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:

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

#Winter2014: Skiing, snowboarding at Homewood Mountain Resort

Homewood Mountain Resort has 64 runs and spectacular views of the Lake Tahoe basin from each one of them. (Photo courtesy Homewood Mountain Resort)

Homewood Mountain Resort has 64 runs and spectacular views of the Lake Tahoe basin from each one of them. (Photo courtesy Homewood Mountain Resort)

Continuing our look back at the winter that was, it’s time to visit Homewood Mountain Resort near the west shore of Lake Tahoe.

Season start/finish: Dec. 11, 2013, through March 23, 2014. The opening date was typical of past seasons, and the closing date was two to three weeks than was planned.

Snowfall: Well short of the typical 450 inches per season, although figures were not provided. Snowmaking made up some of the difference.

Season highlight: A series of big winter storms arrived just before the President’s Day holiday weekend and the mid-winter break for many schools in Northern California. “The conditions were the best they had been all season during what is typically a very busy weekend/week for us,” said Paul Raymore, resort spokesman. “At that point, every skier and snowboarder in Northern California had been ‘jonesing’ for fresh powder for months, so it was fantastic to be able to finally offer some when many had time off work or school.”

Comment:The lack of our typical abundance of natural snow in Tahoe certainly made the 2013-14 ski season a challenging one; however, that’s not to say it wasn’t a fun year,” Raymore said. “Savvy Lake Tahoe skiers and snowboarders, who knew where to look to find the best conditions, were still able to find great snow at the smaller resorts such as Homewood, where the lack of crowds really helped to preserve the snow on the mountains.”

Looking ahead: Homewood has major changes planned for the 2015-16 ski season, with a wholesale redevelopment of the resort scheduled to begin in summer 2015. Improvements will include a new high-speed gondola taking skiers to mid-mountain, a new 5-star hotel at the base of the mountain, new skier services buildings and amenities, as well as construction of a number of residences at both of the base areas. Information about the Homewood Master Plan is at

Dropping in for a Sochi to California comparison on vertical descents

Sochi Downhill

We’ve been watching a lot of NBC’s Winter Olympics coverage – speed skating, slopestyle skiing, halfpipe, hockey – and have been wrapped up in much of it.

A few minutes ago, @NBCOlympics posted on Twitter the image above with course info on the downhill portion of the men’s super combined. The vertical drop of 3,205 feet caught our attention, and we thought it would be worth checking to see how the mountains near Sochi compare with the ski resorts in California. Here’s what we found:

Mammoth: 2,885
Heavenly: 2,735
Squaw Valley: 2,389
June Mountain: 2,420
Northstar-at-Tahoe: 2,276
Diamond Peak: 1,741
Bear Mountain: 1,665
Mt. Rose: 1,635
Homewood: 1,625
Kirkwood: 1,622
Sierra-at-Tahoe: 1,590
Mountain High: 1,588
Alpine Meadows: 1,555

The best U.S. match to the 3,205 vertical descent of the mountain where the Olympics competition is happening now is the Lake Placid/Whiteface Mountain Ski Resort – the area where the 1932 Winter Olympics took place.

– Jerry Rice

#ski #snowboard … opening day updates from the slopes

A bunch of California resorts already are open for skiing and snowboarding. Here’s the latest we have from resorts that have yet to start their seasons. >>>

Bear Valley: Opening Saturday and Sunday for skiing and snowboarding, closing Monday through Dec. 19, then opening for the season on Dec. 20. During the first weekend, this Saturday and Sunday, tickets will be $39 for adults and $19 for ages 6-12. Info:

Dodge Ridge: Opening day is “just inches away” says the resort’s website. Dodge Ridge received 18-20 inches of snow in the 72 hours leading up to Monday. Info: 

Homewood: Opening Wednesday with limited operations. The Happy Platter surface lift, Happy Park terrain park and Magic Carpet beginner terrain will be available. On opening day, everyone skis and rides for free. Info:

Mt. Shasta Ski Park: “Opening soon!” says the website’s home page. We’re not sure what “soon” means, but the resort is plugging a New Year’s Eve party. Info:

Snow Valley: Opening today, with 6 inches of natural snow and snow-making on the slopes top to bottom. Info: 

Soda Springs: Opening Friday. No other details about conditions were available on the website. Info:

Shuttle between North Lake Tahoe ski/snowboard resorts — for free

A free ski shuttle is now ferrying visitors among nine North Lake Tahoe resorts.

The pilot program, which runs on weekends and holidays through March 31, aims to get skiers and snowboarders out of their cars and reduce travel hassles.

