By Irwin Curtin
Special to the Los Angeles Times
December 12, 2010
Powerful late-fall storms have dropped many feet of snow on mountains throughout the West, creating some of the best early-season skiing and snowboarding conditions in years. Despite the still-sluggish economy, resorts have spent millions of dollars on capital improvements and continue to introduce innovative features and programs.
Here's a look at what's new this season in California and across the region.
Mountain High, near Wrightwood, opens its longest terrain park, 1.6 miles, at its East Resort and is re-releasing its application for iPhone and Android. The app provides quick links to Mountain High's Forum, Facebook and Twitter pages, allowing guests to upload photos directly to their sites.
Big Bear Mountain Resorts (Snow Summit and Bear Mountain) introduces new Skill Builder Parks. Designed for beginning terrain-park skiers and snowboarders, the parks offer snow features, rails, boxes and transitions. Each feature has a do-it-yourself instructional sign, offering a trick description and tips on getting started.
Mammoth Mountain unveils a culinary development unique to U.S. ski resorts: Two snowcats will roam the mountain selling grab-and-go food, including calzones, burritos and stuffed churros. Dubbed the Roving Mammoths, they will usually be found near lift lines without easy access to food (Cloud Nine Express, Roller Coaster Express and Chair 23). The newest addition to Mammoth's Unbound Terrain Parks is the Stomping Grounds, an Evolution Park with soft rails, sequence jumps and dual acrobags.
Bear Valley's 400-acre expansion is the state's biggest this season. Served by the Kuma and Koala chairs, 12 new intermediate and advanced trails have been cut on the mountain's southern side.
Early-season snowfall records were broken at many of the seven Lake Tahoe ski resorts. Several storms dumped up to 10 feet of snow in the days just before Thanksgiving, making November the snowiest in more than a decade —at some resorts, in more than 30 years. Conditions are more typical of mid-January than the weeks before Christmas.
Alpine Meadows is the first North American ski resort to offer the Magnestick, a French-made safety system for 3- to 6-year-old skiers and boarders. Kids who ride the Subway and Meadow beginner lifts will slip on a vest with a magnet, which holds them to a magnet attached to the chair's seat back and prevents them from falling off. At the top, the magnets are automatically demagnetized, allowing kids to glide off the chair.
Northstar-at-Tahoe, now owned by Colorado's Vail Resorts, is extending its popular summer stargazing tours to winter. Star guide and poet Tony Berendsen, president of the Nevada Science Coalition, will lead stargazing snowshoe tours with viewings by telescope. Northstar's new outdoor mountaintop Snow Bar is made of, yes, snow.
New this season at Squaw Valley USA are "Ski With Julia Days," when skiers and boarders can join three-time Olympic medalist and hometown hero Julia Mancuso on the mountain.
On the West Shore, Homewood Mountain Resort now offers private skiing through its South Lodge rental program, giving as many as 100 guests exclusive use of the mountain's 3,000-square-foot South Lodge and the Quail triple chairlift, which accesses more than 1,200 acres of terrain, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The resort describes the program as appropriate for private events such as birthdays or employee appreciation days.
Departing from the Truckee airport on the North Shore, Pacific Crest Heli-Guides opens for business this winter — the first such helicopter skiing and snowboarding operation in the Sierra Nevada since an unsuccessful effort in the 1970s. It will access more than 100,000 acres of privately owned land, featuring open bowls, glades, steep chutes and technical couloirs appropriate for advanced-to-expert skiers and riders. The company will host a maximum of 16 guests a day, with one guide for every four guests. Full-day trips start at $899 a person.
On the South Shore, Heavenly, also owned by Vail Resorts, will debut a new 14,980-square-foot on-mountain restaurant, Tamarack Lodge, in February, joining a new terrain park beneath the Tamarack Express lift.
Kirkwood Mountain Resort's new ZipTahoe Treetop Canopy Tour offers 10 zip lines, including one that descends more than 1,100 feet.
At Vail, ride time will be cut from 12 minutes to six at the resort's High Noon lift, which serves the popular Sun Up and Sun Down bowls on the resort's back side. The former fixed-grip triple lift, also known as Chair 5, is now a high-speed quad.
