Sierra ski resorts mix snow with turkey for Thanksgiving weekend

Sugar Bowl Resort, which has already received more than 6 feet of snow, opened Friday with top-to-bottom skiing and riding. (Photo courtesy Sugar Bowl Resort)

Sugar Bowl Resort, which already has received more than 5 feet of snow, opened Friday with top-to-bottom skiing and riding. (Photo courtesy Sugar Bowl Resort)

By Bob Goligoski

It took a last-minute flurry of minor snow bursts but many of the Sierra ski resorts got their big wish – a Thanksgiving weekend opening. And with long-range forecasts promising off-and-on snow for December, along with temperatures dropping enough to make snow, it looks like the resorts will enjoy a white Christmas.

Mt. Rose and Boreal actually opened a little earlier in mid-November. But turkey weekend was the season debut at Heavenly, Squaw Valley, Sugar Bowl, Northstar, Alpine Meadows and Kirkwood. As usual, Mammoth opened in early November.

Initially, skiers and riders will not find all of their favorite lifts and runs open on their first visit. But more terrain and lifts will be opening all the time so be sure to check with your target resort as to how much of the mountain is open.

Some resorts were luckier than others. Sugar Bowl, perched at the top of Donner Pass, opened with top-to-bottom skiing and riding. Mt. Rose, with the Tahoe region’s highest base elevation at 8,260 feet, had numerous runs open early.

Some later season openings include Homewood on Dec. 9, June Mountain on Dec. 10 and Diamond Peak on Dec. 15.

Thanks to the long drought the Sierra experienced in recent years, many resorts expanded snow-making networks. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, now under the same ownership, spent $8 million on snow-making equipment over the last six years and then paid out another million to beef up snow-making even more for this season.

Sam Kieckhefer, a spokesman for the two resorts, explained that “snowmaking can occur once air temperatures drop below 39 degrees. However, as relative humidity increases, the ambient temperatures required to make snow decrease.”

The California Ski Industry Association noted that “history suggests a snowy winter ahead. For example, when the Lake Tahoe region receives more than 8 inches of rain in October, the region has above-average snowfall more than 75 percent of the time. More than 19 inches of rain fell on Tahoe in October.”

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.

Lake Tahoe ski and snowboard resorts get a fresh coat of white

It's beginning to look a lot like winter at Heavenly Mountain Resort, where Comet Express was covered in snow this morning. (Heavenly Mountain Resort photo)

It’s beginning to look a lot like winter at Heavenly Mountain Resort, where the Comet Express lift area was covered in snow this morning. (Heavenly Mountain Resort photo)

Ski and snowboard resorts in the Lake Tahoe area were greeted this morning by several inches of snow — with more on the way — thanks to the first winter storm of the 2015-16 season.

Up to 7 inches of snow were forecast at the 7,000-foot level, which includes Echo and Donner summits, with a foot or more of fresh powder expected to blanket the mountains at 8,500 feet, according to the National Weather Service in Reno.

Resort operators are noticeably upbeat.

“It’s snowing in Tahoe and the temperatures are dropping so we are putting our legendary snowmaking system to work as we prepare to kick off an extraordinary 2015-16 season,” said Pete Sonntag, chief operating officer at Heavenly Mountain Resort.  “Signs of El Niño are popping up across the Sierra and we’re pulling out all the stops to provide our guests with the best early season snow conditions.”

Several California resorts have announced opening days for the upcoming season, including Mammoth Mountain (Nov. 11), Heavenly and Northstar (Nov. 20), Kirkwood (Nov. 21) and Squaw Valley (Nov. 25).

In addition, resorts are enticing skiers and snowboarders with lift and lodging deals. Among those is the Tahoe Local Pass, which offers access to the runs at Heavely, Northstar and Kirkwood for $519, a discounted price available through Nov. 22. Click here for information.

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.

Skyway to Heavenly invades Los Angeles

Heavenly Mountain Resort will host a rocking après ski party in Los Angeles on Thursday. A group of four lucky friends from the City of Angels will head directly to the airport from the party to embark on their own all-expenses paid ski and party trip of a lifetime to Heavenly.

