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Recent snowfall has business booming at state ski resorts

Lift operators are optimistic that visitors will continue showing up for weeks.

March 05, 2011|Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times
  • With visibilty near zero, skiers and snowboarders ride a chairlift at the Mountain High Resort in Wrightwood, Calif., as a winter storm moves in Friday afternoon, encasing the mountain in fog and blowing snow.
With visibilty near zero, skiers and snowboarders ride a chairlift at the… (Gina Ferazzi, Los Angeles…)

Frigid winter weather rolling through the state in recent weeks may have rankled some Californians, but mountain snowstorms were a welcome sight for most skiers, snowboarders and ski resorts. And ski-lift operators are optimistic about the weeks ahead.

With at least another month of skiing left in the season, resorts statewide are expecting crowds — in some cases into the summer.

Big Bear resorts, flush with powder, have shut down their snow making machines. In Lake Tahoe, with four feet of fresh snow from last weekend and two more feet expected this weekend, resorts are bracing for a rush of visitors this weekend and beyond.

Skiers have taken notice. "All this snow is an added bonus," said Norbert Knapp, 72. He and about 30 other members of the Grindelwald Ski Club from Pasadena will visit Lake Tahoe this weekend. "I've heard the skiing conditions are terrific," he said.

Lake Tahoe has seen 38 feet of snow since October, bringing a steady stream of snow revelers. "The city has been buzzing," said Pettit Gilwee, a spokeswoman for Lake Tahoe ski resorts.

State weather patterns indicate more snow and cooler temperatures in Northern California for the next month or so, according to state climatologists and hydrologists. Historically, officials said, the same weather pattern results in drier and warmer weather in Southern California. "But with these latest storms in the south, that hasn't held true," said Maury Roos, the state's chief hydrologist.

In the San Bernardino Mountains, the Mountain High Resort in Wrightwood saw 26 inches of snow last weekend. It has seen business bounce back from a relatively dry and warm January, said Kim Hermon, a marketing manager for the resort.

The resort's $299 anytime passes that are good for the rest of this season — and next — are selling rapidly, she said. "We're doing fantastic."

The state's ski season is off to a strong start, said Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Assn., but has not yet reached the record set last year, when about 8 million people visited the state's 26 resorts.

Typically, annual visits hover around 7 million, he said. "Attendance this year has been great, despite some doldrums through the month of January," he said. "It's a bit off last year's pace, but still solid."

January was a slow month, and dry weather can wreak havoc on a resort's business, he said. "You have to be optimistic," Roberts said. "Our productivity is dependent on the whims of Mother Nature."

Ski resort business was down about 15% in January at Big Bear's twin resorts, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain, said marketing manager Chris Riddle.

"There are too many other options for Southern Californians when it's clear and sunny down the hill," he said. "When it gets cloudy and rains everyone looks at the mountain and sees that it's all white. It's the best advertising we can get."

A snowfall in mid-February and last weekend's 30 inches of powder have brought more skiers and snowboarders back to the Big Bear slopes. The copious snowfall has all but assured that the ski season will continue into late April in Big Bear, Riddle said. "We're sitting fat and everything is looking good," he said.

Recentstorms have brought enough snow to entice people to visit, but not such extreme weather that they cannot safely make the trip, said Joani Lynch, director of communication at Mammoth Mountain.

At Mammoth, last year's season extended through July 5. While officials are reluctant to guarantee another year of summer skiing, "the snow base on the slopes is encouraging," Lynch said.

As the weather warms up, resorts will soon compete with beaches and other Southern California attractions for attendance, said Roberts, the ski industry association director.

With that in mind, resorts are hoping for a few more winter storms to barrel through the state delivering rain to urban areas and snow in the mountains, he said. "When puddles are coursing through the streets of Los Angeles, business will be brisk" at winter resorts.

Staff writer Hugo Martín contributed to this story.

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