Sno-Park concessionaire finds recreation niche
Sure, skiing is fun. Snowboarding is exiting. But sometimes, a kid just needs to climb into a large saucer, push off, and let the chips call where they may.
“This is great, it’s awesome!” screamed Sam Papavasilakis, 7, who had just arrived with his parents at the Echo Summit Sno-Park on U.S. Highway 50. “I love playing in the snow.”
Sam and his brother, Dominic, 4, had not yet even exited the car. Mom and dad, Louie and Dana Papavasilakis, were purchasing an all-day pass at the concession stand. One can buy a day of frolic in the snow for $5 at the park.
Lake Tahoe is world famous for its ski resorts. But locals know that to attain real Zen in winter, one must climb to Echo Summit. And it’s all downhill from there.
“We spent the morning skiing (at Sierra-at-Tahoe), but we came here for the kids,” said Dana Papavasilakis, whose family is vacationing from Maryland. “We do both. We’re staying at Harveys, and they recommended this place for the kids. And OK, I admit it, my husband and I like to play in the snow also.”
The California Department of Parks and Recreation run two sno-parks at Echo Summit, on land leased from the U.S. Forest Service.
“There are usually a lot of people up here, especially on weekends, when it really gets packed,” said Jim Ussery, who operates a concession at one of the sno-parks, on the east side of Highway 50. Jim Ussery and his parents, Bob and Julie, pay a fee to the Parks and Recreation Department for the right to sell snacks and equipment and rent sleds and saucers at the park. They also sell sno-park permits on site. This is the first year that Parks and Recreation has allowed a concession to operate in the sno-park.
“A lot of people see this as an alternative to going to a ski resort,” Ussery said. “There can be a lot of cost involved in purchasing lift tickets, and renting equipment. Here, you pay $5 for the whole family. We’re popular with church groups and organizations like the Cub Scouts. On weekends you’ll see vans pull in and all these kids pile out, and have a ball in the snow.
“You can literally jump out of the car with a garbage can lid, hike up the hill and have a blast.”
Ussery said that the sno-park is also popular with snowboarders who are looking to avoid crowds.
“I’ve seen them hike up the mountain for an hour, just for the 10-minute run on the way down,” he said. “To each his own.”
The sno-park concession isn’t a huge cash cow for the Usserys – they spent $20,000 constructing a portable building – and their permit comes up for bid again next year.
“But it’s kind of fun to be here, on our little corner of the Summit,” Jim Ussery said. “People have a lot of fun here, and it rubs off.
“On slow days, though, I spend a lot of time in my truck, trying to stay warm.”
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