Snow brings good news and not-so-good news to Sierra ski resorts

Thanks to lots and lots of fresh snow this winter, Mammoth Mountain is expected to be open for skiing and snowboarding through at least the Fourth of July. Other California resorts also are planning to extend winter activities into late spring and early summer. (Photo courtesy Peter Morning/Mammoth Mountain Ski Area)

By Bob Goligoski

It is a “feast or famine” season for many Sierra ski resorts.

The “feast” part is the deluge of snow that has fallen in the first half of this season. As of early February, the Sierra snowpack was the deepest it had been in 22 years for the mid-point of a ski season, according to state officials.

One example: Mt. Rose near Reno. In early February, it reported that its season-to-date snowfall total was 555 inches, breaking its total seasonal average and “putting us on track for one of our snowiest years in history.”

The “famine” part came on some days when skiers and snowboarders could not get to resorts because either they had shut down due to conditions or guests could not get to the slopes because of closed roads or violent storms. One especially vexing period occurred in early February when Highway 50, the main artery connecting the Bay Area and South Lake Tahoe, was closed following a huge landslide, and I-80, the link between the Bay Area and North Lake Tahoe, was mostly shut down at the same time due to another slide.

Two examples: Mt. Rose was closed on nine days prior to Feb. 1 because of storms and road closures. The cross country ski area at Tahoe Donner was shut down for six days during that period “due to heavy snowfall and power outages.”

Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association, said, “Despite all the challenges, most resorts are having a very good year. The Christmas season was quite good and business generally also was strong on Martin Luther King weekend.”

Because of all the snow, he noted that “some resorts likely will stay open later this year. Unless of course, everything drys up.”

That is unlikely, according to several resorts, considering that February-April weather patterns indicate a lot more snow is coming.

“The odds are that we will be open through mid-May. It really depends of demand,” said Mike Pierce, director of marketing at Mt. Rose. “Right now, the storms are continuing to come in, confidence in the Tahoe snow product is high and in great demand.”

Lauren Burke, a spokeswoman for Mammoth Mountain, said, “It looks like we are still  heading into a record-breaking season and will be skiing well into July.”

In mid-February, Mammoth double-checked the snow depth at the 11,000-foot level and concluded that the base depth there was 28 feet at the time.

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are two other resorts that typically are open into the summer months after copious amounts of snow fall.

Marcie Bradley, senior communications manager at Northstar, stressed that “January was an incredible snow months and folks were very patient when at some points we had to dig out of 80 inches of snow at one time. All of this bounty has allowed us to open special terrain like White Rabbit and Sawtooth Ridge, which is a huge surprise and delight for our guests.”

Homewood ski area, which is in a somewhat protected area on the west side of Lake Tahoe, was only closed for two days prior to Feb. 1 because of storms and power outages that affected the region.

The return of a big winter to the Sierra has brought to the mountains many winter sports enthusiasts who have not traveled there for some time.

Derek Moore, a spokesman for Tahoe Donner, noted, “We are seeing a lot of new folks taking lessons at both our downhill and cross country resorts. The buzz around all the snow Tahoe has received this year is driving a lot of visitors to the resorts to enjoy great skiing and riding conditions.”

Reitzell was asked if additional profits the ski resorts should tally this season will translate into spending money for new lifts and runs this summer.

“It is possible we may see more capital improvements,” he said. “But the process for these projects often takes two years or more because you usually need approvals from the Forest Service and local agencies.”

North Lake Tahoe is enjoying its snowiest January in decades

Snow totals at Homewood Mountain Resort range from about 3 feet at the base to more than 7 feet at the 8,740-foot summit. (Photo courtesy Homewood Mountain Ski Resort)

Snow totals at Homewood Mountain Resort range from about 3 feet at the base to more than 7 feet at the 8,740-foot summit. (Photo courtesy Homewood Mountain Ski Resort)

North Lake Tahoe ski resorts have experienced an incredible start to 2017 after a week-long snow storm that coated the Sierras with not just inches, but multiple feet of fresh snow. With more than 7 feet of powder reported at Donner Summit, 136 ski lifts and 347 runs open across the North Shore, this is the snowiest January North Lake Tahoe has seen in more than 45 years.

