knot’s Best of Weddings Hall of Fame, making it one of only six venues the Sacramento/Lake Tahoe/Reno area to earn the distinction.

Wedding experts at The Knot select the annual award from top venues nominated by the site’s brides. Venues selected for a Best of Weddings award four or more times receive an honorary place in the Hall of Fame.

Sugar Bowl’s wedding venue, a secluded mountain lodge with an adjoining private lake, is just hours from the Bay Area, and run by expert staff noted for their attention to detail and personalized approach to wedding planning, according to the resort.

In addition to being recognized by The Knot, Sugar Bowl also was selected for a 2015 WeddingWire Couples’ Choice Award, ranking it among the top 5 percent of venues listed on the website. The recognition is given based on reviews by couples who chose Sugar Bowl as their wedding venue. Dozens of brides and grooms gave Sugar Bowl high ratings for attributes such as “responsiveness,” “professionalism” and “value.”

Tahoe Unveiled also included Sugar Bowl in its Top 5 Receptions of 2014 for “Venue with the Best View.” Tahoe Unveiled was impressed by photographs of a wedding reception at Sugar Bowl that illustrated the rich depth of the scenery experienced by a newlywed couple and its party.

The resort’s High Sierra location features blooming wildflowers, a rolling creekside lawn, and large, open-air fire pits. Sugar Bowl also offers unique details like a private chairlift ride to the top of Mt. Disney for drinks and appetizers on a mountaintop sundeck.

“Sugar Bowl is honored to be selected numerous times this year as an award-winning wedding venue by the brides who have been married here,” said Meghon Shrewsbury, wedding and event manager for Sugar Bowl Resort. “Wedding parties choose Sugar Bowl because of the resort’s unmatched natural beauty and the secluded and intimate setting, but also because our wedding staff is dedicated to getting each detail perfect.”

Sugar Bowl is celebrating its 75th anniversary as a ski resort. On Feb. 14, the popular destination will host its anniversary celebration at Mt. Judah Lodge. There will be live music, numerous activities, and giveaways.

Information: www.sugarbowl.com/weddings