California mountain resorts roll out the white carpet – Daily News

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It’s that time again! The first winter storm of the season on Nov. 1 and a big dump the next week created anticipatory excitement at California’s mountain resorts. Mammoth Mountain started turning lifts on Nov. 5, while many other resorts opened last weekend, two-plus weeks ahead of schedule. It’s an auspicious start for an industry that usually doesn’t start cranking up until late November to mid-December.

Pandemic-era restrictions in place for the last three seasons have been relaxed. No more “Mask up! Over the nose!” exhortations on the slopes, but keep that mask in your pocket nevertheless, as some resorts will require it indoors.

But some pandemic-era innovations remain in place. RFID technology, which uses a chip inside your pass card to automatically open a gate, will get you on board the lifts. And contactless ticketing kiosks have replaced walk-up window sales for those with advance reservations via QR codes. (So if you’re not hip to QR scanning technology, it’s high time to learn. Just don’t lose your phone!)

“I don’t think we’ll see a lot in the way of pandemic restrictions. Most resorts are making it the way it was before, with the exception of technology changes,” says Michael Reitzel, president of Ski California, a nonprofit trade organization that counts some 35 resorts as members.

There’s a lot new this year in terms of capital improvements, starting with the reopening of the 75-year-old Sierra-at-Tahoe resort on Highway 50 which experienced major damage from the 2021 Caldor fire. The wildfire burned some 221,835 acres and cut deeply into the resort, charring runs, lifts and maintenance equipment. Crews have been working around the clock ever since to remove dead and hazardous trees and otherwise mitigate the damage. Management vows to have most runs open for the 2022-2023 season.

“Many things will be different and there will be a lot to learn, but people are excited to return because of the vibe they’ve always had,” says Reitzel.

Keep up with developments on the resort’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/SierraAtTahoe/, and sierraattahoe.com website, but right now, they’re eyeing Dec. 3 for opening day.

The Olympic Valley side of Palisades Tahoe ski resort offers snowboarding options off the Granite Chief chair. (Photo © by Dino Vournas)

Also worth noting: Six new or replacement lifts are opening around the lake. The most prominent is the new Base to Base gondola at Palisades Tahoe connecting the Palisades (formerly Squaw Valley) base area in Olympic Valley and Alpine Meadows in an adjacent valley. More than a decade in development, the 2.4-mile, high-tech conveyance leaves from the Palisades base terminal, stops at the KT-22 mid-station and continues to the Alpine Lodge base terminal. (It’s actually two separate lifts that can be run individually, if weather conditions force wind holds or other closures.)

Passengers on the 16-minute trip travel in eight-person cabins. The connecting service makes Palisades one of the largest ski areas in the country at 6,000 acres of skiable terrain. The gondola is scheduled to begin operating in mid-December, with a grand opening party scheduled for Dec. 17.

As for ticketing: More incentives than ever are available this year, from season passes to three- and four-day ticket packs. Don’t even think about one-day, last-minute lift access, which can exceed $150 at the region’s marquee resorts.

If you only plan to go once or twice, consider instead a smaller, off-the-beaten-track resort such as Donner Ski Ranch, Soda Springs, Tahoe Donner Downhill, Diamond Peak or Granlibakken Ski & Sled Hill. Farther south, head for Dodge Ridge in Pine Crest or Badger Pass at Yosemite National Park. Go midweek if you can, and know that the best values are to be had by purchasing tickets in advance. Got kids? Check out sledding and tubing options as well as lessons and other activities for little folks.

Here’s a roundup of what’s new at Northern California resorts this season. Learn more at skicalifornia.org.

