At the top of the list each season is the inevitable question that skiers, snowboarders and anyone involved in a snow-related industry desperately want to know: Will it be a good year for snow?
The answer for Lake Tahoe ski resorts and their visitors the past two winters has been no.
Two years ago, considerable amounts of snow arrived in November, then the region hit an extended dry spell that ran into March. It was the first time since the 1800s that the Lake Tahoe region had no reported snow in December.
Last year, November and December were strong months for snow, establishing optimism that it would be a great season with numerous powder days. But falling white stuff became a rarity once the new year arrived, and all of Northern California experienced one of the driest January-through-March periods on record.
The overall consensus as ski resorts shut down early the past two seasons: Snow-making saved the season.
So what will the 2013-14 season bring? We already know that November came in mildly with unseasonably high temperatures and modest snow totals. For an educated guess regarding what lies ahead, consult your favorite meteorologist, storm prediction agency or psychic.
The weather remains an unknown, but below are some things that definitely will hold true for this year’s ski season.
Sugar Bowl expansion: Think you know the terrain at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort? Don’t be so quick to answer.
For returning skiers and snowboarders who frequent the popular resort, there is some new territory to check out. Sugar Bowl installed a new chairlift that will provide access to advanced and expert terrain on the west side of the resort.
The Crow’s Peak chairlift will open the Strawberry Fields area of the mountain, just below Crow’s Nest Peak. It will feature 1,000 vertical feet and include two new groomed runs and excellent tree skiing through glades, chutes and cliffs. It also will provide a wind-protected area on inclement weather days.
Sugar Bowl is investing more than $20 million into widespread upgrades this season, which also include a new fitness and aquatic center, and a ski-in/ski-out campus for Sugar Bowl Academy that costs $12 million. The campus has classrooms, dormitories and training space for 75 student-athletes.
“The new campus at Sugar Bowl will definitely put us on par with the best sports academies in the world,” says Tracy Keller, head of the Sugar Bowl Ski Team and Academy.
Northstar California will be on the national radar in early January when some of the country’s top skiers and snowboarders descend on the Lake Tahoe ski resort.
Shaun White will be the marquee name at Northstar in the halfpipe and slopestyle events at the 2014 Sprint U.S. Snowboarding Grand Prix on Jan. 9-12. White and many of the best skiers and snowboarders will be competing at the Olympic qualifying event.
White’s take on the event? “It depends on where your point-standing is (coming into the Northstar Grand Prix),” said White, who has trained at Northstar the previous two winters. “It’s more practice if you have locked up a spot for yourself. It can be grueling if you’re trying to win and put yourself in that pressure situation to land that run.”
The event is an opportunity to see some of the biggest names in the sport several weeks before the Sochi Olympics (Feb. 7-23).
New base area at Sierra: Sierra-at-Tahoe invested $5 million into a new facility located at the base of the mountain, transforming the current skier services area into a mecca for gathering and amenities.
The new plaza will include 9,000 square feet of indoor space with retail options, a demo center and new restaurant. A 20,000 square-foot outdoor deck area will include fire pits, live music, and lounge chairs for skiers and riders to hangout and watch the action on the mountain.
Squaw adds electric car charging stations: Squaw has installed four new electric car chargers at the resort, making it the first ski resort in California to install charging stations for electric cars.
Snow-making upgrades: Both Squaw and Alpine, two resorts under common ownership, continue to increase their snowmaking systems and grooming fleets, investing over $2 million in state-of-the-art snowmaking guns, new piping and system upgrades. They are also investing $1.4 million in five new snowcats.
Tree skiing at Diamond Peak: The family-friendly resort on Tahoe’s north shore improved its glade skiing and riding by forest thinning during the summer.
The move will help reduce fire danger by increasing defensible space, and the added benefit will be improving the resort’s tree-skiing area. The new area is between Battleborn and Sunnyside, located off the Crystal Ridge run.
— Jeffrey Weidel can be reached at [email protected] Visit his winter website at www.tahoeskiworld.com
Lake Tahoe ski resort openings
* Boreal Mountain: Nov. 6
* Heavenly Mountain: Nov. 23
* Northstar California: Nov. 23
* Kirkwood Mountain: Nov. 24
* Mount Rose: Nov. 27
* Squaw Valley: Nov. 27
* Diamond Peak: Dec. 12
* Alpine Meadows: Dec. 13
* Homewood Mountain: Dec. 13
* Tahoe Donner: Dec. 13
* Soda Springs: Dec. 13
* Sugar Bowl: TBA
* Sierra-at-Tahoe: TBA
* Donner Ski Ranch: TBA
Keys to preparation
Conditioning: Start a training regimen; you will enjoy the sport more if you’re in shape.
Check gear: Get skis or board tuned. Also check boots, clothing and other essentials.
Stretch: Being flexible a great way to avoid both soreness and injury, especially annoying minor ones.
Know your limits: Proceed with caution early in the season. Work on form, not speed.
Proper dress: Be prepared for changing conditions; dress in layers and wear material that is both wind- and water-resistant.