Business booms for the holidays at Sierra resorts

By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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By Gloria Young, Journal Staff Writer It snowed early. It snowed often. It snowed a lot. And that added up to a record holiday season for Sierra resorts. Northstar and Sierra at Tahoe were up 7 percent from the next closest December, spokeswoman Jessica VanPernis said Monday. “It was great,” VanPernis said. “We had our largest two-week holiday period — up by 4 percent — and the best season to date, up by 9 percent.” Having sufficient snow to open on Thanksgiving Day was a big boost. “Opening on Thanksgiving is never a given,” she said. “We had great temperatures to continue snowmaking. We were able to get the majority of the mountain open during that timeframe.” The recession may be playing a role, too. “A lot of people are still staying closer to home,” she said. “The Tahoe region benefits from having 11 million people in our backyard from the Bay Area and the Sacramento area — now we have great blue skies to boot.” The recent opening of the $300 million, five-star Ritz Carlton at Northstar was an added attraction. “People are interested in seeing the hotel,” VanPernis said. “It’s open to public in terms of the (reception) area, spa and restaurants. People are welcome to come in for lunch and to see what’s going on.” Squaw Valley USA, which is celebrating its 60th year in business as well as the 50th anniversary of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games, saw an increase in visitors over last year’s holiday period. “The snow really set us up for a great holiday season,” spokeswoman Savannah Cowley said Monday. “When you have a snowy December, it gets people excited about skiing and the conditions. And it helped drive that holiday business.” Besides the snow, the resort’s recession-friendly pricing was also a factor, she said. “We’ve overcome (the recession) by offering affordable deals on lift tickets and lodging. We also have dropped prices of our passes for this season and that has kept our season skier visits higher — where you’d like to see them.” Handling the crowds is not a problem because the mountain is huge, Cowley said. “We have 33 lifts most days,” she said. “We hired more staff. Even on the busiest day, (skiers and boarders) could park their car and walk 20 feet to get on a lift.” At Boreal Mountain Resort, Jody Churich, president and general manager, said both Boreal and Soda Springs are performing ahead of last year. “I would have to attribute a lot of Boreal’s success to a great November and a steady holiday,” Churich said. “At Soda Springs, our tubing and our Planet Kids program showed significant increases.” It was a strong holiday period for Alpine Meadows, too, spokeswoman Rachael Woods said. “Guests were thrilled with how great the snow was,” she said. “It seems as if we had snowstorms that were so significant leading into the holiday period that there was a real piqued interest to visit the mountains for skiing and snowboarding.” Woods didn’t have exact numbers, but said the parking lots attested to the crowds. “Our parking lots were filled each day before Christmas and after the New Year,” she said. “That speaks volumes to the fact it was a really a popular time to visit.” The fantastic conditions were a magnet for skiers and boarders. “Winter enthusiasts have a very strong attachment to the mountains,” she said. “Many times, if the conditions are great, they’re willing to visit, and the fact that Alpine Meadows and Homewood have so many different ways to save for lift tickets and visiting the mountain, was enough motivation to create a strong interest.” The holidays were great for Sugar Bowl, too, spokesman John Monson said. He estimated the resort was up double-digits in all categories in terms of season pass sales, day visits, rentals and food and beverage sales. “Things were amazing,” he said. “We had strong visitation numbers, great conditions, well-timed storms that did not impact travel. Perhaps most importantly, we have staff that rose to the challenge.” Sugar Bowl is celebrating its 70th season this year, with special events set for the Jan. 30 weekend. With the Christmas holiday over, Sierra resorts are now looking toward the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend Jan. 16-18. “We’ve gotten enough snow — the base is set,” Monson said. “We have up to a 75-inch base. Even if there are no storms from now to then, we’ll still be skiing on plenty of snow.” Gloria Young can be reached at