Lake Tahoe’s Heavenly Resort opens Friday at 9 a.m.

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Skiers and riders can make some turns at Lake Tahoe this weekend as Heavenly Mountain Resort officially opens for the 2013-2014 season on Friday at 9 a.m. Heavenly will operate the Gondola and Tamarack Express, accessing 14 acres and 1.5 miles of skiable terrain on California Trail to Tamarack Return. Heavenly will offer free shuttle buses for guests from the California Main Lodge parking area to the Gondola.

Heavenly kicks off opening day with the first Unbuckle at Tamarack après party of the season at 3:30 p.m. Unbuckle takes place on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 3:30-5:30 p.m. with a live DJ, half-priced drinks, giveaways, food specials, lots of dancing and the lovely Heavenly Angels. The party continues past opening day with Winter Ignite, featuring Unbuckle après parties, the Heavenly Angels and a special performance by DJ Porter Robinson at MontBleu on November 30.

“Thanks to early season snowfall and the West Coast’s largest snowmaking system, skiers and riders can rely on Heavenly to provide some of the best early season conditions in the region,” said Pete Sonntag, vice president and chief operating officer of Heavenly. “Our team will continue to take advantage of the cold temperatures in the forecast and make snow at every opportunity, so we can continue to open additional terrain as conditions permit.”

The shops and restaurants in the Village at Northstar will also open Friday, along with the 9,000-square-foot ice rink, which will be open from Noon to 9 p.m. daily.

Northstar California Resort and Kirkwood Mountain Resort are continuing to make snow when conditions permit in an effort to open the two resorts as soon as possible, weather permitting.

Heavenly making snow for opening day on Nov. 22

In anticipation of a Nov. 22 opening day, Heavenly Mountain Resort has fired up the West Coast’s largest snowmaking system and has begun making snow at the top of the Gondola and on California Trail.

“We’ve enjoyed a long fall season, but with the drop in temperature, it’s time to focus on preparing for winter and begin making snow, ensuring we have the quality early season conditions our guests have come to expect from us,” said Pete Sonntag, vice president and chief operating officer of Heavenly.

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.

“The inconsistency of natural snowfall during the last two seasons has really proven how valuable snowmaking can be for the overall experience on the mountain, and at Heavenly, our focus really is on providing reliable snow conditions that our skiers and riders can have confidence in. You don’t need to bring out your old, rock skis or boards at Heavenly during the early season,” said Sonntag.

Heavenly kicks off the party on Nov. 22, 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 past opening day with Winter Ignite, featuring Unbuckle après parties, the Heavenly Angels and a special performance by DJ Porter Robinson at Mont Bleu on Nov. 30.

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

Epic adventure has a big payoff: free skiing, snowboarding for life

Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass now includes 26 mountains in four countries, and the company is calling all globetrotting, Epic Pass-holding, die-hard skiers and snowboarders for The Epic Race – a season-long competition to visit each resort this winter. The first 10 people to complete the race will receive an Epic Pass for life.

“When we launched the Epic Pass with five resorts in 2008, I said our guests wouldn’t be able to out-ski or ride this pass,” said Rob Katz chairman and chief executive officer of Vail Resorts. “Five years later, after adding three more countries and 21 additional resorts, we’re throwing down the gauntlet. If you can be one of the first to ski the world, you’ll ski for life.”

Starting Nov. 1, guests can register to ski the world by visiting www.snow.com/epic-pass/info/epic-race.aspx. Each racer will need to ski or ride all 26 resorts on the Epic Pass (Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone, Arapahoe Basin and Eldora in Colorado; Canyons in Park City, Utah; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe; Afton Alps, Minnesota; Mt. Brighton, Michigan; Verbier, Switzerland; Arlberg, Austria – St. Anton, Lech, Zürs, St. Christoph and Stuben; and Les 3 Vallées, France – Courchevel, La Tania, Méribel, Brides-les-Bains, Les Menuires, Saint Martin de Belleville, Val Thorens and Orelle). Epic Racers will be asked to document and share their experience at each resort they visit to be eligible to win.

“If there was any doubt that the Epic Pass is by far and away the snowsports industry’s best and most comprehensive pass, the experiences these contestants share should put the question to rest,” Katz said. “What other pass allows you to enjoy the steep and deep of the Sierra Nevada, the amazing powder of the Wasatch, the majesty of the Rockies, the urban hills in Michigan and Minnesota, the interconnectivity of the French Alps and the world’s largest linked ski area, the unmatched off-piste skiing and riding of the Swiss Alps, and the birthplace of modern Alpine skiing technique in the Tyrolean Alps?”

