Squaw Valley opens 3 glades by removing trees

By Bob Goligoski, Correspondent

Squaw Valley has removed more than 5,000 dead or diseased trees from its lower mountain enabling it to open three new glade area for skiers and snowboarders.

About 100 acres of new terrain was added to the slopes with the addition of the three new tree skiing areas – Red Dog Glades, Paris Glades and Heidi’s Glades.

The tree removal project, which employed the use of helicopters to remove the trees, also added a new connector trail off the Champs Elysees run to give skiers and riders easy access into the new glades.

All the new terrain, rated upper-intermediate to expert, is in the Red Dog region of the resort. Access into the area previously had been very limited because of the dense population of standing or fallen trees.

“The current drought and the King Fire bring into sharp focus the issue of forest health and how it affects our community right here in Squaw,” said Peter Bansen, Squaw Valley fire chief.

“Thinning provided valuable benefits by effectively utilizing the available water for the most viable trees and the removal of dead or diseased trees dramatically reduced the risk of fire,” Bransen said.

He added, “While this work was expensive for a private landowner, our community will benefit from Squaw’s investment in fuels reduction and forest health and I commend the company for doing the right thing.”

Most of the trees were processed for timber use and other tree material was chipped for further use at the resort. By using helicopters for the work, there was no need to skid or drag the fallen trees along the ground in sensitive areas, thus minimizing adverse environmental impact.

“Our goal was to return the forested areas in the Red Dog region back to a more natural and healthy state by removing potentially dangerous overgrowth and deadfall. Although the project was costly, it was worth the investment to improve the environment while also improving skiing and riding at the resort,” said Mike Livak, executive vice president of Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows.

Afton Alps welcomes first Riders’ Cup

Ice Cross Athletes from Around the World to Compete on Jan. 18 for World Championship Points and chance to Advance to Red Bull Crashed Ice

WHO: Up to 128 male and 24 female ice cross downhill athletes from around the world will be competing in the Riders Cup on Jan. 17-18 at Afton Alps to earn Ice Cross Downhill World Championship points and to qualify to compete in the Red Bull Crashed Ice series, including the Jan. 24 competition in downtown St. Paul. These athletes boast a variety of different sporting backgrounds – everything from downhill skiing to mountain biking to hockey and more.

WHAT: Ice cross downhill is the fastest sport on skates, with athletes racing down an ice track featuring hairpin turns, drops and gaps at speeds of more than 40 mph. The Riders Cup evolved from these athletes building their own tracks with local ski resorts and sponsorship partners, and for the first time ever this year, will give its competitors the chance to earn points towards their world championship ranking. The Riders Cup will make ice cross downhill more accessible to interested athletes and allow competitors from more than 15 different nations to participate in races this year.

There will be four Riders Cup events, added by popular demand, across the world this year: Jan. 18 at Afton Alps in Hastings, Minn.; Jan. 31 in Kleinarl, Austria; Feb. 14 in Jyväskylä, Finland; and March 7 in Sherbrooke, Québec (Canada). Adding the four Riders Cup events to the four existing Red Bull Crashed Ice competition brings the total number of ice cross competitions in 2015 to eight.

The athletes participating in the Riders Cup events will be able to earn up to 25 percent of the points awarded at the four major Red Bull Crashed Ice competitions. This means that participation in all four of the Riders Cup events will be equivalent to participating in one Red Bull Crashed Ice race.

The Afton Alps event will take place over two days with a Riders Cup training camp and time trials occurring on Saturday, Jan. 17 and the official Riders Cup race taking place on Sunday, Jan. 18. The Riders Cup will feature 32 heats of the top 128 men and up to four heats of the top women (up to 16). Athlete registration can be found at AftonAlps.com and is available on a first-come, first-served basis until Jan. 11.

The Afton Alps Riders Cup track will be an estimated 400 meters in length with over 60 meters of vertical drop, which is comparable to the Red Bull Crashed Ice championship course in St. Paul. It will be sculpted out of snow from the ski hill, covered with natural ice and littered with a variety of obstacles. The Afton Alps course will take more than eight days to build from the ground up, with approximately 10 international Crashed Ice athletes (from more than five countries) and 30 local athletes working on-site.

WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 17 – Riders Cup Training Camp and Qualifier

  • Practice and qualifying runs beginning at 8:30 a.m.

Sunday, Jan. 18 – Riders Cup

  • 11 a.m. – Venue opens
  • 11 a.m.- 12:30 p.m. – Riders Cup Elimination Round
  • 2:30 – 4:30 p.m. – Riders Cup Finals
  • 4:30 – 5 p.m. – Riders Cup Award Ceremony

WHERE: Afton Alps ski area, 6600 Peller Ave. S. in Hastings, Minnesota. The finish line and public viewing area will be near the base of lift #11 in the Meadows area.

INFO: For the full Riders Cup event schedule, visit AftonAlps.com or call (651) 436-5245.

ABOUT: The Riders Cup is just one example of how Afton Alps provides a variety of entertainment besides skiing and snowboarding. Afton Alps provides year-round entertainment including New Year’s Eve fireworks, a beer and wine festival in the fall, golfing and more.

Afton Alps is a subsidiary of Vail Resorts, Inc., the leading mountain resort operator in the U.S. For over 50 years, Afton Alps has delighted the Twin Cities’ families as one of the Midwest’s premier winter destinations. Nestled in the scenic St. Croix River Valley just outside Minneapolis and St. Paul, this sprawling resort poured $10 million last season into re-imagining the guest experience with renovated base area facilities, a powerful state-of-the-art snowmaking system and a new cutting edge terrain park. With nearly 300 skiable acres, 50 trails, 18 lifts and four terrain parks, there is enough terrain to challenge experts to beginners, day or night. Accessible, affordable and fun, this big-time resort with a small-town feel has converted thousands of first-timers into lifelong skiers and riders, and with the opportunity to take that passion to Vail Resorts’ iconic western mountains; Afton Alps is truly the place where Epic begins. For more information, visit AftonAlps.com.

Follow Afton Alps on Twitter at @AftonAlpsMN, Instagram at @AftonAlps and on Facebook at Facebook.com/AftonAlpsMN.

Blue Sky Basin marks 15 years at Vail Mountain

Since its opening 15 years ago on Jan. 6, 2000, Blue Sky Basin has become a legendary area on Vail Mountain and a favorite amongst locals and guests from around the world.

This outer-most area of the resort offers a distinct backcountry feel, complete with glades, cliffs, steeps, and often plenty of powder and fresh tracks within 645 acres of developed ski and snowboard terrain!

In honor and celebration of Blue Sky Basin’s 15th anniversary at Vail Mountain, following is a list of the 15 things we love about this legendary area of Vail Mountain!

  1. A Powder Day!

It goes without saying that Blue Sky Basin powder days are the best days! An abundance of powder, fresh tracks and secret stashes await skiers and snowboarders here after recent snowfalls.

  1. The Backcountry-Like Feel

Skiers and snowboarders can enjoy all the ambience of the backcountry, including barn-like structures, gladed terrain, cliffs and steeps, all within the safety of the ski resort boundaries. The NSAA even awarded Vail with the Silver Eagle award in 2000 for excellence in visual impact.

  1. Its Size

With 645 acres of developed ski and snowboard terrain, Blue Sky Basin alone is bigger than many individual ski resorts around the United States! That’s a lot of terrain to explore in addition to the rest of Vail’s more than 5,000 acres of terrain.

  1. Gladed Terrain

Known for its amazing natural gladed terrain, Blue Sky Basin, offers fantastic tree skiing in places like Champagne Glade, Steep and Deep, and Resolution.

  1. Groomers, too!

Intermediate skiers and snowboarders don’t be shy, Vail Mountain’s snowcats still make the seven-plus mile journey out to Blue Sky Basin each day to groom trails like Big Rock Park, Grand Review and The Star.

  1. Grilling at Belle’s Camp

Pack up the burgers and brats, and head out to Blue Sky Basin’s Belle’s Camp for the ultimate on-mountain barbeque complete with expansive views of the Sawatch Mountains and Ten-Mile range.

  1. The Views

Blue Sky Basin’s terrain isn’t the only thing that takes your breath away in this outer-most area on Vail Mountain. Panoramic views of surrounding mountain peaks and of Vail’s legendary Back Bowls are just as impressive as the sheer variety of terrain.

