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A Ski Jump : Early Start May Signal Big Year for Industry


It's beginning to look a lot like ski season, with several California resorts opening before the traditional Thanksgiving weekend start, thanks to October storms.

That's good news not only for ski resort operators and nearby businesses, but also for retailers of ski and snowboard equipment who sweated through a mediocre 1995-96 season.

"The last time we had good snow, the economy was in the toilet. This is the first time in years where we've had snow and people are feeling good about the economy and their jobs and whether they have enough money," said Bob Haueter, a spokesman for La Canada-based Sport Chalet.

An early storm that brought rain in late October to much of the state delivered snow to many mountain areas, and resorts were able to make their own snow because of nippy temperatures.

Snow-covered slopes lured eager skiers and snowboarders and boosted hopes for the state's $500-million ski resort business.

"The feeling among most of my constituency is this is going to be a good year," said Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Assn., a San Francisco trade group that represents 39 resorts. California is the nation's second-biggest skiing state, with 7 million "skier visits" a year, he said. (Colorado leads with between 10 million and 11 million annual visits, he said.)

The mini heat wave of the last few days has meant spring-like conditions on local mountains and attracted even more skiers and snowboarders, many in T-shirts, resort operators said. Bear Mountain in Big Bear Lake and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area in California's eastern Sierra reported big opening-day crowds over the weekend.

"This is a nice change for us to be open this early," said Judi Bowers, spokeswoman for Bear Mountain.

"The significant thing about this year's opening is the great snow," said Wendy Kelley, spokeswoman for Mammoth Mountain. "It definitely makes people very excited when the season starts off this well."

At Sport Chalet, an 18-store regional sporting goods retailer that has struggled through some lackluster ski seasons of late, stores have been filled with shoppers looking for the latest in ski and snowboarding equipment, said Haueter.

For the ski set, that means shaped or "parabolic" skis, whose somewhat hourglass shape lets even beginners enjoy the carved turns that advanced skiers and not-so-advanced snowboarders achieve so easily, Haueter said. The skis cost $350 or more.

"Business is booming," Haueter said. "It's something skiers have been waiting for."

Last year, the state's skiers were cursed with balmy weather that delayed openings until early or mid-December. The year before, the snow was good but the economy was not, particularly in Southern California. This year, the economy has improved and skiers were ready when resorts opened early.

Boreal Ski Area in the Lake Tahoe area had such a good first day Nov. 2 that ticket sales were cut off at 2,000 by late morning because only a few trails were open.

"We had a phenomenal opening weekend . . . and we're very optimistic about the season to come," said Kris Norris, Boreal spokeswoman. Boreal has lowered its prices to try to lure even more business from the competition, she said.

A good ski season means cash registers are ringing all over the mountains.

"There are a lot of people up here," said Monica Silvers, operations director for the Big Bear Chamber of Commerce. "Fridays they start coming up and the lodges and things like that are booked. . . . The stores are busy, because when people are done skiing, they go shopping."

"I think we're going to have a good one this year," Silvers said. "I just hope it continues."


Shredding Season

Although the weather's been like summer lately, many California ski areas have already opened for business or are planning to do so this month. The early opening dates may be good news for ski-area operators and sporting goods retailers. A look at some of the areas:


Adult lift Opening Ski area ticket price date Information Boreal $27 Nov. 2 (916) 426-3666 Bear Mountain $25* Nov. 8 (909) 585-2519 Heavenly Valley $46 Nov. 22** (702) 586-7000 June Mountain $35 Dec. 18** (619) 648-7733 Mammoth $35* Nov. 8 (888) 4MAMMOTH Snow Summit $25* Nov. 1 (909) 866-5766 Squaw Valley $46 Nov. 23** (916) 583-6955


* Discounted/early season prices

** Tentative

Source: Ski-area reports

Researched by JENNIFER OLDHAM / Los Angeles Times

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