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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Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows opening expanded terrain

Santa will be skiing the slopes at Squaw Valley this weekend before he boards his sleigh on Christmas Eve. (Squaw Valley photo)

Santa will be skiing the slopes at Squaw Valley this weekend before he boards his sleigh on Christmas Eve. (Squaw Valley photo)

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will both open expanded terrain this weekend, with the addition of Shirley Lake Express at Squaw Valley and Hot Wheels Chairlift at Alpine Meadows.

Shirley Lake Express is a high-speed, six pack chairlift on the upper mountain and is set to open on Saturday. The lift provides access to some of Squaw’s most beloved intermediate terrain. At Alpine, the Hot Wheels Chairlift will open for the season on Sunday. Hot Wheels gives skiers and riders access to tree-lined intermediate trails.

Both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are open top-to-bottom for skiing and riding. Squaw Valley currently has 12 lifts and 19 trails open, including Mountain Run, the longest run at the resort. Alpine Meadows has five lifts and 26 trails open, as well as Sandy’s Corner terrain park off the Roundhouse Chairlift.

In addition to great skiing and riding, both Squaw and Alpine have a full schedule of festive happenings this holiday season including Santa on the slopes, free Ski with Jonny Moseley days, New Year’s Eve fireworks, and a torchlight parade. Click here for a full list of holiday events.

Alpine Meadows about to join Squaw Valley and open top to bottom

The skiing has been nothing short of spectacular at Squaw Valley, where this photo was taken Dec. 7 by Jeff Engerbretson. (Squaw Valley photo)

The skiing has been nothing short of spectacular at Squaw Valley, where this photo was taken on Dec. 7 by Jeff Engerbretson. (Squaw Valley photo)

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will both be open top to bottom starting Friday. At Alpine Meadows, it will be the resort’s opening day for the season.

There will be five lifts and seven groomed trails open at Alpine, where skiers and riders can purchase reduced-priced lift tickets for $59. All proceeds from lift ticket sales will benefit the Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows Foundation as part of Alpine’s Ski Team Scholarship Day.

Squaw Valley, Alpine’s sister resort near Lake Tahoe, is open top to bottom with 10 lifts and 21 runs, including Mountain Run, the longest run at Squaw. This weekend, both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will roll out the Learn to Ski and Ride Special. Beginner skiers and riders at both mountains can purchase a beginner lift ticket, equipment rentals, and a half-day lesson for $49.

“We are so excited to offer skiers and riders top-to-bottom access at both of our legendary resorts,” said Cara Whitley, chief marketing officer for Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. “From first-timers to those simply looking to support a good cause, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows have a great weekend on tap for those of every ability level.”

Being a college student has its benefits at Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley

College students will have unrestricted access to the slopes at Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley all season with the 2013-14 College Tahoe Super Pass. The cost is $419.

The College Pass has no holiday blackout dates, and also includes six discounted tickets for friends and family, free night skiing and discounted lift tickets to Sierra-at-Tahoe. For a list of all the benefits visit www.TahoeSuperPass.com.

Squaw and Alpine are home to some of the most diverse terrain in North America and host some of Tahoe’s most legendary events. This season, the resorts will once again be home to epic pool parties at Squaw’s mountain-top pool and hot tub, the Last Chair Festival, Mardi Squaw, Pain McShlonkey and the Cushing Crossing over at Alpine Meadows. Students also can soak up the sun at Ice Bar, located off Sherwood Chair at Alpine Meadows, or come out for the Saturday music series starting in the spring.

To qualify for the College Tahoe Super Pass, students must be registered as full-time college students (taking 12 credits or more) for the 2013-14 winter season. Students must bring a valid government issued photo ID and copy of course registration or transcripts showing full-time status at an accredited college.

Fresh powder piling up at Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows

Squaw Valley has received 10 inches of snow at upper elevations thanks to a snow storm that moved through the region through Thursday morning. Across the ridgeline, Alpine Meadows received 6 inches at upper elevations. The storm comes about a week before Squaw Valley’s planned opening date of Nov. 27.

Overnight, Squaw Valley received 6 inches of new snow in the upper elevations, and 1 inch at the base of Squaw Valley. Alpine Meadows received 3 inches of new snow overnight in the upper elevations and 1 inch at the base.

“The 10 inches of snow and the following cold temperatures are setting us up for a great winter season,” said Mike Livak, executive VP of operations at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. “Leading up to opening day, our state-of-the-art snowmaking system will be working fulltime to add to the snow that Mother Nature has brought us.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is calling for overnight lows in the upper teens and low 20s throughout the next week, which provides ideal temperatures for continued snowmaking at both resorts.

B-roll footage from the resort’s Youtube page has everything coated in white. >>>

Ski/snowboard resorts are welcoming a pre-Halloween treat: fresh pow!