  1. Lover’s Leap

Whether you take the plunge solo, or with a partner, Blue Sky Basin’s Lover’s Leap is sure to get your heart pounding as you slide up to the edge of the cornice and take a leap of faith onto the steep snow surface below.

  1. Choose Your Own Adventure through Big Rock Park

No two runs are ever the same when skiing and snowboarding down Big Rock Park. Stick to the main-groomed trail, weave in and out of tree islands, pop into the trees for fresh powder, and make this run all your own!

  1. Dawg Haus

Break for a brew and a brat at this trail-side hot dog stand in between laps on Pete’s Express Lift (#39). It’s the perfect quick lunch stop for hungry skiers and snowboarders who don’t want to break from their powder laps for too long.

  1. The Name and Historical Connection

The name of the area honors the Ute Indians, the original settlers of the Vail Valley, who were referred to as the “Blue Sky People.” The tribute, combined with Colorado’s brilliant blue skies inspired the name Blue Sky Basin. The area also pays tribute to Vail’s founders in the names of two of the three Blue Sky Basin chairlifts – Earl’s Express Lift (#38) and Pete’s Express Lift (#39).

  1. While the Snow’s Away, the Wildlife Can Play!

As part of the approval for Blue Sky Basin, the U.S. Forest Service implemented a Supervisor’s Closure on the Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin to protect elk calving habitat from early-May to the end of June and no organized summer activities are allowed.

  1. The Fireplace at Belle’s Camp

Head inside Belle’s Camp to warm up by the fire on a snowy winter’s day.

  1. The Snow Stake Cam

Your best source for live, up-to-the-minute snowfall totals in Blue Sky Basin. Check out the online camera at Vail.com to see for yourself how much snow fell in the past 24 hours.

  1. Last, but certainly not least, that one particular line in that one particular place on an epic powder day – you know the one!

What do you love about Blue Sky Basin? Share your favorites with Vail throughout the month of January by tagging @VailMtn on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and using the hashtag #BlueSkyBasin.

For more information visit www.vail.com, stop by the Mountain Information Center, or call (970) SKI-VAIL (754-8245).

Forest Service OKs sale of Bear Valley ski area

By Bob Goligoski

The U.S. Forest Service has approved the sale of Bear Valley ski area to Skyline International Development Inc., a large, Toronto-based operator and developer of hospitality resorts and destination communities. The sale price was not disclosed.

Skyline intends to press ahead with an ambitious, approved master plan for Bear Valley that includes additional chair lifts, construction of 350 residential units, a new 40,000 square foot village center and a 54-unit lodge. Skyline did not disclose its timeline for making the improvements.

Bear Valley was sold by the Bear Valley Mountain Cooperative, a group of community leaders who acquired the resort in 2013. Skyline owns one other ski area, Horseshoe Resort located near Toronto.

Skyline CEO Michael Sneyd said, “We are delighted to add Bear Valley to our growing portfolio of hotels and resorts. Given Bear Valley’s spectacular beauty, excellent terrain and potential for improvement, we believe it is a great fit.”

In its approval action, the Forest Service on December 19 issued a permit to Skyline to operate the resort.

Bear Valley, which opened in the Sierra in 1947 between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite Park, has eight chairlifts and one surface lift. With a vertical drop of 1,900 feet spread across 1,680 skiable acres, the resort has 75 runs.

For this season, Bear Valley has increased its staff with a goal of “ensuring more employees per guest than other destinations.”

Liftopia offers lift tickets up to 72 percent off

We can’t think of merrier way to spend Christmas Day or a happier way to kick off the New Year than on the slopes. Liftopia, the largest online and mobile marketplace for lift tickets and other mountain activities, is kicking off their annual Christmas & New Year’s Day Promotion featuring savings up to 72% off lift tickets when purchased in advance compared to walk-up window rates. 

