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Snow Time

Cold November Temperatures Jump-Start the Ski Season at California Resorts

November 24, 2000|JIM BARRERO

With cold November temperatures giving California ski resorts a head start on their preparations, the Thanksgiving weekend figures to be one of the busiest in recent memory for skiers and snowboarders throughout the state.

Most resorts already are reporting optimum conditions and can't wait to truly kick off what is expected to be another banner season.

"We've gotten an early start in Northern and Southern California, and when both parts of the state line up that way it usually means a good season," said Bob Roberts, executive director of the San Francisco-based California Ski Industry Assn. "But on the other hand, no one can completely [predict] Mother Nature either."

Still, with temperatures dipping into the teens for most of the month, local resorts, at least until the last few days, had been making snow at record levels.

At Bear Mountain in Big Bear Lake, marketing director Greg Ralph said the resort is off to its best start in about five years. Until this week, the cold, dry air had allowed Bear Mountain to make snow around the clock for 15 consecutive days.

"It's the coldest November we've had in about 10 years, so that's helped tremendously," Ralph said.

Ralph also said more natural snow--about five to six inches--already has fallen, which matches a level that hadn't been reached until Feb. 10 of last season or April 6 the season before.

"This is an even earlier start than we've had with El Nino," Ralph said of the global weather pattern that produced record snowfall throughout California three seasons ago.

John McColly, marketing and public relations manager at Mountain High, said that 90% of the facility's west resort already is open.

"That's unheard-of for this time of year," said McColly, who reported an 18- to 30-inch base with 15 trails and five to seven lifts open at the Wrightwood resort.

Similar conditions are expected at Snow Summit, Snow Valley and Ski Sunrise.

McColly also said the "hassle factor" is something that has been improved at Mountain High, namely for users of its half-pipe.

"We've added new handle toes, and we now have a physical lift that will pull you up instead of having to walk up," he said.

Mountain High also upgraded its rental facilities, adding 1,000 pairs of new skis and 1,000 new snowboards for this season.

At Mammoth Mountain, the resort has been fully operational since Wednesday with 25 to 27 lifts open and an 18- to 30-inch base, according to communications manager Joani Saari.

"This will be one of the strongest Thanksgiving holidays we've had," said Saari, who reported that at last count--late last week--the town was 76% booked, compared to the usual 50% for this time of year. "I think the key is that with the cold weather we've got people thinking about skiing a lot earlier than normal."

In fact, Mammoth opened on Halloween for the first time since 1994.

A new attraction for enthusiasts is the unveiling of a six-passenger high-speed lift on the east side of the mountain, which triples capacity to the top.

Looking ahead, Mammoth is awaiting word from the Federal Aviation Administration on approval of a grant to make improvements on the local airport. If the grant comes through--Saari said word is expected by year's end--the possibility for larger commercial flights into the area could become reality by December 2001.

"In Southern California, the market is a responsive one," Roberts said. "If there is even a dusting of new snow, people come up in numbers. They react to what the conditions are. We just hope things continue."

Up north in the Lake Tahoe area, conditions have brought similar optimism at places such as Alpine Meadows, Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley USA.

Boreal Mountain opened on Oct. 11, making it the first resort in the nation to open, and has been operating full time since Oct. 27.

Jody Churich, the resort's marketing director, said the facility has opened a new boarder park featuring a table top and several large jumps. After purchasing a super half-pipe cutter, the boarder park has higher and more vertical walls than ever before.

For family-oriented preferences, Churich said Soda Springs is 100% open with the area's longest snow tubing runs and the opening of a new Kids X Park for beginners.

At Heavenly Valley, a new $20-million gondola will open on Dec. 21, which should not only help skiers get up the mountain more conveniently, but also help alleviate automobile traffic in the area.

"It used to take two or three different lifts to get there, and now there will only be one," said Monica Bandows-Marini, the resort's spokeswoman. "The gondola also will help spread the traffic flow."

Currently, 70% of skiers enter Heavenly on the California side. The location of the gondola now will put skiers within a quarter-mile radius of 5,000 hotel rooms. Bandows-Marini also said once up the mountain, the gondola allows skiers to access runs on either the California or Nevada side of the resort.

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