El NiÃ±o. For skiers and snowboarders, the term is magic. Why? Because this Pacific current often delivers massive amounts of snow to the Sierraâ€”white powdery stuff that allows us all to go a little crazy, hooting and hollering as we slide down the slopes on skis, snowboards and tubes.
Â Â Â Â El NiÃ±o officially arrived in July and is expected to last through the winter. By mid-October, a foot or more of snow had already fallen above 9,000 feet. Yet even if Mother Nature was only teasing us with early storms and ultimately delivers far less snow than weâ€™d hoped for, additional snowmaking at the ski resorts this winter will boost the bounty. And thatâ€™s not the only improvement this season: Enhancements include everything from new tubing areas to snow cat tours under the stars to terrain park remodeling. Here is your guide to whatâ€™s new at Sierra ski resorts for the 2009â€“2010 season.
In the CORE terrain park, show off your moves to the sounds of a new stereo system pulsating 2,000 watts of music while enjoying the night jump line, jib line and superpipe. Additional improvements include a new snowmaking line on Race Course Run to ensure earlier coverage. The resort has expanded the Lost Dutchman area with an increase in run sizes, more terrain park features and a glade-style terrain park on the west side, including urban skate-style features in scenic wilderness locations. Twelve new lights on the top of Prospector and Gold Rush runs will improve night skiing. borealski.com
New ski and snowboard terrain park features, throughout several trails on the upper mountain, mimic existing terrain, blending with the natural banks, rollers and mountain layout. Accessing the terrain becomes easier, thanks to new chair lift technology provided by SK DATA (radio-frequency-based turnstiles). Carry your tickets or passes anywhere on your body without the need to display them when boarding a chair lift, resulting in dramatically reduced lift line wait time.
Also new: GPS tracking for all kids enrolled in ski and snowboard day camps; an all-female ski team offering women an opportunity to be coached by eight of the countryâ€™s top women ski instructors; and a Mountainside Dining Experience, where guests travel in a snow cat to the mountainâ€™s secluded mid-mountain restaurant for a four-course private dinner and an evening of stargazing. skialpine.comÂ Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe
The new 7,865-square-foot Slide Lodge opens this season. The positioning of the new glass and steel contemporary-style lodge will improve traffic flow from the slopes to the lodge as well as to the Blazing Zephyr loading zone. Sit in the lodge bar and admire panoramic views of Washoe Valley and Washoe Lake 4,000 feet below. skirose.com
Sierra At Tahoe
Beginners can take advantage of the $35 Learn To Ski/Snowboard Package, which includes a limited-access lift ticket, rental equipment and a 2 Â½ hour lesson, offered Sunday through Friday (nonholidays) for ages 13 and older. Expert skiers and riders can participate in new free backcountry tours every Friday along Huckleberry Canyon, Sierra at Tahoeâ€™s double black diamond terrain.
Also new: an expanded backcountry and telemark center, an 1,800-square-foot deck at the Baja Bar and Grill in West
Bowl, and live painting performances by Lake Tahoe fine artist Reds Regan during several Art & Wine Pairings featuring complimentary wine tasting. sierraattahoe.com
Guests continue to enjoy improvements implemented in 2007 at the resort. These include a $6 million base area expansion with a new 16,000-square-foot Family Lodge housing an expanded childrenâ€™s snowsports center; a modernized, full-service ticketing and guest services center; day-use locker rooms; and a bistro. dodgeridge.com
Kirkwood Mountain Resort
Experience nocturnal beauty during evening snow cat tours. The 90-minute excursions explore Kirkwoodâ€™s scenic ridgelines under the moon and stars, and include wine and cheese, sparkling cider and appetizers.
