On the slopes: 2015 guide for skiing, snowboarding at Mountain High

As its name might suggest, it's possible to see Catalina Island from Mountain High's quarter-mile Catalina Run. (Mountain High photo)

As the name might suggest, it’s possible to see Catalina Island far in the distance from Mountain High’s quarter-mile Catalina Run. (Mountain High photo)

This is the third in a series of updates from mountain resorts in California and Nevada.

What’s new at Mountain High: Terrain features for both beginner and advanced riders, increased snowmaking and the debut of the fourth edition of the resort’s app for iPhone and Android. It features new map tracking to record your runs, a calorie counter and digital badges to earn.

Best eats: The family owned Grizzly Café (760-249-6733, http://grizzlycafe.com) is a casual dining spot known for its large, delicious burgers. For breakfast, order a cinnamon roll then burn off the calories on the slopes.

For the family: The North Pole Tubing Park is the largest tubing facility in Southern California. Tickets are $20 for two hours of tubing.

Hidden gem: Catalina, a quarter-mile run that’s off the beaten path at the top of the East Resort. “It’s one of the highest and most scenic runs in Southern California,” says John McColly, resort spokesman. “You can see the Pacific Ocean and Catalina to the west, the backside of Mount Baldy and Mount Baden Powell to the north and south, and the Mojave Desert stretching out to the east. It’s a unique experience, and you feel like you’re at the top of a mountain range, at Mammoth or Tahoe, looking over the Sierras.”

Spotted last season: Adam Sandler

Social connections: @mthighsnow on Instagram; @mthigh on Twitter; www.facebook.com/mthigh

Information: 888-754-7878; www.mthigh.com

— Jerry Rice

On the slopes: 2015 guide for skiing, snowboarding at Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain is known as a hotspot for snowboarders. (Bear Mountain photo)

Bear Mountain is a hot spot for snowboarders. (Bear Mountain photo)

This is the second in a series of updates from mountain resorts in California and Nevada.

What’s new at Bear Mountain: The Cali4nia Pass was introduced in late September and is good for unrestricted, season-long skiing and boarding at Bear and three other resorts — Snow Summit, Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain.

Best eats: Silver Mountain Eatery offers three primary cuisines — Asian, Mexican and Italian — along with salads, smoothies and more.

Après hot spot: World Famous Beach Bar has live music acts performing regularly on a 13,000-square-foot sundeck.

Hidden gem: Exhibition Run, which is one of the steeper runs at the resort. “Most intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders enjoy this run because it’s the least-crowded run,” says Dustin Murphy, spokesman for Big Bear Mountain Resorts. “Riders can take their time enjoying the slopes and cruising down, while taking in the view of Big Bear Lake.”

Spotted last season: Eva Longoria and Dermot Mulroney out on the runs. In recent years, Paula Abdul, Coolio, Emilio Estevez, Justin Timberlake and Dennis Quaid have been at Bear or its sister resort, Snow Summit.

Social connections: @Bear_Mountain on Instagram and Twitter; www.facebook.com/BearMtn

Information: 909-866-5766; www.bearmountain.com

— Jerry Rice

On the slopes: 2015 guide for skiing, snowboarding at Mammoth Mountain

(Mammoth Mountain Ski Area photo)

Mammoth Mountain has received more than 75 inches of natural snow this winter, as of Jan. 15. When conditions have allowed, the resort has added to that total with machine-made snow. (Mammoth Mountain Ski Area photo)

This is the first in a series of updates from mountain resorts in California and Nevada.

What’s new at Mammoth Mountain: While there were no major capital projects to introduce this winter, the resort is part of the new Cali4nia Pass, which also includes June, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit. Also, four acres of bowls, berms, banks and bumps await all skill levels at Mammoth’s Rhythm Ridge. This winter’s expansion of direct air service from Las Vegas and Denver is making it easier for skiers and boarders from the East Coast and overseas to get to the resort. (The United Kingdom has long been a big market for Mammoth.) Flights to and from Denver started Dec. 20, while service to and from Las Vegas started Jan. 15. Also new: a promotion for kids 12 and younger who will get to ski and stay free in February and March.

Best eats: The Brasserie at Mammoth Rock ’n’ Bowl (www.mammothrocknbowl.com) has a menu that was created by executive chef Fredric Pierrel, who was classically trained in Gerardmer, France, and graduated with honors from Lycee Hotelier et Culinairer. Selections include braised Australian lamb shank, elk medallions and natural pork mignon — certainly not your traditional bowling alley fare. For pre- or post-dinner entertainment, there are 12 bowling lanes, ping-pong tables, foosball, dartboards, golf simulators and a bar/lounge with a dance floor.

