Ski resorts hoping fast start brings a good year

Like the old lyrics written by Sammy Cahn, Lake Tahoe ski executives must be singing,"Let it snow, Let it snow." Officials in the Lake Tahoe region have reported a record six feet of snow already blankets the region, which is good news for area ski resorts.

As a result, all six of Ski Lake Tahoe's resorts Alpine Meadows,Heavenly, Kirkwood,Northstar-at-Tahoe, Sierra-at- Tahoe and Squaw Valley USA could have their earliest openings ever.

Meanwhile, other outlying resorts within driving distance of the lake will be up and running as well.

While the early gift from Mother Nature has many in the ski resort business ecstatic, they still hope for more snow as well as skiers.

Last season, the six Ski Lake Tahoe resorts reported more than 3.2 million skier visits a number that could easily be equaled or exceeded this season if all goes according to plan.

"You have to be optimistic," said John Wagnon, vice president of marketing sales for Heavenly Ski Resort and president of Ski Lake Tahoe."We're certainly off to a good start."

The other nine resorts should also benefit from the early snowfall.

Homewood Mountain Resort, a small resort on the northwest side of Lake Tahoe, has built a niche in the market with skiers from California and Nevada even as it draws a good percentage from other areas.

"We capitalize on treating people to make them feel at home," said Collier Cook,marketing and sales director at Homewood.

"We have a strong and loyal following that comes out."

Meanwhile, the early snowfall potentially could also turn into a public relations boon because plenty of media attention was paid to the region's early snowfall throughout the United States.

"A lot of people like to wait until they see where the most snowfall is," says Mike Pierce, marketing director at Mount Rose."(The early snowfall) gave us a lot of bonus coverage."

If anything,most resorts say early storms strongly indicate a colder winter season, which even in dry periods is good for resorts.

As long as temperatures remain cold, resorts can use their snowmaking capabilities on the slopes.

Diamond Peak Ski Resort in Incline Village, for instance, is the first the area to use snow-making machines.

Snowmaking has become a common practice at during dry periods in the season.

Rather than rely entirely on nature, resorts also are taking steps to help themselves.

Ski Lake Tahoe resorts have invested more than $1 billion in the past year to improve their existing lodges and slopes.

Heavenly, for example, invested millions to build its new Powderbowl Express, a highspeed six-passenger lift, as well as improving ski and snowboard terrain and renovating its lodging.

Wagnon said Heavenly had long needed improvements and was able to do so when it was purchased by Vail Resorts out of Colorado.

"We've been pretty aggressive with capital improvements since we've been purchased by Vail Resorts," he said.

The region also has invested heavily in marketing to other areas of the country to attract skiers and snowboarders, especially in metropolitan areas such as Dallas and Chicago, while also protecting their base of California and Nevada skiers.

The area's resorts also rely on organizations such as the California Ski Industry Association, which promotes Lake Tahoe to places like the United Kingdom.

To further advance the marketing effort, Continental Airlines this winter begins oncea- week non-stop flights from Newark, N.J, improving access to Lake Tahoe regions from major population centers.

"A significant percentage of Lake Tahoe's winter destination visitors come from the Tri- State (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) region, so we're excited Continental has announced this non-stop flight from Newark to Reno/Tahoe,"Wagnon said when the new service was announced.


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