New this year at Snowmass' Lowdown Park is a 12-foot half-pipe for pipe newbies.
Copper Mountain's $6 million in capital improvements include expanded free parking in the Corn Lot, a 25% increase in snowmaking capacity and new equipment (a "Zaug") to cut an Olympic-sized 22-foot super-pipe.
Crested Butte, marking its 50th anniversary, has added terrain with the new Columbine trail, from the top of Painter Boy/Gold Link to the base area. The expansion includes more than 15 acres of intermediate terrain on the main mountain.
Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort has new terrain on its front side. The Ambassadors Glade tree-skiing area is named for resort owners Chuck and Sue Cobb, who served as U.S. ambassadors to Iceland and Jamaica, respectively.
Silverton Mountain is increasing its lift capacity 50%, by adding 30 chairs to its one and only lift, a double. Scoff if you will, but wild and steep Silverton — "All thrills, no frills," as its website boasts — is a temple for purists: only advanced and expert skiers and riders, no groomed terrain, no clear-cut runs, lots of avalanche chutes and 400-plus inches of snow annually.
Steamboat's new Burgess Creek Terrace and Umbrella Bar is on the Bear River Bar & Grill Deck, slope-side in the base area adjacent to the gondola entrance. The resort's four progressively more difficult terrain parks feature 30 new or refurbished rails.
The biggest news in Utah, where 11 of the state's 13 ski resorts are within an hour of Salt Lake City International Airport, is the long-awaited plan to develop a base village, hotels and housing at Snowbasin.
Development will occur on the 11,800 acres the resort owns straddling two counties, Morgan (8,000) and Weber (3,800). The 50-year plan includes single-family homes, condos and townhomes; hotels; new lifts; a dedicated fire station; wastewater treatment plant; golf courses; ice skating rink; grocery store; restaurants; and trails for horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking. Snowbasin will add a second entrance on its Morgan County side to help minimize traffic congestion. New this season: a 22-foot super-pipe.
The Canyons introduces North America's first heated chairlift, with an orange bubble shield. The lift, which increases uphill capacity from the base area by 47%, is outside the Grand Summit Hotel.
Deer Valley Resort's new ski-in/ski-out Montage Deer Valley features a 35,000-square-foot spa, an après-ski terrace, two dining venues, a 17,000-square-foot meeting space and a recreation area. Deer Valley also has invested $4.5 million in equipment to increase snow-making and to groom its steepest slopes, and to spruce up the interiors of its day lodges.
Powder Mountain, one of North America's largest ski areas at 7,000-plus acres, has expanded its guided Snowcat Powder Safari to include an additional 1,000 acres of expert chutes and bowls. The addition, called La Plata, joins the existing 2,000 acres appropriate for intermediate powder skiers and snowboarders. Those seeking steep chutes and wide-open bowls can also consider the new guided backcountry tours of Wolf Creek Canyon.
Snowbird's signature Cliff Lodge has renovated the salon, retail store, men's and women's locker rooms, solarium, steam room and treatment rooms at its Cliff Spa.
Sun Valley, which opened for skiing in 1936, is the oldest U.S. destination ski resort. To mark its 75th season, anniversary events are planned throughout the winter, culminating with Ski Heritage Week. Beginning March 26, the week includes the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame class of 2010 induction ceremonies and a tribute to the "Founders of Freestyle." Hall of Fame inductees will include former U.S. World Cup and Olympic racer Daron Rahlves of Truckee, Nev.; the late extreme skier Shane McConkey of Squaw Valley, Calif., and freestyle legend Glen Plake of Heavenly, Calif. On snow, 24 new rails and jibs have been added to Dollar Mountain's three terrain parks (Old Bowl, Half Dollar and Poverty Flats).
Crystal Mountain, Washington state's only destination winter resort (just under a two-hour drive from Seattle and 90 minutes from Tacoma), unveils its eight-passenger Mt. Rainier gondola. The lift climbs more than 2,500 vertical feet from the base area to the Summit House (at 6,872 feet), which offers spectacular views of Mt. Rainier (14,410 feet).
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