Get a little history as you check out what’s new in ski country this season.
The story warms skiers’ hearts even on cold winter days. In 1977, Bill Killebrew, who inherited Heavenly Valley after his father, Hugh, died in a plane crash, vowed to save the near bankrupt ski area.
“Bill loved his father very much and he wanted to keep his dad’s legacy going,” explains Robert Frohlich, author of Mountain Dreamers: Visionaries of Sierra Nevada Skiing.
Killebrew invested all his money into upgraded snowmaking that year, but a pre-Thanksgiving warm spell melted his efforts. With just enough money to pay the last employee’s paycheck, he drove to the Bay Area to obtain bankruptcy papers, then borrowed $20 from his future wife to drive back to Tahoe for his mother’s signature.
“He was incredibly heart-stricken,” says Frohlich. “He didn’t have a cent to his name.”
At 2 a.m., Killebrew arrived home. Soon, it began to snow. By 6:30 a.m., several feet had accumulated. He drove to Heavenly where, to his surprise, 200 employees had arrived for work knowing they wouldn’t be paid. Skiers also arrived, so Killebrew stuffed the bankruptcy papers into the Governor’s Cup trophy and set them on fire.
This year, we pay tribute to ski industry forefathers like Killebrew by presenting both what’s new at Sierra ski areas and the rich history that made these resorts what they are today. History buffs and trivia fans, read on to learn at which resort Hollywood discovered actress Janet Leigh, which American vice president opened the Squaw Valley Olympics and which Sierra mountain served as the backdrop for the Wicked Witch’s castle in The Wizard of Oz.
(Lift ticket prices listed throughout are for a full day. Holiday rates are for Dec. 20, 2006–Jan. 2, 2007, Jan. 12–14, 2007 and Feb. 16–23, 2007.)
After World War II, a winding, unplowed road led to founder David McCoy’s first permanent rope tow. Using several World War II surplus over-snow vehicles, McCoy towed skiers up the road with ropes. Producers of the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz were so inspired by the dramatic scenery, they decided to use the Minarets’ jagged peaks as a backdrop for the Wicked Witch’s castle.
Something New—Mammoth has added a third full-service ski and snowboard school and a new learning area at Eagle Lodge, including the installation of a 350-foot-long surface lift and two magic carpets.
In midwinter 2007, the resort will open the Top of the Sierra Interpretive Center at Mammoth’s 11,053-foot summit with dramatic views and interactive displays, including facts about the area’s natural history. One fun display: the Mammoth Stomp, where visitors can discover the seismic strength of their feet.
Lift tickets: (early-season pricing through Dec. 22): Adults (19–64) $63, holidays $73; youths (13–18) $47; holidays $55; children (7–12) and seniors (65–79) $32, holidays $37. (800) 626-6684; mammothmountain.com
Donner Ski Ranch
Donner Ski Ranch was the first ski resort to offer night skiing when former general manager Norm Sayler strung 100-watt lights on the rope tow in 1958.
Something New—The resort’s new owners continue to encourage its family-friendly reputation.
Lift tickets: Unavailable at press time. (530) 426-3635; donnerskiranch.com
Nick Badami saved Alpine Meadows from bankruptcy when he purchased the resort in 1970 after retiring as one of the principals of BVD apparel. In its first season under Badami’s leadership, Alpine Meadows made a profit for the first time in years.
Something New—Alpine Meadows’ terrain park continues to grow by leaps and bounds: The resort has expanded select-style jumps onto its mid-mountain runs. Freestyle skiers and boarders can challenge fun park features on groomed terrain, including jumps that cater to the intermediate and advanced.
Lift tickets: Adults $46, holidays $55; teens (13–18) $39; youths (7–12) and seniors (70 and older) $15; children 6 and younger free. (530) 583-4232; skialpine.com
When the resort was in the planning stages, Chris Kuraisa, Heavenly’s founder, stood with local ski professional Lutz Aynedter looking down the fall line of a steep slope facing Lake Tahoe. Lutz proclaimed, “This is like looking down the barrel of a gun!” Heavenly’s most famous run became known as Gunbarrel.
Something New—This year, improvements include high-tech snowmaking and grooming, a nonintimidating Beginner Freeride area at the top of the gondola with hits and rails inches off the ground, and all-new groomers and snowmobiles that have “green” low-emission engines.
