What’s new for the 2018-19 ski season at Lake Tahoe’s downhill resorts | TahoeDailyTribune.com

What’s new for the 2018-19 ski season at Lake Tahoe’s downhill resorts

Kaleb M. Roedel

You hear that sound? That's the collective thump of skiers and snowboarders across the Reno-Tahoe region eagerly pumping their legs like caffeinated teenagers bracing for the school year's final bell.

Instead, snowsport enthusiasts are gazing out windows with bated breath or frantically refreshing weather.com, primed to dive into the powder days of winter. Meaning, when Mother Nature blesses the mountains with powder on a workday, business offices will be as empty as a summer school hall.

That's right, the ski season has begun in the Tahoe region, and the hopes for another long and strong winter are as high as a Sierra Nevada summit.

Just ask Mike Pierce, director of marketing at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe, which opened limited terrain this past weekend (Oct. 19-20) for season-pass holders and plans to reopen to the public Oct. 26-27 with limited terrain.

The resort is typically one of the first in the region to open due to its area-high base elevation of 8,260 feet.

Despite last year's weaker snow season overall in the greater Reno-Tahoe area, Mt. Rose still saw 324 inches of snow, enabling skiers and riders to carve down its 1,200 acres from October through the end of April, Pierce said.

Recommended Stories For You

"Last season, we actually got lots of early season snow and became pretty much a staple for having some of the better snow throughout the season in this region," Pierce said.

Mt. Rose is just two winters removed from receiving a staggering 768 inches of snow in 2016-17 — the most the resort has ever received in a season.

Pierce said that record-breaking inch-count showed him that there is such a thing as a breaking point when it comes to snow.

"From a business standpoint, sometimes too much snow is not always the best thing," Pierce said. "From a PR standpoint, it's great. But, there are some logistical issues when you get too much. It can restrict operations at points, it can restrict travel … so, there is a point where too much of a thing isn't what you want."

Pausing, he added: "But, in general, we'll always pray for tons and tons of snow."

Same goes for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, one of the largest ski areas in the U.S. at 6,000 skiable acres. Last season, the upper mountain at Squaw Valley received 411 inches of snow, just shy of its annual average of 450 inches, said Liesl Hepburn, public relations director.

Hepburn said Squaw Alpine has invested about $1 million in snowmaking over each of the last eight years.

"While Mother Nature has blessed us with deep powder days over the last few years, we are prepared to roll out good snow conditions regardless of when she turns her tap on," Hepburn said.

With snow season underway, check out what's new for the 2018-19 season at some of the Tahoe region's biggest downhill ski resorts, as well as their projected opening dates:

BOREAL MOUNTAIN

Boreal, which prides itself as a hub for teaching people how to ski and snowboard, is doubling down on its reputation. The resort, located at Donner Summit, is showcasing a brand new beginner chairlift, the California Cruiser, to help beginner skiers and riders, of all ages, progress from the bunny slopes to the terrain parks.

What's more, Boreal installed a new snowmaking system near its beginner terrain, expanding its already extensive "learn to" areas. Boreal also has a new parking lot, free to all pass holders and pre-committed buyers, for both Boreal and Woodward Tahoe, its indoor training facility.

Opening day: Nov. 9, weather permitting

DIAMOND PEAK

The Incline Village-based resort unveils a new terrain park area for skiers and riders to test their limits in the new lower-mountain zone called "The Village at Diamond Peak."

Accessible from all areas of the mountain, the Village Terrain Park gives riders a chance to explore more of the mountain before hitting the park or simple enjoy park-only laps with the Red Fox chairlift.

Opening day: Dec. 13, conditions permitting

HEAVENLY MOUNTAIN

Set high above the sparkling blue waters of Lake Tahoe, Heavenly is not short on new offerings all over the mountain. In terms of lodging, the resort adds a new townhome property, Lakeland Village, planted on 19 acres of lakeside woodlands.

Outside, Heavenly is giving guests a chance to traverse the mountain in a whole new way: guided UTV tours. Starting at the top of the Gondola, the Winter UTV Tours offer breathtaking viewpoints at 10,000 feet elevation, and a chance to discuss Lake Tahoe and the local environment in far-off-the-beaten path areas. Lastly, the resort is upgrading its Galaxy Chair from a double lift to a triple lift.

Opening day: Nov. 16, weather permitting

HOMEWOOD MOUNTAIN

The resort gave its snowcat an upgrade over the summer to give its Snowcat Adventures even more power for prowling the mountain. The tours takes groups of up to 10 people over 750 acres of backcountry terrain on the flanks of Ellis Peak, above the resort's traditional ski area boundary.

At the peak, skiers and riders receive guided access to an array of terrain options — well-spaced tree runs, steeps, powder bowls, glades — all leading them back to the in-bound terrain.