Heavenly will ignite the après ski-themed party with casino games, drink specials, giveaways, shot skis, and the gorgeous Heavenly Angels.

“Skyway to Heavenly has become a staple in the L.A. area, with its high-energy vibe and small taste of what a ski trip to Heavenly and South Lake Tahoe is all about,” said John Wagnon, Heavenly’s senior director of marketing. “Attendees should come prepared to ‘Go All In’ in an effort to win the ultimate ski trip.”

Heavenly will bring Tahoe to LA on Jan. 15, as the party starts at Busby’s West at 8:30 p.m. with three unique qualifiers to win at the party*: most liked Instagram photo tagged with #HeavenlyOrBust; highest casino winnings; top two most creative photos in the Heavenly photo booth.

The winners of each method will proceed to the final round – a sudden death flip cup race. Chug. Flip. Win. Get on a plane and go.

The weekend trip for four, valued at more than $10,000, includes a roundtrip flight on a private jet to South Lake Tahoe airport, a three-night stay at MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa, three days of skiing or riding at Heavenly with equipment and lift tickets included, a mountain tour, $450 spending money and a $75 mountain money voucher per person, VIP admission and table reservation at MontBleu nightclubs, on-call concierge, and a reserved table at Unbuckle at Tamarack après ski party. Everything will be over-the-top and out-of-control.

It could be the unforgettable trip you won’t remember.

From the DJ cat to Unbuckle après parties featuring the lovely Heavenly Angels, Heavenly’s events exude high energy.

On April 4, 2015, High Roller Hold ‘Em will take place on World Cup run featuring Olympic athletes like Sage Kotsenburg, Billy Morgan and Chas Guldemond. Infusing an X Games-worthy big air competition with a little South Lake Tahoe casino gambling twist, High Roller Hold ’Em features a monster big-air jump, a $50,000 jackpot, and, the highest stake, a 2016 X Games Big Air event exemption for the overall winner.

*All qualifiers and winners must be 21-or-over.

Heavenly offers ultimate holiday experience

Enjoy the ultimate holiday experience to Heavenly Mountain Resort this season, where twirling ice skaters, chainsaw-sculpted ice displays, and world-class fireworks will stir up the energy of the holiday season in Heavenly Village.

Co-produced by Tahoe South, the fourth annual Heavenly Holidays will feature 12 days of festivities beginning with photos with Santa in his snow globe and ending with a glittering New Year’s celebration with the sparkling Gondola Drop to ring in the New Year.

“The spirit of the season really comes to life during Heavenly Holidays. It’s a first-class experience with something that everyone can enjoy,” said Pete Sonntag, vice president and COO of Heavenly. “This time of year is all about spending time with family and friends, and Heavenly Holidays gives you the opportunity to go all in with a full day spent on the mountain and a full event roster in Heavenly Village.”

With more snow storms in the forecast and the power of the West Coast’s largest snowmaking system behind it, Heavenly is proud to provide holiday guests with fantastic snow surface conditions for skiing and riding.

After experiencing Heavenly’s 3,500 vertical feet of terrain above soaring views of Lake Tahoe, guests continue their adventure with daily festivities in Heavenly Village, leading up to the final blow out at the New Year’s Eve Celebration.

Santa’s Workshop Snow Globe – December 20-24, 2:00-7:00 p.m.
Enter Santa’s 16 foot snow globe to share your holiday wish list and snap a photo with the man himself.

Ice Skating Spectacular – December 28-30, 7:30 p.m.
Unique performances featuring some of the best figure skaters in the country will take place at the Heavenly Village Ice Rink.

Fear-No-Ice Sculpting – December 28-30, 10 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.
Catch the chainsaws in action while Heavenly Village gets a makeover with dazzling ice sculpture displays by talented artists each day.