Christmas Day and New Year’s Day are ideal times to go skiing and boarding – fewer crowds, shorter lift lines, wide-open runs and more powder time! But purchase your lift tickets now – the further in advance you book, the more you will save. Here are some examples of the savings that can be found on Liftopia for Dec. 25 and Jan. 1:

  • Caberfae Peaks, MI: one-day lift tickets starting at $9.99 (72% off)
  • Bolton Valley, VT: one-day lift tickets starting at $19.99 (59% off)
  • Ragged Mountain, NH: one-day lift tickets starting at $34.99 (56% off)
  • Anthony Lakes, OR: one-day lift tickets starting at $17.99 (49% off)
  • Snowbasin, UT: one-day lift tickets starting at $48.99 (45% off)
  • Smuggler’s Notch, VT: one-day lift tickets starting at $39.99 (44% off)
  • Arapahoe Basin, CO: one-day lift tickets starting at $50.99 (43% off)
  • Jay Peak, VT: one-day lift tickets starting at $41.99 (42% off)
  • Mt. Abram, ME: one-day lift tickets starting at $14.99 (40% off)
  • Hoodoo, OR: one-day lift tickets starting at $28.99 (40% off)
  • Whiteface, NY: one-day lift tickets starting at $57.99 (35% off)
  • Snowshoe, WV: two-day lift tickets starting at $114.47 (35% of)
  • Homewood, CA: one-day lift tickets starting at $57.99 (34% off)
  • Mt. Hood, OR: one-day lift tickets starting at $49.99 (32% off)
  • Crystal Mountain, MI: one-day lift tickets starting at $45.99 (31% off)

Need a last minute holiday gift? Liftopia Gift Cards are great gifts and stocking stuffers. Liftopia gift cards are available in any dollar amount (up to $1,000) and are good for lift tickets, rentals, lessons, meals and more at any of Liftopia’s 250+ resort partners. What’s more: no extra fees, no expiration date, and they can be sent electronically or printed so the gift can be given in person or via regular mail.

Mammoth gets 5 feet of snow in December

December has been good to Mammoth! With nearly 5 feet of fresh snow falling this month Mammoth is set to open all of its base areas today (Canyon and Eagle lodges) and new terrain, including chairs 8, 15,16 and 17.
In total, Mammoth now has 18 chairs open, servicing 80 trails, the most in California by some margin.

Some great action shots by Kevin Westenbarger from the weekend’s storms are available here. Also have some good video shot yesterday here

This is all good news for last-minute holiday travel planners. Night of Lights on Saturday is a can’t miss Eastern Sierra tradition and NYE at Mammoth can be celebrated a number of ways, with programming for both Familes and Party Animals.

EpicMix Guide allows guests to ski Vail Resorts

Vail Resorts announced that EpicMix™ Guide, the fifth generation of its award-winning, free, multi-channel app which will re-imagine how skiers and snowboarders will maximize their time on the mountain this winter, is now available for download for iPhone or Android operating systems.

EpicMix™ Guide uses guest input to generate a customized, step-by-step navigational guide to experience Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge or Keystone in Colorado, Canyons in Park City, Utah, or Heavenly, Northstar or Kirkwood at Lake Tahoe like a long-time local.

“With EpicMix Guide, skiers and riders are able to input what kind of skiing they like to do, what kind of terrain they want to explore and how much time they have available, and the app provides a custom itinerary to help them navigate the mountain in a care-free way, maximizing the fun they’ll have that day,” said Kirsten Lynch, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Vail Resorts.

Guests need only download the EpicMix app from the iTunes Store or Google Play for the Android Market, then activate their free account via the app or at www.epicmix.com using their pass or lift ticket number.

They then log into any one of the various EpicMix channels (app, mobile web, desktop) and answer a variety of questions including: desired resort, starting location at the resort, terrain difficulty desired, and length of time available.

EpicMix Guide then automatically generates the optimal route for that guest on that day. The online version is perfect for those who want to plan their trip in advance, while the app is the best way to track real-time progress.

“EpicMix Guide is like handing you 20 years of experience at that resort on your first visit there,” said Lynch. “We’re putting this power at the fingertips of every one of our guests.”

The EpicMix development team sought the insider knowledge of each resort’s most experienced Ski and Ride School instructors to build itineraries which would let guests explore each mountain in a unique way that is appropriate for the corresponding skill level.

Guests can experience beginner routes such as “Schoolmarm Cruiser” at Keystone or intermediate routes like “Dipper Explorer” at Heavenly, or challenge themselves with advanced routes like “Ricky’s Ridge Adventurer” at Vail.