Opening day: Dec. 14

KIRKWOOD MOUNTAIN

Kirkwood, tucked 35 miles southwest of South Lake Tahoe, is serving up more than big mountain riding in a small-town atmosphere.

This season, Kirkwood Village is launching a new restaurant, The Cornice Pizza, an '80s-inspired joint with neon lights and popping colors. The menu features build-your-own-pie options, traditional favorites and unique pairings. In-between slices, grab the karaoke microphone and unleash your best rendition of "Don't Stop Believin.'"

Opening day: Nov. 21

MT. ROSE SKI TAHOE

Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe, a stone's throw from Reno, invested another $2 million in projects last summer. This includes the installation of 17 new snowmaking towers, complemented by additional high capacity pumps, as well as upgrades to their snow grooming fleet. Improvements were also made to the resort's parking lot, restrooms and signage, including four LED lift signs.

Opening day: Oct. 19 for pass holders, Oct. 26 to everyone

NORTHSTAR CALIFORNIA

Northstar, six miles north of Lake Tahoe, is giving its snowmaking department a boost with the addition of 24 low-energy snow guns along Luggi's and Lower Washoe trails.

Moreover, 12 other snow guns at the resort are being upgraded with new efficiency heads, enabling the guns to produce snow at warmer temperatures. Lower down the mountain, a new family-friendly tubing experience comes to the Overlook above the Village. The groomed tubing slope is available daily, as weather permits, near the Ski and Snowboard School pick-up location.

Opening day: Nov. 16

SIERRA-AT-TAHOE

Sierra-at-Tahoe, boasting 2,000 acres and 2,212 vertical feet of terrain, is rolling out two new snowcats this season. One of the snowcats will be used for trail grooming while the other is designed specifically for terrain parks.

Additionally, chairlifts, snowmaking equipment and trail signs have been given upgrades. The resort's 360 Smokehouse BBQ also received a facelift to provide guests with eye-popping views of Lake Tahoe while they savor mouthwatering barbecue.

Opening day: Dec. 1

SQUAW VALLEY ALPINE MEADOWS

There's plenty of newness at the renowned Tahoe area resort. Squaw-Alpine is debuting its first full season of the Ikon Pass, which offers access to 36 destinations around the globe — three continents, four Canadian provinces and 12 states, to be exact.

The resort is expanding its snowmaking system at Alpine Meadows with three new fan guns and increased automation. Meanwhile, the Alpine Meadows Base Lodge reopens for the season with $1.4 million in renovations. Notably, the resort will be powered by 100 percent renewable electricity.

Opening day: Nov. 16

SUGAR BOWL RESORT

Sugar Bowl's snowmaking system is getting perhaps the biggest upgrade in the Tahoe area. The resort invested the first $3 million of an $8 million project, doubling its water pumping capacity and dropping its energy consumption and time it takes to cover its snowmaking terrain by two-thirds.

Sugar Bowl is also introducing new beginner ski and board school programs designed specifically for first-time skiers and snowboarders ages 13 and up.

Opening day: Nov. 30

TAHOE DONNER Downhill

Tahoe Donner unveils the new Snowbird triple chairlift to replace the original double chair installed in 1971. With the modern and reliable chairlift technology, skiers and riders will get improved access to beginner terrain.

In addition, the resort relocated its Caterpillar Conveyor near the Ski School Yurt, providing better terrain for beginners before advancing to the Snowbird Lift. At its Cross Country Center, has expanded its grooming and new demo and rental equipment.

Opening day: Dec. 7

UPDATE: This article has been updated to state that Alpine Meadows “will be powered by 100 percent renewable electricity as early as this season.” The article originally stated that could be possible “starting Dec. 1.” The resort provided this update: “There has been a delay with the Green Tariff application process with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). We still hope to make the transition as early as this season, and we are eager and ready to go.”

Projected 2018-19 opening dates:

Please note the following projected opening dates are according to the ski resorts themselves and are tentative and dependent on weather conditions. Go to your favorite resorts’ web pages and social media handles for updates as fall progresses.

BOREAL MOUNTAIN: Nov. 9

DIAMOND PEAK: Dec. 1

DONNER SKI RANCH: Dec. 27

GRANLIBAKKEN: Dec. 14

HEAVENLY MOUNTAIN: Nov. 16

HOMEWOOD MOUNTAIN: Dec. 14

KIRKWOOD MOUNTAIN: Nov. 21

MT. ROSE SKI TAHOE: Oct. 19 for pass holders, Oct. 26 to everyone

NORTHSTAR CALIFORNIA: Nov. 16

SIERRA-AT-TAHOE: Dec. 1

SODA SPRINGS: Dec. 8

SQUAW VALLEY ALPINE MEADOWS: Nov. 16

SUGAR BOWL RESORT: Nov. 30

TAHOE DONNER DOWNHILL: Dec. 7