Mountain High

A snowboarder makes a sunlit run in November at Mountain High, near Wrightwood. The Southern California ski resort has a new 1.6-mile terrain park. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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.

Southern California

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.

Eastern Sierra

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.

Lake Tahoe

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.