These are just a few examples of the 350 possible routes spread across the eight mountain resorts (excluding Park City Mountain Resort).

Once an itinerary is completed, skiers and riders can share their itinerary, along with photos and other stats about their day, on social media through Facebook and Twitter.

“We’ll give you all the assets you need to share the story about your epic day,” said Lynch.

Skiing, snowboarding … it’s happening every day now at Bear Mountain

Fresh powder is certainly a welcome thing at Bear Mountain and other ski and snowboard resorts in Southern California. (Bear Mountain photo)

Fresh powder is certainly a welcome thing at Bear Mountain and Southern California’s other ski and snowboard resorts. (Bear Mountain photo)

Thanks to the recent snowfall, Bear Mountain is now open for skiing and snowboarding every day of the week.

“We are so stoked that we received more snow than expected from the last storm,” said Rio Tanbara, Bear Mountain’s marketing director, adding that terrain is in very good shape due to the recent flurry of snow in the Big Bear Lake area.

“Our guests will be extremely pleased with what they see and experience here,” said Chris Riddle, Big Bear Mountain Resorts vice president of marketing. “Our team has worked hard to create and maintain more of what skiers and snowboarders are looking for – more jumps, more jibs, more snow and more fun.”

Bear Mountain’s hours of operation will be from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

Chairs 1, 6, 7 and 9 will be operating for beginner, intermediate and advanced riders with plenty of terrain features available. Five trail runs are currently available with more expected to open soon.

Lessons, rentals, retail and food service are open and available for Bear Mountain guests during regular hours of park operation. Snowmaking efforts will continue this week.

Season passes, individual tickets, group tickets and lift tickets are available. Guests should plan on arriving early, as ticket sales may be limited.

For the 24-hour snow report, call 800-232-7686. For other information, call 909-866-5766 or visit www.bigbearmountainresorts.com.

BC’s Powder Highway draws adventurers

There’s something compelling about British Columbia’s Kootenay Rockies. The nature here is big — monumental, in fact — but amidst this imposing landscape adventurous communities thrive, small but hardy.

Prospectors originally mined this area for gold; now something else beckons, a rush of adrenalin that requires skis and boards, and a GPS to map the way.

The outdoor-adventure action here is concentrated along the Powder Highway in southeastern BC, where eight full-service alpine resorts mingle with more than 10 Nordic ski destinations, nearly two dozen snowcat and heli-ski operators, plus a complement of 23 backcountry lodges.

Heli- and cat-skiing were born here, and it’s where winter resorts offer remarkable, and varied, mountain experiences, chock full of warmth and charm.

Case in point: Fernie, a historic mining town that is now a ski mecca whose population nearly doubles during the winter season.

Here, adventurists can make tracks in Fernie Alpine Resort’s legendary powder, a playground that includes 1,000 skiable hectares (2,471 acres), 142 runs and five alpine bowls. As a bonus, après-ski, Fernie-style, is easily achieved with a pint of Glacier Fresh Kokanee at The Griz Bar.

And that’s just a taste of what’s on offer along BC’s Powder Highway. Die-hards could, for example, explore whole new realms of possibility at RED Mountain Resort, where the addition of nearly 81 hectares (200 acres) of gladed tree skiing on three newly cut runs on Mt. Kirkup’s south side promise to redefine steep and deep.

A venture to nearby Whitewater Ski Resort offers equal challenge — thanks to a wintry landscape that boasts an annual 12-metre (40-foot) snowfall — that is blissfully rewarded at nearby Ainsworth Hot Springs. (Both the resort and the springs are just a short drive from Nelson, one of BC’s quirkiest and most beloved towns.)

Powder addictions will be further sated at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort near Golden, “The Champagne Powder Capital of Canada,” or at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, home to North America’s longest vertical.

For those eager for some high-flying action (a.k.a. an opportunity to perfect their Double McTwist), Panorama Mountain Resort’s terrain park is just the ticket.

There are down-to-earth options along this road trip, too: grown-ups can leave the aerials to the pros, enrol the kiddies at Kimberley Alpine Resort’s Owl Learning Area, and make tracks along open glades and heart-thumping steeps. (Planting poles and warming up with a steaming cup of hot buttered rum at the Stemwinder Bar & Grill is an equally tempting alternative.)

