Blanketed in white, a view from above Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows

This is what 68 inches of new snow looks like at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.

By this weekend, the resorts plan to have 32 lifts and more than 100 runs available. Beginners will be able to ski from High Camp for the first time this season. In addition to jaw-dropping views, the green runs at High Camp are ideal for learning to turn.

The terrain parks also are being ramped up. There will be 27 features including seven small to medium jumps by Saturday in the Gold Coast Park. At Alpine Meadows, look for 16 features including three small jumps in Tiegel.

Here’s the line-up for lift openings:
• Granite Chief (today)
• Scott (today)
• Big Blue (today)
• Lakeview (Friday)
• KT-22 (by Saturday)

Winter returns in a big way to Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows and Mammoth

After going way too long without major snowfall from Mother Nature, the storm system that rolled through much of California at the end of last week left mountains coated in white.

In the Lake Tahoe area, Squaw Valley received 68 inches – more than 5 and a half feet – of snow while sister resort Alpine Meadows received 63 inches. The new snow has created a tremendous base at both resorts and will allow both mountains to open new terrain this week.

At Mammoth Mountain, the storm dropped more than 3 feet of fresh snow, bringing the base depth at the summit to 70 inches. The new snow will allow the resort to open 100 percent of the terrain this weekend for the first time this year.

In addition, Mammoth has some great deals:
  • The resort is selling 2-for-1 lift tickets. For more information, click here.
  • Mammoth is also offering free flights from LAX and San Diego when guests stay three or more nights at any of the Mammoth Lodging Collection properties.
  • To earn the free flights, reservations must be made by March 23 by calling 800-626-6684. Guests can stay through April 6.

Back in the Lake Tahoe area, Squaw Valley had 15 lifts operating today and Alpine Meadows had seven. Lifts slated to run this week for the first time this season include Solitude at Squaw Valley, and Scott and Lake View at Alpine Meadows. Siberia Express also is set to reopen at Squaw Valley starting Tuesday.

“The new snow was just what we needed to really get winter going here at Squaw and Alpine,” said Mike Livak, executive vice president for Squaw Valley Ski Holdings. “Thanks to the storm, we are now able to open new lifts so that our guests can truly experience the diverse terrain that these two mountains have to offer.”

Here’s what Squaw Valley is looking like with its fresh coat of snow. >>>

Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows ready for 4 feet of new snow

Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are set to receive up to 4 feet of snow by Monday afternoon thanks to a significant snow storm sweeping through the Sierra Nevada, according to a forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

As of Friday morning, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows had both received 4 inches of new snow, with heavy snowfall continuing throughout the day. This weekend, skiers and riders at Squaw and Alpine can expect an additional 23 inches of new snow by Saturday morning, with snowfall continuing Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Both resorts could have a total of 46 inches of new snow on the slopes by Monday afternoon.

Skiers and riders looking to take full advantage of the fresh snow can purchase the Tahoe Super 4 Pack, which offers four unrestricted days of skiing and riding anytime this season for less than $88 a day for adults, $75 for young adults and seniors and $50 for kids with no blackout dates. Tahoe Super 4 Packs are available at www.squaw.com and www.skialpine.com, or by calling 800-403-0206.

Fresh snow means new terrain opens at Sugar Bowl

Thanks to 13 inches of new snow on Wednesday night and Thursday, Sugar Bowl Resort will open its Mt. Disney chairlift on Saturday, Feb. 8, adding new terrain for skiers and riders.

The Donner Summit resort plans to operate seven lifts for top-to-bottom skiing and riding over the weekend, as heavy snow from a powerful storm continued to fall on the resort on Friday. Forecasters expect the highest elevations of Sugar Bowl Resort to be coated in more than 4 feet of new snow by Monday morning.

Sugar Bowl Resort plans to operate Mt. Disney, Mt. Lincoln, Jerome Hill, Christmas Tree, White Pine and Nob Hill chairlifts, as well as its gondola, over the weekend.

Information: www.sugarbowl.com

Squaw Valley opening 4 more lifts for weekend skiing, riding

Squaw Valley will open four new lifts for skiing and riding this morning following the storm that brought 10 inches of fresh snow this week to both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.

The new chairlift openings include Shirley Lake Express, Siberia Express, and Mountain Meadow. Skiing and riding also will be offered from the Aerial Tram, which will provide access to Mountain Meadow lift and Mountain Run, the longest run at Squaw Valley. All lifts, including the Aerial Tram, are scheduled to be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The new openings provide access to some of Squaw’s most popular terrain. Mountain Meadow lift services the mountain-top beginner area, giving first-time skiers and riders the opportunity to progress amid stunning views of Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevada.

Off of Shirley Lake Express, skiers and riders will find five wide, tree-cut runs, perfect for intermediate to advanced skiers and riders. Siberia Run and Siberia Bowl will be open off of Siberia Express, offering wide, open terrain for advanced skiers and riders.

Both today and Sunday, Squaw and Alpine are scheduled to offer a combined 24 lifts for skiing and riding.