New Year’s Eve Celebration – December 31, 6:00-9:00 p.m.
The pinnacle of Heavenly Holidays will come alive with the celebration of the New Year. The Fire Groove fire dancers will be spinning flames to a live performance by Wes Quave, while the energy of the night continues with games, face-painting and a photo booth to archive all the amusement of the night. The “Fear-No-Ice” sculptors will bust out their saws to carve their crowning glory for the New Year. Heavenly’s Gondola Drop will descend over the crowd at 9:00 p.m., when families celebrate in concurrence with the midnight Ball Drop in New York City’s Time Square. The brightly lit gondola cabin soars over the crowd while the fireworks dazzle in the sky above, capturing the wonder of kids and adults alike. Guests looking to go all in on New Year’s Eve can gear up for a full night in the variety of clubs, bars and casinos that South Lake Tahoe is famous for.

Book a Heavenly Holiday Vacation!
Heavenly Mountain Resort is the ultimate holiday destination, with 12 days of vibrant events, 3,500 vertical feet of skiing and riding, and endless dining and nightlife options. Visit www.skiheavenly.com for details on vacation packages.

EpicDay Lift Tickets: Buy Online. Skip the Line.
EpicDay Lift Tickets offers up to 25% savings on advanced purchase lift tickets at Heavenly and across Vail Resorts via the new EpicDay Lift Tickets platform. Tickets can be purchased through an easy-to-use online and mobile site, www.skiheavenly.com/epicday, and picked up at an EpicDay Express Ticket Pick-Up window at the resort. Additional days can be added online, avoiding a return trip to the ticket window. EpicDay Lift Tickets reward advanced planning with the lowest guaranteed price and less time spent in the ticket line.

Heavenly Ski Resort ready to open Friday in Lake Tahoe

Opening-Day-Blog

Opening Day is Friday at Heavenly Ski Resort! The countdown to the 2014-2015 ski and ride season is almost over.

The first skiers and riders of the season will load the Heavenly Gondola at 9 a.m. Get here early and stay late- they’ll be raffling off free snowboards, skis, Smith goggles, and a GoPro in the Gondola line and at Unbuckle.

The Gondola and Tamarack Express will give access to 14 acres and 1.5 miles of skiable terrain on California Trail to Tamarack Return. For park fanatics, there will be a variety of terrain park features on the left side of California Trail.

Ski and ride school will offer a few different lesson options. For specifics on what those products are, give our school a call at 1-800-HEAVENLY, press 7.

Heavenly’s snowmaking team has been hard at work making snow whenever the wet bulb temperature allows, and our grooming team has taken advantage of the huge whales (piles) of snow to cover the trails and prep the lift ramps and access areas for opening.

Opening Day kicks off at 8 a.m. at the bottom of the Gondola in Heavenly Village with a live DJ, the Heavenly Angels, giveaways, and free Heavenly Donuts. Get there early because the first 100 guests will get Heavenly Swag and will be entered into a pre-opening raffle for a pair of skis or snowboard.

At the first Unbuckle at Tamarack après party of the season at 3:30 p.m., the first 100 guests will also receive a raffle ticket for a pair of skis or snowboard, a GoPro and Smith goggles, as well as Hard Rock Hotel and Casino swag.

The California Base Lodge will be available for free parking. We will be running free shuttles every 20 minutes between the Cal Base and the Gondola.

 

California ski, snowboard resorts get a Halloween treat: snow!

The Village at Squaw Valley became a winter wonderland this morning as several inches of snow fell at the resort and throughout the Lake Tahoe area. (Squaw Valley photo)

The Village at Squaw Valley became a winter wonderland this morning as several inches of snow fell at the resort and elsewhere in the Lake Tahoe area. (Squaw Valley photo)

About the time kids were trick-or-treating on Friday night, mountain resorts throughout California were starting to get a special treat: snow. In some cases, it was the first white stuff of the season, raising hopes that the lengthy drought – fingers crossed – will come to an end this winter. There certainly was lots of excitement to go around:

Mountain High: The first snow of the season fell this morning at Mountain High Resort giving the area a crisp glow and solidifying the coming of winter. Traditionally, Mountain High opens in mid-November but it all depends on the season. Three times in the past 10 years, the Wrightwood resort has opened in October. Mountain High’s 10-year average is a Nov. 16 opening. For a gallery of “first snow of the season” photos, click here.

Heavenly: Winter has arrived at Tahoe, and Heavenly Mountain Resort received 3 inches of new snow overnight. 

