More snowfall means more visitors to resorts

Skier crowd grew by 17 percent last season, and recent storms get this year going early
By: Jeffrey Weidel
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By most accounts, the ski season was a dramatic success a year ago for Lake Tahoe and other California resorts.

According to statistics compiled by the California Travel & Tourism Commission, skier visits numbered 7.5 million in the golden state, an increase from 6.7 million in 2008-09.

So what?s behind the major uptick in visits? It?s simple ? snow.

There was lots of it last year, starting early, which is why Boreal Mountain Resort was greeting skiers and snowboarders amazingly on Oct. 9, the earliest opening in resort history. The season didn?t conclude until several resorts threw a going-away party Memorial Day weekend.

Sophisticated snowmaking equipment is one reason for the rise in visitors, and timely storms like those the Lake Tahoe region has received recently also play a crucial role. Those two factors contributed to Lake Tahoe?s 17-percent growth in visitation numbers last season, four times more than the national level.

So what?s in store for the 2010-11 season? As usual, it?s hard to say, since Mother Nature annually wears its best poker face this time of year and doesn?t like tipping its hand in regard to the fickle entity known as weather.

But below are some interesting items for the Lake Tahoe region at the opening of ski season:

Hello heli tours ? Heli-skiing returns to Lake Tahoe after a nearly 40-year absence. Pacific Crest expects to start offering heli tours Dec. 15 and will fly out of the Truckee airport.

Pacific Crest will access more than 100,000 acres of remote ski terrain along the sierra crest, located in close proximity to many ski resorts in the North Tahoe region. The experience includes steeps, tree runs, open bowls and slopes, and south facing corn runs. 

Groups of four are required to fly. If a group is larger or smaller than four, Pacific Crest urges people to book early so they have the ability to form a group. The full-day rate is $899 per person.

For information, e-mail or call (888) 792-9222.

Who?s No. 1? ? According to a recent report by, Lake Tahoe resorts are rated No. 1 for people who want to travel to an early season ski destination.

The online travel company based its top 10 on snow seekers who were looking to book the best destinations before the peak ski season begins. Park City in Utah was ranked second, followed by Breckenridge in Colorado.

The rankings justify the large sums of money Tahoe resorts spend on snowmaking. It beats the old method in dry years of crossing one?s fingers and having a group of locals gather for a snow dance.

?Where there?s early snow, there?s early skiing, and that initial wave of enthusiasts will find powder as well as steep savings,? said Jeanenne Tornatore, senior travel editor of

Heavenly?s new mid-mountain lodge ? Families who enjoy staying close to the Adventure Park just off Heavenly?s gondola will like this bit of news. The near 15,000-square-foot Tamarack Lodge is slated for completion in February. The mid-mountain lodge will offer 500 indoor seats and 250 patio seats. The lodge features floor-to-ceiling glass windows, which makes for a wonderful observation area.

There?s no lack of things to do in this region of Heavenly. Besides the nearby Tamarack lift, the area offers ski biking, snowshoeing, sledding and a very cool tubing hill.

Zipping along at Kirkwood ? The popular resort off Highway 88 has launched a year-round Zipline. Kirkwood?s zip course at the top of Chair 7 connects eight segments and can reach 35 mph. The lines link treetop platforms, some sitting 125 feet above the ground.

The tours take up to 10 participants with two guides and lasts 2½ to three hours. Helmets and harnesses are provided in the tour cost, which is $125 per person. Children must weigh at least 85 pounds, and adults can?t exceed 270 pounds. Reservations are required.

?It?s Tahoe?s first canopy tour, where you?re up in the trees zipping from treetop to treetop,? said Wade Beane, a Kirkwood spokesperson.

Ski with Jonny Moseley ? The former Olympic gold-medal skier will be around Squaw during the holidays ? Dec. 22-30, excluding Christmas day ? and several other times during the season. It costs absolutely nothing to make a few turns with Moseley.

The tours start at 2 p.m. with typically 20-25 people and end several hours later with about half that number. An après ski gathering with Moseley takes place afterward at the Olympic House.

Alpine offers safety lifts for kids ? The North Tahoe resort will be the first in the U.S. to provide the latest technology in chairlift safety systems for children. The ?Magnestick? has been installed on the Subway and Meadow chairs, which have seat backs equipped with a magnet that holds a child wearing a Magnestick vest in a secure position for the duration of the lift ride.

Jeffrey Weidel is a Sacramento-area freelance writer with more than 25 years of skiing experience.


Here?s a helpful ski resort guide as the season gets underway:

Alpine Meadows: Challenging mountain, a favorite of locals, which speaks volumes about the terrain.

Location: Highway 89, six miles west of Tahoe City

Elevation: Base 6,835; summit 8,637

Adult lift ticket: $71

Lifts: 11; Trails: More than 100

Phone: (530) 583-4232


Bear Valley: Friendly resort that caters to families. Great place to learn.

