For skiers and snowboarders who love the Sierra, last season was the winter of our discontent. It barely snowed in December and January. When snow did fall later, the timing was often bad for weekend trips to the slopes.
Business fell sharply. In the Mammoth Lakes area, the owners of June Mountain, which opened in 1961, announced they will close the resort for this season, then reassess the ski area's future.
"It was a very challenging year," said Bob Roberts, president and CEO of the California Ski Industry Association. "Skier and snowboarder visits to Sierra resorts were down about 25 percent to 6 million for the season."
He's "cautiously optimistic" about this season. Already, it's off to a very promising start, with early snows allowing a number of resorts to open well before Thanksgiving. It was Heavenly's earliest opening since 2004 and Boreal's best opening since that year.
Despite lower revenues, a number of resorts this offseason found the funds to erect new chairlifts, open new terrain, expand terrain parks and buy more snow-making gear, just in case Mother Nature does not deliver all season long.
Here are capsule summaries of new developments at the Sierra resorts. Check out resort websites for the many discount deals being offered to lower lift ticket prices.
Noting the growing popularity of man-made terrain features, the resort will open a mile-long terrain park dubbed the Firing Line. It will be the longest such park in the Lake Tahoe region. Alpine has substantially beefed up its snow-making capability in the park and elsewhere on the peak, so look for excellent snow cover this season. (www.skialpine.com; 800-441-4423)
On most Tuesdays after Jan. 22, two guests can get in for the price of one -- $42. And members of the military can drop by anytime and get free lift tickets, rental equipment and a group lesson. (www.yosemitepark.com; 801-559-5000)
The resort is unveiling 300 acres of new skiing and riding terrain in the Kings Realm area. This is side-county terrain (just outside the groomed slopes) for advanced and expert types with steep chutes, open bowls, gladed tree skiing and stunning views. Access to the new terrain is via resort snowcats; hop on a chairlift at the bottom to return to the top. (www.bearvalley.com; 209-753-2301)
Woodward Tahoe, a major training center at Boreal for skiers and snowboarders, is now open daily to anyone 7 years and older. The center, which offers multilevel Olympic trampolines, foam pits, ski/ride ramps and other features, previously was open only for weekly youth camps and to athletes 20 and younger. (www.rideboreal.com; 530-426-3666)
This Incline Village resort improved the tree skiing terrain off Crystal Ridge and will debut a new children's terrain area called Pete's Playground. It is aimed at introducing kids safely to off-piste skiing and riding. The resort also hopes to expand its season by increasing its snow-making capacity by 20 percent. (www.diamondpeak.com; 775-832-1177)
This season, guests can get instant coverage on breaking news, lift status, trail conditions and events via Facebook and Twitter. Go to the website to sign up for the program. The resort also is expanding its instruction programs to teach kids as young as 2 to ski and as young as 3 to snowboard. (www.dodgeridge.com; 209-965-3474)
Donner Ski Ranch
The Donner Pass ski area is building a new day lodge on the back side of the mountain, and if weather conditions permit, they hope to get it open before the crowds come. (www.donnerskiranch; 530-426-3635)
This West Shore resort's zipline network, which opened last summer, is now open to fall and winter visitors. The complex features bridges and aerial features anchored to about 60 platforms high in the trees. Children as young as 4 can harness up and fly through the pines. (www.granlibakken.com; 877-552-6301)
Three new long and wide intermediate runs off the Galaxy chairlift will be open for the first full season on the Nevada side of the resort. After a four-year hiatus, Heavenly's 500-foot-long half pipe will reopen. This is an 18-foot-high competition-quality feature found in the High Roller terrain park. The resort will debut a kids adventure zone on the California side featuring groomed whoop-de-dos and wood carvings of animals. Unbuckle, Heavenly's apres-ski party that opened on a limited basis last season, now will run daily with entertainment, including go-go dancers. (www.skiheavenly.com; 800-432-8365)
This West Shore resort has opened its Burton Learn to Ride Center for adults who want to try snowboarding. Packages include a beginner lift ticket and rental equipment. And the resort announces Homewood Bound Pizza. Order a pizza from the slopes and pick it up at the bottom on your way home. (www.skihomewood.com; 530-525-2992)
This will be Kirkwood's first full season as part of the Vail Resorts portfolio. Guests will find some serious upgrades on the menus at resort cafes. Safety bars have been installed on all the chairlifts. And a new Howitzer cannon will speed up avalanche control, enabling the resort to open its steep terrain soon after snowstorms. (www.kirkwood.com; 209-258-7277)
Direct flights from the Bay Area to Mammoth will start Dec. 19 via United Airlines flying out of San Francisco. A new terrain park called Unbound Playground Progression Park opens for novices who want to learn their terrain tricks in a low-volume setting. Look for a new high-end restaurant called Campo in the base village. And a snowcat (Little Mill) laden with chow will rove the slopes for skiers and riders who want to dine on the snow. (www.mammothmountain.com; 800-626-6684)
Tree thinning continues on the slopes to reduce the prospect of destructive fires. The Rosebuds teaching terrain has been expanded. College students get in for $49 midweek, while military folks pay $39 for a discounted ticket. (www.mtrose.com; 800-754-7673)
For the first time, skiers and riders will have access to Sawtooth Ridge via snowcat. Guided back-country tours also will be available to advanced guests who want to get outside the resort boundary and explore an area planned for future expansion. A new Burton Riglet Park opens where kids ages 3 to 6 can learn to snowboard. Locals are eagerly anticipating the opening of Tavern 6330 (as in 6,330 feet of elevation), a new eatery in the base village with an extensive food and booze menu. (www.northstarattahoe.com; 800-466-6784)
Lack of snow last winter prevented the start of back-country snowcat tours into Huckleberry Canyon, so the resort aims to run the tours this season. Sierra also is offering a new and unusual ski package that starts at $265. The price includes a cool lodge in South Lake Tahoe, lift ticket and two 20-minute helicopter rides between your room and the slopes. (www.sierraattahoe.com; 530-659-7453)
The resort erected Big Blue Express, a new six-passenger, high-speed lift that will take guests to the Shirley Lake area and the Granite Chief terrain. The old and slow Links lift was replaced with a new and bigger lift dubbed Mountain Meadow. And energy-draining traversing across the High Camp area will be eliminated by a new Park Pulley, a modern version of the tow lift. Look for major upgrades at the Olympic Plaza Bar, making it more of a full-service restaurant. (www.squaw.com; 800-403-0206)
The Donner Summit resort agreed to operate the neighboring Royal Gorge cross-county resort (see sidebar story). Sugar Bowl is offering 25 new homesites in the resort's snowbound base village. Funds raised by the lot sales are earmarked to build a fitness and aquatic center at the village base along with a new ski lift. The resort's new interactive website lets guests view various runs, before they take them, from the top on down via film shot by skiers and riders with helmet-mounted cameras. (www.sugarbowl.com; 530-426-9000)
Contact Bob Goligoski via email@example.com.