What’s that coming down from the sky? Yes! It’s snow!

After being MIA for too long this winter (at least in California), lots of fresh snow courtesy Mother Nature is falling on the slopes at resorts throughout the state. Today’s storm is the first of a three-storm series expected to roll through by Sunday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

We’ll update this post as reports from the resorts come in. >>>

4:15 p.m. Thursday …

Fresh photos from our friends at Mammoth Mountain, courtesy Mammoth Lakes Tourism.
07millcity
06chair2line“With a foot and half of snow on the ground at Mammoth Mountain and several more feet expected through the weekend and early next week, best estimates put the snow total for this storm system at around 3 to 4 feet,” says spokesman Tim LeRoy.

“That would make this the biggest storm system to hit the Eastern Sierra in two years,” he adds, citing a report at Mammoth Weather.

On the Mammoth website, lodging specials included “stay three nights and get the fourth night free” and a lift and lodging package starting at $129 – both good for arrival dates through late May.

3:30 p.m. Thursday …

The winter storm sweeping through the Sierra Nevada brought 13 inches of fresh snow to Squaw Valley and 10 inches to Alpine Meadows by Thursday afternoon, with snow continuing to fall. Both resorts could see more than two feet of snow by Sunday night, with the possibility of even more snowfall through Wednesday.

Here’s what Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows looked like this morning. >>>

Mammoth Mountain received as much as 15 inches of new snow overnight. The forecast calls for another 3 to 5 inches tonight, and up to 17 inches more on Friday. Another 1 to 3 inches is possible on Saturday.

Noon Thursday … 

Rachel Luna, our colleague at The Sun and Daily Bulletin, is on the prowl today for #ieweather photos and videos and took this shot at Snow Valley. >>>

Snow ValleyIt was almost lunchtime and Snow Valley hadn’t sold a single lift ticket all morning. The resort closed for the day at noon.

“Resort officials believe skiers & snowboarders are holding out for the snowstorm to come,” Luna reported via Twitter.

10 a.m. Thursday … 

Mountain High is closed today, and operators are planning to re-opening the resort on Saturday morning. “We fully expect to reopen this weekend with hopes of remaining open all the way through Easter,” said a post on the resort’s website.

In the meantime, here are some other fast facts, according to the resort:

  • Mountain High has been open into May three times during the last 15 years.
  • The average closing date has been April 21.
  • 30-40 percent of the season is still ahead.
  • March is often the snowiest month at the resort.

Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows set to host Women of Winter camp

The Women of Winter three-day camp is returning to Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows on March 2-4. The camp is designed for intermediate to advanced women skiers and includes three full days of skiing, daily lunch, après ski events, and collaborative teaching for serious on-hill progression.

An innovative program, the Women of Wonder camp is specially designed to help women challenge themselves on the hill in a collaborative and supportive environment. The WOW program embraces a fun, fast-paced approach to ski instruction, allowing women to push themselves on Squaw and Alpine’s expansive terrain and pick up new skills, all while having a great time.

Off the hill, the camp also includes après ski events such as a wine and cheese social in The Village, and a guest speaker and social at Trilogy Spa.

The Women of Winter program is the result of over 35 years of contiguous women’s-specific ski programs at Squaw Valley, the first resort to offer female-specific ski lessons. In the early 1970s, Elissa Slanger, then a Squaw ski instructor, realized that the typical mechanical, and sometimes tyrannical, methods used to teach skiing terrified women and prevented them from exploring the sport and realizing their potential. From that realization, “Women’s Way,” the first women-specific ski program was born, pioneered by Elissa at Squaw Valley. Women of Winter is the latest development in women’s-specific ski programs at Squaw, offering a new, innovative, and most importantly, fun, approach to skiing.

The Women of Winter camp is available for intermediate to advanced women skiers, ages 13 and older. The camp is $536 without lift tickets, and $689 with lift tickets. Reservations are required. To book, call 530-452-4349 or email wow@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

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 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

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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