For California’s mountain resorts, the holiday season was a hit

Coming off a successful year-end holiday season, the neighboring resorts of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows recently reported more than 130 inches of snowfall this season. (Photo courtesy Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows)

By Bob Goligoski

Skiers and snowboarders enjoyed spectacular conditions in the Sierras over the Christmas-New Year’s holiday period as the resorts had one of their best holiday spans over the last five years.

And when conditions are right, the resorts can get about one-fourth of their annual seasonal revenue over the holidays. This can translate down the road into to major improvements including new lifts and runs.

The 2017 holiday season “was challenging for some resorts,” says Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association. “But this season, we had some good snow storms right before Christmas and everyone walked away with a smile from the holidays — and that included guests and resort owners.”

Alex Spychalsky, spokeswoman for Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, said, “The weather was good and that kept the snow in good condition. There were only a few brief periods of strong winds.”

Skiers and riders were delighted to find key runs at both resorts — slopes usually not open until January for lack of snow — open at Christmas. Those runs included Granite Chief at Squaw and Sherwood and Lakeview at Alpine.

While spokesmen for the Sierra resorts we contacted could not be specific about how good business really was, they did acknowledge that there were no sell-out days.

In Southern California, Mountain High experienced a 48 percent increase in business over the 2017 holiday period, according to a report in The Snow Industry Letter. President/CEO Karl Kapuscinski noted that “the major trend was that all first-time beginner programs were selling out daily — over 70 percent of that group was non-Caucasian, with the majority being Asian.”

Up north in Oregon, Mt. Bachelor had its second busiest holiday period since 2003. Visits were up 28 percent over the same period the year before.

Mike Pierce, marketing director at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe, said that the holiday season at the Nevada resort was one of the top five of the last five years. The only downer over the holidays was a burst of strong east winds that prevented the resort from shooting off its annual New Year’s fireworks celebration.

At Diamond Peak, “We got a foot of snow Christmas Eve and that brought the crowds out,” said Jaclyn Ream, marketing coordinator. “The crowds were large but we had all the runs open. The parking lot was full.”

Stephanie Myers, communications manager at Northstar, said, “We had a white Christmas and we were in full operation. December 26 was a ‘bluebird’ day. And the village was very festive with all the holiday activities.”

Tahoe Donner, at the top of Donner Pass, is quite exposed to the weather. But, according to marketing chief Derek Moore, there “were no noticeable impacts to either resort (alpine and nordic) as a result of road closures or high winds.”

The resort’s new Snowbird chairlift moved the skiers and riders along quickly, he added. And with all the fresh snow, Tahoe Donner was able to open about 50 kilometers of nordic terrain.

It’s been a blockbuster ski, snowboard season for Sierra resorts

Abundant snowfall this winter at Mt. Rose resulted in lots of scenes like this, which was taken on Jan. 15. The resort reported one of its best winters for skier visits in several years. (Photo by Billy Jesberg for Mt. Rose)

Abundant snowfall this winter at Mt. Rose resulted in lots of scenes like this, which was taken on Jan. 15. The resort reported a record year for visitors. (Photo by Billy Jesberg for Mt. Rose)

Bob Goligoski

Frequent snowfalls, early and late snow, well-timed storms, few highway shutdowns and pent-up demand from skiers and snowboarders added up to a blockbuster season for Sierra resorts in California and Nevada.

“We had a fantastic winter,” said Ashley Quadros, marketing content coordinator at Tahoe Donner. “This was the best season in history for both our cross country and alpine areas. Mother Nature was very good to us.”

Most Sierra resorts do not reveal visitor numbers but the California Ski Industry Association predicts that this season will far surpass the long-term average of 6.5 million visits a year at the Sierra resorts.

Association president Michael Reitzell said that the number so far this season is well past the 4.6 million visits recorded last year.

“With a number of resorts open into May, we have a chance at a record year,” he said.