What’s new on the slopes

Boreal/Woodward Tahoe: The closest Interstate 80 resort to Sacramento and the Bay Area includes a downhill ski area and tubing hill as well as an indoor “bunker” offering foam pits, trampolines, ramps and drops for all levels. Boreal is the only Tahoe-area resort offering night skiing and riding. It will host the action-packed Subaru Winterfest April 8. A “Take-3, Ride Free” program returns, offering a season pass to those who complete the lesson program. rideboreal.com

Diamond Peak: This Incline Village (Nevada side) ski area is smallish but scenic and sweet, and its Last Tracks wine and beer tasting events are offered midweek on select dates through April. A new surface lift for kids, ages 3-6, at the Child Ski Center makes the learning process more fun for little ones. diamondpeak.com

Granlibakken Ski & Sled Hill: Sledding and snow play are the main events at this West Shore conference center that attracts scads of families in winter. There’s a small downhill ski hill, too. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are available right out the door. granlibakken.com

Homewood Mountain Resort: Great views are the hallmark of this relaxed resort that’s been a family-friendly landmark on Tahoe’s West Shore since 1959. The lake views are breathtaking, and this year, the resort adds more than a mile of new tree-skiing terrain. Treat the kids to sledding and snow play at the base area. homewoodmountainresort.com

Mammoth Mountain: This massive Eastern Sierra resort is a magnet for Southern Californians, as well as the NorCal contingent. In the race to see which California resort opened first, Mammoth won with limited runs open Nov. 5. A destination resort with 28 lifts, 46 runs and nine terrain parks, Mammoth is at the center of a region that also includes June Mountain and other ski areas. mammothmountain.com, junemountain.com

Early snowfall had eager skiers and snowboarders rushing to Mammoth Mountain for opening day on Nov. 7. (Andrew Miller/Mammoth Mountain)
Early snowfall had eager skiers and snowboarders rushing to Mammoth Mountain for opening day on Nov. 7. (Andrew Miller/Mammoth Mountain)

Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe: The Nevada resort closest to Reno has lots to brag about this year, including $7.5 million in improvements showcasing expansion of the scenic Lakeview zone, now served by a new high-speed chair and accessed by new trails (including a green run) so that skiers and riders of all levels can still get down. Rose has one of the highest-elevation base areas (8,260 feet) and summits (9,700 feet) in the region. skirose.com

Palisades Tahoe: The new Base to Base Gondola, decades in development, is part of an $85 million project that also includes revamping of the base-area plazas at both Palisades and Alpine and realignment and replacement of the Red Dog lift at Palisades, which will offer a 3-minute ride time aboard a high-speed six-seat chair. The new gondola will have many high-tech features in addition to a massive “parking garage” at Alpine (another to come at Palisades) that will allow cabins to be sheltered and maintained out of the weather. Many special events are planned throughout the year, including the men’s slalom and giant slalom World Cup events Feb. 25-26. palisadestahoe.com

Sierra-At-Tahoe: A favorite destination for day-trippers with an extremely loyal following, Sierra, the closest Highway 50 ski area to the Bay Area, will reopen this season following remediation after heavy damage from the 2021 Caldor Fire. With help from the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies, more than 14,000 charred trees have been removed from the resort, with emphasis on restoration of the West Bowl area. It’s “welcome home” time, but expect things to be different. Check it out at sierraattahoe.com.

Sugar Bowl/Royal Gorge: A new, high-end dining venue will delight skiers and non-skiers alike. For those into hiking on skis, the Sugar Bowl Uphiller event provides ample opportunity. Nearby Royal Gorge, meanwhile, is America’s largest cross-country resort, also featuring snowshoeing and dog-friendly trails. sugarbowl.com

Note: Sugar Bowl has joined the Mountain Collective, an alliance of 25 resorts in the United States, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Japan and Chile. Check it out at mountaincollective.com.

