Ski resorts gear up for season |

Ski resorts gear up for season

Susan Wood

Do you remember the white stuff that didn’t come in an envelope or scare you to death?

Lake Tahoe Basin ski resorts do. And they’re already making plans to introduce their guests to the great white hope after a lackluster winter last year.

Sierra-at-Tahoe is gearing up by opening five backcountry gates behind the Grandview chair lift, weather permitting.

The ski resort located 12 miles west of Meyers needs a 5- to 7-foot base to make it worthwhile, Megan Waskiewicz said Monday.

The backcountry gates open an additional 600 acres of terrain to advanced Alpine and telemark skiers as well as snowboarders.

Castle Creek and North Bowl gates shoot off the Eastabout run off the Grandview lift, while Big Pine and Pandora’s start right off the top behind the lodge and end up in the Wash Bowl. The Golf Course backcountry gate runs off the perimeter on the other side of Wagon Wheel.

Terrain from all the backcountry gates empty out onto groomed runs near the bottom, and guides offer tours that teach the backcountry etiquette for the journey.

Access to the backcountry “ties a bow” in respect to fulfilling the ski and boarding experience, Waskiewicz said.

The backcountry terrain offers somewhat of the extreme experience with 35- to 45-degree slopes.

“Some of the chutes and terrain rival the steepest terrain around Lake Tahoe,” Patrol Director Robert Schutlz said.

In the works for years, Sierra-at-Tahoe secured the permitting for the backcountry access last year. However, it only opened two gates in February and five in March because of the lack of snow earlier in the season.

Resort staffers are also hoping a better snow year will bring out the snowshoers in the crowd. The ski area has doubled its trail course this year to three miles, which starts near the base lodge.

Heavenly Ski Resort plans to open up its area to the snowshoe and cross country skiing enthusiasts off the gondola mid-station, opening trails once it secures the permits.

It’s Heavenly’s first full year of operating the gondola billed as the centerpiece of redevelopment for South Lake Tahoe, which intends to boost the foot traffic to the Stateline attraction.

While other ski areas in the West worry whether the flying public comes back in significant enough numbers to sustain a successful season since the Sept. 11 air terrorist attack, Tahoe is counting on that hefty drive-up market to keep the economy rolling.

A new feature to Heavenly related to vehicle traffic this year is a bus charter staged to pick up groups of at least 35 people from San Francisco Bay Area companies, Communications Manager Molly Cuffe said.

Other advances at basin ski resorts include:

— Kirkwood Mountain Resort is turning its attention this ski season to the village. The Alpine County ski area plans to open its 6,000-square-foot Village Ice Rink for the Christmas holiday. The $1.5 million ice rink will be located at the plaza’s edge.

Kirkwood spokeswoman Tania Pilkinton said “a lot of interest” has been placed in the rink from the community.

Those who also want a break from skiing or boarding may find Kirkwood’s fitness and swimming complex the answer to their athletic dreams and post workout R&R. Phase 1 of the swim complex, also due to open by Christmas, features an outdoor pool with two lap lanes and a hot tub to seat 16 people.

People who want to try innertubing will find an expanded park at Kirkwood, which opened its mountain near the Red Cliff Lodge for the activity.

Kirkwood guests will find the gutted Cornice Cantina opening under a new name. Bub’s Sports Bar & Grill across from the Cornice Express high-speed quad got its name from bartender Mark “Sully” Sullivan who calls his customers “Bub.”

— Northstar-at-Tahoe increased its snowmaking capacity by 50 percent with a $2.5 million upgrade in its system for this winter season. Northstar also added a midmountain rental shop for beginners. This means a rookie skier may get outfitted just feet away from where their lesson starts. For the 4-year-old set there is a program called Startykes.

For the expert in the family, the North Shore resort added 200 acres of terrain on Lookout Mountain last season.

— Squaw Valley has major plans this year. The home of the 1960 Olympic Games will unveil the first phase of its long-awaited 13-acre base village. First Ascent was designed by Intrawest Corporation to get people out of the cars and pedestrians out in the stars after skiing to peruse 19 shops and restaurants.

“Since 1988, when we drafted the initial Squaw Valley Base Area Plan, I have been promising a true, four-season Alpine village at the base of the mountain, and I always keep my promises,” Squaw Valley Ski Corporation founder Alex Cushing said.

On the mountain, Cushing and crew are introducing a new beginner area with two pony tows located adjacent to the Far East Guest Services Center.

Squaw has also expanded its snowmaking ability on the upper mountain in the Gold Coast area and relocated the tubing arena outside High Camp. For skiers, Squaw also widened the Easy Street Trail, offering access from the Far East chairlift to the resort’s base area.

–Next door to Squaw Valley, Sugar Bowl added a new express quad chair lift to the top of Mount Lincoln.

Snowmaking has also been improved on the Mount Judah and Jerome Hill chair lifts with an automated system.

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