Snow guns have been blowing machine-made flakes onto El Dorado County slopes for weeks, now, making those born to ride anxious to get back on their boards. Though, the beginning of this ski season began much earlier.
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Our mountains average 400 inches of natural snow each winter, though if you’re in the ski industry, you can’t bank on nature being reliable. So, ski areas like El Dorado County’s Heavenly Mountain Resort and Sierra at Tahoe supplement Mother Nature with a good powdering of man-made fluff. Heavenly has the largest snowmaking system on the West Coast and began blasting its runs with snow on Oct. 25.
Under optimum conditions, the South Lake Tahoe ski area can cover 73 percent of its trails in machine-made snow, enough to cover a football field eight-and-a-half feet deep in three hours. At that pace, given continued freezing temperatures, it won’t be long before Heavenly’s snowmaking system has opened the mountain to skiing and secured another successful season.
However, a solid base of snow isn’t the only thing needed to keep skiers and riders coming back. El Dorado County’s winter resorts add new features each year. This year is no exception. Heavenly broke ground this past summer on a 14,980-square-foot lodge atop the gondola that, when it opens in February, will include a 500-seat restaurant with another 250 outdoor seating on a deck with an eagle’s view of Lake Tahoe.
This season, Sierra-at-Tahoe has added two new lifts and 4 acres of beginner terrain. The lifts are 700-foot-long carpet conveyors that make getting up the mountain a breeze, so novice skiers and riders can focus on learning how to get down the mountain. The new conveyor lifts are elements of Sierra-at-Tahoe’s new Easy Street learning complex, consisting of 11 acres of sculpted “smart terrain” designed to speed the learning curve for beginners.
Gently banked turns and shaped features naturally guide skiers and snowboarders into turns and stops so that they are able to grasp the fundamentals of skiing and riding more quickly. Also, the “smart terrain” design and the carpet lifts give students more time and more room on the snow with their instructor, evidence of Sierra’s commitment to being one of the best places to learn to ski or ride at Lake Tahoe.
Both Heavenly and Sierra have brought back popular ski packages. The $35 learn to ski or ride package, introduced last year at Sierra, includes a 2.5-hour lesson, rental equipment and lift ticket with access to the new carpet conveyor lifts, Easy Rider Express and Rock Garden chairs. The package is available to adults (13 and older), Sunday through Friday — excluding a few restricted dates, when purchased 24 hours in advance online at sierra-at-tahoe.com.
“Discounted beginner experiences have been around in the industry for a number of years,” said Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski and Snowboard School director Kevin Mitchell. “The difference here is that we offer the opportunity for the entire season rather than just a week or a weekend, thereby eliminating the price barrier and lowering the threshold of investment to get your family involved in a sport that can pay emotional dividends for the rest of your life.”
Director Mitchell is certainly spot on with that remark. Few sports get parents and children to know and appreciate one another as well as skiing and riding does throughout life. Skiing and riding become an annual ritual of family reunion, building bonds of affection, fidelity and shared sport.
Deals make returning to the sport or starting it affordable. Heavenly continues its “Half Off Heavenly” early season vacation packages where you can stay four nights and ski or ride four days, starting at just $52 per person, per night. (Valid Nov. 21-Nov. 25 and Nov. 28- Dec. 16). And, giving a nod to the power of social networking, Heavenly’s “Refer a Friend” program (www.skiheavenly.com/friend), provides Heavenly Pass Holders with $20 in “mountain money” for each referred friend who purchases a Heavenly Pass, Heavenly College Pass or Epic Pass. Referred friends also save $20, reducing a Heavenly Pass to $359. Some restrictions apply, but the more friends you refer, the more mountain dollars you earn.
Sierra-at-Tahoe employs the power of text messaging this winter by announcing it will blast Buy-One Get-One offers to subscribers of its text messaging service. The offers will include private lessons, T-shirts, lunch items, daycare, preferred parking and demo equipment. To sign up, text “Deal Alert” to 29222.
For the non-skier/rider, Sierra-at-Tahoe provides free access to a groomed snowshoe trail. Bring your own snowshoes or rent a pair at the ski area. Blizzard Mountain is Sierra’s tubing, snow-play and snowshoeing area with a rope tow accessible tubing lane and expanded snow play and sledding area with space for kids to make snowmen, construct a snow fort or just have fun in the snow. Adventure Peak is Heavenly’s impressive snow play area with a four-lane tubing experience, just one of several on-mountain improvements at Heavenly to expand winter resort fun.
It’s no wonder that with so many innovations, El Dorado County’s two ski areas receive so much attention. They are both recognized for their environmental leadership: Sierra-at-Tahoe being awarded the 2010 Silver Eagle for Environmental Education by CLIF Bar and the National Ski Areas Association and being an innovator in recycling, use of biodiesel, green approaches and its Green Lot, preferred parking for hybrid vehicles; while Heavenly’s list of environmental achievements is as long as its ski runs — a founder of the California Alpine Resorts Environmental Cooperative to protect water quality, a leader in environmental education, top to bottom extensive actions to reduce its environmental impact, and extraordinary efforts to protect Lake Tahoe’s water clarity, prevent erosion and conserve resources.
While the snowmaking machines began spraying snow onto El Dorado County ski slopes three weeks ago, the work to make this winter their best year, began even before the lifts stopped running last spring.