The new owners of the Mt. Waterman and Kratka Ridge ski areas say they’re close to completing the first phase of snow-making systems that will enable them to greatly increase their operating days.
A snow-making system could be operating as early as March 11 on a portion of Kratka Ridge that will be set aside for snow play, as well as a beginner area for skiing and snowboarding, said Barry Stubblefield, president and chief executive of La Canada Flintridge-based Mt. Waterman Acquisition Holdings Inc.
Construction of the first phase of the snow-making system is about two-thirds complete, Stubblefield said, but crews stopped work temporarily because of the recent heavy snows at Kratka and Mt. Waterman.
Completion of the snow-making system will depend on the weather, according to Stubblefield, who said the snow-generating setup at the Kratka play area will be the first phase of a long-term project that eventually will bring snow making to the rest of Kratka and to neighboring Mt. Waterman.
Mt. Waterman has been enjoying a brisk ski business since opening Feb. 19 for the first time this season, said Chuck Ojala, director of mountain operations. But Kratka remains closed because the trenches and partially built snow-making system render it unsuitable for snow play until the job is finished, according to Stubblefield.
“Conditions are outstanding” at Mt. Waterman, said Ojala, a former college ski racer.
Mt. Waterman’s new owners have had to wait a long time for those conditions, however, which is why they say snow making is their top priority for future seasons. Mt. Waterman is located about 32 miles northeast of La Canada Flintridge on Angeles Crest Highway, and Kratka is three miles beyond Waterman.
Mt. Waterman Acquisition Holdings acquired Mt. Waterman and Kratka Ridge (formerly known as Snowcrest) near the end of 1999, too late to construct a snow-making system for this year.
But both the new owners and former owner, Lynn Newcomb, who founded Mt. Waterman in the early 1940s, say ski resorts today must have snow making in order to survive. Mt. Waterman was open only five days last year for lack of natural snow.
Stubblefield said the new owners hope to begin construction of the Mt. Waterman snow-making system this summer, depending on approvals from the U.S. Forest Service. Snow making would be one part of an overall improvement program the new owners hope to implement over a number of years, he said.
Mt. Waterman’s new owners will spend between $3 million and $5 million for the snow-making system there and between $800,000 and $1 million for the system on Kratka Ridge, according to Stubblefield.
“We will only spend a fraction of that amount on the first piece that we hope to build this summer,” Stubblefield said. “We will have to go slowly, because there are so many variables: where we find water, how hard it is to pump to the top of the hill and how hard it will be to create our new reservoir.”
Mt. Waterman has an existing reservoir of about 5 million gallons, but the new reservoir is tentatively planned to hold 80 million gallons. It would be used both for snow making and as a water source for Forest Service firefighting, Stubblefield said.
Gail Wright, a Forest Service spokeswoman, said the Forest Service has a similar reservoir-sharing arrangement at the Mountain High ski center.
Stubblefield said the snow-making systems will be part of an estimated $8 million to $12 million in improvements at Mt. Waterman and Kratka.
“First and foremost, we need to have snow making,” Stubblefield said. “Secondarily, we need to improve the parking. After that, we need to replace some lifts and a couple of lodges.”
Projecting a construction schedule for the snow-making system and other improvements is difficult, because Mt. Waterman is in “very preliminary” stages of planning and applying for approvals, according to Larry Christensen, president of Laguna Hills-based Alpine Consultants Inc., a land-planning and engineering consulting firm that Mt. Waterman’s new owners have hired for the project.
Christensen said the Forest Service often grants approvals in a few months or less if proposed construction consists of renovations or modifications of existing operations, because those projects don’t require an environmental impact report.
But all-new projects can easily take 18 months or more for approvals, because they require an environmental impact report along with other reviews not associated with modifications and expansions, he said. County approvals are required for any new structures, but those usually only take about six weeks, Christensen said.
Current and former owners say the pending snow-making systems at Kratka and Mt. Waterman will be the only snow making ever installed at either place, except for a small system that was in use temporarily at Kratka.
Former Kratka owner John Steely tried snow-making equipment on about 25% of the ski center’s slopes during the winter of 1996-97 but removed it after one year because he was disappointed in the system’s performance, Steely told The Times last year. The center was known as Kratka when Steely bought it, but he changed the name to Snowcrest. The new owners have changed the name back to Kratka.
Mt. Waterman, established in the early 1940s, is one of the region’s oldest ski resorts, with a vertical drop of more than 1,000 feet from its 8,030-foot summit. Kratka Ridge drops about 850 feet from its 7,650-foot summit.
Stubblefield said Mt. Waterman Acquisition Holdings Inc., which includes Stubblefield and a group of financial partners, owns 100% of Waterman and 86% of Kratka, with the remaining 14% of Kratka owned by individual investors. The company also is the parent of the two ski-center operating companies, Mt. Waterman Ski Lift Inc. and Angeles Winter Development Corp.
Stubblefield is a former Southern California Edison Co. executive, who left the power company recently to head Mt. Waterman Acquisition and the two operating companies.
When the new owners bought Waterman and Kratka Ridge, Stubblefield said, long-term plans proposed linking the two ski areas by developing about 80 to 100 acres of an area between the two called Buckhorn Springs. That would create about 300 skiable acres when combined with the existing 150 skiable acres at Mt. Waterman and the 58 acres at Kratka, Stubblefield said.
That would put the combined resort on a par with Big Bear ski areas, such as 230-acre Snow Summit and 240-acre Snow Valley, but Stubblefield said it would be a long time before Mt. Waterman and Kratka would be developed enough to compete with more modern and more established ski resorts like Big Bear.