Epic Racers will be responsible for their own expenses in undertaking the Epic Race and no racer will be permitted to ski or ride more than one resort per day in the U.S. and two resorts per day in Europe to ensure they capture and enjoy the full experience of each mountain. Race winners receiving an Epic Pass for life will be able to ski or ride only the resorts operated by Vail Resorts in any given year. All rules and guidelines will be posted here on Nov. 1 and included in the registration materials provided to guests.

“The Epic Pass is more attractive than ever, not just because of the access it provides to 26 mountains in four countries, but also because of the unprecedented on-mountain improvements of $130 (million) to $140 million across our resorts for the upcoming season,” said Kirsten Lynch, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Vail Resorts. “Not since the opening of Blue Sky Basin at Vail have we seen such a significant terrain expansion at a Colorado ski resort as with the addition of Peak 6 at Breckenridge. We’re also adding a new high-speed six-person lift in Mid-Vail to get guests into the Back Bowls faster and opening a new on-mountain restaurant at the base of Beaver Creek’s famed Birds of Prey race course. And then there’s the fourth generation of EpicMix – Epic Academy – which offers a unique way to earn and share your accomplishments in our world-class ski and ride schools.”

California Ski Industry Association reports successful season

By Bob Goligoski

Skier and snowboarder visits to Sierra winter resorts were up “substantially” during the 2012-2013 season, according to the California Ski Industry Association. The association, which represents about 30 resorts, said early and timely snow storms insured that the season would be a success.

Bob Roberts, association CEO and president, said in an interview that “we got off to a tremendous start with good snow for the Christmas season.” Then the other two big money-makers for the resorts – President’s weekend and Martin Luther King’s birthday weekend – also still had abundant snow that drew thousands of skiers and riders to the mountains.

Most of the resorts had profitable seasons, noted Roberts, and “this should result in a few more lifts and runs being developed this summer. But these likely will occur only at the major resorts.”

It was a strange season because after the splendid start, the snow gods virtually turned off the tap for the rest of the season starting in mid-January. The snowfall totals at Squaw Valley mirrored those of most resorts. Only 326 inches of snow fell at Squaw during the season compared with 355 the year before and 810 inches in 2010-11.

“Most of the resorts took a financial bath during the 2011-2012 season,” said Roberts.

During that season, skier and snowboarder visits were down about 25 per cent from the previous year as only six million visits were recorded. The exact numbers for the season just concluded have not been tabulated, but Roberts is confident they will be up “substantially” from the previous season.

One bright spot for resort owners was an increased number of Asian and Latino skiers and riders. But this was partially offset by the continuing downward trend among snowboarders as growth in that segment of the market has flattened out in recent seasons.

Vail Resorts Inc., which operates seven California and Colorado resorts including Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood, reported good growth during the past season including a 5.5 percent increase in skier-snowboarder visits and an 11 percent hike in ski school revenue.

Ski/snowboard season for Vail Resorts? In a word, ‘heavenly’

A snowboarder takes full advantage of the snow, slopes and scenery at Heavenly Mountain Resort on Christmas Eve. (Heavenly Mountain Resort photo)

Associated Press

Skier visits this season at Vail Resorts Inc.’s seven resorts in California and Colorado and have risen 5.5 percent from last season, with growth picking up through spring break and the Easter holiday, CEO Rob Katz said Monday.

Meanwhile, season-to-date lift ticket revenue, including

some season pass revenue, was up about 10 percent from the comparable period a year ago. Dining revenue was up about 13 percent, ski school revenue was up more than 11 percent, and retail and rental revenue was up almost 9 percent, the company said.

Exact revenues and skier visit numbers weren’t released. The results were for the season through April 14 and didn’t take into account the reopening of Vail and Breckenridge resorts last Friday through Sunday for one more weekend of skiing and riding after both resorts got hammered with new snow.

The results don’t include recently acquired Afton Alps in Minnesota and Mount Brighton in Michigan. Results were adjusted as if Vail Resorts had owned the newly acquired Kirkwood resort last winter too.

Katz said season pass sales for next season are off to a strong start. He didn’t release details.

Vail operates the Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone ski areas in Colorado; Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood in the Lake Tahoe area; Afton Alps in Minnesota; Mount Brighton in Michigan; and the Grand Teton Lodge Co. in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Heavenly opening new halfpipe on Saturday

At noon on Saturday, Heavenly Mountain Resort will celebrate the return of the halfpipe after a five-year hiatus.

The halfpipe can be accessed via Canyon Express Chairlift on the California side of the mountain inside High Roller Terrain Park, which also will be opening for the first time this season on Saturday. It will be the only halfpipe on Lake Tahoe’s South Shore.

“With Lake Tahoe as a backdrop, this halfpipe will feature, hands-down, the best views from any halfpipe in the U.S.,” said Pete Sonntag, Heavenly’s general manager.

Heavenly High Roller Team member Kyle Smaine will kick it all off with a short exhibition and ribbon cutting at noon, and then guests will get the opportunity to show their stuff.

