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 http://mountainvertical.com 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

‘Amazing’ ski, snowboard conditions at Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood

Northstar has some of its best conditions of the winter for skiing and snowboarding. Spectacular views of Lake Tahoe are available year-round. (Northstar photo)

Northstar has some of its best conditions of the winter for skiing and snowboarding. Spectacular views of Lake Tahoe are available year-round. (Northstar photo)

Heavenly Mountain Resort, Northstar California and Kirkwood Mountain Resort have received 5 to 8 feet of snow during the most recent winter storm at Lake Tahoe – which adds to a two-week accumulation total of more than 10 feet.

“With such powerful recent storms, the ski conditions at Kirkwood, Heavenly, and Northstar are amazing, and guests on both sides of Lake Tahoe are so excited for more terrain,” said Bill Rock, senior vice president and chief operating officer. “We’ve worked around the clock to offer a bounty of new terrain, and each resort plans to open some their most legendary terrain and trails for the approaching holiday weekend.”

The three resorts have a combined 173 trails via 39 lifts available for skiing and snowboarding. Newly opened signature runs – such as Wagon Wheel Bowl and Palisades at Kirkwood; Milky Way Bowl, Pinnacles and Ski Ways at Heavenly; and Challenger, Rail Splitter and Sierra Grande at Northstar – are among many trails now available to guests.

Additionally, all three resorts forecast opening some of their mountains’ most famous, iconic terrain prior to the weekend:

  • Kirkwood anticipates opening 100% of the mountain – the first Tahoe resort to do so this winter.
  • Heavenly aims to open some of its most popular terrain, including Mott Canyon and Galaxy.
  • Northstar expects to offer 100 percent of its Backside trails.

Combined, the resorts will offer more than 8,500 acres of skiable terrain starting this weekend.

Snow makers rescue big Sierra resorts as drought bakes smaller ones

Daniel Crandall monitors a fan gun snowmaking machine on the upper slopes at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. The lack of rainfall this winter has left the tourism trade in the Lake Tahoe area in shambles as ski resorts struggle to survive without snow. (Daniel Crandall monitors a fan gun snowmaking machine on the upper slopes at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014. The lack of rainfall this winter has left the tourism trade in the Lake Tahoe area in shambles as ski resorts struggle to survive without snow. (Gary Reyes/San Jose Mercury News)

Daniel Crandall monitors a fan gun snowmaking machine on the upper slopes at Heavenly Mountain Resort in South Lake Tahoe, Calif. on Friday, Jan. 10. The lack of rainfall this winter has left the tourism trade in the Lake Tahoe area in shambles as ski resorts struggle to survive without snow. (Gary Reyes/San Jose Mercury News)

By Lisa M. Krieger
San Jose Mercury News

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — These are the unlikely saviors in the lofty peaks of the serene Sierra: high-tech snow machines, roaring like jets and spewing million-dollar crystals.

“If it wasn’t for snow making, we probably wouldn’t be open,” said Barrett Burghard, head snow maker at Heavenly Ski Resort, who is propping up the beleaguered mountain economy with his vast computer-driven complex of snow guns, pumps, compressors, pipes, hydrants, nozzles and miles of hoses.

Mother Nature, always fickle, has been especially cruel this drought year to the resorts and mountain communities that depend on snow for their economic survival. Instead of fluffy powder, there’s just granite, mud and manzanita.

So Burghard and other snow makers are fabricating winter where it isn’t.

As the eastern sky turns pink with dawn’s rising sun, his 165-gun system performs alchemy, mixing massive drafts of water, air and electricity to prepare 14 miles of bare ski runs for thousands of visitors. Every night, snowcat crews push piles of the precious product back up the slopes.

Innovations in technology — such as the $40,000 Super PoleCat, with a built-in automated weather station that alters man-made snow characteristics — make it possible to produce an acre of thigh-deep snow in an hour.

That’s enough to blanket a football field with snow 8 feet deep during a three-hour game.

In this dry and balmy winter, the small, historic and family-owned resorts without extensive snow making — such as Donner Ski Ranch or Dodge Ridge — haven’t opened, costing jobs and starving local businesses. The National Winter Trail Days event at Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski and Snowshoe Center was canceled.

But big corporations running Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood, Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Mammoth Mountain have made major investments in snow-making tools. Squaw Valley alone has spent $5.2 million since 2012. This month virtually all of the snow at the resorts came out of machines.

The goal is to survive not just dry years, but what could be a parched future.

“The larger resorts have the capital resources to do extensive snow making,” said Bob Roberts of the California Ski Industry Association.

At South Lake Tahoe’s Powder House, where equipment rentals have fallen from 120 to 60 a day due to lack of natural snow, technician Michael Breshears said “they have technology on their side, and Heavenly has by far the best snow making around.”

“It is the saving grace,” said skier Colleen Tanaka. Tracking California’s weather from her home in Hawaii, she says “we were a little bit bummed. It is a little disappointing. But thank goodness that Heavenly makes their own snow so we can still have a nice white winter.”

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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.”

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.

Top skiers prepare for final Rahlves’ Banzai Tour challenge at Sugar Bowl

The Rahlves’ Banzai Tour will end where it all began more than 70 years ago — the Silver Belt gully at Sugar Bowl Resort.

Some of the best skiers and snowboarders in the West will battle it out to cap off the four-stop skiing competition with a win at Sugar Bowl.

The Rahlves’ Banzai Tour is described as “big mountain freeskiing meets skier/boardercross.” Competitors race in four-person heats over natural terrain in a contest of pure skiing speed. Previous stops include Kirkwood Mountain Resort, Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley USA.