Location: Highway 4 to Bear Valley

Elevation: Base 6,600; summit 8,500

Adult lift ticket: $62

Lifts: 8; Trails: 67

Phone: (209) 753-2301


Boreal: Snowboarder haven day and night, great place to learn. Short drive from Sacramento a major plus.

Location: Interstate 80 at Donner Summit

Elevation: Base 7,200; summit 7,700

Adult lift ticket: $49 (nights $25)

Lifts: 6; Trails: 41

Phone: (530) 426-3666 


Diamond Peak: North Tahoe resort features great lakeside views and typically small crowds.

Location: Highway 431, Incline Village

Elevation: Base 6,700; summit 8,540

Adult lift ticket: $49

Lifts: 6; Trails: 30

Phone: (775) 832-1177


Dodge Ridge: Mid-size resort, a good choice for families, but also features plenty of steeps and moguls.

Location: Highway 108 in Pinecrest, 30 miles from Sonora

Elevation: Base 6,600; summit 8,200

Adult lift ticket: $54

Lifts: 8; Trails: 59

Phone: (209) 965-3474


Donner Ski Ranch: This modest resort has skiing tradition dating to 1937, when it featured a lone tow rope.

Location: Interstate 80, Norden exit

Elevation: Base 7,031; summit 7,781

Adult lift ticket: TBA

Lifts: 6; Trails: 52

Phone: (530) 426-3635


Heavenly: South Tahoe heavyweight offers great views of the lake and excellent tree skiing. Close proximity to casinos an added plus.

Location: Ski Run Boulevard in South Lake Tahoe

Elevation: Base 6,540; summit 10,067

Adult lift ticket: $78

Lifts: 30; Trails: 94

Phone: (775) 586-7000


Homewood Mountain Resort: Tough to beat its Lake Tahoe views, which are visible throughout the mountain. Lots of tree skiing.

Location: Highway 89, six miles south of Tahoe City

Elevation: Base 6,230; summit 7,880

Adult lift ticket: $49 ($57, Friday-Sunday)

Lifts: 8; Trails: 59

Phone: (530) 525-2992


Kirkwood: Underrated resort due to isolated location. Challenging terrain and short lift lines a good combination.

Location: Highway 88 in Kirkwood

Elevation: Base 7,800; summit 9,800

Adult lift ticket: TBA

Lifts: 10; Trails: over 65

Phone: (209) 258-6000


Mount Rose: Additional terrain on the East Bowl has greatly improved this favored resort of Reno residents; features the area?s highest base elevation.

Elevation: Base 7,900; summit 9,700

Adult lift ticket: $69

Lifts: 6; Trails: over 60

Location: Mt. Rose Highway in Reno

Phone: (775) 849-0704


Northstar-at-Tahoe: The new village is a major plus for this family oriented resort that offers plenty of wide runs for less-skilled skiers and tougher trails for experts and daring boarders.

Location: Highway 267 near Truckee

Elevation: Base 6,330; summit: 8,610

Adult lift ticket: $84

Lifts: 14; Trails: 89

Phone: (800) 466-6784


Sierra-at-Tahoe: Popular resort, less than two hours from Sacramento. Operates excellent children?s ski center.

Location: Highway 50, 12 miles west of South Lake Tahoe

Elevation: 6,640; summit: 8,852

Adult lift ticket: $71

Lifts: 9; Trails: 46

Phone: (530) 659-7453


Soda Springs: Perfect for beginning skiers and families seeking a bargain.

Location: Interstate 80, Soda Springs exit

Elevation: Base 6,700; summit 7,325

Adult lift ticket: $35

Lifts: 2; Trails: 16

Phone: (530) 426-3901


Squaw Valley:  Famed Olympic hill is a nice challenge for thrill-seeking experts. Lots of terrain and lifts make resort feel less crowded on busy days.

Location: Highway 89, six miles from Tahoe City

Elevation: Base 6,200; summit: 9,050

Adult lift ticket: $83 (nights $22)

Lifts: 29; Trails: more than 4,000 acres of skiable terrain

Phone: (530) 583-6955


Sugar Bowl: Rich in history and known for its high snow totals, the resort has expanded over the past decade and remains a popular destination. It doesn?t hurt that Sugar Bowl is the first Tahoe resort off the I-80 corridor.

Location: Interstate 80, Norden exit

Elevation: Base 6,883; summit: 8,383

Adult lift ticket: $71

Lifts: 13; Trails: 95

Phone: (530) 426-9000


Tahoe Donner: Definitely a beginner-friendly resort. The mountain is small, but so are the crowds.

Location: Highway 89, Northwoods Boulevard

Elevation: Base 6,200; summit 8,000

Adult lift ticket: $39

Lifts: 2; Trails: 14

Phone: (530) 587-9444


- Compiled by Jeffrey Weidel