Just in time for National Learn to Ski & Snowboard month, conditions in North Lake Tahoe will remain ideal throughout January. Beginners will enjoy discounted learn-to-ski packages as low as $39 at multiple resorts, complete with lift tickets, lessons and rentals.

Here’s a quick look at the summit snow levels at North Lake Tahoe resorts.

  • Boreal Mountain Resort: 85 inches
  • Diamond Peak: 72 inches
  • Donner Ski Ranch: 72 inches
  • Homewood Mountain Resort: 92 inches
  • Granlibakken: 20 inches
  • Northstar California: 50 inches
  • Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe: 93 inches
  • Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows: 117 inches
  • Sugar Bowl Resort: 81 inches
  • Royal Gorge: 81 inches
  • Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Area: 64 inches
  • Tahoe XC: 20 inches

Tahoe Donner Downhill
The First Timer Learn to Ski or Snowboard Month packages are offered Jan. 9-13 and 17-20 for $39. These packages are only for first timers, which include an all-day lift ticket, rental equipment, and a one hour, 45-minute group lesson for anyone ages 7 and older.

Tahoe Donner Cross Country
Discounted private lessons and private lesson packages are offered any midweek, non-holiday day from Jan. 9-31. Two-for-one private lessons and private lesson packages are available any midweek, non-holiday day from Jan. 9-31. For $59, get a friend in on the fun for an hour of private instruction. $89 includes a lesson, day ticket and equipment for two people.

Alpine Meadows
Learn how to ski or snowboard for just $99 at Alpine Meadows any midweek day for ages 13 and older. Package Includes beginner lift tickets, equipment rental (skis, boots, poles or snowboard, boots) and a two hour, 30-minute beginner lesson.

Diamond Peak
For $39 from Jan. 9-13, for ages 7 and older, the Ski and Snowboard School will have Learn to Ski and Burton Learn to Ride packages for $39. The package includes a beginner lift ticket, rental equipment and one-hour 45-minute lesson beginning at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe
All beginner packages include a lift ticket to the dedicated beginner lifts, Flying Jenny, Wizard and Galena, beginner rental equipment (ski or snowboard) good for the entire day and a two-hour group lesson. Package starts at $135. In addition, Mt. Rose offers the Flight Plan Package: a two-consecutive-day lesson with lift tickets, rentals and instruction.

Homewood Mountain Resort
Homewood Mountain Resort’s $59 Learn to Ski & Ride Package offers first-timers a half-day lesson along with all-day equipment rental (helmet not included in package but available at an additional cost) and beginner lift ticket.

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.

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.

North Lake Tahoe resorts are decorated in a fresh coat of white

Squaw Valley received nearly 2 feet of snow during the weekend, and the resort has 14 lifts running, accessing 23 runs. (Squaw Valley photo)

Squaw Valley received nearly 2 feet of snow during the weekend, and the resort has 14 lifts running, accessing 23 runs. (Squaw Valley photo)

Thanks, Mother Nature.

A snowy weekend has resulted in a wealth of skiing and snowboarding opportunities at North Lake Tahoe resorts. Seven locations in the area have opened a combined 230-plus runs – with excellent conditions reported on terrain ranging from beginner to expert.

Here are the numbers for each of the resorts:

Alpine Meadows
Storm total: 16 inches
Lifts: 7
Runs: 36

Boreal Mountain Resort
Storm total: 15 inches
Lifts: 4
Runs: 23

Diamond Peak Ski Area
Storm total: 22 inches
Lifts: 5
Runs: 15

Mt. Rose Ski Resort
Storm total: 30 inches
Lifts: 5
Runs: 40

Northstar California Resort
Storm total: 19 inches
Lifts: 13
Runs: 70

Squaw Valley
Storm total: 23 inches
Lifts: 14
Runs: 23

Sugar Bowl Resort
Storm total: 18 inches
Lifts: 3
Runs: 31

For information about snow conditions in North Lake Tahoe visit, www.gotahoenorth.com. For lodging, activity and ski deals, visit www.gotahoenorth.com/cooldeals.

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