The Rahlves’ Banzai dates back to the famed Silver Belt downhill race, which began at Sugar Bowl in 1940 and was considered one of North America’s premier ski races, attracting elite skiers from across the nation.

Daron Rahlves — Olympian, X Games gold medalist, one of the most decorated downhill skiers in U.S. history, and freesking film star — helped reshape the race into the four-resort circuit that it is today. Although he does not compete in the other three stops of the tour, he will take on the ski winners of all four tour stops in a one-time, winner-takes-all, $10,000 cash prize Super Final at Sugar Bowl on Sunday.

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Swatch Freeride World Tour set for a landing next week at Kirkwood

The Swatch Freeride World Tour by The North Face, featuring some of the best skiers and snowboarders on the planet, comes to Kirkwood Mountain Resort next week.

“With unmatched inbounds terrain and some of the deepest snow in the country, Kirkwood is an appropriate choice as the only U.S. stop for the Freeride World Tour,” said Casey Blann, Kirkwood’s general manager. “This event really solidifies our position as one of the premier big mountains in the country, and I personally can’t wait to see these athletes tackle The Cirque.”

Kirkwood’s big mountain venue, The Cirque, is comprised of exposed, steep and raw terrain, which is permanently closed to the general public, allowing for a unique and exciting North American freeride venue.

Athletes are set to arrive on Monday, and the opening ceremonies will be Tuesday. The first day of FWT competition is scheduled for Wednesday, with a weather window extending to Sunday, March 3.

Kirkwood will be the fourth stop on the tour, which started with 36 male skiers, 14 male snowboarders, 14 female skiers and seven female snowboarders. The 2013 FWT features five stops for male skiers and snowboarders, and four stops for female skiers and snowboarders before a cut will be made for the Swatch Xtreme Verbier in Switzerland.

After the fifth stop in Fieberbrunn, Austria, the top three results out of five events for men and the top three results out of four events for women will be used to qualify riders for Verbier and the 2014 FWT.

Next week’s tour stop will be a homecoming for Lake Tahoe’s Josh Daiek, the 2012 Subaru Freeskiing World Tour champion.

“I’m simply stoked for the competition to be at Kirkwood,” he said. ‟It has some of the most fun terrain and is one of the best competition venues in the world.”

For a live webcast of the competition, visit www.freerideworldtour.com. Here’s a video preview…

How many vertical feet did you cover? Kirkwood feature keeps skiers honest

Kirkwood Mountain Resort has installed the company’s first solar-powered radio frequency (RF) reader to enhance the guest’s experience with EpicMix, Vail Resorts’ proprietary online and mobile application that rewards users for challenges completed, lifts ridden, and days and vertical feet skied. The reader takes advantage of Kirkwood’s legendary hike-to, inbounds terrain, and is located in the Covered Wagon area of the resort, along the southeastern-most boundary on the backside.

“We have so much inbounds terrain here that is truly special, I think this remote reader is the perfect way to bring EpicMix to life at Kirkwood,” said Casey Blann, Kirkwood’s vice president and general manager. “Our visitors are some of the best skiers and riders around and we wanted a special way to recognize them for doing extraordinary things.”

There are two custom pins explorers can unlock at the Covered Wagon reader. The first is called “Pushing Boundaries” and awards the guest 200 points for reaching the reader for the first time. The second is worth 250 points and is called “CW10.” It is awarded for visiting the reader 10 times in one season. In addition to being remote, this reader is also unique in its user experience.

Unlike most EpicMix readers, which don’t require the user to do anything special to record data, guests must intentionally approach the reader and come within five feet in order to be read.

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Kirkwood is a favorite with skiers in Lake Tahoe

Kirkwood receives the most annual snowfall in the Sierras. (Photo courtesy of Kirkwood Ski Resort)

By Marlene Greer

Improving your skiing is all about taking a new skill and being able to use it on a smooth groomed run or a steep pitch. Especially if you’re zigzagging through trees or bounding through a gully.

And Lake Tahoe’s Kirkwood Mountain Resort has what it takes to get skiers and snowboarders moving across the mountain.

“What is brilliant about Kirkwood is the natural terrain of the mountain allows that natural progression to take place,” said Nick Brittain, a college student from New Zealand who was spending his summer break teaching at Kirkwood’s Learning Center.

The beginners’ terrain is a mix of wide groomed slopes of varying pitch, a set of funny bunny rollers, and little gullies with treacherous names like Ditch of Doom and Ditch of Gloom.

“We start at the magic carpet,” Brittain explained. “Our first aim is to move from the carpet to the chair lift, then from less gradient to higher gradient to off-piste. We build their confidence. What we love is involving different terrains and seeing skill level improve. Kids absolutely love those terrain variations.”

So do his adult students.

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At Lake Tahoe’s Kirkwood resort, savings on lift tickets to the power of 4

Kirkwood Mountain Resort is offering the new Kirkwood Quad Pack, what officials at the ski area are calling the most affordable way to access Lake Tahoe’s deepest snow and most authentic big-mountain ski and ride experience.

The Kirkwood Quad Pack is four lift tickets that can be used any day of the 2012-13 winter season with limited restrictions. The price is $65 per lift ticket – a savings of up to $24 per day.

“Kirkwood is such a premium ski and snowboard experience, we’ve got a backcountry-like experience within resort boundaries,” said Casey Blann, the resort’s general manager.

The Kirkwood Quad Pack is available through Feb. 10. It can only be purchased online at www.snow.com and is not available for purchase at the Kirkwood ticket office. Pricing for the Kirkwood Quad Pack is $259 for adults, $199 for seniors and teens, and $169 for children, is non-transferable.

So far this season, Kirkwood has received more than 260 inches of natural snow. For the latest reports on conditions, visit www.kirkwood.com.