Lift tickets: Adults $74 (nonholiday). (800) 432-8365; skiheavenly.com
Art Wood, Diamond Peak’s original owner, hired Austrian ski consultant Luggi Foeger to design and build the resort. According to Mountain Dreamers author Frohlich, Foeger was ski industry royalty. As such, everyone skied behind him. However, when Foeger filmed a ski movie with legendary ski instructor Nic Fiore at Yosemite’s Badger Pass, Fiore sailed past Foeger. The next day, Foeger handed Fiore a heavy day sack, presumably filled with filming supplies. When Fiore arrived at the ski hut, however, he discovered the other man had given him a 20-pound bag full of rocks.
Diamond Peak, which opened as Ski Incline, would ultimately become the first resort in the West to offer snowmaking.
Something New—This year, Diamond Peak celebrates its 40-year anniversary. Improvements include becoming a Burton Learn To Ride Center with beginner snowboarding packages including rentals of new equipment. Families also will enjoy the new Learn Together Special. Another new twist involves the Saturday afternoon Last Tracks program, where guests 21 and older sample wine and appetizers, then ski or snowboard down a freshly groomed run, for $25. This year, a $200 season pass is available for the Feb. 10–April 14 Last Tracks program.
Lift tickets: Adults (18–59) $46; youths (13–17) $36; children (7–12) and seniors (60–79) $17; 6 and younger and 80 and older free. (775) 832-1177; diamondpeak.com
In 1844, the Stevens party met Chief Winnemucca, a Paiute Indian who repeated what sounded like the word Tro-Kay. The pioneers assumed he was introducing himself. In reality, wanting to assure them he wasn’t hostile, the chief reportedly was saying “It’s OK.” Truckee, where Tahoe Donner is located, is named for the Indian chief’s first words to the pioneers.
Something New—This season, guests will find it easier to hit the slopes with an improved unloading ramp on the Snowbird chairlift. Programming changes also have increased the availability of children’s lessons.
Lift tickets: Adults (13–59) $34, two-day consecutive $64; children (7–12) and seniors (60–69) $13 or $22 for two-day consecutive ticket. (530) 587-9444; tahoedonner.com
In 1968, Bud Klein dreamed of opening a ski resort in this valley, but Highway 88’s winter closure made it seem unlikely. Klein and his associates posted a $700,000 cash bond and signed a cooperative agreement for the California Highway Department to build two maintenance stations, making Highway 88 an all-season road. Kirkwood opened in December 1972.
Something New—A new day lodge at Timber Creek Day Learning Facility offers guests easier access to ski school and rentals while the new Burton Women’s Learn To Ride Center provides a friendly environment for female snowboarders.
Also new: women-specific camps offering intense on-mountain training, trunk shows of new outerwear fashions with wine tasting; a fully equipped Salomon Test Center; three expanded terrain parks, including Stomping Grounds’ longer Mountain Dew Superpipe; and the grand opening of Timber Ridge town homes.
Lift tickets: Adults (19–64) $67; juniors (13–18) $54; children (6–12) $14; 5 and younger $7; seniors (65–69) $37; 70 and older $14. Rates increase by $3 on holidays. On nonholiday weekends, a two-day adult lift ticket is $99. (209) 258-6000; kirkwood.com
In 1947, retired sea captain and Norwegian ski jumper Kjell “Rusty” Rustad opened Granlibakken, named in honor of a ski area he frequented as a boy in Norway.
Something New—Granlibakken’s new, kid-friendly Cedar House Pub is open for dinner weekends and holidays. Granlibakken has added Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe to its list of seven ski resorts participating in the $99 Ski and Stay Package, which includes lodging, a breakfast buffet and one adult midweek lift ticket.
Lift tickets: Adults $20; children 12 or younger $12. (800) 543-3221; granlibakken.com
In 1938, some of Donner Summit’s first skiers moved up the mountain on a Model T engine-powered rope tow.
Something New—The Soda Springs Planet Kids Snow Play program allows the littlest family members to enjoy a snow tube carousel, miniature snowmobile rides and a magic carpet surface lift, all adjacent to Soda’s base lodge.
