Southern California ski resorts closing early

By Kristina Hernandez and Neil Nisperos, Staff Writers

They’re packing it in. But unfortunately for local ski resorts, what they’re packing in isn’t snow. It’s the ski season.

Warm weather and extreme drought have combined to force ski resorts across California to close early, and Southern California ski hubs are no exception, even as some try to squeeze some extra days out of the season for visitors from throughout L.A. and the Inland Empire.

Because of the lack of rainfall and higher temperatures, Mountain High in Wrightwood closed up shop earlier this month. Snow Valley Mountain Resort in Running Springs also closed earlier this year. Both draw enthusiasts from throughout Southern California, who mountain businesses depend on to hit their bottom lines during the season.

•Video: Skiers enjoy Big Bear’s last bit of snow

Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, not far up Highway 18 from Big Bear Lake — both recently acquired by Mammoth Resorts — will remain open until Sunday, which will be the final day of the season.

Mountain High closed on March 3, part of a pattern of closures throughout the season, said John McColly, chief marketing officer.

He held out some hope that the resort would open if wintery weather returned before April 4. But with temperatures expected to top 90 in lower elevations in Southern California through the week, hope for snow was melting fast.

This was, as he put it, “atypical.”

“It’s a month and a half early for us (to close),” McColly said. “It’s really tough to be in the ski industry these last couple of years. It’s the worst possible thing for us and we would much rather be open until April.”

Read more in SNOW.

Manufactured snow keeps SoCal resorts in the game with skiers, snowboarders

(File photo from Bear Mountain Resorts)

While natural snow has been lacking this winter at places like Bear Mountain, Southern California resorts still have something to offer snowboarders and skiers thanks to the ability to manufacture snow. (File photo from Bear Mountain Resorts)

Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin on Feb. 11.

By Art Bentley

As mid-February approached, the best ski conditions in California remained right here in the land of the endless summer.

To find better, Inland Empire skiers and snowboarders would have had to drive about 400 miles to Brian Head, Utah, which claimed a 38-inch base of what the Beehive State bills as the greatest snow on earth. It may well be, but unlike the resorts here in the Southland, Brian Head and other Utah ski areas depend exclusively on natural forces.

And if the local talent craved a stiffer challenge than the 1,400-foot vertical rise Brian Head offers, Park City and the Cottonwood canyons, home to Snowbird, Alta and Solitude, are some 250 miles farther north. Not that they’re wallowing in snow either. Measurements in Little Cottonwood Canyon showed bases of about 70 inches at the powder meccas of Snowbird and Alta, which are stops on a Salt Lake City municipal bus line. That’s not a lot, not enough to justify a journey of at least 650 miles.

It’s also not enough to permit a rational practitioner to put equipment in peril by venturing off the groomed runs and into the really outstanding steep terrain at both. One doesn’t go lightly to the trouble or expense of traveling to Snowbird or Alta to ski only groomers. One goes primarily to ski off piste in two feet of feather-light, untracked, legendary Utah powder on outrageous steeps.

Nor at first glance would the 8-to-24-inch base depths advertised at Snow Summit and Bear Mountain at Big Bear Lake, the Southern California pacesetters, seem to indicate a lot of cover either. But there’s been more than enough snow since late December to blanket nearly every open run sufficiently, including the steepest at each. One need not worry about hitting rocks or other obstacles.

The reason? Manufactured snow, which represents an overwhelming majority of the flakes on the ski runs in another extraordinarily dry California winter, tends to be appreciably denser than the natural variety and therefore packs into a more solid base. The result is very good pavement for skiing that holds up day after day, regardless of what nature throws at it.

The two other resorts operating in Southern California, Mountain High near Wrightwood and Snow Valley near Running Springs, are advertising bases of 6 to 10 inches. Like Summit and Bear, almost all of their snow is manufactured as well.

By comparison, Mammoth Mountain, which is in the process of acquiring Summit and Bear, reported a snow depth on Feb. 13 of 24 to 48 inches, far from enough for adequate coverage of many of the slopes, especially the steeper ones. Why leave Southern California for that?

The same question applied to the Lake Tahoe resorts, where rain fell recently on lower slopes. Alpine Meadows on the north shore reported 18 to 42 inches. On the south shore, Heavenly confessed to 35 inches.

And while we’re at it, winter has not been especially kind so far to Colorado or New Mexico.

But as long as the water supply holds out, there’ll be decent ski conditions in Southern California. Water is the primary ingredient in the manufacturing process that, when combined under pressure, yields snow. And when the source of water is Big Bear Lake, rather than wells on which many ski areas are forced to depend, the supply is unlimited.

“We can’t do it without water,” said Chris Riddle, marketing vice president for both resorts. “And the lake is a game changer for us. In weather like this, people tend to forget about us. But we’ve known for a long time that we’re going to have dry years in Southern California, and we’ve built a system that lets us have good years whether we have natural snow or not.”

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.
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.

70 is the magic number at Southern California ski resorts

By Art Bentley

Old age, it is said, is not for wimps. But it could be just the lift ticket for those who would like to ski or ride a snowboard without charge.

To do that in Southern California, all you have to do is live for 70 years and be able to prove it. Once you’ve met those two simple requirements, just stride, stroll, lurch or hobble to the ticket windows at Mountain High near Wrightwood or the guest services office at Snow Valley near Running Springs, display a valid driver’s license, pay a nominal one-time processing fee, pose for a photograph and you’re the owner of a season pass that’s good any time.

