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.
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.”
Breckenridge is getting a second round of Olympic qualifier freeskiing and snowboarding.
The third stop of the Olympic qualifying season for slopestyle and halfpipe skiers and snowboarders — from Jan. 8-12 — is moving from California’s Northstar ski area to Breckenridge, which hosted the first stop of the season with its Dew Tour.
“We were looking forward to competing at Northstar but unfortunately Mother Nature isn’t cooperating at the moment,” said Mike Jankowski, coach of the U.S. Olympic snowboarding and freeskiing teams. “So going back to Breckenridge is really the next best thing. Their pipe and park are world class and we love competing in Breck. So it will all work out.”
Northstar ski area has a base of 18 inches, with only 213 acres of its 3,170 acres open. Breckenridge has a 32-inch base, with 1,432 acres of its 2,358 acres open. Colorado had a strong early start to the season and cold temperatures in November enabled speedy park and pipe construction. Bringing the Jan. 6-12 Grand Prix event back to Breckenridge gives Colorado its third Olympic qualifying week with the world’s top snowboarders and freeskiers competing in both slopestyle and halfpipe.
The International Ski Federation, or FIS, said in a statement that the move was based on Breckenridge’s contest-ready venue and warm weather at Northstar.
“Despite good quality snow conditions at Northstar, the region was not getting sufficiently cold temperatures for snowmaking teams to ensure the huge production of snow required for building a competition halfpipe and slopestyle venue,” read the statement.
Santa will be skiing the slopes at Squaw Valley this weekend before he boards his sleigh on Christmas Eve. (Squaw Valley photo)
Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will both open expanded terrain this weekend, with the addition of Shirley Lake Express at Squaw Valley and Hot Wheels Chairlift at Alpine Meadows.
Shirley Lake Express is a high-speed, six pack chairlift on the upper mountain and is set to open on Saturday. The lift provides access to some of Squaw’s most beloved intermediate terrain. At Alpine, the Hot Wheels Chairlift will open for the season on Sunday. Hot Wheels gives skiers and riders access to tree-lined intermediate trails.
Both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are open top-to-bottom for skiing and riding. Squaw Valley currently has 12 lifts and 19 trails open, including Mountain Run, the longest run at the resort. Alpine Meadows has five lifts and 26 trails open, as well as Sandy’s Corner terrain park off the Roundhouse Chairlift.
In addition to great skiing and riding, both Squaw and Alpine have a full schedule of festive happenings this holiday season including Santa on the slopes, free Ski with Jonny Moseley days, New Year’s Eve fireworks, and a torchlight parade. Click here for a full list of holiday events.
The skiing has been nothing short of spectacular at Squaw Valley, where this photo was taken on Dec. 7 by Jeff Engerbretson. (Squaw Valley photo)
Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will both be open top to bottom starting Friday. At Alpine Meadows, it will be the resort’s opening day for the season.
There will be five lifts and seven groomed trails open at Alpine, where skiers and riders can purchase reduced-priced lift tickets for $59. All proceeds from lift ticket sales will benefit the Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows Foundation as part of Alpine’s Ski Team Scholarship Day.
Squaw Valley, Alpine’s sister resort near Lake Tahoe, is open top to bottom with 10 lifts and 21 runs, including Mountain Run, the longest run at Squaw. This weekend, both Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will roll out the Learn to Ski and Ride Special. Beginner skiers and riders at both mountains can purchase a beginner lift ticket, equipment rentals, and a half-day lesson for $49.
“We are so excited to offer skiers and riders top-to-bottom access at both of our legendary resorts,” said Cara Whitley, chief marketing officer for Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. “From first-timers to those simply looking to support a good cause, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows have a great weekend on tap for those of every ability level.”
The cards were dealt, the bets were placed and the top three snowboarders took home the jackpot. Chas Guldemond, Gjermund Braaten and Eric Willett, the three podium winners from the inaugural Heavenly High Roller Hold ‘Em, return to the competition on Saturday, April 5, 2014, to defend their titles.
In partnership with Snow Park Technologies, High Roller Hold ‘Em combines the thrill of big air snowboarding with the strategy of high-stakes poker.
This time, the stakes are even higher, with the overall winner receiving a 2015 X Games Big Air event exemption, meaning that the top finisher at High Roller Hold ‘Em will gain automatic entrance into the X Games and will not be subject to meeting the qualification-criteria that the remainder of the field will be assessed under.
“The eagerness of these top athletes to re-join the competitive lineup for High Roller Hold ‘Em is a testament to the unique format of the event,” said Pete Sonntag, vice president and chief operating officer of Heavenly. “The combo of tricks these snowboarders throw down is in the cards. There is no scripted routine, and they have no idea what combo they will be given. They can be dealt a trick they haven’t even practiced or pulled off in years, and that’s what makes High Roller Hold ‘Em one of the edgiest, most entertaining events. It’s anyone’s jackpot to win.”
Returning High Roller Hold ‘Em champ, Guldemond, 26, is a Tahoe local looking to defend his title. He placed third in Slopestyle at the 2013 Burton US Open, fourth in Slopestyle at the 2013 X Games Tignes, first at the 2013 Copper Grand Prix in Slopestyle, and second in Slopestyle at the 2012 Dew Tour.
