Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood and Squaw openings could boost Tahoe lodging | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood and Squaw openings could boost Tahoe lodging

Sebastian Foltz
A snowcat groomer prepares the slopes for Heavenly Mountain Resort's opening day, Saturday, Nov. 14. The mountain plans to open a week ahead of schedule due to recent snowfall.
Courtesy / Heavenly Mountain Resort |

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — One look out the window and it’s increasingly clear that winter has come to Lake Tahoe — and hopefully is here to stay.

While locals may remain only cautiously optimistic about the coming season after four down snow years, destination visitors from other areas of the country may be more optimistic. According to industry insiders at DestiMetrics — a Denver-based company that monitors lodging trends — the region could see a bump in winter bookings in part due to early resort openings and — believe it or not — The Weather Channel.

“The change in the weather patterns and the resulting snow are just the ticket,” DestiMetrics director Ralf Garrison said regarding the potential for increased winter visitation. “The combination of the media treatment of El Niño and the current snow on the ground increases the likelihood that guests could increase reservations as early as Thanksgiving.”

If the Tribune’s and regional weather forecasters’ email accounts are any indication, the potential for this growing trend might be right. One East Coast reader recently emailed the Tribune asking about the chances of getting snowed in and having mountain passes close over New Year’s Eve.

The immediate impact on lodging would likely be from regional visitors from places like the Bay Area and Reno, according to Garrison. Ripple effects on booking from cross-country visitation would likely come later in the season.

“It’s really great,” Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority executive director Carol Chaplin said regarding the potential economic impact of recent snow and early resort openings. “That could do a lot for our late November and December bookings.”

Garrison also said that the media’s recent trend toward naming winter weather with catchy monikers like last year’s East Coast “Polar Vortex” and this year’s “Godzilla El Niño” can play a positive role.

“It’s gotten consumers’ attention. For the last month or two there has been a heightened anticipation,” he said, adding that now “there is enough physical evidence to reinforce that perception.”

He further explained that weather and the state of the economy are the two largest impacts on vacation travel. With recent below-average winters, the Tahoe region has been fighting an uphill battle in regard to “snow equity” — DestiMetrics’ term for booking confidence based on the previous year’s conditions.

Just how much of an impact this early start to the season will have remains to be seen. Garrison said DestiMetrics’ November booking numbers could be telling.


Numbers aside, optimism is in the air among Tahoe-region tourism and resort officials with this weekend’s early resort openings.

“We are already seeing mid-winter conditions,” Northstar California and Heavenly Mountain Resort spokeswoman Cassandra Walker said of recent snowfall at higher elevations.

Squaw Valley, Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood Mountain resorts will all open this Saturday, Nov. 14.

“I think everybody is really thrilled,” Chaplin said. “That kind of announcement really solidifies what people are feeling for the season.”

She added that it’s equally positive for those who depend on winter jobs — “That was tough on our community last year.”

Natural snow combined with snowmaking efforts have made it possible for area resorts to offer substantial amounts of terrain for opening day visitors, especially compared with recent years. Heavenly and Kirkwood will open a full week ahead of schedule. Kirkwood spokesman Kevin Cooper said their opening day this year will also be three weeks earlier than 2014. With Kirkwood announcing their opening day this week, Sierra-at-Tahoe remains the only South Shore resort yet to proclaim their start to the winter season.

Full terrain offerings may not be decided until opening day. Kirkwood expects to have three lifts running. Heavenly will also likely open with three lifts, including the gondola. Northstar and Kirkwood both plan to have top-to-bottom skiing.

“Our mountain teams are still making snow and trying to get as much open as possible,” Walker said, speaking on behalf of Northstar and Heavenly.

“With more new natural snow coming, we’ll look to open up more terrain,” Cooper said regarding Kirkwood. Another storm is forecast for the weekend.

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