Participating resorts are Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Northstar California, Homewood Mountain Resort, Sugar Bowl, Donner Ski Ranch, Boreal, Soda Springs and Royal Gorge.

For the schedule and details, go to

Lil’ Air Kid’s Freestyle Competition set for Feb. 9 at Homewood

The Lil’ Air Festival is returning to Homewood. Geared toward kids 12 and younger, this event will take place in the beginner Happy Park and offers great visibility for parents. Awards will be presented for best trick, best fall, and other “award-winning” moves.

Both skiers and snowboarders are welcome, and registration begins at 9 a.m. at Homewood’s North Lodge the day of the event. Helmets are required.

Registration is $10 and competitors are eligible for a discounted $15 lift ticket. Bring the camera for this exciting and fun kids event!

For more information, visit the Snowbomb-Homewood Lil’ Air Event page.

San Francisco Bay Area rain means happy skiers at Lake Tahoe resorts

By Peter Delevett
San Jose Mercury News

Tahoe, tallyho!

The clammy Christmastime weather may be no fun in the San Francisco Bay Area, but it’s a boon for Lake Tahoe ski resorts that a year ago were suffering through a dry, nonwhite season.

Since Friday, more than seven feet of snow have fallen on the Sierra. And people from here and elsewhere have been flocking to the slopes.

Snowboarders enjoy the snow at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort. (Patrick Tehan/San Jose Mercury News photo)

“We expect to have a great holiday season,” said Paul Raymore, spokesman for Homewood Mountain Ski Resort on the lake’s western shore. “Conditions at all the resorts are pretty much all-time.”

Raymore said Homewood is already seeing brisk season-ticket sales, and his counterpart at Squaw Valley said lodging at her resort is virtually sold out through Jan. 4. “Our phones are ringing off the hook,” said Jenny Kendrick, who also represents Alpine Meadows.

Kendrick called it the second-snowiest Christmas for her resorts since 1970.

Continue reading

Santa sightings on the slopes

By Jerry Rice

Santa Claus has a big job to do come Dec. 24, so if the Big Guy wants to have some fun before the Big Day it’s probably best to cut him some slack — otherwise you may find coal in your stocking on Christmas morning. The Jolly Old Elf has been visiting several ski resorts during the last several days …

Santa offers a helping hand to the snow-making crew at Mountain High. (Mountain High photo)

One cameraman caught him making snow at Mountain High ( The Wrightwood getaway was in big need of the white stuff, as there was none of it on the slopes as recently as Dec. 12. That was just before a storm moved through and dumped 6-12 inches of snow, and also brought with it the below-freezing temps that were desperately needed for the resort to turn on its extensive snow-making system.

Santa carves up some fresh powder at Snow Summit. (Snow Summit photo)

Elsewhere in Southern California, Santa parked his sleigh for a fun outing at Snow Summit (, where he pulled off a maneuver that yours truly has never attempted — at least not on purpose.

At that Big Bear Lake resort, St. Nick found favorable conditions — 12-18 inches of snow, with a surface that ranged from machine groomed packed powder to hard pack — to perform all sorts of acrobatics.

We’re not sure how Santa landed a second or two after this shot on the right was taken, but we would like to see how it scored with the judges.

We recall last winter when the ski/snowboard season got off to a disappointing start at resorts throughout California. Mammoth Mountain (, for example, didn’t receive its first significant snowfall until late January. By then, much of the lucrative ski/snowboard season was lost.

Santa jumps for joy at Homewood Mountain Resort. (Homewood Mountain Resort photo)

This winter, thankfully, has been different. Mammoth has a base of 7.5 feet, and since early November it has received nearly 13 feet of snow — with more on the way tonight and Saturday.

Snow also is in the weekend forecast at Lake Tahoe, where Homewood Mountain Resort ( reports as much as 45 inches of it has fallen this winter on the slopes at the higher elevations. That news apparently has Mr. Claus, at left, really excited.

We figure there will be Santas galore at Whistler Blackcomb ( on Saturday morning. That’s when the resort will be giving a free lift ticket to the first 75 people who arrive at the Garibaldi Lift Company in full Santa or Mrs. Claus attire. They will be invited to ride up the hill at 8 a.m., then board or ski to the bottom of the Emerald Express for a group photo.

At Whistler Blackcomb, lots of Santas will be checking their lists while riding the lifts. (Whistler Blackcomb photo)

It’s an annual tradition at the Canadian resort. A cameraman for the local Pique Newsmagazine captured last year’s festivities, and some of the highlights were edited into a cute 48-second YouTube video. It shows a sea of red suits and bushy white beards moving down the mountain, some more gracefully than others.

With that, we offer Santa this important reminder: There are only three more skiing/snowboarding days left until Christmas.