“I am so stoked to bet on my skills again this year at the High Roller Hold Em,” said Guldemond. “Cards, sunsets and hometown fans – it does not get any better.”
Second place finisher at High Roller Hold ‘Em, Braaten, 23, won the first Slopestyle event of the 2012 Winter Dew Tour in Breckenridge, placed sixth in Slopestyle at the 2013 X Games Tignes and was eighth in Slopestyle at the 2013 X Games Aspen. He also placed third at the Toyota Big Air 2013 and fourth in the Big Air Moscow.
Willett, 25, placed third at the inaugural High Roller Hold ‘Em and has a collection of four X Games Snowboard Slopestyle medals to his name. He took first at the 2013 Air & Style event in Innsbruck with a switch backside 1260 mute.
During the event, High Roller Hold ‘Em competitors will be dealt three cards per hand with each card featuring different tricks based on the face value of the card. From there, each rider will discard two cards, and bet accordingly on the final card in their hand. Once all bets are in, the riders who haven’t folded will head to the top of the big air jump, where the rider who lands the trick with the highest level of difficulty will win the round and qualify for the $50,000 super final.
High Roller Hold ‘Em, which will take place on the World Cup run near Heavenly’s California Main Lodge, is free of charge and open to the public. The event will feature a Red Bull guest DJ, the Heavenly Angels, an exhibition with local athletes, and pyrotechnics.
The event will be available live on ESPN3 on April 5, and will be aired as a one hour show on ABC’s “World of X Games” the following week.
Here’s a video from High Roller Hold ‘Em in April. >>>
Sugar Bowl Resort will be hosting the Backcountry Ball – an evening of food, drink and music – to benefit the Sierra Avalanche Center on Friday from 5 to 10 p.m. It will feature a presentation by legendary big mountain snowboarder Jeremy Jones.
The event will be held at the resort’s Mt. Judah Lodge. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door, and are available at www.sierraavalanchecenter.org.
Tickets include a pasta buffet dinner and live music by the Sierra Drifters, a four-piece Americana, roots rock band. Attendees who order Sugar Bowl Pale Ale at the cash bar will send $1 per beer in donations to the SAC.
Vendors will be showcasing the latest backcountry gear and a silent auction will feature prizes including an unrestricted season pass to Sugar Bowl/Royal Gorge.
Jones will give a 30-minute presentation on backcountry terrain selection and big mountain riding. He has been featured in dozens of snowboard films and was selected as a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year in 2013. His last two Teton Gravity Research films, “Deeper” and “Further,” featured himself and team of backcountry riders accessing some of the world’s most intense big mountain snowboard terrain all on foot and by splitboard. Jones is currently filming for “Higher,” the last film of the backcountry snowboard trilogy that will feature terrain from the Sierra Nevada to the Himalaya.
Sugar Bowl Resort has hosted the Backcountry Ball for five years as a way to support the nonprofit Sierra Avalanche Center and its team of two full-time avalanche forecasters.
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: www.bearvalley.com
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: www.dodgeridge.com
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: www.skihomewood.com
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: http://skipark.com
Snow Valley: Opening today, with 6 inches of natural snow and snow-making on the slopes top to bottom. Info: www.snow-valley.com
Soda Springs: Opening Friday. No other details about conditions were available on the website. Info: www.skisodasprings.com
Royal Gorge Cross Country, North America’s largest cross country resort, will open for the season today.
The resort will offer about 40 kilometers of groomed cross country trails for skiers after more than 20 inches of new snow fell on the resort over the weekend.
When fully open, Royal Gorge has more than 200 kilometers of trails on 6,000 acres of terrain that stretches from the open expanse of Van Norden Meadow to the foot of majestic Devil’s Peak. It is connected to Sugar Bowl Resort by an “interconnect trail” that leads skiers through Van Norden Meadows.
Tickets, rentals and other guest services will be offered at the Summit Station Lodge. All-day, adult lift tickets are $28. Skiers can receive a $5 discount on a Royal Gorge trail passes every day throughout the season by purchasing a $21 CORE pass.
Back for its second year, the Last Chair Festival returns to Squaw Valley Jan. 9-11 with a new format, huge headlining acts and new cultural seminars. A celebration of music, culture and community, the Last Chair Festival welcomes an eclectic mix of world-renowned music acts includingThe Flaming Lips, Jurassic 5 and Matisyahu.
“The inaugural Last Chair Music Festival last January was a great success, but this year we really wanted to blow it out of the water,” said Sean Kristl, marketing manager for Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows. “For 2014, we’ve brought in bigger acts and added a lineup of cultural seminars, workshops, and after-parties, as well as incredible lift ticket packages.”
Last Chair’s 2014 lineup features:
• The Flaming Lips
• Jurassic 5
• Mayer Hawthorne
• Fitz & the Tantrums
• Random Rab
• Chali 2na (and the House of Vibe)
• Ben Rector
• West Water Outlaws
Beyond the slopes and stage, the Last Chair Festival also includes cultural seminars and after-party events.
Last Chair Festival offers various ticket packages, including a Music + Lift Ticket Combo Pass for three days on the slopes and two nights of music for $250. Additional concert and lift ticket packages are available; details and purchase options can be found at www.Squaw.com/LastChairFestival.