El Nino restores ski areas’ winter hopes

December 4, 2015


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Four years of drought hammered winter sports in California, but recent storms have revived Sierra ski resorts by dropping nearly three feet of snow in the Sierra, which allowed the majority of resorts to open for business.

“The last couple of years have been bad beyond anyone’s imagination, but this season’s already far better,” said California Ski Industry Association Executive Director Bob Roberts. “Because it’s been such a rough time for winter recreation, every resort felt obligated to open as early as possible.”

Some forecasters predict California’s mountains will see three times as much snowfall this winter compared to last year. Meteorologists believe the ski industry has El Nino to thank for its good fortune.

“Confidence continues to grow that this El Nino will be one of the strongest of the past 50 years,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Brett Anderson.

Dodge Ridge, the closest winter resort to the Central Valley, received 32 inches of snow in November and another early storm was approaching as the month drew to a close.

“We feel very blessed to have this kind of a start to the winter,” said Dodge Ridge CEO Sally Helm.

“Alpine Meadows opened, which caused a lot of rejoicing in the Lake Tahoe region,” said Tahoe Ski World spokesman Jeffery Weidel. “The season is officially underway with nearly all the resorts open and providing early-season runs for skiers and snowboarders.”

California has 27 resorts – with two nearby in Nevada. It’s the nation’s most popular skiing and snowboarding region after Colorado.

In an average year, winter recreation in California contributes $564.5 million to local economies, according to a 2015 study by Patrick Tierney, San Francisco State professor of recreation, parks and tourism.

“That generated $33 million in taxes for state and local governments, supported 8,290 jobs, spent $21 million on capital improvements and paid $5 million in property taxes,” Tierney said. The economic impact of all ski resorts in California was $2.1 billion.

“This economic boost is extremely important,” Tierney added. “The study projected that even a small increase in the number of visitors – 2 percent to 5 percent – could mean an additional $10 million or more to the region.”

In addition to Dodge Ridge and Alpine Meadows Resort, Northstar California, Tahoe Donner, Kirkwood Mountain, Heavenly Mountain, Squaw Valley, Mt. Rose, Boreal Mountain Resort and Sugar Bowl opened before Thanksgiving.

“We have everything open from beginner to the expert terrain,” said Kirkwood spokesman Kevin Cooper. “We have the only expert terrain accessible in the Tahoe Region.”

Enthusiasm is growing for what appears to be a long and profitable ski and snowboard season throughout the Tahoe and Sierra region.

“Even though we’ve received a bunch of snow, we’re going to be patient and make sure that we have a quality product that’s safe for our guests and employees,” said Sierra–at-Tahoe spokeswoman Thea Hardy.

“After a long summer of preparations, we’re more ready than we’ve ever been to kick off the winter season,” said Matt Peterson, vice president for Boreal Mountain Resort, the first Boreal Mountain Resort this year.

As the snow and winter go, so too, go Valley businesses that focus on winter sports.

“Four consecutive bad winters created a challenging economic environment for us,” said Dennis Sondeno, owner of Sunsports in Turlock. “We’re the only real specialty shop between Sacramento and Fresno. All indications are that this will be a good winter, and best of all it’s starting early.”

Sunsports stocks skis, snowboards, boots, bindings, apparel for skiing and snowboarding, and much more to meet the needs of the snow sports crowd.

Esther Andrade, sales manager of Stockton’s REI store, said sales of winter sports products are up over last year at her store. REI offers ski and snowboard maintenance, backpacks with water bladders, clothing and accessories for avid boarders or skiers.

“Sales-wise, we sell winter items throughout the season,” Andrade said. “We conduct snowshoe clinics because snowshoeing’s big. People who enjoy backpacking can continue doing it on snowshoes.”

“A good winter is a huge boost to our winter business,” said TJ, a team leader at Sports Authority in Modesto. “We have a tech shop for boards and skis. We sell many different types of equipment, and apparel has been a big part of our sales this year.”

TJ said it seems skiers, boarders and others have an intuition about the upcoming winter season.

“Everything’s selling well with the anticipation of a good snow season, which is perhaps our biggest single season for sales,” he said.

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