Après hot spot: Mammoth Tavern (www.mammothtavern.com). “They serve up the freshest cocktails in the coolest rustic alpine space with fun, creative dishes like the swordfish BLT and fried chicken sliders,” says Lauren Burke, Mammoth spokeswoman, adding that the Tavern Margarita is a must-try. “I’m claiming it as the best in town,” she adds. Another option is the Mammoth Brewing Company tasting room (www.mammothbrewingco.com), which is located at Main Street and Lake Mary Road just below the gondola, and has 13 beers on tap, including Imperial Root Beer.

For the family: Woolly’s Tube Park has high-speed snow tubes, a large snow play area and merry-go-round tubes for the littlest ones. There will be tubing under the disco lights on select dates in January and February.

Hidden gem: Coyote, between chairs 3 and 5. “People know about it, but it’s not intuitive how to get to it,” says Rusty Gregory, Mammoth’s chairman and CEO. “You ski down the face of Chair 3 and make a right and kind of go past some trees and then you’re in this great run that drops you to the bottom of Chair 5. That’s my favorite getaway spot at Mammoth.”

Spotted last season: Jonas Brothers, Gavin Rossdale and his family, Adam Sandler, Seal, Gwen Stefani, Harry Styles from One Direction, Ashley Tisdale

Social connections: @MammothMountain on Instagram and Twitter; www.facebook.com/MammothMountain

Information: www.mammothmountain.com

— Jerry Rice

Lake Tahoe resorts score big during the holidays

By Bob Goligoski

Blessed by early December snow storms and sunny bluebird days during the Christmas-New Year’s Day span, Lake Tahoe area resorts saw the biggest holiday crowds in four years.

“The ski resort business in the Sierra over the holiday period was up substantially over last year, and the resorts had more people coming since the holiday season in 2010-2011,” said Bob Roberts, CEO of the California Ski Industry Association.

Cold nighttime temperatures during most of December allowed the resorts to generate plenty of additional snow with snow-making systems that resorts have been expanding in recent years.

A report from Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows corporate headquarters was typical of comments from Sierra resorts. “With all of the early season snow – 110 inches total at 8,000-feet in December – we saw great crowds over the holidays and New Year’s, including locals driving to the resorts and visitors staying in the Village at Squaw Valley,” said Melissa Brouse Matheney, a spokeswoman for Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows. “We were even able to run the aerial tram until 7 p.m. Dec. 27-30 so guests could get some turns in under the lights.”

In years gone by, many Sierra ski resorts collected a third of their annual revenue during the Christmas holiday season. But now, explained Roberts, a resort may generate half of its annual ticket sales with the early season sale of annual lift passes.

Many skiers and riders have discovered that if they only get out on the slopes five or six days a season, that pretty well pays for the price of an annual pass, he added.

All of the 27 ski resorts in the association had enough snow to open for the holiday season.

Skyway to Heavenly invades Los Angeles

Heavenly Mountain Resort will host a rocking après ski party in Los Angeles on Thursday. A group of four lucky friends from the City of Angels will head directly to the airport from the party to embark on their own all-expenses paid ski and party trip of a lifetime to Heavenly.

Heavenly will ignite the après ski-themed party with casino games, drink specials, giveaways, shot skis, and the gorgeous Heavenly Angels.

“Skyway to Heavenly has become a staple in the L.A. area, with its high-energy vibe and small taste of what a ski trip to Heavenly and South Lake Tahoe is all about,” said John Wagnon, Heavenly’s senior director of marketing. “Attendees should come prepared to ‘Go All In’ in an effort to win the ultimate ski trip.”

Heavenly will bring Tahoe to LA on Jan. 15, as the party starts at Busby’s West at 8:30 p.m. with three unique qualifiers to win at the party*: most liked Instagram photo tagged with #HeavenlyOrBust; highest casino winnings; top two most creative photos in the Heavenly photo booth.

The winners of each method will proceed to the final round – a sudden death flip cup race. Chug. Flip. Win. Get on a plane and go.

The weekend trip for four, valued at more than $10,000, includes a roundtrip flight on a private jet to South Lake Tahoe airport, a three-night stay at MontBleu Resort Casino and Spa, three days of skiing or riding at Heavenly with equipment and lift tickets included, a mountain tour, $450 spending money and a $75 mountain money voucher per person, VIP admission and table reservation at MontBleu nightclubs, on-call concierge, and a reserved table at Unbuckle at Tamarack après ski party. Everything will be over-the-top and out-of-control.

It could be the unforgettable trip you won’t remember.

From the DJ cat to Unbuckle après parties featuring the lovely Heavenly Angels, Heavenly’s events exude high energy.

On April 4, 2015, High Roller Hold ‘Em will take place on World Cup run featuring Olympic athletes like Sage Kotsenburg, Billy Morgan and Chas Guldemond. Infusing an X Games-worthy big air competition with a little South Lake Tahoe casino gambling twist, High Roller Hold ’Em features a monster big-air jump, a $50,000 jackpot, and, the highest stake, a 2016 X Games Big Air event exemption for the overall winner.

*All qualifiers and winners must be 21-or-over.

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.