In The Middle Of It All, Central California Resorts Keep Pace With Upgrades

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Keeping up with the Jones' are the bywords for ski and snowboard resorts in the West, so it's no surprise that central Sierra ski and snowboard mountains kept busy in the off-season.

Starting with the largest, Mammoth Mountain management hopes a new Canyon Express high-speed six-pack will ease wait times at a prime access point. Replacing a 39-year-old quad, uphill speed will be cut by more than a minute.

Also new at California's highest resort (11,053-ft summit) are upgrades at the tubing park and snowmaking, plus evidence of a future Day Lodge.

Neighbor June Mountain opens this season with a couple of "adventure zones": Enchanted Forest in the trees under J2 chair, and Haunted Forest off J6 chair in the trees below Rainbow Summit. A new cantina has popped up midway up to June Mountain Summit.

Over on the western side of the Sierra, China Peak doubled the capacity of the workhorse Canyon fixed-grip -- and concurrently upped all out-of-base capacity by 30%. New lift should untangle waiting times for getting onto the mountain.

The Fresno favorite also joins the Cali Pass and Powder Alliance this season, along with Mountain High, Dodge Ridge and Bear Valley.

Speaking of which, both Dodge Ridge and Bear Valley spent the off-season tweaking things rather than making headlines. Near Pinecrest above Modesto, Dodge Ridge put in a RFIC ticket-checking system and streamlined both rental and check-in operations. The lesson area got a second conveyor lift, and mid-mountain Wayfarer's remodel is done.

Up at Bear Valley, the addition of a pair of winch cats to the grooming fleet should smooth out some of the serious steeps in the Grizzly Bowl and Snow Valley black-rated runs.

And farther north at Sierra-at-Tahoe, the ski and snowboard mountain -- among California's oldest in its eighth decade -- is still recovering from the 2021 wildfire that roared right through the mountain slopes and trails. The trail map is new, because of how the fire thinned the trees, but mountain ops are slowly coming back to life. The road to the mountain has been repaved and parking lots improved.

 

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Differences Aside, Compatriots Mammoth and June Deliver The Full Package

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Few pairings for Ikon Pass holders rival a trip to a pair of classic California neighbors that, despite dramatic differences in size and terrain, manage to have something for everyone.

Opened in 1955 and 1961, respectively, Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain sit about a half-hour's drive apart on the eastern flank of the snowy Sierras. Los Angeles and San Francisco are five hours away. Both resorts come without limits on the Ikon Pass, and functional base villages, and operate out of unassuming mountain towns. The two mountains do differentiate themselves in distinct ways.

  • Mammoth has 175 named trails, June puts up 41 trail signs.

  • Six chairlifts run at June, including two high-speeds, while 25 lifts work at Mammoth with two high-speeds and three gondolas.

  • Skiable terrain is 1,500 acres at June, 3,500 at its larger sibling.

  • Lift lines can be monumental at Mammoth, but they rarely queue up at June.

Despite differences, both mountains rate as "family-friendly." June is a compact, managable size with mostly greens and blues, and 12-and-under free skiing. Despite its spacious trail map, Mammoth lays out an ample menu of easy and moderate runs all across the lower mountain, and four base lodges. Its renowned terrain park system features two half-pipes, and there's plenty of unpretentious lodging on mountain and in Mammoth Lakes.

Regulars say Mammoth should be approached as a collection of a half-dozen ski areas out of four separate base areas. Each can consume a full day with a full plate of terrain. Lovers of steeps get the treeless upper snowfields above them all, via ridge-top traverses both directions off the Summit chairlift -- including unpatrolled Dragon's Back's double-blacks.

Often seen as a "break" from the enormity and hustle of Mammoth, June Mountain nestles quietly above June Lake, about a half-hour drive/shuttle from its larger neighbor. It rises a surprising 2,500 vertical feet with most of its trails rated blue or lower. Many Californians learned at June, and they can still find the early-days-of-skiing vibe at June.

Action starts early at 8 a.m. with a chairlift ride up to the main base at mid-mountain. One reviewer said a sudden sense of "privacy" set in once he was lifted out of the parking lot and up to the main lodge.

From there, five chairlifts deliver to a dozen gentle, unintimidating trails -- just right for developing skiers and riders. About 80% of the trails are rated blue or below. Newby jibbers can get a start on a small terrain park, while freestylers can hit designated "fun zones" with berms and rollers. A few black plunges cluster on the far skier's left.

The town of June Lake (pop. 700) has just enough of eating, drinking and staying to accommodate -- and without the glitz (and expense) of its Lake Tahoe neighbors to the north.