Tahoe Donner: This marquee cross-country venue encompasses more than 100 kilometers of ski and snowshoe trails (some of them dog-friendly) and extensive base-area facilities. The Tahoe Donner complex also includes a downhill ski hill with five lifts, 17 runs and extensive learn-to-ski programs. tahoedonner.com

Northstar skiers and snowboarders can frolic in the powder of Lookout Mountain. (Photo © by Dino Vournas)
Northstar skiers and snowboarders can frolic in the powder of Lookout Mountain. (Photo © by Dino Vournas)

Vail Resorts (Heavenly, Kirkwood, Northstar): New happenings are unfolding at all three of Vail’s Tahoe Resorts. Heavenly has upgraded its crawly North Bowl triple chair to a high-speed quad, increasing uphill capacity by 40 percent and opening an underused part of the mountain. Besides the Samuel Adams Air & Apres event March 4, the high-energy South Shore resort will bring back its Spring Loaded event series and lots of music all season long on the mountain and at the base-area village.

Northstar, meanwhile, celebrates its 50th anniversary with a much-need upgrade to the Comstock Express lift, which is now a high-speed six-pack eliminating former traffic jams. TOST, the mountaintop Champagne venue, opens again too, and passholders will have early mountain access on Mondays.

Kirkwood is also turning 50, and its marquee event this season will be a Feb. 25 Banked Slalom (skiing and riding in Snow Snake Gully) event with a dozen age divisions for kids and adults. Don’t overlook the tubing hill and XC opportunities at this high-altitude resort south of Lake Tahoe. skiheavenly.com, northstarcalifornia.com, Kirkwood.com, epicpass.com

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New ways to get around

Free, on-demand ride services are flourishing at Tahoe. They help alleviate traffic congestion while providing tons of convenience for visitors. Among the options:

Mountaineer: The nine-passenger van service offering free winter transportation in Olympic Valley and Alpine Meadows has been around for a few years, but this year it’s adding evening service between resorts four days a week. Equipped with ski and snowboard racks, the dog-friendly vans can be accessed from two base areas at Palisades, as well as the Alpine base area. There’s also TART Connect service to regional transit. Download the app to summon a ride. www.mountaineertransit.org

Lake Link: A new “microtransit shuttle” provides free rides on fixed routes around Tahoe’s south shore. The service covers the casino corridor, beaches and resorts. Shuttles are equipped with ski and snowboard racks, and riders can bring anything else that will fit under the seat. Service dogs only. Download the app to view the map and request a ride. www.tahohelakelink.com

Tahoe Area Rapid Transit (TART): This free bus service operates from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily on fixed routes serving North Tahoe’s lakeside communities and ski resorts, including Truckee, Tahoe City, Incline Village, Homewood, Donner Lake, Tahoe Donner, Palisades Tahoe and Northstar.  Schedules and bus stops are detailed at www.tahoetruckeetransit.com. Dial-a-ride door-to-door service is available for a fee.

Snowy events for your calendar

Every winter, California resorts host stellar events worthy of putting on your calendar months in advance. You don’t even have to be a skier or rider to enjoy many of them.

At the top of the list for 2022-23: Palisades Tahoe is one of only four resorts in the United States to host Audi FIS World Cup ski events this season. The men’s slalom and giant slalom (dubbed Palisades Tahoe Cup) will be staged Feb. 25-26 on Dog Leg and the Red Dog face. No need to be on skis to enjoy the action; you can watch the world’s top competitors live on a big screen from the base area. Outdoor concerts, fireworks and sponsor activities will amp up the energy. (Don’t forget your cowbell!) Get online early for grandstand, VIP or club-level tickets at palisadestahoe.com.

Late in the season (March 31-April 3), Palisades’ seventh annual Tahoe Winter Wondergrass boutique music festival will showcase 25 bands playing bluegrass and American favorites on four stages, plus lots of other family-friendly entertainment. Some events are ticketed, some free. Find details at winterwondergrass.com.

Jan. 28 will be Ski California Safety Day, when many California mountain resorts will participate in events geared to educate skiers and riders about safety on the slopes. Check out the newly refreshed Mountain Safety Guide for more tips at skicalifornia.org.

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