Think snow: Resorts getting ready for ski season | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Think snow: Resorts getting ready for ski season

Susan Wood

Photos by Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune/ The top of the new Timber Creek Express is seen at Kirkwood Mountain Resort.

KIRKWOOD – Sure, summer may be turning to fall this weekend. But at Lake Tahoe, winter could be around the corner – if last year’s mid-October start is any indicator. The season ended with a banner year for snowfall, including record skier visits for Tahoe resorts.

With that, the South Shore ski resorts are gearing up with improvements and enhancements to launch the 2005-06 season.

Kirkwood, an expedition of plans

Kirkwood Mountain Resort is installing a new high-speed chairlift for this year to replace the slow Hole ‘N Wall, cutting the 15 minutes spent on Chair 7 down to four.

That means skiers and boarders riding the ridge above Cornice Express to the Sentinel and Palisades bowls will find it faster and easier to get back to the high-speed lift.

“This opens up all this terrain,” Kirkwood spokeswoman Tracy Miller said, pointing to a new trail map.

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The $4 million chairlift under construction near the Mighty Mountain Lodge marks the first in a list of improvements planned in the next few years at the beginner area referred to as Timber Creek. Its three phases will include the demolition of the Timber Creek Lodge by next May as well as the construction of a new $35 million lodge, Sentinel Townhomes and a plaza area with retail outlets. The improvements are part of the resort’s master plan, which calls for five new lifts, six to be upgraded and an on-mountain restaurant at the top of Caples Crest – all due by 2012.

“This is an exciting project. They’ll be no place like it in the Sierra,” Miller said.

This year, Kirkwood will bring back snowcat skiing and high-angle grooming. The latter involves terrain with 45- to 50-degree grades in its 2,300-acre resort. And the cat skiing tours may be expanded to Martin Point, a crown-like rock at the top of the southern ridge of the resort above Timber Creek. The ski area has also applied for a ski guiding permit in the Thunder Bowl area. The cat skiing operations are now staged northeast of the resort.

“Kirkwood is all about exploration,” Miller said.

Sierra-at-Tahoe, a new adventure every year

The ski resort 12 miles west of Meyers will kick off the season with an expanded offering of theme-based adventure zones on the mountain – Bear Caves, Pony Express, Maidu Meadows and the Gold Rush. The interactive displays allow children to climb in and out of treehouses, caves and secret hideaways. Smoke signals will highlight the zone at Maidu Meadows.

For the young-of-heart of all ages, Sierra-at-Tahoe will put in new rails and jibs into its terrain parks. Riders will also find places to work on their boards at the resort’s version of “park stops.” Benches will be set up to adjust bindings.

The resort also plans to beef up its food offerings. It will replace Mountain Munchies in the main lodge with The Happy Hippie snack shack, featuring rice bowls, wraps, granola and yogurt. Another snack shack will go on the tubing hill above the lodge.

From the base, bike taxis will patrol the parking lots to help skiers and boarders with their gear.

Heavenly perks add up

Heavenly Mountain Resort will shows skiers and boarders where to go once they arrive at South Lake Tahoe’s backyard ski resort.

The area plans to add more trail signs to point out routes. Plus, an expanded version of electronic signs will notify riders of closed areas, weather conditions and other data to help them navigate the area.

More snowmaking equipment and grooming machines will make the base a smooth ride. Guns will be added to the East Bowl and Gunbarrel areas.

At the gondola endpoint, an umbrella bar will cover guests seeking refuge from the wind and snow.

The California Base Lodge will get a bit of a makeover in the food court area.