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Sporadic ski season mixed for industry

Zach M. Spencer

As winter-like weather continues to pelt the slopes of the Sierra Nevada this spring, the past ski and snowboard season in northern Nevada proved to be sporadic, according to climatologists, gaming and tourism officials, ski resort operators, skiers and snowboarders.

The final result? A season not much better than last year but no worse, either.

Combined, the 15 resorts that encircle the Lake Tahoe basin feature 23,876 feet of vertical drop, 23,015 acres of skiable terrain, and 171 chairlifts yet they are always at the mercy of Mother Nature, says climatologist Jim Ashby of the Desert Research Institute’s Western Regional Climate Center.

“The amount of snow that fell in the Sierra between November and April this season was comparable to the previous season; however, the timing of the storms was very different, ” Ashby said.

The Central Sierra Snow Lab located at Norden near the Donner Summit at 7,200 feet of elevation recorded 381 inches of snow this season between Nov.

1 and April 30.

Last season the accumulation during the same span was a foot less, or 3.25 percent lower, at 369 inches.

“The total snowfall recorded for January, February, and March of this year was half the total snow that fell in those months during 2002,” the climatologist said.

This year, the snow that fell during these three months resulted in 76 inches, while the same three months last year had more than double that amount at 153 inches.

“This season we got started in early November with a great storm and another one in December,” said George Galante of Incline Village.

Wrapping up his 35th year of skiing in the Sierra, Galante serves as director of activities for northern Nevada-based timeshare operator QM Corporation.

Galante began skiing this season on Nov.

4 and had 158 days on the slopes through April.

“We were ‘spring skiing’ in January, February, and March followed by winter snowstorms in April that made for some incredible powder days.

The snow in April was really the icing on the cake for my clients this year,” he said.

Arriving passengers at Reno/Tahoe Airport were up 1.07 percent this ski season compared to the previous ski season.

This season saw a total of 896,057 passengers up 9,452 passengers from last season’s 886,605 (November through March).

The number of visitors driving to the region also was up modestly during the ski season.

AAA of Northern Nevada spokesperson Sean Comey said travel during the Thanksgiving weekend to northern Nevada was up 2 percent from the previous year.

“Travel by car is a growing trend across the country, most likely driven by the state of our economy,” he said.

“Families are vacationing in destinations that are perceived to be safe like Reno and Lake Tahoe.”

Sean Schaeffer, president of Silver Voyages, a Reno-based agency that has sold ski packages for northern Nevada casinos the past three years, said sales were strong.

“November and December were incredible months for us.We doubled our client base this year and due to the early snow, the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holiday season was fantastic,” he said.

Eighty percent of the company’s customers are drive-up and 20 percent are fly-in The Eldorado Hotel Casino saw an increase in drive-up ski and snowboard patrons because of an early November snow and an aggressive sales and marketing campaign to attract skiers and snowboarders, said Gene Carano, assistant general manager of the Reno property.

A successful season is a balancing act.

“We want the ski resorts to have enough snow to operate and be open during our holiday season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s), yet we want our customers to be able to get over the summit and into Reno.”

Carano said.

Ski resorts do not release specific skier and snowboarder numbers, but they said that overall it was roughly equivalent to last year.

“We were right on par with last season.

The snow fell at the right time for us.We opened on Nov.

8, which is one of our earliest openings,” said Murray Blaney, director of sales for Mount Rose Ski Tahoe.

” This season there was more cohesive marketing from the hotels in Reno, as they have learned that skiers and snowboarders are good customers.”