Heavenly has teamed with Snow Park Technologies to create the 18-foot-tall and 450-foot-long halfpipe designed to accommodate a variety of ability levels and encourage a learning environment. The 16.5-degree angle of the slope provides an ideal amount of boost out of the pipe for all types of skiers and riders. The halfpipe’s location and north-facing orientation creates a uniform consistency between both sides of the pipe, meaning one side won’t melt faster than the other.

“This is easily the best pipe we’ve ever had here, and we built it in record time – just nine days,” said Heavenly Terrain Park manager Mike Thomas.

Of Heavenly’s three High Roller-branded terrain parks, High Roller Park is the premier park. It has been re-designed this season to include rails, boxes, jumps, and other fun jib features, both above and below the location of the halfpipe. This layout creates the ultimate mix of park and pipe, all in one run.

The new halfpipe opens at Heavenly Ski Resort on Saturday. (Heavenly Resort photo)

For more information on Heavenly’s High Roller Terrain Parks, or the halfpipe, visit www.skiheavenly.com.

Skiing in Tahoe is Heavenly

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Story and photos by Marlene Greer

Heavenly is huge.

The ski area, sitting at the southern edge of Lake Tahoe, straddles two states, spreads over an impressive 4,800 acres, and rises 3,500 feet from its multiple base areas to the top of its highest peak.

It’s so large that it is divided into two parts – the Nevada side and the California side – and is scattered with so many runs going in so many directions with traverses in between, that it can appear a bit overwhelming to first time visitors.

That’s the way my daughter and I felt when we stepped off the gondola and landed at Adventure Peak, the heart of Heavenly at 9,136 feet.

Adventure Peak has a bar, restaurant, sledding and tubing hill and provides access to both sides of the resort. And because it’s at the center of the ski area, it’s packed with people.

Once you exit the gondola, a large billboard displays what lifts are open and points left for the Nevada side and right for the California side. We couldn’t see a lift off to the right, just a trail that you can either pole through on skis or walk carrying your skis, so we headed to the Tamarack lift and the resort’s Nevada side – and never left. We spent the entire day skiing half of the resort. That’s how big this place is.

And that’s how much variety it offers.

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My daughter and I are intermediate skiers who generally hit the slopes only once a year on our annual mother-daughter ski weekend. We don’t come to a mountain to blast off rock edges into deep bowls or snake our way through a mile of dense trees.

Heavenly has that type of expert skiing, and lots of it, but we prefer mostly groomed runs with a side trail among the trees or maybe a dip into a few moguls.

That’s what we loved about Heavenly. It has so many intermediate groomers.
On nearly every run, you can choose to veer off on a comfortably wide tree trail, into a couple dips and jumps, or just cruise through some off-piste terrain.

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Shopping for deals on the slopes

At Mountain High, the Express Pass opens the way to money savings on the slopes and several special features. (Mountain High photo)

By Jerry Rice

OK, everyone knows that skiing and snowboarding can be expensive – traveling to the resort, lodging, equipment rentals, lift tickets…

But there are many ways to save on costs without cutting cut corners on the fun. Some examples:

> Free rentals for first-timers, ages 8 to adult, when a beginner lesson package is purchased at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit during the month of January. It’s part of a Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month promotion in partnership with the National Ski Areas Association. Information: 909-866-5841, www.snowsummit.com

Mammoth Mountain’s January midweek pass is $249 – $50 less than last season. With regular adult lift tickets at the resort running $99 per day, the cost of the special midweek pass essentially means it more than pays for itself after three days on the slopes. Other price levels are $179 for youth, $69 for children and $199 for seniors. The pass is valid Monday-Friday through Feb. 1, but must be purchased by Monday. Information: 800-626-6684, www.mammothmountain.com

> At Mountain High, spend $10 on a rechargeable Express Pass, load it with almost any lift ticket and start saving – $10 on all flex ticket options – and enjoying other benefits. Those other benefits include guaranteed reservations in case of a sellout, a free eight-hour non-holiday ticket after every five visits, and the ability to track the number of runs you’ve completed, the total vertical feet and other individual stats. Information: 888-754-7878, www.mthigh.com 

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Mega storm dumps tons of snow at Mammoth and Heavenly

Ho, ho, ho! Looks like the big mega-storm did the trick this weekend. Mammoth Mountain got from 4 to 6 feet of fresh powder, including almost 3 feet in the past 72 hours and a foot of the white stuff in the last day.

The massive mountain will open ALL lodges and ALL terrain this Friday, Dec. 7. Call it an early Hanukkah or Christmas present.

Heavenly reports a foot of new snow in the last 24 hours, adding 2 feet to 3.5 feet over the past few days. Today should be excellent with some nice corduroy and fresh snow.  They are opening Comet Trail and Comet Express today, offering 60 acres of open terrain.