The old record was set during the 2004-05 season when about 8.5 million visits were recorded by the resorts.

“We had great snow all over California,” Reitzell added. “From Shasta and Dodge Ridge to China Peak, Mammoth and the Tahoe resorts, it was a phenomenal season.”

Most of the resorts are closing around mid-April, but Mammoth, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Mt. Rose will be open into May.

“Mammoth hasn’t closed before Memorial Day in 28 years and that streak won’t end this year,” said Tim LeRoy, a resort spokesman. “With a healthy base of 200 inches (at the summit), Mammoth will remain open through at least Memorial Day and likely later. In years with similar snowfall totals, Mammoth has remained open all the way to July 4.”

I was at Northstar in March and noticed that the coverage was amazing. By that time, it had snowed more than 400 inches; as of earlier today, the total exceeded 455 inches.

Communications manager Marcie Bradley noted that “with all this snow, we are having a great season.”

So many riders and skiers had come to Mt. Rose by early April, officials there said that the resort had broken its visitor records.

“We are still enjoying mid-winter conditions on the mountain,” said Mike Pierce, Mt. Rose director of marketing. “The skiing and riding is so great, we’ve decided to extend the season into May (closing May 8), pushing the ski season to over six months and making this the longest season in Mt. Rose’s history.”

Similar comments came from Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, now under the same ownership.

“We will be Tahoe’s longest-running resort this season,” said Liesl Kenney, public relations manager for the two resorts. “And with Squaw’s High Camp hot tub and parties across the mountain, the spring skiing capital will be in full swing. With the closing date scheduled for May 30, conditions permitting, this will be the longest season we have had in the last 10 years.”

While much improved compared with recent years, Sierra resorts did not enjoy a huge snow season. Totals were pretty much close to what was average before 2010, when a multi-year span of skimpy snow seasons started.

Kevin Cooper, senior communications manager for Heavenly and Kirkwood, explained that snow fell in perfect increments, arriving at a rate of 4 to 9 inches at a time. No storm dropped several feet at once, shutting everything down.

“At Tahoe, we had the best snow in the country this season,” he added. “On Christmas Day, we had 24 inches of powder. A lot of people did not get up to the mountains in the last two or three years, so many people were quite excited to get out and ski or snowboard again.”

Sugar Bowl Resort presented a scenic winterscape in mid-January. (Photo courtesy Sugar Bowl Resort)

Sugar Bowl Resort offered a scenic winterscape in mid-January. (Photo courtesy Sugar Bowl Resort)

Kevin Mitchell, general manager at Homewood, said that “the snow continued to pile up all season long and gave us the ability to launch new initiatives including our snow-cat skiing operation and on-mountain drone photography program.”

Peter Avedschmidt, the marketing and sales manager at Sugar Bowl, said that the resort, which is high atop the Donner Pass, “had more powder days than we have had in years. We had high skier counts and this was our best season in the last five years or so.”

The resort caught some of the state’s best snow this winter. As of April 1, some 547 inches had fallen, exceeding the annual average of 500 inches.

Paul Raymore, marketing manager at Diamond Peak, said there is “actually a chance that we’ll break our all-time record of 163,000 skier visits by the time the resort closes.”

Marc Gendron, a spokesman for Bear Valley, noted that “it is the timing of snowfall that is most important, and this season could not have been better. We hit every holiday and most weekends perfectly.”

It was difficult to determine if this winter’s profitable season will result in capital improvements this summer. Most resorts reported that any plans about more lifts or runs had not been finalized.

One spokesperson noted that a big source of spending at many resorts is making snow, but thanks to the generosity of Mother Nature, snow-making equipment was silent much of the season, which added to the bottom line at many resorts.

