It’s snow wonder: Heavenly Mountain Resort opens for ski season |

It’s snow wonder: Heavenly Mountain Resort opens for ski season

Susan Wood

Wake up, Lake Tahoe. It’s the first Heavenly morning of the season – one in which early snowfall geared up skiers and boarders and took construction crews and area management by surprise.

Heavenly Mountain Resort opens today at 9 a.m. to packed powder conditions off six of the 10 high-speed chairlifts, including the gondola, Tamarack, Sky, Canyon, Dipper and Comet.

Adult lift tickets cost $55 for the day.

“In addition to great snow, we have quite a bit to show off this weekend,” said Chief Operating Officer Blaise Carrig, who was out surveying the slopes Thursday with his skis on. He blazed through the corduroy grooves and wavy humps with the grace of a gazelle.

Workers waved and greeted Carrig’s media guests, who were there with Communications Director Molly Cuffe for the sneak peek.

Base Services Manager Tyler Morris assembled a crew of newbies and returning employees for a rundown on skier etiquette and common questions.

“Nice ramp,” Carrig enthusiastically told one Tamarack lift operator worker of a flattened area where skiers get on.

Carrig, a die-hard skier with an East-to-West Coast career of play under his belt, wanted to ensure things were in order for the opening.

The South Shore resort boasts $10 million in improvements to bring the total Vail Resorts’ investment in Heavenly to about $29 million. The Colorado ski giant pledged $40 million over five years when it bought Heavenly a few years ago for $102 million in cash and liabilities.

This year, about $3.8 million of that was tied into the Powderbowl Express, a high-speed chairlift that whisks riders up to the Ridge Run connection in less than four minutes. The six-person chair replaces the Powderbowl and Waterfall chairlifts on the California side. The new one – which Carrig rode Wednesday night – is due to open next Wednesday.

Today, the bistate resort throws open its gate with big plans and a solid blanket of snow collected from 180 hours of beefed-up snowmaking capacity and 4 feet of early-season snowfall.

“What that snow did is set us back a few days,” Carrig said of a scrambling construction crew dealing with snow.

Lately, Carrig said the groomers have been out doing a little “snow farming” in the last week, and it shows.

In some circumstances, the groomers would drive over the snowpack to condense it, making it harder to melt. On Wednesday night, the grooming tiller came out to give the snowpack a little lift.

And with a cooling off of temperatures on the horizon, snowmaking has made the agenda over the weekend.

Otherwise, a slight meltdown in the last week causing dirt to show near the Comet Express chairlift caught the attention of management and snowmaking crews.

“But they really pasted this, and they’ll bomb out here tonight,” Carrig said of snow gun firing scheduled Thursday night.

Skiers and boarders seeking refreshments will find a haven at the base of the Comet and Dipper at the expanded East Peak Lodge. Wind screens and Plexiglas surround the decks equipped with an outdoor bar, barbecue grilling station and heaters. One deck juts out over East Peak Lake to provide the feeling of shoreline dining. There, the equipment rental yurt was replaced by the snow beach area where picnic tables, blasting music and beers and burgers will be the scene.

Also on tap this year, Heavenly has installed more directional signs. Electronic signs scattered along the hill provide up-to-date information on lifts and runs open and ski conditions.

And the many out-of-bounds skiers and boarders who activate ski patrol every year will be able to venture out legally in some areas. The resort plans to open three backcountry gates along the fire trail. They come with push-to-open gates and skull-and-bones warnings.

Down the road, Carrig pointed out the spot on the California Trail where a restaurant designed with a view of the Carson Valley on one side and Lake Tahoe on the other would be located if permits are approved.

– Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at

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