Lift tickets: Adults ski and tubing tickets $25; youths (8–17) $16; children 7 and younger and seniors 70 and older $10. Planet Kids Snow Play $10; mini snowmobiles $7 for 10 laps. (530) 426-3901; skisodasprings.com
Vern and Bobbie Sprock opened Sierra Ski Ranch in 1953 and raised their two children, Kathy and Peter, in the building where lift tickets are now sold. The children helped around the resort, even cleaning the restrooms. According to Kathy Sprock Pavich, “Our clients were our friends.” With new ownership in 1993, the name changed to Sierra-at-Tahoe.
Something New—Sierra-at-Tahoe and Burton Snowboards’ new Progression Park helps newbie freestylists slowly adjust to big air with boxes, jumps and rails inches from the ground. In addition, the resort’s ski and snowboard school facilities have undergone a makeover.
Other new features: an enhanced Wild Mountain Children’s Center with a separate rental facility for the 7- to 12-year-olds; expanded terrain parks with seven new rails and jibs, including a 30-foot Jeremy Jones staircase with multiple jib options and three barrel bonks (inspired by upside-down trash cans); and scenic chairlift rides for the nonskier who wants to admire panoramic views of Lake Tahoe, Carson Pass, Desolation Wilderness and Mount Diablo.
Lift tickets: Unavailable at press time. (530)659-7453; sierraattahoe.com
In the early 1960s, a local youth hauled skiers on a rope tow up what would become Homewood’s mountain. When he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War, another local stole the rope tow and moved it south to Tahoe Ski Bowl.
Something New—Homewood has added two new surface lifts at its children’s center to ensure kids are on the mountain in 15 minutes or less. Homewood also has expanded its grooming fleet.
Lift tickets: Adults $45 weekends, $48 holidays, $27 Monday–Thursday; juniors (11–18) $33 weekends and holidays, $27 Monday–Thursday; seniors (62–69) $22 weekends and holidays, $15 Monday–Thursday; seniors 70 and older $10; children 10 and younger free. (530) 525-2992; skihomewood.com
On Feb. 18, 1960, a blizzard delayed the arrival of Vice President Richard Nixon, who was to open the VIII Olympic Winter Games at Squaw Valley. When Nixon arrived an hour late, the ceremonies, staged by Pageantry Chairman Walt Disney, finally began. With visibility reduced to zero, the cold crowd wondered if they’d be able to see the show. Then, as the Greek delegation marched onto the field, the storm broke and a ray of sunshine spotlighted their entrance. The Squaw Olympics were the first games televised daily.
Something New—It’s lights, camera, action when Squaw Valley introduces Squaw Valley TV. Flat screen plasma televisions around the resort broadcast real-time lift updates, information on conditions and tips from pros. Squaw Valley also has increased snowmaking on the Papoose beginner area and the Gold Coast intermediate area. Also new: Squaw Sessions, a teen ski and snowboard camp offered during holidays and peak periods, and additional improvements to the Mid-Mountain Demo Center including a new women-specific line.
Lift tickets: Adults $69, holidays $73; youths (13–17) $52; children 12 and younger $5; seniors (65–75) $42; seniors 76 and older free. (530) 583-6985; squaw.com
In 1931, the Auburn Ski Club lobbied California legislators to pass a bill authorizing construction of Donner Summit and Yuba Pass maintenance stations in order to keep Highway 40, Interstate 80’s predecessor, open all winter. However, many legislators had never seen snow. So on Jan. 18, 1931, the California Highway Patrol escorted 56 automobiles filled with snowbound state legislators up Highway 40. The ensuing traffic jam convinced them of the need for highway improvements, and the bill passed.
Something New—Night owls can fly down the slopes of Boreal’s all-mountain terrain park thanks to six additional lights along the superpipe’s east side. Crews precisely measured and constructed the Olympic-caliber superpipe walls, shape and length on Boreal’s north-facing Racecourse Run. The resort also has increased the superpipe’s snowmaking capabilities.
Lift tickets: Adults $42, holidays $44; seniors (60 and older) $25; children (5–12) $10; 4 and younger free. (530) 426-3666; rideboreal.com
Royal Gorge Cross-Country
John Slouber opened Royal Gorge in 1971 with $2,000 of his own money and $2,000 borrowed from his mother. In those days, the resort hosted 57 to 230 skiers per year. (Today, more than 100,000 guests ski at the resort in a good snow year).
