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Ski season winding down this month

Resorts announce closing dates at the end of drier-than-normal winter
By: Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer
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A stormy March bulked up snow levels and crowds at Sierra resorts. But although storms are continuing to drop snow in April, the season is winding down. Boreal Mountain Resort’s closing date is mid-April. “It’s likely we will close on April 15, but we are reopening for snow camp in June,” General Manager Jody Churich said. The camp begins June 10 with weeklong skiing and boarding sessions that run through Aug. 11. “We’re making snow now in preparation for it,” Churich said. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows will be open through April 29. Then Alpine will remain open Fridays to Sundays through May 13, weather permitting. “The closing dates track fairly closely with previous years,” spokeswoman Jenny Kendrick said. “…Last year we ended up reopening on the Fourth of July because we had an incredible (snow) year.” The two resorts don’t discuss attendance figures, but Squaw Valley spokeswoman Amelia Richmond said February and March snowstorms brought a lot of visitors. “Our question was, ‘are people just over winter or are they waiting for the snow?’ And what we saw is that people were just waiting for the snow,” she said. “There was a pent-up demand. Once the snow came, so did the skiers and riders.” As of Monday, Squaw Valley had recorded 327 inches of snow for the season. Almost half of that— 167 inches — fell in March. A normal year averages 450 to 500 inches and March’s total falls on the higher end of normal, Richmond said. “March is typically a snowy month,” she said. At Sugar Bowl, spokeswoman Heather Graziano said the resort generally doesn’t pick a closing date. “We like to go on conditions,” she said. “We always shoot for the end of April. People start to lose interest when it is nice out. Rarely we’ve done an extra weekend. But it is not likely (this year).” Sugar Bowl had recorded 213 to 299 feet of snow for the season as of last week, with a couple of feet expected over the weekend. “It’s big a miracle March for the books,” Graziano said. “… It’s still below our annual average of about 500. We’re still less but definitely in better shape than we were in January.” The atypical winter did have an impact on the Sierra’s resort-driven economy, according to Petit GiIwee, with Petit Gilwee Public Relations in Tahoe City. “It was a strange year without a doubt,” she said. “Our summer recreation providers actually had one of the best falls they’ve ever had. Because of the late start to winter, people were still out (doing summer sports). Fortunately ski resorts were spending millions of dollars on snow-making — Northstar literally has spent millions on snow-making — and because of that, we were able to provide a snow product to supplement the snow that didn’t fall. “I think it was a challenging winter. When you are a small business or a large business in North Lake Tahoe, you learn how to adapt. We had a great year last year. This year Mother Nature didn’t deliver on time and businesses have learned to be flexible.” Bob Roberts, president and CEO of the California Ski Industry Association, agrees it was a challenging year. Roberts represents resorts in Northern and Southern California as well as Nevada. “We have such a variety of sizes of resorts. Some will skate through in fairly good shape,” he said. “The Southern California resorts are in good shape — financially not off that much, not a dramatic number. Up around (Lake Tahoe), it’s a mixed bag because of size of the resorts. Smaller resorts are in better shape because they are lean to begin with.” According to Roberts, on average resorts statewide see 7.5 million visits annually. “What we are probably going to see is that visitation was down (this year), but it looks to me from what I’m hearing anecdotally, generally speaking, we’re going to be somewhere down in the 6 million to 6.5 million visit range (statewide),” he said. “That’s my best guess for the season.” But attendance numbers aren’t the whole story. Hotel, restaurant and other resort-associated spending must be included to get a complete picture of the season, he explained. “We’ve been through these years before,” Roberts said. Since 1962 and 1963, there have been five really sub-par years “and we really bounce back,” he said. “We had terrific numbers last year. We did 7.7 million visits,” he said. “The year before was even better. There was lots of snow and the timing was better. We’re snow farmers. If snow comes at the right time — mid week — and you have weekends and holidays water free, you’ll have a great year, which was the 2010 season with 8.1 million visits.” With another month left this season Roberts remains optimistic. And although a number of resorts don’t release numbers, “having been in this business this long, I listen and get a sense that revenues won’t be off as much as the visits. People are spending more,” he said. Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com