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ALPINE MEADOWS: Challenging mountain, 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: TBA
Lifts 11; Trails 100-plus
Phone: 530- 583-4232
BEAR VALLEY: Friendly resort that caters to families. Location: Take 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: $52 (nights $26)
Lifts 6; Trails 36
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: $59
Lifts 5; Trails 30
DODGE RIDGE: Mid-size resort, 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: $64
Lifts 8; Trails 59
DONNER SKI RANCH: Modest, no-frills resort with long history, dating back to 1937 when it featured a lone tow rope.
Location: Old Highway 40, Donner Summit
Elevation: Base 7,031; Summit 7,781
Adult lift ticket: $50
Lifts 6; Trails 52
HEAVENLY: South Tahoe heavyweight, offers great lake views 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: TBA
Lifts 30; Trails 97
HOMEWOOD MOUNTAIN RESORT: Tremendous Lake Tahoe views, 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: $59 ($51 online)
Lifts 8; Trails 59
KIRKWOOD: Under-rated resort due to isolated location. Good combination of challenging terrain and short lift lines.
Location: Highway 88 in Kirkwood
Elevation: Base 7,800; Summit 9,800
Adult lift ticket: TBA
Lifts 10; Trails more than 65
MT. ROSE: Features the area’s highest base elevation. Closest resort to Reno.
Elevation: Base 7,900; Summit 9,700
Adult lift ticket: $74
Lifts 6; Trails more than 60
Location: Mt. Rose Highway in Reno
NORTHSTAR CALIFORNIA: Family-oriented resort with Village ice rink. Offers considerable variety in terrain.
Location: Highway 267 near Truckee
Elevation: Base 6,330; Summit: 8,610
Adult lift ticket: $93
Lifts 11; Trails 90
SIERRA-AT-TAHOE: 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: $79
Lifts 9; Trails 46
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: $36
Lifts 2; Trails 16
SQUAW VALLEY: Famed 1960 Olympic site with lots of expert terrain. Extensive lift system makes 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: TBA
Lifts 28; Trails more than 170
SUGAR BOWL: Rich in history, known for high snow totals. Closest Tahoe resort to Sacramento.
Location: Interstate 80, Norden exit
Elevation: Base 6,883; Summit: 8,383
Adult lift ticket: $80
Lifts 11; Trails 95
TAHOE DONNER: Beginner-friendly resort. Mountain is small, but so are the crowds.
Location: Donner State Park exit off Interstate 80, Northwoods Boulevard
Elevation: Base 6,200; Summit 8,000
Adult lift ticket: TBA
Lifts 2; Trails 14
Compiled by Jeffrey Weidel
Noticeably absent in the Lake Tahoe region last year was its biggest ski resort advertiser — snow.
Exposed rocks and trees were extremely visible even in late February when the dry and unseasonably warm temperatures in the Lake Tahoe region looked better suited for mountain biking than skiing or snowboarding. Regardless of how much snowmaking the resorts did, the perception remained — Tahoe had no snow.
According to Lake Tahoe weather historian Mark McLaughlin, it was the first time since the 1800s that the region had no reported snow in December.
Snowmaking literally saved the season. Heavenly ran its considerable snow-making system incessantly. Sugar Bow made snow for 50 days at a staggering cost of roughly $625,000.
Not even a “Miracle March” could save the season. Sugar Bowl went from 802 inches of snow in 2010-11 to an estimated 324 inches last season. Heavenly recorded 247 inches last season, well off its mark of 529 the year before.
“Since records have been kept on Donner Summit in 1879 we’ve had 17 seasons with poor snowfall with last season being the latest,” said Bob Robert, executive director for the California Ski Industry Association (CSIA). “Business at California resorts was off 27 percent from the previous year.”
But this season arrives with renewed optimism and an early gift – close to three feet of snow in some locations – as a sign this could be a white winter.
Regardless of the weather, changes typically take place from year to year. Below is a look at some noteworthy things happening this year at Lake Tahoe ski resorts.
Boreal settles for second this year: For more than a decade, there’s been little suspense regarding the first Lake Tahoe ski resort to open each year. That would be Boreal, which prided itself in getting the lifts running early, typically in October.
