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Hefty snowpack brings crowds to Sierra over holiday weekend

By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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People were not only shopping in droves this weekend — they were skiing, too. “It was probably one of biggest Thanksgiving holiday periods we’ve had in the last decade — some people are saying even longer than that,” Andy Chapman, director of tourism for the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, said Monday. “It felt like a Christmas holiday weekend up here.” Storms during the past two weeks that dropped eight feet and more of snow in the Sierra left ideal conditions for hitting the slopes. Squaw Valley was reporting 10 feet and spokeswoman Amelia Richmond said it appears to be the most for November in the resort’s history. “It’s hard to track because we don’t have a lot of records from the ’70s,” Richmond said. “I did speak with our head of vehicles. He’s been here for 35 years and he hasn’t seen this much snow since (he started in) 1973. He’d know because he handles all the parking lot maintenance. It’s not a statistic, but he’s a reputable source.” Richmond described weekend ski conditions as “absolutely fabulous.” “Definitely we saw about twice the number of visitors as last year,” she said. “Many of our guests come from the valley and the Bay Area. When we get snow, they get rain. If you’re looking at the rain and you’re knowing it’s snowing in Tahoe, sometimes it gives you that extra push to get out and enjoy the snow.” To get the full scope of just how much snow has fallen already, you have to take into account not only the number of resorts up and running, but the amount of terrain that is operational, according to Chapman. “That’s the unusual part,” he said. “It became mid-winter and mid-winter conditions almost immediately after the storm.” All the major resorts in the north Lake Tahoe area opened in time for the holiday weekend, Chapman said. For some, it was a little earlier than planned. Sugar Bowl’s opening day had been scheduled and budgeted for Dec. 10, but it moved up to Nov. 24, marketing manager Jennie Bartlett said. “We were full bore over the weekend,” she said. “We opened right around Thanksgiving last year with more man-made snow. This year it is full operations top to bottom.” Sugar Bowl drew a good turnout, too. “It was awesome to see what we had for the weekend and definitely (the crowd) was bigger than last (Thanksgiving weekend),” Bartlett said. Squaw Valley, which was purchased recently by Colorado investment firm KSL Capital Partners, unveiled several improvements for the 2010-11 season, Richmond said. That includes expanded night skiing in the resort’s Riviera terrain park. “We’re starting night operations on Dec. 18,” she said. “Visitors can ski and ride from 9 a .m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends.” The smaller Belmont terrain park, used for night skiing in the past, is being transformed into a kids' zone, with a snow fort and kid-friendly jumps, according to a press release. In addition, the conference center and Olympic House base lodge have been remodeled and there are three new state-of-the-art grooming machines. According to a North Lake Tahoe Recreation report, the snow base ranges from as much as 84 inches at Alpine Meadows and Sugar Bowl to 67 inches at Boreal and 64 inches at Northstar at Tahoe. Typically some extremely limited skiing and boarding are available as early as Halloween, but most resorts try to open by Thanksgiving, if not before. Even with this year’s banner snow year, there are still a few smaller resorts that haven’t opened yet, including Homewood Mountain and Tahoe Donner, Chapman said. “We’re keeping an eye on the weather,” he said. “We like to see that fresh snow coming on top. Christmas to New Year’s is important to the industry up here and we’re set up very nicely going into that period.” Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com.