Resorts rally behind the abundant spring storms
Spring snowstorms brought a windfall of powder to the Sierra as well as profits to Tahoe ski resorts, blowing away doubts resort managers had about the lackluster fall and holiday visitor count.
“Whether the season is early or late, it always seems to level out,” said Scott Willers, manager of Tahoe Dave’s Skis and Boards, which offers stores at two Tahoe City locations, as well as stores at Truckee, Kings Beach and Squaw Mountain.
Lower elevation north Tahoe area resorts such as Mount Rose-Ski Tahoe and Diamond Peak faced multiple threats to a successful season before March stormed in. Mike Pierce, spokesman for Mount Rose-Ski Tahoe, called the season a “surprising shift for the resort, which typically does its best early in the season.”
He contrasted Mt. Rose with Squaw Mountain and Alpine Meadows, whose higher elevations accumulate enough snow to prolong the ski season well into springtime.
At Diamond Peak in Incline Village, spokesperson Missy Hinton said north Tahoe was approaching crisis early in the season. In addition to the warm, rainy end of 2005, a nine-day power outage from Jan. 1- 9 made it impossible to run lifts.
“We were down 40 percent when we re-opened,” she said. “We would have been above average had we not lost those days.”
Ed Youmans, ski resort manager at Diamond Peak, said that without the days lost to the power outage and to a rainy holiday season, the resort would have run 9 percent above average. Even with March and April’s continuous storms, and a total number of visitors at 94,570 through March 31, the resort couldn’t quite make up for the early losses. Visitor count is down 9.8 percent from the resort’s three-year average, 4.4 percent below its five year average and 12.3 percent below its 10-year average, according to Youmans.
Porters Sports owner John Chapman called October and November the only “down months,” because resorts had not even opened yet. Porter’s offers sites in Incline Village, Truckee and Tahoe City.
“Even with the horrible weather over the holidays and no power in Tahoe City, we still came out even for December,” he said. “January, February and March have all been up.”
Northstar-At-Tahoe also felt the crunch early on this season, said Communications Coordinator Nicole Klay.
She cited 27 inches of rain that fell at Northstar in December. “Once the holidays are lost, it’s hard to regain,” Klay added. December can typically provide 20 percent of a resort’s annual income, she said.Squaw Mountain’s delayed opening Dec. 3, compared with late October in 2004 created a slow start, according to Savannah Cowley, spokesperson at the resort. She said severe storms kept people off the roads and off the slopes. But March and April made up for a sluggish fall. Mother Nature dumped 188 inches of snow during March alone.
“We’ve had the snowiest March in 57 years,” Cowley said.
Heavenly opened Nov. 30, but spokesman Russ Pecoraro called the early season a challenging time. The resort had its second-highest snowfall in 12 years, he said. Heavenly typically gets visitors split equally between Bay Area skiers and “destination” travelers from farther away, and this year is no different, according to Pecoraro.
“We’re right where we expected to be,” he said.
Kirkwood, which was one of the few Tahoe resorts to get snow instead of rain in December, didn’t open until January, but spring storms made up for the slow start.
“Spring weekends have been selling out,” said Carey Galvez, guest services supervisor at Kirkwood. Base snow measured between 7,800 inches and 8,000 inches by the end of March, resulting in the resort’s busiest Saturday ever, he said.
In spite of the spring skiing conditions, Kirkwood will close at the end of April because of its permit with the U.S. Forest Service.
Rachael Woods, spokesperson for Ski Alpine, said the season kicked into gear Feb. 28.
“We’re having a huge spring …. In all of March, we only had seven days when it didn’t snow,” Woods said.
Although not a typical season, Woods said the spring weather has definitely made it a successful year.
Alpine has a tentative close date of May 21, and Squaw is looking at May 29 for closing, but if the snow sticks, it will consider opening for the Fourth of July.
The successful spring season is due in large part to skiers and boarders driving up from the Bay Area.
“When it’s rainy in the Bay Area, they all head up here,” said Squaw Mountain’s Cowley.
The combination of sunshine and snow has lured weekend skiers since early March, and they’re still coming, she said.
Bill Hoffman, executive director of the Incline Village Crystal Bay Convention and Visitors Center, said that although Bay Area visitors form the foundation of Tahoe tourists, resorts and other businesses are always looking to increase the number of people who travel from farther away and stay over a longer period of time.
“They make a choice for perhaps just one winter ski trip whether to go to Colorado, Idaho or Tahoe,” he said. “This year we were hurt by a late start, but I think we made up some ground.”
Tom Medland, director of marketing and air service development for the Reno Tahoe Regional Marketing Committee, credits the record March snowstorms for boosting this season to second-place in recent years.
“It was a spring phenomenon broadcast across the United States,” Medland said. “Nonstop flights from Atlanta via Delta have been a tremendous help this season. We also have flights from Chicago twice a day.”
Additional direct as well as connecting flights from the East Coast, have been full throughout the season, according to Medland.
Pat Parraguirre, manager at Reno’s Bobo’s Mogul Mouse outfitters, said he has noticed a difference in clientele this season.
“We had a broader range of customers people from Florida, Atlanta and Chicago,” he said. “We hope this continues; it’s good for all the businesses.”
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