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Early Snowfall Gets Southern Sierra Season Off To Snowy Starts

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A number of southern Sierra ski and snowboard resorts opened earlier than planned for the 2022-2023 season, with a new chairlift, revamped tubing park and more snow guns highlighting new additions.

Mammoth Mountain and June Mountain, Dodge Ridge, Bear Valley and China Peak got going in early November, thanks to several unexpected large storms that dropped several feet up and down California's highest mountain range.

At Mammoth Mountain, crews at the Ikon Pass resort spent the summer working on a long-term project to develop Woolly's Tube Park into an all-season attraction. This offseason, tubing lanes were expanded, six new snow guns went in just for the tubing park, and an elevated conveyor lift is now up and running. The park, located at the bottom of Chair 4 and close to the kid-focused Wonderland Playground,is targeted to get more parking spots, too.

More snowmaking went in over the summer, aimed at getting more snow more quickly on the connecting trails across the mountain, and a bigger supply of snow for terrain parks. Neighbor June Mountain stood pat over the summer, and expects a mid-December opening.'

Up the Sierra Crest, the big news at Dodge Ridge is that two circa-1960s chairlifts came down, and a new triple chair went up in there place this summer. Skiers and riders can now reach the mountain's 8,200-foot-high summit with just one lift ride. The 862-acre mountain, a member of the Powder Alliance, expanded its terrain parks to promote progression, and remodeled both base and mid-mountain lodges.

A couple of other Sierra resorts got enough snow to being spinning lifts early. Bear Valley, a two-hour drive from Stockton, and China Peak, Fresno's backyard ski and snowboard mountain, got a couple of early feet of snow and pushed up opening dates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Four States In West Gear Up Kids-Ski-Free Programs

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Taking the whole family to ski and ride in the West can be a pricey undertaking, so a number of states have "kids passport programs" that allow schoolchildren from any state to get free passes.

Each program limits the number of free days and has a one-time processing fee. All have blackout periods. They require a pre-application, and some require kids to show proof of age and school, so check websites listed here for specifics.

The digital Colorado Kids Ski Pass is accepted at 20 of the state's mountains, including all four Aspen mountains, Winter Park, Copper Mountain and Steamboat. For $59 fee and completion of online application, school kids in grades 3-6 get four days at each participating resort.

The five Colorado resorts owned by Vail Resorts (plus Park City in Utah) aren't including in this program, but they have their own Epic Schoolkids Pass. However, the deadline for application is Oct. 9.

In Utah, SkiUtah issues its passport for those in grades 4 through 6. For $49, youngsters can ski and ride three days at all 15 mountains in Utah, including Woodward Park City (lift ticket only). The passport must be purchased online, including current photo. Then, show it plus proof of name and date of birth at ticket window to get a lift ticket. (Park City has specific locations for redemption.)

Ski Idaho has gone all in for kids' passports. Seventeen of the state's mountains welcome 5th graders for three free days and 6th graders for two during this season. Online applications at $18 processing fee gets a printed or smart phone passport. With parent or guardian present, kids merely show the passport to get a free lift ticket.

And in Washington, the Fifth Grade Passport costs $20 and gets youngsters onto five of the state's mountains for three days free. Apply online and get an e-mail passport to show at the ticket window of Loup Loup, Mt. Spokane, Lookout Pass, Silver Mountain and 49 Degrees North.

Most mountains in the West give free tickets for the very young -- six years old or younger -- but a few ramp it up. A Power Kids Pass from Southwest regional Power Pass can be picked up at any of eight resorts in the Southwest (and now, Willamette Pass in Oregon) for free skiing all season.

And California's June Mountain also lets kids 12 and under ski and ride for free. Parents need to show up at the ticket window with the child.

 

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Bring The Kids And Save Some Bucks This Season

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A burgeoning trend in the ski and snowboard industry is for resorts and states all across the country to expand ski-free programs for youngsters and teens in hopes they stick with the sport -- and also save families a bit on ski vacations.

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California's Trio Of Ikon Pass Resorts Rarin' To Go

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Things are expected to get closer to "normal" at California ski and snowboard resorts this season, as do the four mountain resorts in the Golden Bear State that honor the Ikon Pass.

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What's New at California Resorts This Season

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As temperatures begin to shift, Ski California resorts are gearing up for the 2021-22 winter season with investments in infrastructure, facilities improvements, and technology that will continue to allow for fast, contactless lift access, reservations and payment, and high-quality experiences.