North Lake Tahoe resorts primed for MLK weekend skiing, snowboarding

Mother Nature helped set up Lake Tahoe resorts perfectly for skiers and snowboarders before the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Northstar, for example, received 18 inches of fresh powder. (Photo courtesy Northstar)

Mother Nature helped set up Lake Tahoe resorts perfectly for skiers and snowboarders before the long Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Northstar, for example, received 18 inches of fresh powder. (Photo courtesy Northstar California)

Conditions couldn’t be better for skiers and snowboarders in anticipation of the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. North Lake Tahoe ski resorts are reporting more than a foot of new snow in the last 24 hours, while a storm system is headed toward the region late Friday into Saturday morning followed by yet another possible system moving in Sunday.

All resorts are reporting 100 percent open terrain, weather conditions permitting. So far this season the region has received about 19 feet of total snowfall at the upper elevations, sitting at 142 percent above normal according to the Nevada Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Here are the latest 24-hour snow totals at North Lake Tahoe resorts:
Alpine Meadows: 13”
Boreal Mountain Resort: 16”
Diamond Peak: 12”
Donner Ski Ranch: 12”
Granlibakken: 11”
Homewood Mountain Resort: 14” at the summit
Mt. Rose: 13” at the summit
Northstar California: 18”
Soda Springs: 11”
Squaw Valley: 11”
Sugar Bowl / Royal Gorge: 13” at the summit
Tahoe Donner: 12″

Out of the bindings, children and kids at heart have access to sledding hills at North Tahoe Regional Park, Soda Springs Snow Park and also have tubing opportunities at many ski resorts. Information: www.GoTahoeNorth.com/sledding

For last-minute deals at North Lake Tahoe resorts during Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, visit www.GoTahoeNorth.com/deals.

Diamond Peak bundles new perks with 2015-16 season passes

By the time snow returns to the slopes at Diamond Peak, the resort's season pass holders will have lots of new benefits. (Diamond Peak photo)

By the time snow returns to the slopes at Diamond Peak this winter, the resort’s season pass holders will have lots of new benefits to enjoy. (Diamond Peak photo)

Diamond Peak season pass-holders this winter will enjoy great skiing, incredible lake views and some new perks, including a bonus resort credit, coupon books, bring-a-friend tickets and additional bonus lift tickets.

The bonus resort credit, $25 for adult full passes or $15 for other paid full passes, will be loaded onto Diamond Peak season passes purchased during the sale, which ends Oct. 31. This credit is similar to a gift card and can be used for buying food, lessons, rentals or other items at Diamond Peak. Skiers and snowboarders who buy their pass during the sale also get a resort coupon book valid for extra discounts on lessons, rentals, repairs and more. Every pass-holder qualifies for four $50 bring-a-friend tickets.

New for 2015-16, Diamond Peak Ski Resort season pass-holders receive 20 complimentary non-holiday bonus days, four each at Boreal Mountain Resort, June Mountain Ski Area, Homewood Mountain Resort, Red Lodge Mountain and Las Vegas Ski & Snowboard Resort. As part of this partnership, Diamond Peak season pass-holders also receive $150 off 2015 and 2016 Woodward Tahoe Summer Camps, 50 percent off Woodward Tahoe CORE Memberships, and a complimentary hourlong Woodward Tahoe Bunker Session.

Special discounts and privileges on the mountain also are available to Diamond Peak season pass-holders, including 10 percent off food and nonalcoholic beverages in the Base Lodge, 10 percent off equipment tuning at the Diamond Peak Rental and Repair Shop, and $5 off Last Tracks event tickets. Diamond Peak also has pass-holder appreciation events like the annual opening day barbecue and toast, parties, raffles and more. For information, visit DiamondPeak.com/events.

Diamond Peak season passes are on sale at early bird rates starting at $249 for adult midweek passes (ages 24-64) or $349 for unrestricted full passes. Kids 6 and younger and 80-plus always ski free. Season passes are available for purchase at DiamondPeak.com, at the Diamond Peak Skier Services Building or the Incline Village Recreation Center.

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: