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Near and Far, It's Getting White on the Slopes

November 30, 2001|PETE THOMAS

The calendar says winter doesn't begin until Dec. 21, but not all are falling for that.

"It was as if someone flipped a switch. We had basically nothing and all of a sudden we have midwinter conditions," said Dave Fields, spokesman for Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort in Utah.

Fields was talking about the resort-record 100 inches of snow that fell during a 100-hour period ending Monday morning, laying a fluffy white blanket across the Wasatch National Forest and transforming previously patchy Snowbird and nearby Alta Resort into perhaps the most attractive ski destinations in the country.

With more of the white stuff falling Tuesday, Fields reported rows of snow-covered cars, resembling "a condominium complex of igloos," lining the local streets. And as townsfolk were digging out, those on the slopes were making first tracks while waist-deep in powder.

No such luck closer to home, in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains, although there is snow on the local slopes. The season's first significant storm blew through Thursday, dropping snow as low as 4,500 feet and providing at least a dusting atop base depths that had been slowly growing under the steady spray of state-of-the-art snow makers.

"It's been snowing all day but real lightly," John McColly, spokesman for Mountain High in Wrightwood, said Thursday at noon. "We'll probably get three to six inches by the end of the day."

Mountain High will have 10 trails open today and expects to open one or two more over the weekend. The three main San Bernardino Mountain resorts--Big Bear Mountain, Snow Summit and Snow Valley--were receiving similar snowfall and aggressively supplementing their coverage.

Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort in the Eastern Sierra, which had received 18 inches of new snow by noon Thursday, has opened 100% of its terrain and the Lake Tahoe-area resorts expect to be fully operational by Christmas at the latest.

"We're opening new terrain all the time," said Molly Cuffe, a spokeswoman for Heavenly on Lake Tahoe's south shore. "The snow [Thursday] was moist at first, but by midday the temperature dropped and everybody was raving about the conditions."

Heavenly had received 16 inches by 2 p.m.

Improved conditions on the slopes will surely steal some of the thunder from Ski Dazzle, which is in progress through Sunday at the Los Angeles Convention Center. But the ski and snowboard expo will hardly suffer--it draws an average of 80,000 annually.

The show boasts more than 360 exhibit booths and representatives for more than 85 resorts, as well as seminars, clinics and giveaways. Also featured are ramps for lessons and demos--and an in-line hockey rink, along with a machine to measure the speed of a fan's slap shot, brought in by the NHL's Kings.

Admission is $12 for adults and $3 for children 6-12 (those younger get in free). Hours are 4-11 p.m. today, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday.

Biggest Wednesday

Just when surfers were feeling that no wave was too big to ride....

Maverick's, that notoriously large surf spot beyond the cliffs of Half Moon Bay, had already driven tow-surfing's elite out of the water when, on the afternoon of Nov. 21, the heretofore mythical 100-footer reportedly rose and fell without incident.

Well, not entirely without incident. An hour or so after the Maverick's regulars had been persuaded to leave the lineup, by shifting waves with faces pushing 70 feet, water safety expert Shawn Alladio remained on patrol aboard a jet-powered rescue vessel.

"I rescued a few people who were swept off the jetty," Alladio reported via e-mail to Evan Slater, editor of Surfing magazine and "I headed back out because I didn't want to miss seeing this amazing sight. I got more than I asked for ... a rogue set of five waves 100 feet-plus on the face, closing out. I had three-mile visibility and this was a solid three-mile-wide wall of water moving fast.

"My partner and I ran for our [lives] full-throttle to get out of the impact zone. When we cleared the first wave, which I thought was all there was going to be, there were four more stacked up and bigger, farther out. We had to continue to race for our lives.

"It was terrifying--there were no safety zones.... We were racing in the open ocean straight into these waves at 50-plus mph in very rough conditions. The fall behind the waves was about 50 feet, straight down. [It was] straight down, then hit, bottom out, pull throttle and do it again ... an amazing experience."

Back in the Paddle

Six-time world champion Kelly Slater this week officially announced his return, after a three-year hiatus, to the Assn. of Surfing Professionals' 2002 World Championship Tour--and his intention to win a seventh title.

"It's simple. I'd like to win another world title," he said Tuesday night during a news conference in Honolulu. "From the first contest on, I'm going to try to win a world title."

That's simpler said than done.

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