Other enhancements: two new lifts, providing access to 700 additional acres, and more than 1,350 vertical feet of skiing and snowboarding in the resortâ€™s backside terrain. The new lifts access the famed chutes of Thunder Saddle along with the pristine powder stashes on Fawn Ridge. kirkwood.com
Cross-country skiers can trek their way past the spectacular scenery at this resort on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. beginning Jan. 5. (The resort remains closed on Wednesdays but is open the rest of the week.) Snowshoers will find plenty of room to roam here thanks to several new snowshoe-only trails as well as access to all other cross-country ski trails. royalgorge.com
Tahoe Donner has boosted the size of its rental shop and Snowflakes Childrenâ€™s Ski School area to accommodate higher volume and incorporate a new indoor sales area, protecting customers from the elements. At the cross-country center, the resort has expanded its deck and cleared brush to ensure trails can open even with a small amount of snow. tahoedonner.com
This kid-friendly resort extended the Tube Express moving carpet by 80 feet. With the addition of a second moving carpet to Planet Kids, the resort gives children access to more skiing, snowboarding and minitubing. skisodasprings.com
Sugar Bowl honors its 70th anniversary with special events throughout the season, including a celebration Jan. 25â€“31. The resort introduces the new Summit Chair, which escorts skiers to the ridgeline just below Mt. Judahâ€™s summit where they can challenge the terrain on Judah Bowl. Itâ€™s also added a backcountry adventure center with certified guides and numerous programs and educational seminars, including Level 1 and 2 avalanche classes and wilderness survival courses. sugarbowl.com
Homewood Mountain Resort
Homewood introduces GPS tracking technology for all children enrolled in ski and snowboard day camps. The device tracks each childâ€™s location in real time for added safety. After skiing with the GPS device, children can log on to the resortâ€™s website and view the trails they skied during the day. skihomewood.com
Northstar at Tahoe
The Highlands Gondola, a new fixed-grip pulse gondola featuring eight-passenger cabins, will connect the Village at Northstar and the new Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe. In addition, the resort replaced and realigned the double lift accessing the resortâ€™s beginner teaching area, providing ski-in, ski-out access to and from The Ritz-Carlton from the mid-mountain area and improving access to Northstarâ€™s beginner teaching terrain.
Other changes: an expansion and redesign of the beginner teaching area including new snowmaking and the introduction of the Northstar Training Lab at the Burton Snowboard Academy, a season-long, structured development program for snowboarders. northstarattahoe.com
Squaw Valley USA
Squaw Valley is embarking on a season-long celebration to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the resortâ€™s founding and the 50th anniversary of the 1960 Olympics, held at the resort. From Jan. 8â€“17, celebrate 10 days of events with an Olympic Torch Relay from Sugar Pine Point State Park to Squaw Valley and an Opening Ceremony complete with fireworks, live music and a 1960 Olympian Reception.
Also new: a $3 million overhaul of the on-mountain dining experience, including the unveiling of a mid-mountain restaurant and replacement of the double chair High Camp Lift with the new High Camp Triple Chairlift. squaw.com
Canâ€™t wait to hit the slopes? Heavenly has made improvements that will allow for the earlier opening of many trails and more consistent trail grooming. The resort has widened pinch-points and lowered the height of obstacles on Pinnacles, Meteor, Jackpot, Canyon, Sky Chute and Ottoâ€™s Chute trails, and improved access to the Nova, Big Dipper and Milky Way runs. Need a break from skiing? Take the covered magic carpet to Heavenlyâ€™s new four-lane tubing hill, stretching 450 feet up East Peak, with a 65-foot vertical drop. Beginning snowboarders: The magic carpet also is your transportation to new teaching terrain.
Other changes: the purchase of three grooming machines, snowmaking on the new tubing area and The Adventure Sessions, where advanced skiers and snowboarders spend a day sharing a guide in an intimate group. skiheavenly.com
Donner Ski Ranch
A new moving carpet lift, part of five-seasonsâ€™ worth of improvements, helps beginners access gentle terrain at one of the first ski resorts to ever open in California. donnerskiranch.com
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area
Skiers and boarders staying at The Village at Mammoth or The Westin Monache will be able to ski or ride directly from Mammoth Mountain to within walking distance of their lodging thanks to the new Village Ski Back Trail leading from Mammoth Mountain to The Village. The trail will handle 900 to 1,200 skiers and snowboarders per hour and will reduce down-slope congestion on The Village Gondola. mammothmountain.com
Diamond Peak Ski Resort
Diamond Peak gives Mother Nature a helping hand with a $1 million investment in its snowmaking system, enabling the resort to make snow more efficiently and cover trails faster than beforeâ€”a 50 percent increased capacity.