Information: www.squaw.com and www.skialpine.com

Winter returns, and so does cross-country skiing at Royal Gorge

Natural snowfall returned – at last – to ski resorts in much of California the last couple days. At Sugar Bowl, this was the scene at the resort this morning. (Sugar Bowl Resort photo)

Natural snowfall returned – at last – to ski resorts in much of California during the last couple days. At Sugar Bowl, this was the scene at the resort this morning. (Sugar Bowl Resort photo)

After receiving up to 11 inches of new snow during the last two days, Royal Gorge will open once again on Saturday with 30 kilometers of groomed trails. The cross country ski area first opened for the season on Dec. 9, but closed earlier this month due to a lack of snow.

Royal Gorge’s Summit Station lodge will have ticket sales, food and beverage services, lessons and rentals. Lift tickets will be selling at the half-day rate.

Sugar Bowl, Royal Gorge’s sister resort in the Lake Tahoe area, is offering top-to-bottom skiing and riding with nearly a foot of new snow. Skiers and riders will have access to six chairlifts and 26 runs.

Forecasters are calling for sunny skies Saturday and Sunday, and cold overnight temperatures that will keep snow conditions ripe for skiing throughout the weekend.

Information: www.royalgorge.com, www.sugarbowl.com

4 Squaw Valley athletes heading to Olympics in Sochi

Four Squaw Valley are headed to Sochi to compete in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Julia Mancuso, Travis Ganong, Marco Sullivan and Nate Holland will all be representing Team USA in their respective fields. They are now part of the largest U.S. Winter Olympic Team in history which consists of 230 world-class athletes.

“We are so proud of all of the incredible athletes who are representing the United States in Sochi,” said Todd Kelly, ski team director at Squaw Valley. “We will be cheering them on from Squaw Valley and hope they bring home some new hardware to show off.”

Representing Team USA in her fourth Olympic Games, alpine skier Julia Mancuso will be competing in women’s downhill, super-G, giant slalom and super-combined. Mancuso has an extensive resume that consists of three Olympic medals, seven World Cup wins and four World Championship podium finishes. Mancuso showed fans her true passion and versatility as a skier when, after winning two silver medals in Vancouver in 2010, she went on to compete in the Freeride World Tour in Verbier – winning third place for skiing a fast and fluid line.

Nate Holland will represent Team USA in men’s snowboard cross. The Sochi Winter Games will be Holland’s third Olympics, where he is expected to be a serious medal contender. Holland has won eight X Games gold medals, including his most recent X Games win on Jan. 24. Inspired by a snowboarding film shot at the mountain, Holland moved to Squaw Valley in 1999 to work as a lift operator, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Squaw Valley hometown hero Marco Sullivan, will be representing Team USA in his fourth Winter Olympic Games. The 33-year-old and former Squaw Valley Mighty Mite made his world cup debut in 2001 and has since had five World Cup podium finishes, including a gold medal in men’s downhill. Sullivan will be racing in men’s downhill and super-G. Beyond his Olympic ski racing career, Sullivan is also regularly a winner of Alaska’s legendary Artic Man race, which pairs the strength of an athlete and the horsepower of a snowmobile.

Travis Ganong will make his first Olympic appearance in Sochi competing in the men’s downhill and super-G. The 25-year-old skier is an Squaw Valley native and got his start on the slopes of Squaw Valley. Ganong topped the podium in the 2013 U.S. Championships. He also took home two gold medals in the 2010 U.S. Championships for the downhill and super-G races. When he is not ski racing, Ganong can often be found freeskiing in the Lake Tahoe backcountry.

Squaw Valley heritage tour highlights venues from 1960 Winter Olympics

With the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, about to start, Squaw Valley is offering a timely look back at the Lake Tahoe resort’s Olympic past with the new 1960 Winter Games Heritage Tour.

The tours are three-hour private excursions of Squaw Valley’s on-mountain Olympic venues and highlight historic moments of the 1960 Winter Games.

Led by some of Squaw Valley’s most qualified professional guides, the tours will take participants down the same trails that were used as Olympic venues during the 1960 Winter Games. The private tours are available for individuals or groups of up to five people and cost $200 ($40 per person for a group of five).

As part of the experience, guides also will share insider details about Squaw’s rich heritage and the incredible story of the 1960 Winter Olympics.

The Olympic bid by Alex Cushing, founder of Squaw Valley, originally began as a publicity stunt to gain awareness for his new resort, though it eventually turned into a potentially feasible plan. At the time of the bid, Squaw Valley was a small, fledgling ski resort with just one chairlift and lodging for 50. After securing the bid for the VIII Winter Games, Squaw Valley emerged as a mecca for outdoor recreation and grew into a world-renowned winter sports destination.

As the first fully televised Olympic games, the 1960 Winter Games at Squaw Valley had a profound impact on winter sports in the United States by sparking an interest in winter athletics that continues to grow today.

Information: www.squaw.com

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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