Bottom line: along BC’s adventurous Powder Highway, options for powdery play are seemingly endless. And the locals are pretty friendly, too. PowderHighway.com

Vail Resorts to invest $50 million in Park City Mountain Resort

Vail Resorts Inc. announced the company’s planned upgrades to Park City Mountain Resort for the 2015-2016 ski season. The plan, which totals over $50 million, is one of the most ambitious capital programs in U.S. ski industry history and will transform the guest experience at Park City Mountain Resort.

The plan would establish the connection between Park City Mountain Resort and Canyons Resort, creating the largest single ski area in the country with more than 7,300 acres of skiable terrain, and complete a number of critical upgrades to the infrastructure of both resorts. The plan will be subject to approval by both Summit County and the City of Park City. Components of the $50-million capital plan include:

  • The Interconnect Gondola. An eight-passenger, high-speed two-way gondola from the base of the existing Silverlode Lift at Park City to the Flatiron Lift at Canyons. The gondola will also have an unload at the top of Pine Cone Ridge to allow skiers and riders the opportunity to ski into Thaynes Canyons at Park City via gated ski access or to the Iron Mountain area at Canyons through new trails that will be created from Pine Cone Ridge. This will mark the first gondola at Park City Mountain Resort since “The Gondola” was dismantled in 1997.
  • Upgrade of King Con and Motherlode Lifts at Park City. The King Con  Lift will be upgraded from a four-person to a six-person, high-speed detachable chairlift and will increase lift capacity to this very popular ski pod. The Motherlode Lift will be upgraded from a fixed-grip triple to a four-person, high-speed detachable chairlift, also increasing lift capacity. Both upgrades will reduce crowding, lift lines and improve the guest experience.
  • New Snow Hut Restaurant, Upgrades to Summit House Restaurant at Park City and Expansion of Red Pine Lodge Restaurant at Canyons. The plan calls for building a completely new Snow Hut restaurant at the base of the Silverlode Lift and next to the Park City terminal for the Interconnect Gondola, with 500 indoor seats and a top-of-the-line kitchen and culinary experience. The plan also includes an upgrade to the “scramble” area inside the Summit House restaurant to improve the flow of diners and increase seats. At Canyons, the Red Pine Restaurant will be renovated to accommodate an additional 250 indoor seats. This upgrade follows the recent renovation and increase of 150 seats to the Cloud Dine restaurant at Canyons.
  • Snowmaking and Other Improvements. The plan features additional snowmaking on two trails in the Iron Mountain area of Canyons which will become increasingly central ski terrain given its proximity to the Interconnect Gondola. The plan also includes almost $5 million of “catch up” maintenance and upgrades at Park City, given the lack of spending at the resort over the past few years. This “catch up” maintenance spending is in addition to the normal annual maintenance capital for the two resorts of $5 million, which will be undertaken this year as well.

“This comprehensive capital plan for Park City and Canyons is one of the most ambitious and impactful plans undertaken at any resort in industry history, transforming the experience at both resorts and creating the largest single ski resort in the U.S. with more than 7,300 acres of skiable terrain,” said Blaise Carrig, president of the mountain division for Vail Resorts.

“The improvements offer skiers and riders more terrain and upgraded lifts to enhance the guest experience and reduce crowding and lift lines, new and upgraded restaurants, more snowmaking and an overall ‘touching up’ of all aspects of the resorts,” Carrig said. “The plan was based on feedback from guests and the local community as well as discussions with the senior operating teams at the two resorts. We look forward to continuing to work with the county and the city and are hopeful we can bring this plan to life for the 2015-2016 ski season.”

For the 2015-2016 ski season, the company intends to operate the two resorts as one unified branded experience under the name “Park City Mountain Resort”. The Canyons base area will be renamed “Canyons at Park City”. The company will continue to maintain the unique history and atmosphere of the two base areas with differentiated marketing for the diverse hotel and hospitality experiences.

A detailed map of the plans can be downloaded here: https://vailresorts.box.com/s/jb7m1hcjek7bymfuofy4