Something New—This winter, Royal Gorge adds two new Bombardier snowcat grooming machines with state-of-the-art tillers and controls. Another new feature: a combined season pass between neighboring Royal Gorge and Sugar Bowl, perfect for people who want their cross-country and downhill, too.
Lift tickets: Adults $29 weekends and holidays and $25 midweek nonholidays; children (13–16) $16 weekends and holidays and $15 midweek nonholidays. (530) 426-3871; royalgorge.com
Northstar narrowly escaped becoming a landfill. Its fate changed when George Burgess, chairman of the board for ski developer Fibreboard, decided that the area’s natural beauty made this the ideal site for what would become Northstar.
Something New—The new Tahoe Zephyr high-speed six-pack transports visitors to 137 acres of total terrain, including 60 acres of new intermediate terrain. Another new lift, Lookout Link, a European-style surface lift, carries skiers and boarders to Lookout Mountain’s advanced terrain.
Other enhancements include the final touches on Phase 1 of the Village at Northstar, including new shops, art galleries, restaurants and an ice-skating rink. The 173-room Ritz-Carlton Highlands, Lake Tahoe’s first five-star resort, broke ground here in summer 2006. Enhanced snowmaking, increased parking and a relocated cross-country center round out Northstar’s improvements.
Lift tickets: Unavailable at press time. (800) 466-6784; northstarattahoe.com
To make his dream of creating an Austrian Tyrol-style ski resort come true, Sugar Bowl’s founder, Hannes Schroll, turned to financial backers including Walt Disney. After the resort and lodge opened on Dec. 15, 1939, it attracted stars including Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn and Marilyn Monroe. And Janet Leigh’s film career began at Sugar Bowl. In 1946, actress Norma Shearer approached the desk of Fred Morrison, the Sugar Bowl lodge receptionist, and noticed a photograph of his teenage daughter Jeanette. Shearer showed the photo to MGM talent executives, who cast Jeanette, aka Janet Leigh, as the lead actress in the Civil War drama Romance of Rosy Ridge.
Something New—Celebrity terrain-park builder J.P. Martin moves to Sugar Bowl this season following 10 years at Jackson Hole in Wyoming. He’ll help heavy-hitter experts refine their freestyle skills and build an incubator park for beginners.
Construction also is under way on Phase 1 of the Mount Judah Residential Project, which includes 23 luxury, two- to four-bedroom condos scheduled for completion in
Lift tickets: Adults $50; seniors (70 and older) $5; youths (6–12) $15; children 5 and younger free.
In 1947, Earl Purdy was drinking a cup of coffee in a Long Barn grocery store when neighbors mentioned that the U.S. Forest Service was soliciting bids for the development of a ski area at nearby Dodge Ridge. On a whim, the former teacher, truck driver, highway patrolman and professional violinist added his name to the prospectus, paid the $100 fee and completely forgot about it until he won out over other bidders.
Something New—Dodge Ridge has added new half pipe and jib parks, including several custom rails and boxes and a 24-step staircase. The resort’s seven-year redevelopment project begins in summer 2007 with the construction of a new lodge that will include expanded day care, guest services and a children’s center.
Lift tickets: Adults $48; teens (13–19) $36; youths (6–12) and seniors (62–81) $15; 5 and younger and 82 and older free. (209) 965-3474; dodgeridge.com
Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe
Organizers of the 1960 Winter Olympics named Mt. Rose’s Reno Ski Bowl an alternate site for skiing events if Squaw Valley lacked adequate snow coverage.
Something New—Mt. Rose expanded its snowmaking system to cover Silver Dollar run’s upper section, ensuring early-season access to the Slide Bowl. Other items in this year’s $1 million planned expenditures: a new snowcat, two additional mobile snowmaking machines, new rental gear and 400 additional parking spaces at the Main and Slide lodges. Also new: the three-day, $99 Flight Plan learning package, which includes beginner lift access, rental equipment and novice instruction for three consecutive days.
