End of the run for Tahoe ski season
TRUCKEE – Although a surprising winter storm had motorists chaining up just last week, ski resorts throughout the Tahoe area are starting to call it quits.
Northstar-at-Tahoe, which will close for the season on Sunday, April 18, still has plenty of snowpack, but the resort is seeing a drop in skier and snowboarder interest.
“When temperatures start to rise in Reno and the Bay Area, which are the two biggest markets for Northstar other than the locals, people’s interests begin to shift more toward summer activities,” said Nicole Belt, Northstar’s communications manager.
“So skiing begins to compete with mountain biking, wakeboarding, water sports … and we don’t find the interest is there to warrant staying open into May.”
Although Northstar is closing earlier than some resorts in the area, Belt said the consistent and abundant snowfall – Northstar recorded almost 500 inches of snowfall this year, 350 is average – made for a great year on the slopes.
“This year was absolutely phenomenal for Northstar because we had some of the best snow conditions in the country in Lake Tahoe,” Belt said. “The momentum was high and the buzz was out there that Tahoe was the place to come for skiing, and because of that we saw a lot of people coming down from the Northwest that normally would vacation elsewhere.
“I think we introduced a lot of destination visitors to the Tahoe area this season,” she said.
On the other side of town, Sugar Bowl’s management is thinking about extending the season past the original April 24 predicted closing date.
“Because of this late-season snow and cooler-than-average temperatures, the demand is higher than it was last year,” said Rob Kautz, president of Sugar Bowl. “So we’re anticipating we’ll have the skier demand to make it financially worthwhile to operate until May 1.”
Like Northstar, Sugar Bowl bases its closing date on demand and ticket sales, and storms like last week’s have kept many Sugar Bowl skiers and riders from hanging up their equipment for the season.
Kautz said that the earliest opening date on record for Sugar Bowl – Oct. 30 – combined with the almost 600 inches of snowfall the resort received this year, made for a good skier and boarder turnout all year round.
Had heavy storms not closed down Interstate 80 for a couple of days during the busy Christmas holiday season, Kautz said he thinks it could have been a record year in terms of skier days.
Surprisingly though, all the snow this year did not mean that Sugar Bowl was able to save on any snowmaking costs, since the 50 inches of snow that allowed the resort to open on Oct. 30 was followed by three weeks of nothing, meaning the snow guns were called in to keep the runs open until the late-December dump.
Currently operating four lifts serving all of the resort except for the Mount Judah side, Sugar Bowl is offering $39 lift tickets and limited amenities at the Village Lodge.
And, of course, that legendary Sierra spring snow.
“Especially on those storm days and right after, there’s been some phenomenal powder skiing,” Kautz said of the recent conditions. “But in the springtime, the moment the sun comes out, it gets a little sticky. And then you need to go through a couple of days of melt-freeze cycles to get that corn snow. So I would guess this weekend will be pretty good spring skiing.”
Kirkwood Mountain Resort has received more than 61 feet of snow this winter. But President Tim Cohee said it just doesn’t pay to extend the season.
“We’ve tried to stay open through May a number of times and nobody comes out – it does not pay off at Kirkwood,” Cohee told the Tahoe Daily Tribune.
Kirkwood and Heavenly Mountain Resort plan to shut down the lifts for the season on May 1. Sierra-at-Tahoe isn’t waiting that long. It will be done April 18.
“It’s a business decision. We tend to close due to volume,” said Nicole Belt, Sierra-at-Tahoe communications manager.
“Once temperatures start warming up, we find we’re competing with summer activities like mountain biking, water skiing and mountain climbing.”
In an effort to keep skiers and riders coming into the spring, resorts, beginning next week, will lower their lift ticket prices by about $10. Sierra-at-Tahoe plans to sell lift tickets for $20 the day it closes as part of a customer appreciation day.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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