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SPORTS WEEKEND | Skiing

Impressive Spring Snowfall Improves Conditions

March 27, 1998|PETE THOMAS

Staring out her office window in the main lodge at Mammoth Mountain, Joani Saari assessed the situation for a moment, then proclaimed:

"It's, like, full-on back to winter."

Just when you thought spring was here to stay comes a blast from the past, another El Nino-driven storm that has whitened things up considerably, not only at Mammoth, where up to three feet of powder fell on a base of about 18 feet, but on ski slopes throughout California.

"I live at 5,500 feet, and I'm not kidding you, the flakes were three inches across," said Cristy Sheehan of Mt. Waterman on Angeles Crest Highway west of Wrightwood. "They looked like huge white feathers. I've never seen such wide flakes."

In all, Sheehan said, Waterman received about 12 inches of fairly wet snow at the base and about 18 inches of fairly light powder on the upper runs. It wasn't a deluge, but it was enough to turn dirty snow white again and heighten the aesthetic experience.

At Ski Sunrise in Wrightwood, General Manager Jerry Price said of Wednesday's storm: "It never actually was rain up here. It rained in town, and it came down as slush here for about 15 minutes, but then it turned into good snow and it snowed most of the day, real good-quality snow."

Price boasted that his small resort, often overshadowed by nearby Mountain High, was recently cited by Kor magazine as having the best natural terrain in Southern California for snowboarders.

"We've gone from about 30% earlier this season to 70% snowboarders now," he said. "We like 'em on the hill."

And they no doubt will be stoked to learn they have six to eight inches of new powder to shred.

Across the San Gabriels at Mt. Baldy, it began snowing Wednesday morning, with light powder landing on the upper runs and snow mixed with rain falling on the advanced slopes beneath Chair 1. But by late afternoon, snow was falling below the parking lot and by storm's end, the resort had received eight to 10 inches of medium-quality powder.

Good timing, since an open snowboard competition is scheduled for Sunday.

In the Big Bear area, the storm first brought drizzle, the temperature dropped about noon and light snow began falling.

As the storm was clearing Thursday morning, Judi Bowers of Bear Mountain was understandably enthusiastic.

"We received four to six inches of snow last night and it's still snowing this morning," she said. "We're expecting clearing later today with another storm due in Saturday, bringing more snow. The conditions have never been this great at this time of year and we've kept 100% of the mountain open for spring break because the coverage is great, and just keeps getting better, instead of deteriorating, like normal for this time of year."

Bear Mountain, she added, figures to remain open at least through Easter.

"And April Fool's Day tickets are $10 for everyone--no joke," she said. That's next Wednesday.

In the Lake Tahoe area, the storm hit Tuesday, bringing rain at lake level (6,500 feet) and even on the lower slopes of most of the resorts.

But the temperature dropped Wednesday morning and the raindrops turned to snowflakes.

"We don't say the R-word up here, but we did have some liquid precipitation at the top of the tram on the California side," said Dana Dapolito, snow reporter for Heavenly Valley on the south shore. "It rained for about five hours, but then the storm played out awesome. It really did. Our two-day total was 14-34 inches, the 14 being at the top of the tram at 8,200 feet and the 34 at the upper runs at around 10,000 feet.

"And the higher you went, the drier the snow was. This may be spring, but we're smack-dab in the middle of winter right now."

That might really seem to be the case after this weekend. A much colder front is expected to sweep down from the north tonight and Saturday, bringing a foot or more of snow to elevations as low as 2,500 feet in Southern California.

"That means we'll have snow all the way down to town [La Canada]," said Tom Moriarty, general manager at Mt. Waterman. "What it really means is, we'll be skiing, skiers permitting, well into May."

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