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 the 6.7 million in 2008-09.
So what’s behind the major uptick in visits? It’s very simple — snow.
There was lots of it, starting early, which is why Boreal Mountain Resort was greeting skiers and snowboarders amazingly on Oct. 9, which marked the earliest opening in resort history. The season didn’t conclude until several resorts threw a going-away party on Memorial Day weekend.
Sophisticated snow-making equipment is one reason for the rise in skier visitors, and timely snow storms also played a crucial role. Those two factors contributed to Lake Tahoe’s 17-percent growth in skier 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 her best poker face this time of year and doesn’t like tipping her hand in regards to the fickle entity known as weather.
There’s no predicting the weather, but below are some interesting items as the Lake Tahoe region heads toward 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 the heli tours on Dec. 15 and will be flying out of the Truckee airport.
Pacific Crest will access over 100,000 acres of remote ski terrain along the Sierra crest, located in close proximity to many of the 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.
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Who’s No. 1? — According to a recent report by Orbitz.com, 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 rankings 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 Orbitz rankings justify the large sums of money Tahoe resorts spend on snow-making. 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 Orbitz.com.
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 speeds of 35 mph. The lines link treetop platforms, some sitting as high as 125 feet above the ground.
The tours take up to 10 participants with two guides and lasts between 2½-3 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 tree top to tree top,” 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. and typically include 20-25 people at the start and ends 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 chair lift 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 free-lance writer with more than 25 years of skiing experience.