Lift tickets: Adults (18 and older) $58; teens (13–17) and seniors (60–74) $38; children (6–12) $12; 75 and older free midweek nonholidays. (800) 754-7673; skirose.com
A History Lover’s Ski Weekend
Amador, El Dorado and Alpine counties converge in The Kirkwood Inn’s dining room, which dairyman Zachary Kirkwood built in 1864. During Prohibition, Zachary often received warnings that a sheriff was on the way to bust him for serving alcohol. Zack’s solution? He rolled his bar (on wheels) to a different county across the room, avoiding arrest. Today, the county line log post still stands near the bar.
The Kirkwood Inn (209-258-7304) is one of many Sierra restaurants and lodging properties that sport a historic flavor not found in their modern counterparts. Here are some more spots where visitors can savor the present while experiencing a taste of the past.
sorensensresort.com), a cluster of cabins and a restaurant under the aspens, had its start in 1908 as a place to store sheepherding supplies. Wagon Wheel, Johan’s and Piñon cabins date back to the resort’s early years.
(800-626-6684; mammothmountain.com) has hosted guests since 1924. Lodge or cabin guests have direct access to groomed cross-country trails.
The Inn at Sugar Bowl
(530-426-6742; sugarbowl.com), accessed only by ski lift, transports guests back to the 1930s. Nearby, a German stonemason built Royal Gorge’s 26-room Rainbow Lodge (800-500-3871; royalgorge.com) in the 1920s.
Incline Village/Crystal Bay
(800-225-6382; calnevaresort.com) became the Rat Pack’s playground after Frank Sinatra bought it in 1960. Marilyn Monroe also was a frequent Cal-Neva visitor.
The nearby Thunderbird Lodge (775-832-8750; thunderbirdlodge.org) sprouted up in 1936 as the hideaway of George Whittell, who kept exotic animals on the lakeside property, now a National Register historic district. Winter access is limited, but weather permitting, guests can rent the landmark for the day to host weddings and special events.
South Lake Tahoe
Generations of families have stayed at Camp Richardson (800-544-1801; camprichardson.com) where guests relax in lakeshore cabins and a lodge built in 1926. Two decades later, Harvey’s Sage Room Steak House (800-427-7247) opened in 1947 and became known for tableside flambé service. At Zephyr Cove Resort (800-238-2463; zephyrcove.com), visitors can stay in the historic lakeside cabins or lodge or enjoy a hot meal. You almost expect a stagecoach to pull up outside at any moment.
Historic bed-and-breakfasts and eateries abound in Truckee, including the authentically restored Richardson House Bed and Breakfast (888-229-0365; richardsonhouse.com) built in 1887; the River Street Inn (530-550-9290; riverstreetinntruckee.com), once home to ice cutters who lived in the then-unheated building for $1 a week; and The Truckee Hotel (530-587-4444; thetruckeehotel.com), opened in 1875 as the town’s first steam-heated building.
Moody’s Bistro & Lounge (530-587-8688; moodysbistro.com), inside The Truckee Hotel, is named after J.F. Moody, the hotel’s original proprietor. Two more historic eateries: the Cottonwood Restaurant (530-587-5711), in what was once Hilltop ski lodge, and Pianeta Ristorante (530-587-4694), housed in an early-19th-century building that may have served as an opium den.
Built in 1947 as Ray and Ella Eproson’s residence, The Eproson House (209-586-3700) restaurant in Twain Harte also served as the town’s post office.
In the 1920s, gangster Baby Face Nelson hid from the law inside The Tahoe Inn, now The Blue Agave restaurant (530-583-8113).
Guests at The Mayfield House (888-518-8898; mayfieldhouse.com), built in 1932 by Norman Mayfield,
can stay in the room once frequented by Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan.
Other historic bed-and-breakfasts: the 1920s-era Chaney House (530-525-7333; chaneyhouse.com) built by an Italian stonemason, and the 1930s-era Rockwood Lodge (800-538-2463; rockwoodlodge.com) in Homewood.
For More Information
Books: Mountain Dreamers by Robert Frohlich
Museums: Squaw Valley’s Olympic Ski Museum and The Auburn Ski Club’s museum at Boreal
North Tahoe Lodging: (877) 949-3296; gotahoenorth.com
South Tahoe Lodging: (800)288-2463; bluelaketahoe.com
California Ski Industry Association: californiasnow.com, with direct links to 29 Sierra ski areas