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Powder days trump light wallets

Matthew Renda
mrenda@tahoedailytribune.com
Ryan Taylor/Community submitted photo
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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – It wasn’t the abundance of snowfall, but the quality of snow, combined with how and when it fell, that made for such a superlative season for Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts.

“Sometimes huge dumps of snow can make traveling to Tahoe prohibitive,” said Amelia Richmond, media and public relations manager for Squaw Valley USA. “This year, the snowstorms were smaller and more frequent, meaning snowfall was featured prominently in Bay area markets, enticing skiers to make the drive up.”

And drive up they did. Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort spokeswoman Kirstin Cattell announced the resort’s revenue is up double digits, but declined to provide specific numbers.

“We’ve had an amazing year in terms of snow,” she said. “The resort has received over 500 inches of snows so far this year. Our average is 480, but last year we were in the 420-440 inch range.”

In late January, Squaw CEO Nancy Cushing told the Wall Street Journal ski visits to soared 46 percent during the 2009-10 season. In the same article, Alpine Meadows Spokeswoman Rachel Woods said visits were up as much as 20 percent compared to the previous year.

While Lake Tahoe resorts are normally tight-lipped regarding skier visits, Ed Youmans, General Manager at Diamond Peak Ski Resort, revealed in late March the small Incline Village mountain had exceeded 100,000 visits for the 2009-10 season. Diamond Peak witnessed a 40 percent increase from the 2008-2009 season on Presidents’ Day Weekend alone, Youmans said, drawing slightly more than 10,000 visitors.

Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Association, said the Lake Tahoe Basin’s yearly average from 2004 to 2008 was 7.5 million visits. Roberts said initial reports indicate 2009-10 numbers will exceed the average, but will still fall short of the record 8.2 million, achieved during the 2004-05 season.

“It’s been an above-average year, but we won’t hit a record,” Roberts said. “Good snow trumps a weak economy, but a weak economy makes it tough to have a banner year.”

Highways to and from the Bay Area into the Lake Tahoe Basin remained unclogged for the most part this season, particularly on the weekends, Roberts said.

“The snowstorms were fortuitous in the days they selected to fall,” he said. “The timing was great as the big storms always fell from Tuesday morning to Thursday night, leaving the roads free for weekend travel.”

Attracting residents from the Bay Area and other parts of Northern California is vital for Tahoe ski resorts, Richmond said, as about 60 percent of visitors coming to Squaw are from California – about 40 percent of those are from the Bay Area.

“Bay Area residents are a big piece of the economic puzzle for Tahoe resorts,” said Andy Chapman, Director of Tourism for the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.

Cattell said unlike resorts on the North Shore, Sierra-at-Tahoe relies more on locals in South Lake Tahoe, and residents living in the foothills located between the resort and Sacramento.

Day visitors from Sacramento compose the vast majority of the resort’s guests.

Part of what is enticing to all commuters is the quality of snow available at Tahoe resorts this season, officials said. Instead of a lot of “Sierra Cement” – heavy dense snow that makes for difficult turns – the region has benefited from light dustings, creating the fluffy powder for which hard-core skiers and snowboarders yearn. “We’ve had over 25 powder days at Northstar this year,” said Kirstin Cattell, spokeswoman at Northstar-at-Tahoe. “Instead of heavy maritime systems dumping heavy snow, we’ve had a lot of light really fluffy powder. It’s been amazing.”

Woods said Tahoe region has benefited from “some of the best snow in the world this year,” and Sunday’s spring storm that dumped more than two feet in some spots was exactly what the region needed heading into mid-April.

“Every powder day you get in April, is icing on the cake,” Woods said.d


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