Mountain High charges $10 and Snow Valley $20. If you’d rather not pay at the latter, Snow Valley will give you a day ticket whenever you show up with valid identification. The double sawbuck, however, provides the advantage of being able to head directly to the lifts upon arrival.

“We feel these people 70 and over have been supporting the industry most of their lives,” Snow Valley marketing director Chris Toth said. “We want to recognize that and have them come up and ski our mountain. And they might bring the rest of their family and spend some money. That doesn’t hurt.”

Mountain High and Snow Valley, like just about any resort in western North America, could use more snow. Open runs are limited at both resorts. At Mountain High, the east side is shuttered, pending the arrival of natural snow or a cold snap of sufficient strength and length to permit the manufacture of enough of the white stuff to ski on. Slide Peak, beyond the reach of the Snow Valley snow guns, also is idle.

John McColly, chief marketing officer at Mountain High, also doesn’t feel the resort is hurting itself financially by giving away the product to senior skiers and snowboarders.

“For us, it’s a way to give back,” he said. “Not a lot of our guests are over 70, so it’s not a big financial liability and people over 70 really enjoy it. We like to see them up there.”
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SoCal ski resorts are loving these frigid December temps

Theresa McCrackn waxes skis on Tuesday at Snow Valley Resort in Running Springs. Tuesday was the resort's opening day for the winter. (Photo by LaFonzo Carter/San Bernardino Sun)

Theresa McCrackn waxes skis on Tuesday at Snow Valley Mountain Resort in Running Springs. Tuesday was the resort’s opening day for the winter. (Photo by LaFonzo Carter/San Bernardino Sun)

By Jim Steinberg and Michel Nolan

San Bernardino County Sun

RUNNING SPRINGS >> Morning sun glinted on the snowy ski runs as the thermometer flirted with the high 20s on opening day of Snow Valley’s winter season. And the newly covered slopes of local mountains translated to green – as in money – for those resorts.

Advanced skiers John Reilly and his fiancee, Lesandre Barley, both of Running Springs, celebrated their first day on the slopes Tuesday.

“They did get 6 inches of snow and groomed it, so it’s a superb day up here,” said Reilly, 45.

Barley, 31, reported that two runs were open, including The Edge, which is the terrain park.

Temperatures marked the coldest opening the resort had seen in a long time, said Nick Chatterton, 34, Snow Valley’s snow surfaces manager.

Chris Toth, marketing director, agreed.

“For early season conditions, it’s pretty cold. Nick and his snow surfaces crew have done a great job,” Toth said. “Two women are part of the crew, and that’s unique.”

A slightly cooler than normal December has propelled snowmaking ahead of last year, which was slightly warmer than normal for the 12th month of the year, said Steve Travis, a meteorologist for AccuWeather.

“It’s been a decent season so far,” said David Stone Junior, a San Bernardino Mountain entrepreneur, who owns Fireside Lodge and Bear Creek Resort, both in Big Bear Lake.

“The key to it is what nature is going to bring,” Stone said. “So we are all in a beautiful holding pattern to see what happens.”

Travis said that there will be a gradual warm-up at the end of the week and temperatures should rise to slightly above normal for Sunday and Monday.

During the peak of the warm-up, some of that man-made snow might be melting, he said.

The next chance for natural snowfall in the Southern California mountains will be at the end of next week – but it’s not a sure bet at this point.

“We have a rudimentary sense of what is happening,” and that it might bring cold Canadian air back into the Southland, he said.

Snow-making at Mountain High is going so well that night skiing is expected to begin Friday, the resort reported Tuesday on its website.

Robbie Ellingson, general manager of Mt. Baldy Ski Resort, said that he is hopeful that the beginners’ slope will open this weekend, although the resort has been open for “snow play” since Thanksgiving.

Like other ski slope operators, Ellingson said he is hoping for natural snow.

“Typically, when the mountains are white, we do better,” he said.

#ski #snowboard … opening day updates from the slopes

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:

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: 

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:

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:

Snow Valley: Opening today, with 6 inches of natural snow and snow-making on the slopes top to bottom. Info: 

Soda Springs: Opening Friday. No other details about conditions were available on the website. Info:

Snow Valley, once a haven for experts, now caters to a different crowd

While not the resort it once was, Snow Valley still has much to offer – especially if you’re a beginner or intermediate skier. (Snow Valley photo)

By Art Bentley

The slogan on the cover of the trail map at the Snow Valley ski area near Running Springs reads, “More than you realize.” Management, which runs the resort for an absentee owner who lives in Wisconsin, could have added, “Though less than you may recall.”

A skier with a good memory who last visited the resort in the early to mid-1990s would have good reason today to be a bit perplexed. Back then, the resort operated 13 chairlifts, including two, a triple and a double, that scaled its signature expert hill, Slide Peak, where snowmaking equipment was installed at about the same time.

Slide, the incline of which ranges from 30 to 35 degrees on about 400 to 500 vertical feet, is the feature that makes Snow Valley entertaining for skiers and snowboarders who like steep, bumpy terrain. When it’s closed, as it has been for most of this season, Snow Valley appeals primarily to those of marginal to limited ability or who enjoy the obstacles of the freestyle park.

Two decades ago, an equally precipitate run on the western flank of the area plunged beneath chair 5 to a parking lot that seems big enough to swallow Rhode Island. Chair 7 climbed a slope that has since been incorporated into the freestyle area. Chairs 4 and 10 were thriving.

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