Also new: Lift ticket prices for 7- to 12-year-olds now apply to 7- to 14-year-olds, a dramatic savings for parents of younger teens. The resort also has lowered prices for the Last Tracks sunset wine tasting/ski program. And if you hold a season pass from any resort in the U.S., you can ski or ride all day at Diamond Peak for $25â€”$10 less than last year. diamondpeak.com
Cost-conscious skiers rejoice: The beginner ski hill has kept pricing the same as last yearâ€™s, with a learn-to-ski package starting at $49 per person. The Granlibakken ski and lodging package also hovers around last yearâ€™s rate of $109 per person/per night and includes a buffet breakfast and a lift ticketâ€”for added skiing varietyâ€”to either Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Northstar, Homewood, Sugar Bowl, Mt. Rose or Sierra at Tahoe. granlibakken.comÂ Â Â Â Â
968 Park Hotel
Lounge around the upscale rooms of this â€œgreenâ€ hotel and spa near the Heavenly gondola on the South Shore. Earth-friendly touches include hypoallergenic mattresses, minimal use of exterior lighting to reduce light pollution, and the use of biodegradable and organic detergents and soaps. For those seeking to impress their sweeties, the hotel staff will scatter rose petals on the bed prior to your arrival. 968parkhotel.com
The Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth
By day, challenge Mammoth Mountainâ€™s ski slopes; by night, get cozy by the fireplace in a condominium suite at The Westin Monache. The first internationally recognized â€œupper-upscaleâ€ hotel in Mammoth, The Westin Monache boasts panoramic mountain views, a restaurant, a ski valet and a rental shop. For ski packages, visit westinmammoth.com.
The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe
On Dec. 9, The Ritz-Carlton Highlands opens its doors at Northstar at Tahoe ski area. Located slopeside, the 170-room property features a mountain concierge with ski-in access in winter, a spa and fitness area, acclaimed chef Traci Des Jardinsâ€™ Manzanita restaurant, and a gondola between the Village at Northstar and The Ritz-Carlton. For ski packages, visit ritzcarlton.com/laketahoe.
Wildman Coffeeâ€”Enjoy a latte or comforting cup of loose-leaf tea over breakfast or a Mediterranean-inspired lunch of hummus, falafel and gyros. In the South Shore Marina Complex, 900 Ski Run Blvd., South Lake Tahoe. wildmancoffee.com
AprÃ¨s Wine Companyâ€”Choose from 50 wines daily by the taste, glass or carafe. Purchase an AprÃ¨s Wine Pass (similar to a debit card), insert it into the Enomatic wine-dispensing machine and enjoy a fun way to taste new vintages. EntrÃ©es and desserts await in the restaurant. In the Ski Run Center, 3668 Lake Tahoe Blvd., Suite G, South Lake Tahoe. apreswineco.com
Twenty-Two Bistro & Barâ€”Overlooking the face of Squaw Valleyâ€™s KT-22 ski run, the bistro serves New American cuisine on small plates along with substantial entrÃ©es and an extensive wine list. Experience chef Billy McCulloughâ€™s commitment to sustainable, farm-to-table cuisine. In The Village at Squaw Valley. thevillageatsquaw.com
Cornice Cantinaâ€”Looking for an affordable meal? At Cornice Cantina, feast upon quesadillas, burritos, nachos and tacos, and toast to your day on the slopes with a round of margaritas. In Squaw Valleyâ€™s base area. squaw.com/cornice-cantina
Manzanitaâ€”The new restaurant inside The Ritz-Carlton Highlands, opening Dec. 9 at Northstar, promises French-inspired California cuisine with a regional mountain resort influence created by renowned San Francisco chef Traci Des Jardins. The chef will use organic, sustainable and locally grown meat and produce whenever possible. Feast on pizza topped with pancetta, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and green onions, and red wine-braised short ribs with horseradish mashed potatoes and herb salad. manzanitalaketahoe.com
Baxterâ€™s Bistro & Loungeâ€”The owners of the long-popular Moodyâ€™s Bistro & Lounge in Truckee opened this gathering place last winter. Savor contemporary American cuisine with a slant toward Europe. The chefâ€™s commitment to local, seasonal ingredients carries over to the bar, where drinks are created with in-season fresh fruits and vegetables and organic, unfiltered apple juice. Sip a drink while listening to jazz musicians performing in the lounge. Inside the Village at Northstar. northstarattahoe.com
Fat Cat Cafeâ€”Choose from an extensive martini and cocktail menu while sitting at the cherry-wood bar of this Tahoe City restaurant, re-opened in May 2009 after an extensive remodel. Order the Alley Cat, a dirty martini with blue cheese-stuffed olives, then share plates with family and friends. Enjoy live music Fridays and Saturdays. 599 N. Lake Blvd. (530) 583-3355
Hope Valley Cafe & Marketâ€”The cafe and market is under new management: Leesa Lopazanski, creator of Tahoe Trail Bars, now oversees the establishment. Enjoy breakfast and lunch in the cafe, grab a brown bag lunch and a giant cookie, or stop in for a slice of homemade pie. Highway 88, just east of Sorensenâ€™s Resort; hopevalleyresort.com