At Alpine Meadows, the white stuff was piling up this morning. (Alpine Meadows photo)

Alpine Meadows, on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, was a winter wonderland this morning. (Alpine Meadows photo)

If it’s cold and raining down here, it must snowing up there. And it is.

In the Lake Tahoe area, Alpine Meadows received 10 inches of snow at the base and 14 inches on the upper mountain last night, while the Squaw Valley totals were 5 and 10 inches, respectively.

Snow also is piling up near Heavenly. (Heavenly Mountain Resort photo)

Snow also is piling up near Heavenly. (Heavenly Mountain Resort photo)

Heavenly was reporting 6-8 inches of natural snow overnight on the mountain, and also was taking advantage of a drop in temperatures to make even more snow – all in preparation for the resort’s planned Nov. 22 opening.

“There is something about this time of year leading up to the winter season,” said Pete Sonntag, Heavenly’s vice president and chief operating officer. “It holds so much promise, and you can feel the anticipation building. Starting up the snow guns signifies the end of one season and the beginning of another.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was forecasting that Lake Tahoe could receive an additional 3 to 6 inches of snow by Tuesday morning.

At Mammoth Mountain, there was 10 inches of new snow during the past 24 hours at the Main Lodge and 12 inches at the 11,053-foot summit. Opening day is Nov. 7.

In Southern California, Bear Mountain and Mountain High were both reporting falling temperatures – and snow – by mid-afternoon on Monday, but offered no additional details via the resorts’ Twitter feeds.

– Jerry Rice

Heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to work you’ll go – after getting the job

Resorts throughout California are ramping up for the 2013-14 snow season by hiring thousands of seasonal employees. Here’s a sampling…

Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley: The Lake Tahoe resorts are looking to hire nearly 1,000 workers, and will host a hiring fair on Saturday, Nov. 2, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Olympic House at Squaw Valley. Interviews will be conducted for a wide range of positions including ski/snowboard school instructors, lift operations, grooming, terrain parks, culinary services, rental services, retail, security, product sales and services, and parking. Opportunities include full-time and part time positions. Skiing or snowboarding abilities are not required for all available positions. Apply online and schedule interviews prior to Nov. 2, however walk-ins will be permitted the day of the hiring fair. For information, call the resorts’ Human Resources Department at 530-452-7112 or visit www.squaw.com and www.skialpine.com.

Boreal: Meet with Boreal Mountain Resort managers in-person on Oct. 19 in the Boreal Cafe located on the second floor of the Boreal Base Lodge. Interview for one or several winter positions available for the 2013-14 ski season. The job fair will offer interviews on a first-come, first-serve basis. Apply at http://rideboreal.com/winter/jobs/benefits.

Northstar: During the 2013 winter job fair on Oct. 26, Northstar will be hiring full- and part-time and holiday/on-call positions. Information: 530-562-3510, www.northstarcalifornia.com

Sugar Bowl-Royal Gorge: The annual job fair will be Saturday, Oct. 19, in the Coldstream Room at Judah Lodge, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Positions are open in many departments, from terrain park, hotel, food and beverage, and more. Managers and supervisors conduct interviews, with many positions offered that day for exceptional candidates. Sugar Bowl employees enjoy free unrestricted season passes, discounted tickets for friends and family, 50 percent off food, discounted lessons and rentals, and more. Sugar Bowl also offers employee housing on property, as well as at Donner Summit Lodge. Information: www.sugarbowl.com

Winter-like system brings snow to Lake Tahoe resorts

Last night, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows received a dusting of snow for the third time this fall. While it may not have been enough white stuff to write home about, the occasion certainly was worthy of an e-release sent out by the resorts’ media relations department.

It also provided the PR staff the opportunity to remind everyone that the Tahoe Super Pass  which offers access to the slopes at both resorts  is on sale through Sunday. Prices are $499 for a Bronze pass, $559 for a Silver, and $789 for an unlimited Gold pass. Those prices will increase starting Monday. Information: www.tahoesuperpass.com

How the resorts looked this morning…

The Emigrant express lift at Squaw Valley this morning.

Emigrant express lift at Squaw Valley

 

Base lodge at Alpine Meadows, near the Roundhouse chairlift

Base lodge at Alpine Meadows, near the Roundhouse chairlift

Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows invest big both on and off the slopes

Kids ski, too, and Squaw Valley's new Teaching Tykes program will give parents the pointers they need to help their little ones get the most out of the experience. (Jeff Curtes/Squaw Valley photo)

Kids ski, too, and Squaw Valley’s new Teaching Tykes program will give parents the pointers they need to help their little ones get the most out of the experience on the slopes. (Jeff Curtes photo)

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will be unveiling nearly $8 million in capital improvements for the 2013-14 winter season. The improvements are part of the resorts’ five-year, $70 million renaissance designed to improve all facets of the resort experience.

The investment for the first two years of the renaissance totaled $38 million and brought new chairlifts, expanded kids’ activities, new restaurants, redesigned terrain parks, and the world’s first ski-in/ski-out Starbucks to the resorts. The improvements continue this winter with a new yoga studio, $1.2 million in lodging improvements, electric car chargers, food trucks and a mid-mountain beer garden. The highlights:

Teaching Tykes program
This winter, Squaw Valley is offering a new program called Teaching Tykes, designed for parents who want tips on how to teach their little one (ages 3-5) to ski or snowboard. Available for $169, the price includes a one hour lesson for parent and child, beginner lift ticket for parent and child if 5 years old (ages 3 & 4 are already free) and kids ski or snowboard rentals.

Kids programs
Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are each offering a new kids team program for the 2013-14 winter season. The snowboarding equivalent of Squaw’s long acclaimed Mighty Mites program, the new Mighty Riders program will offer young riders ages 7-13 the opportunity to develop skills and passion for snowboarding over the course of the winter season at Squaw Valley.

At Alpine Meadows, the new Snow Rangers program will offer winter adventures and on-mountain training such as backcountry touring, snow science, avalanche awareness, snow camping and more for past ski team members ages 12-18 who have a solid base of alpine skiing.

Wanderlust Yoga Studio
Squaw and Wanderlust have partnered to open the new Wanderlust Yoga Studio. In addition to classes seven days a week, the new yoga studio will offer workshops that incorporate Squaw’s extraordinary landscape, including pairing yoga classes with hiking and paddleboarding in the summer and skiing and riding in the winter. Squaw Valley was the original birthplace of the Wanderlust Festival, now the world’s largest and fastest growing music and yoga festival.

Lodging renovations
The slope side condominium suites at The Village at Squaw Valley have received $1.2 million in renovations in summer 2013. Each bedroom in every rental unit at The Village at Squaw Valley has been upgraded with new mattresses and triple-sheet bedding with a sophisticated feel. Many units have also received new furniture, carpet, additional flat screen TVs and air conditioning. The Village offers spacious condominium suites in one-, two- and three-bedroom options complete with a full kitchen, fireplace, balcony and one bathroom per every bedroom in the unit.

The food truck phenomenon has made it to Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley. (Matt Palmer photo)

The food truck phenomenon has made it to Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley. (Matt Palmer photo)

Mtn Roots Food Trucks
Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows have purchased two new fully-outfitted food trucks to serve fresh, new dining options at the resorts this winter. The food trucks, named Mtn Roots, will offer an eclectic mix of regionally and sustainably sourced food. The Mtn Roots trucks will serve up quick bites as well as more substantial options for sit-down meals that can be enjoyed on nearby outdoor tables. The food trucks will feature rotating menus based on the ingredients available locally as well as feedback from diners.

Many of the sustainable menu offerings will be created in partnership with the Tahoe Food Hub, a local nonprofit organization committed to increasing the availability of nutritious, ecologically grown food by connecting small-scale, regional food producers with schools, restaurants and resorts like Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. More information on the Tahoe Food Hub can be found at www.tahoefoodhub.org. In partnership with K2 Skis, the food trucks will also offer a signature K2 dish. One of the food trucks will be parked primarily on First Street at The Village at Squaw Valley and the other at the base of Alpine Meadows – though both trucks will roam for special events.
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It’s snow, snow and more snow on the slopes at Lake Tahoe, Mammoth

Squaw Valley has a base depth of 2 to 8 feet, and expect that to increase as fresh powder keeps falling today at the resort. (Jeff Engerbretson photo)

As of 5 a.m. today, Squaw Valley reported up to 6 inches of new snow while sister resort Alpine Meadows said it received up to 5 inches – and the white stuff was still coming down, at a rate of about an inch per hour.

This storm follows another one that recently rolled through, dumping up to 4 inches of snow. The two-storm total was expected to be 10-15 inches by Wednesday evening.

Skies were expected to clear by mid-day Friday, making for easier travel this weekend to all of the Lake Tahoe resorts.

Mammoth Mountain already has the most snow of any resort in North America, and it could receive another 2 feet by this weekend. (Mammoth Mountain photo)

Mammoth Mountain also was reporting fresh snow this morning, with 6 to 10 inches falling in the past 24 hours and a base depth of 7 to 16 feet.

The Weather.com forecast for Mammoth has a 60-70 percent chance of snow on Thursday and Friday, followed by partly cloudy to sunny skies on Saturday and Sunday when highs are expected to be in the 40s and 50s. For more information, click here.