Lake Tahoe looks ahead: Seven resorts spend money in hopes of hosting 2026 Olympics
Sierra-at-Tahoe resort has created the Burton Star Wars Experience, with chainsaw carvings of Yoda, R2D2, Chewbacca and Ewoks.
Northstar is celebrating its 40th anniversary with more than $30 million in capital improvements.
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LAKE TAHOE -- If you're traveling 2,360 miles from Pittsburgh to ski or snowboard in this area on the border of California and Nevada, you want to make sure there will be snow when you arrive.
Not to worry. The seven resorts that make up Ski (and Snowboard) Lake Tahoe have plenty of snow -- more than 26 feet to date.
Alpine Meadows, Heavenly Mountain Resort, Kirkwood Mountain Resort, Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe, Northstar California, Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort and Squaw Valley have base depths that range from feet to yards. They plan to stay open until at least April 14.
The resorts, less than an hour from Reno-Tahoe International Airport, have spent more than $100 million in capital improvements for this season, an investment they hope will boost their chances of hosting the 2026 Winter Olympic Games. (Nearby Salt Lake City also is vying for this.)
"Lake Tahoe is in the unique position of benefiting from significant spending by both private companies and public entities who realize that the destination's time is now," Julie Maurer, president of Ski Lake Tahoe, said in a statement.
There are new chairlifts, snow grooming equipment, mid-mountain lodges and base-area renovations that include restaurants and fun events, she said.
The seven resorts offer more than 500 slopes and trails on 17,500 acres of terrain served by 125 chairlifts. They also have an average of 300 days of sunshine a year.
Ski and stay packages start as low as $79 per night for lift ticket and lodging, said spokesman Eric Doyne.
Among other deals, www.skitahoe.com lists packages that include stay and ski/snowboard for free, stay three nights and the fourth night is free, bonus Mondays, Two 'Fer Tuesdays and Ladies Day Thursday.
Tip: Save money by buying lift tickets online at least three days in advance.
Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley, owned by KSL Capital Partners, are 10 minutes apart, have an interchangeable lift ticket and offer a free shuttle service. Vail Resorts, which owns Heavenly, Kirkwood and Northstar, also offers an interchangeable lift ticket.
Lake Tahoe, North America's largest alpine lake (almost 192 square miles), sits on the border of California and Nevada. It is 22 miles long, 12 feet wide, has 72 miles of shoreline and holds more than 37 trillion gallons of water.
Here's a look at what's new at the seven resorts:
In addition to major upgrades to its snowmaking system, the resort is working with Snow Park Technologies to design a mile-long terrain park that will include man-made and natural features on a top-to-bottom run reached from the Summit Express chairlift.
Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley are developing a pilot program in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service to explore the feasibility of installing permanent gated access between the resorts for experienced backcountry travelers.
The mid-mountain Tamarack Lodge, which seats 500 inside and 250 outside, sits at the top of a two-mile-long gondola. It is the centerpiece of more than $30 million in recent improvements to the family-oriented Adventure Peak area that includes lift-served snow tubing lanes, snowbikes and Black Bear Hollow, a new children's adventure zone.
The resort will host the fifth annual Tahoe Snowcial Feb. 27-March 2. It attracts industry leaders in social media, digital marketing, mobile technology, media, consumer electronics, snowsports, travel and tourism. It also allows plenty of time for skiing and snowboarding.
Vail Resorts gave Kirkwood a resort-wide facelift during the off season that included upgrades to its food and beverage outlets, restraining bars on its chairlifts and the purchase of state-of-the-art snow removal equipment.
The resort, which annually receives more than 600 inches of snow, purchased a new Howitzer avalauncher to trigger potential avalanches on its steepest slopes so they can be safely opened on time. To clear its parking lots during big storms, it bought a heavy duty Zaugg rotary snow blower, the same type used by the California Department of Transportation.
Mount Rose-Ski Tahoe
In addition to its partnerships with a number of Reno casino properties to offer stay-and-ski packages starting as low as $79, the resort realigned the Little Mule conveyor lift to ease access to the Rosebuds teaching terrain.
It invites guests to visit its Winter Creek Lodge to see its state-of-the-art windspires designed to help power the facility in a more environmentally friendly way.
The resort is celebrating its 40th anniversary with more than $30 million in capital improvements, including the new Promised Land high-speed quad and the new Zephyr Lodge that offers views of the Sierra Crest. It also opened Tavern 6330, a slope-side American grill.
This will be the first full season for two new runs, additional glade skiing and guided backcountry tours via snowcat on the advanced terrain off Sawtooth Ridge, an area designated for future expansion.
In cooperation with Burton Snowboards and Lucas Films LTD, the resort has created a one-of-a-kind Burton Star Wars Experience, complete with chainsaw carvings of Yoda, R2D2, Chewbacca and Ewoks. The goal is to encourage children as young as 3 to try snowboarding.
The resort also upgraded the family-oriented offerings at its Blizzard Mountain snowplay area to include snowcat rides, snowman kits, snowball makers, fire pits and s'mores. It also is offering guided snowcat tours of the "steep and deep" terrain of Huckleberry Canyon.
The newest phase of its five-year $70 million "renaissance" includes the Big Blue Express, a new high-speed six-passenger chair; an upgrade to its Mountain Meadow triple chair; and major improvements to its snowmaking system to provide better and more efficient top-to-bottom coverage.
The resort, which hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics, has placed a major emphasis on improving "the flow and feel" of the village base area along with upgrading the dining and shopping options.
It remodeled the Olympic Plaza Bar to celebrate its 63-year history and opened Parallel Sports to provide the convenience of slope-side ski demos.
Spokeswoman Amelia Richmond predicts what she calls a "phenomenal" spring ski and snowboard season, thanks to all the snow the region has received so far.
And more is on the way.
If you go ... Lake Tahoe
Getting there: The Reno-Tahoe International Airport has completed more than $27 million in recent renovations that include streamlined baggage handling, improved security checkpoint and upgraded restaurants and shopping.
If purchased online, Southwest Airlines, whose "Bags Fly Free" policy is appreciated by skiers and snowboarders, has flights to Reno-Tahoe International Airport via Chicago and Phoenix for $494 roundtrip.
If you rent a car, get one with four-wheel drive. Chains or snow tires are required on almost every mountain pass during typical Sierra snowstorms, and rental companies don't offer chain rentals as an add-on.
The opening of Interstate 580 trims about 10 minutes off the drive time to the South Shore resorts. There are a number of new shuttle options between regional hotels and the slopes, especially on the North Shore.
First Published February 3, 2013 12:00 am