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Travel Insider

It's Not All Downhill for Ski Country in Summer

Outdoors: Resorts are scheduling warm-weather events to keep crowds coming. Activities range from cultural to athletic.

June 22, 1997|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

The bad news is that if you're reading this, you probably missed the fly-fishing, tennis and motocross racing out at Mammoth yesterday. The good news for many outdoorsy travelers is that all this off-season ski-country activity was no isolated incident.

Throughout the U.S., ski resorts have been scrambling in recent years to bring in summer visitors and capitalize on facilities and real estate that once lay nearly idle. Though the trend dates back a decade or more nationwide, it's been aided more recently by the explosive growth of mountain-biking and the free consumer spending engendered by the economic boom. Spot a ski lift on a summer day, and in its shadow there's a good chance you'll find tennis tournaments, art shows, mountain bike races, rock climbing, rope climbing, all-night concerts, soccer camps, hockey camps, Shakespeare camps, skateboarding camps, jazz festivals or a Model T club convention.

I've lifted those particular possibilities from the summer programs of a handful of resorts in the leading California ski areas of Mammoth, Big Bear and Lake Tahoe. Industry veterans say similar offerings can be found at most of the state's roughly 40 downhill and cross-country ski resorts. At Snow Valley in the Big Bear area, resort operators have gone so far as to rename the place: Instead of a ski resort, it's now a "mountain sports park."

Certainly, summer is less expensive than winter. A daylong Mammoth gondola pass last winter cost $45. This summer it's $23. At the Mammoth Mountain Inn, the winter price of a two-bedroom loft condo is $395 nightly. The same room in summer: $195. To some degree, the summer crowds are a different animal from the winter mob: They don't run in such tight packs, and, aided by prices such as those above, they don't spend nearly as much. Resort studies show that Mammoth gets about 1 million visitors in winter, almost all concentrated around the lodge and lifts. In summer, the area gets about 2 million, but they're spread among hotels, campgrounds and trails in and near the 3,500-acre ski area--and they spend less.

Some resorts mark their summer season from Memorial Day through Labor Day (Sept. 1). Others, such as Mammoth Mountain, run their official summer season from July 4 to Labor Day. Still others, such as Northstar at Lake Tahoe, define the season even more broadly and extend their summer activities from June through October.

To offer a taste of what's out there, here's an unscientific sampling of summer offerings at a few major ski areas. Keep in mind this is not an endorsement of any particular resort. More information about other resorts is available through the following organizations: Big Bear Lake Resort Assn., (909) 866-7000; Mammoth Lakes Visitors Bureau, (888) 466-2666; North Lake Tahoe Resort Assn., (800) 824-6348. In the central Sierra, sources include the Calaveras County Visitors Center, (800) 225-3764; Mt. Shasta Visitor Bureau, (800) 926-4865; Shaver Lake Chamber of Commerce, (209) 841-3350.

At Mammoth, resort management has been running its gondola for scenic rides to the halfway point and mountaintop for more than a decade. But eight years ago, the resort added racks that can handle bikes in summer and snowboards in winter, and dubbed its snowless downhill runs the Mammoth Mountain Bike Park. The park, which this year opened June 13, draws an estimated 15,000 riders each summer to its 70-mile network of trails. From July 24 to 27, the resort hosts the National Off Road Bicycle Assn.'s National Mountain Bike Championship Series.

Meanwhile, the resort sponsors about 20 concerts per summer, from Dixieland jazz (July 10-13) to classical (July 30-Aug. 10), with country music (Aug. 15-17) and a diverse 2-year-old series at Yodler Pavilion that ranges from a "Bluesapalooza" night (July 5) to the Four Freshmen (Aug. 8). The concerts end Labor Day weekend.

In the Lake Tahoe area, additions to the Tahoe Rim Trail may allow mountain bikers (and hikers) to make a 70-plus-mile circuit of the lake by 2000. Until then, the North Lake Tahoe area alone includes four mountain bike parks, three of them served by chairlifts on the summer slopes of Squaw Valley, Northstar at Tahoe and Donner Ski Ranch. The Northstar at Tahoe resort also offers a weekend Dirt Camp, with meals, accommodations and training included in sessions July 19 and 20, Aug. 23 and 24 and Oct. 4 and 5.

Aside from mountain biking, boating, fishing and eight golf courses, the Tahoe area's other attractions include bungee jumping (since 1992, a 65-foot drop); climbing walls at Squaw Valley, Truckee and Northstar; and rope courses at Truckee, Northstar and Tahoe City.

In the Big Bear area, Bear Mountain and Snow Summit each offer miles of mountain-biking trails, and nearby Snow Valley last year announced a Mountain Bike Park of its own.

But Snow Valley's most striking innovation may be one it came up with last summer: the all-night outdoor concert. Twice last summer, amid forest surroundings with slope-side seating, the resort hosted dance-music events that throbbed through the evening and the wee hours, and didn't end until around dawn. One of those events, Organic '96 in late June, drew more than 6,000 fans. Take note, all who seek silence and tranquillity under the stars in the Big Bear area this summer: Organic '97 is scheduled for Aug. 9 and 10.

Reynolds travels anonymously at the newspaper's expense, accepting no special discounts or subsidized trips. He welcomes comments and suggestions, but cannot respond individually to letters and calls. Write Travel Insider, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053 or e-mail chris.reynolds@latimes.com.

* HIKING: Summer scenery at Whistler ski resort in Canada. Page 18

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