And this year was no different with one exception. Boreal did fire up the lifts early, starting on Oct. 24. However, Squaw Valley ski resort had a special fund-raising opening on Oct. 23, stealing the spotlight from Boreal for a day.
“Boreal has always impressively been the first resort to open in Tahoe and often times in the state, so it was nice to finally upstage them a bit,” said Squaw spokesperson Amelia Richmond. “Not only were we the first to open, we were thrilled to see such a great turnout and be able to raise $11,000 for the new Squaw Valley & Alpine Meadows Teams Foundation to boot.”
Your Party Host, Shaun White: Look for the “Flying Tomato” to be much more subdued than he was earlier this year after getting arrested at his 26th birthday party in a Nashville hotel.
White will be host of Northstar’s 40th birthday celebration on Dec. 22. In the morning, White will lead a snowboard clinic at the Burton Snowboard Academy, will later be in the Village for après ski, and will host a late-night party at the Big Springs Day Lodge at mid-mountain.
White will again use Northstar as one of his prime snowboard training areas. The resort will build a 22-foot Superpipe that will open as soon as conditions permit. It will be located in the same place as last year – on the Cat’s Face ski trail accessed off of the Vista Express chairlift.
“Royal” Marriage: Like many homeowners, famed Royal Gorge Cross Country ski resort experienced considerable financial troubles, defaulting on its loan, and the operation was taken over by three local conservation groups.
The groups decided to let Sugar Bowl operate Royal Gorge, which makes sense. Sugar Bowl and Royal Gorge are already connected by an “interconnect trail,” allowing skiers to go back and forth between the Donner Summit resorts.
Skiers can now purchase a bundled season pass, offering a combined alpine/nordic experience. Royal Gorge is considered one of the premier North American cross country resorts.
“With the three interconnect trails from Sugar Bowl to Royal Gorge, two of them beginner-friendly, skiers can head out first thing in the morning and enjoy some winter sliding, get a workout in, and be more than ready for the slopes once the snow softens up,” said Sugar Bowl spokesperson John Monson.
Hot Dogging Returns to Heavenly: Gunbarrel is an extremely steep (1,600 feet) mogul run that used to be a great attraction for daring skiers like Glen Plake, Wayne Wong and John Clendenin.
During the 1970s it wasn’t unusual to see hot dog skiers attempt large jumps, back flips and even double back flips. A small hot-dogging competition was held in 1971 and the U.S. Freestyle Championships came during the 1975-76 season when an estimated 5,000 people attended.
However, Heavenly has been void of any competitions since the John Denver Celebrity Ski Classic concluded its run in the mid-1980s. But Heavenly is back in the mix this season, hosting the U.S. Freestyle Championships on March 29-31.
Heavenly’s Sho Kashima, a member of the U.S. Ski Team, will join the nation’s most accomplished freestyle skiers, who will showcase their talents on Gunbarrel as they prepare for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
Free to Ski About the Country: Sierra-at-Tahoe passholders have some exciting options this year.
Skiers and riders receive 10 non-holiday days at Mt. High in Southern California, Stevens Pass in Washington, plus Monarch Mountain in Colorado for free any three days this season.
The Epic season pass by Vail Resorts is even more impressive. New this year is the opportunity to go overseas and experience Switzerland. The pass provides three days of free access to the Verbier ski resort, which includes Les 4 Vallées, the largest ski area in Switzerland.
Also included on the Epic pass is skiing at Northstar, Kirkwood and Colorado resorts – Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge, Keystone and Arapahoe Basin.
Cost-conscious Homewood: While several Tahoe resorts are raising their lift ticket prices by $5 this year, Homewood is continuing to offer a nice bargain. Purchasing a ticket online saves $8 from the resort price of $59.
At $51 online, Homewood is offering one of the best deals in the region. The resort will also offer several $44 days throughout the season.
Note that on Saturdays and all holidays, Homewood’s price hikes $7 for all lift tickets. The resort dropped last year’s $49 discounts, offered Tuesday through Thursday.
Homewood has vowed to run all its lifts every day, which was a complaint last season when only certain lifts were operational.
Jeffrey Weidel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his winter website at examiner.com/skiing-in-san-francisco/jeffrey-weidel