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SnoCast: A Stormy Western Pattern; Mild Conditions in the East

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 A series of storms will target the West this week with some of the heaviest snow yet of the season in the Sierras, while the East continues to bask in mild temperature. Here are the details in this week’s SnoCast.

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SnoCountry Road Trip: Springtime SoCal On The Ikon Pass

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Hints of spring are in the air across the West, so your SnoCountry road trippers grab an Ikon Pass and head to Southern California's Big Bear, Mammoth, and June Mountain, where the weather warms early and everything is sooo SoCal.

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SnoCast: Coast to Coast Snow To End January

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So much to cover in this week’s SnoCast as we dig out from feet of snow in the west, and eye new snow in the Midwest and Northeast—everyone gets something to finish off January.

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SnoCountry SnoCast: Busy February Pattern Brings More Snow

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A stormy pattern continues into February with several quick moving storms dropping hits of snow. Here are the storm systems to watch this week.

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California Dreamin' A Reality As Powder Piles Up In The Sierra

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OK, so we on the West Coast have been pleading and praying for powder this season, especially on the heels of a couple of subpar winters where puttin' on the fatboys and breathing through a snorkel seemed but distant memories.

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SnoCountry SnoCast: Calendar Says Spring, Weather Says Winter!

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The skiing will be sweet for the rest of March in the Northeast. (Loon/Twitter)

The ongoing weather pattern is laughing in the face of spring beginning Tuesday. Watch for epic conditions along both coasts of the U.S.

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Colorado-Based Consortium Now Named Alterra Mountain Company

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Deer Valley is Alterra Mountain Company's Utah destination. (Alterra Mountain Company)

The joint venture of affiliates of KSL Capital Partners and Henry Crown and Company that brought together Intrawest Resorts holdings, Mammoth Mountain, Deer Valley and Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, now has a name: Alterra Mountain Company.

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Aspen Skiing Company, KSL Partners To Acquire Mammoth Mountain

Aspen Skiing Company, KSL Partners To Acquire Mammoth Mountain

Aspen Skiing Company and KSL Partners are purchasing four California resorts, including Mammoth Mountain.

Moving quickly after purchasing Intrawest resorts, a new Aspen-based ownership group announced it has bought Mammoth Mountain and three other resorts in the Southern California mountains.


The heretofore unnamed entity, formed by Aspen Skiing Corp. and KSL Capital Partners, said it will close this fall on a sale of a quartet of areas including Mammoth Mountain, June Mountain, Snow Summit and Bear Mountain.

The announcement comes on the heels of the group’s industry-rocking purchase of Colorado’s Steamboat and Winter Park, Quebec’s Mont Tremblant, Vermont’s Stratton, Ontario’s Blue Mountain and West Virginia’s Snowshoe. The four Aspen mountains and Squaw Valley-Alpine, a KSL property, will come under the umbrella of the new group but will continue to operate independently.

Because both purchases aren’t expected to be finalized until next fall, resort-specific season tickets will be honored for next season. So will the M.A.X. Pass, Rocky Mountain Super Pass and Mountain Collective that overlap into the partnership’s new portfolio in various ways.

“We had greater plans for Mammoth but the Great Recession and then some less favorable weather, interfered with our strategic aspirations in a finite life investment vehicle,” said Barry Sternlicht of Starwood Capital Group that owned Mammoth and the other resorts “We know Aspen and KSL have the experience, commitment, and balance sheet to help make our vision a reality.”

No upgrading plans have been announced yet, but indications are that the new entity has the capital to put into improvements at these resorts – for both winter and summer. However, official statements have noted that coordinating e-commerce technology among all the resorts will a high priority in order to expand the marketing capabilities of all the mountains.

The move by Aspen Skiing Corp. to acquire and consolidate some 15 resorts under the Aspen-KSL roof is seen by industry officials as a response to Vail Resort’s two-decade effort to acquire 14 resorts across the U.S. and Canada.



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More Ski Areas Commit To Climate Challenge

NSAA Climate ChallengeThe National Ski Areas Association (NSAA) announced that 10 new ski areas have signed on to the snowsports industry’s Climate Challenge, an environmental initiative that targets carbon emission reductions.
 
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California Dreamin’: Time To Get Best Deal On Next Season’s Passes

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The skiing and snowboard season in California was a mixed bag this season, but hope always springs eternal for the next season – as do the bargains for buying a season’s pass early.

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June Mountain Closed Indefinitely; Owners Look To 'Sustainable Future'

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Last season, June Mountain entered its second 50 years of operation, but it appears that Year 52 won’t happen for the Sierra Nevada resort – at least for the near future.

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