Northstar: Three inches of fresh snow has accumulated and snow continues to fall. Temperatures have remained in the low 20s and the mountain’s snowmaking team has activated Northstar’s state-of-the-art snowmaking system. The National Weather Service has forecast an 80 percent chance of snow throughout the remainder of the day and into the evening, with expected additional accumulation of up to 3 inches. Snow showers are predicted for Sunday at a 20 percent chance.

Sierra-at-Tahoe: The resort received as much as 6 inches of snow overnight in the base area near the new Solstice Plaza. Early season snowfall is a reminder that winter and the ski and snowboard season are right around the corner.

Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows: The winter storm sweeping through the Sierra Nevada has brought 10 inches of fresh snow to Alpine Meadows’ upper mountain and 6 inches to Squaw Valley by late Saturday morning, with snow continuing to fall at both mountains. This is the first significant snowfall of the 2014-15 winter season, and comes less than a month before Squaw Valley’s scheduled opening date of Nov. 26. Alpine Meadows is expected to open on Dec. 12.

Heavenly Mountain making snow for Nov. 21 opening

In addition to 2” of natural snow during the weekend, Heavenly Mountain Resort has fired up the West Coast’s largest and most powerful snowmaking system and has begun making snow in anticipation of a Nov. 21 opening day.

The snowmaking system ran for seven hours over night Sunday, blowing snow at the top of the Gondola, as well as on California Trail, Orion and Tamarack return.

“Cold temperatures and natural snowfall have been building the buzz around the upcoming season, and now that snowmaking has begun, we are full steam ahead with more than four decades of snowmaking experience and expertise at our backs,” said Pete Sonntag, vice president and COO of Heavenly. “We will open on November 21 with the some of the best snow surface conditions at Lake Tahoe.”

Heavenly’s extensive snowmaking system is capable, under optimum conditions, of producing three-and-a-half feet of snow across one acre in an hour and can cover 73 percent of the resort’s 97 trails in machine-made snow.

Heavenly is expanding its snowmaking capabilities this season by adding snowmaking to Easy Street, a beginner run at the top of the Gondola. A spur line has also been added from the top of Dipper Express that allows Heavenly to make snow on Skyline Trail near the top of Milky Way Bowl.

This will make it possible to open Skyline Trail earlier in the season and provide skiers and riders access to both California and Nevada earlier than ever before.

The resort also added three new fan guns to the fleet, increasing the total number of energy efficient fan guns the resort has to 67. These new SMI Puma fan guns are more energy efficient and also more efficient on the production side.

Heavenly kicks off the 2014-15 ski and ride season on Friday, November 21, with opening day and the first Unbuckle at Tamarack après party of the season.

Unbuckle takes place daily from 3:30-5:30 p.m. with a live DJ, half-priced drinks, giveaways, food specials, lots of dancing and, exclusively on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, the lovely Heavenly Angels.

The party continues with Winter Ignite on the weekends of December 5-6 and 12-13, culminating in a free concert by Young The Giant in Heavenly Village on December 13 at 7:00 p.m.

Winter Ignite will jumpstart the 2014-2015 ski and ride season with pop-up DJ Cat and Unbuckle après kick-off parties, the Pretty Faces movie premier and comedy from Daniel Tosh at MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa on Friday, December 12. For more information, go to skiheavenly.com/winterignite.

Snow! Heavenly Mountain Resort gets a taste of what’s (hopefully) to come

Milky Way Bowl at Heavenly Mountain Resort received a dusting of snow on Monday night. (Heavenly Mountain Resort photo)

Milky Way Bowl at Heavenly Mountain Resort received a light covering of snow on Monday night. (Heavenly Mountain Resort photos)

Granted, it’s not much, but considering that California is in the midst of a multi-year drought, any snow – even a little – is more than welcome. So after Heavenly Mountain Resort received a dusting of powder last night, we were excited to see the photos that were sent out today. The resort is scheduled to open for skiers and snowboarders on Nov. 21.

Mott Canyon, on the Nevada side of the mountain, after last night's light snowfall.

Mott Canyon, on the Nevada side of the mountain, after last night’s snowfall.