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.”
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.