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.

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.

Snow alert! At Northstar, 16 inches of fresh powder … and counting

Snow, snow and more snow. Here was the scene at Northstar California Resort today at 9 a.m. (Northstar photo)

Snow, snow and more snow. The scene at Northstar today at 9 a.m. (Northstar photo)

As of 11 a.m. today, Northstar California Resort has received 16 inches of fresh snow in less than 24 hours.

The mountain continues to experience very intense snowfall and an additional 6 inches of snow is forecast for tonight. Overnight temperatures are expected to dip into the teens and low 20s.

Information: www.northstarcalifornia.com

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.

Snow alert! Fresh powder will be served all weekend in Lake Tahoe

It was a winter wonderland today at the Village of Northstar, where a trio of skaters had the 9,000-square-foot ice skating rink apparently all to themselves. (Northstar photo)

A snowy winter wonderland enveloped the Village of Northstar, where earlier today three skaters seemed to have the 9,000-square-foot ice skating rink all to themselves. (Northstar photo)

Just what skiers and snowboarders have been wanting: snow, snow and more snow.

Here’s the latest from the slopes in the Lake Tahoe area. Check back for updates.

Northstar: “Heavy, intense” snowfall was reported Friday afternoon. New accumulation was expected to reach 4-8 inches overnight, with 6-12 inches coming Sunday and another 5-10 inches on Monday.

Sierra-at-Tahoe: 3 inches of snowfall since the storm started late Friday morning and, according to a resort spokeswoman, “We expect to receive much more overnight.”

Mammoth Mountain, Lake Tahoe have more of what is wanted: fresh snow

Mammoth Mountain will have 100 percent of its terrain available for skiing and snowboarding this weekend. (Photo by Peter Morning/Mammoth Mountain Ski Area)

Mammoth Mountain will have 100 percent of its terrain available for skiing and snowboarding this weekend. (Photo by Peter Morning/Mammoth Mountain Ski Area)

By Jerry Rice

The calendar says “April,” but it’s looking a lot more like winter – finally – at Mammoth Mountain and resorts in the Lake Tahoe area.

Mammoth received 18 inches of fresh powder this week and more than 36 inches since March 26. At Lake Tahoe, Squaw Valley’s seven-day snow total is 47 inches, and at Northstar California, about six miles north of of the lake, the resort welcomed 34 inches of new snow during the last several days – just in time for this weekend’s Spring It On! festival and pond skim contest.

“We’ve received so much fresh snow just before some of our most anticipated spring events, which means phenomenal skiing and riding and added excitement to this weekend’s festivities,” said Bill Rock, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Northstar.

Back at Mammoth, the new snow means a special on-mountain experience.

“Lift lines are typical for this time of the year, and skiers are able to spread out due to 100 percent of the terrain being open,” said Tim LeRoy, resort spokesman.

For more information, visit…
www.mammothmountain.com
www.northstarcalifornia.com
http://squaw.com

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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