When it snows, those who enjoy sliding on the white stuff race for them thar hills.
Abundant snowfall last winter in Northern California and across the West produced great visitor numbers. California and Nevada had nearly 7.3 million visits during the 2015-16 season, up from about 4.4 million during the 2014-15 season, according to the California Ski Industry Assn.
Utah resorts recorded a 10-year high of nearly 4.5 million visits, according to Ski Utah.
And Colorado resorts topped 13 million skier visits for the first time, according to combined data from Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade group, and Vail Resorts.
California and other Western resort operators are hoping for similar cooperation from Mother Nature this winter and a little help from social media.
Two cases in point: Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows’ new app offers real-time lift, trail and snow data with what’s described as a first-of-its kind feature in a ski resort app: one-touch “group” creation that lets users stay connected with family and friends on the slopes, sharing locations and messages.
And Vail Resorts’ EpicMix Time, which provides crowd-sourced lift-line wait times, debuts at the company’s three California properties: Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood. It was introduced last year at Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone.
Here are other new and newsworthy developments at resorts in California, across the West and in Canada:
►Snow Summit’s new Summit Kids Center, a 3,000-square-foot learning center offering rentals, lift tickets and sports school registration.
►The newly renovated Method’s Sports Bar at Bear Mountain’s main lodge.
►Snow Summit’s new 30-foot rock climbing wall, which will remain open through the winter, weather permitting.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Snow Summit hosting the inaugural Winter X Games, a milestone both resorts will celebrate with on- and off-slope activities.
Snow Valley has invested $150,000 in rental ski and snowboard equipment and installed a new 300-foot-long conveyor lift, said to expand terrain at the resort’s Children’s Learning Center by 200%.
Homewood Mountain Resort is again offering its Snowcat Adventures backcountry skiing and riding program.
Sugar Bowl Ski Resort and Royal Gorge Cross County have invested $3 million for new snowcats to groom steep slopes, racing areas and cross-country surfaces, and in enhanced food and beverage services.
Northstar California Resort offers luxury winter vacation experiences for a day, weekend or the season with customizable Platinum packages, which include pass priority access to lift lines, “Primo” mountain-guided exploration, a daily on-snow Champagne event and a member’s lounge.
Sierra-at-Tahoe debuts an expanded learning environment for novice skiers and snowboarders featuring sculpted terrain.
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows welcomes the return of World Cup ski racing for the first time in nearly 50 years. U.S. Olympic champions Mikaela Shiffrin and Squaw’s own Julia Mancuso are expected to compete in a giant slalom race March 10 and a slalom the next day. The resorts have unwrapped more than $3.6 million in capital improvements, including snowmaking enhancements and upgraded grooming vehicles.
Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows also is partnering with Alpenglow Expeditions to provide lift-accessed guided backcountry skiing and snowboarding. Guests can book a day of guided skiing or snowboarding with Alpenglow to explore backcountry areas adjacent to Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.
Tahoe Donner Downhill Ski Area recently bought Crabtree Canyon, an adjacent alpine valley northwest of Truckee. The acquisition includes a 640-acre tract that will add trails at the Tahoe Donner Cross Country area.
Heavenly Mountain Resort has expanded its Ski & Ride School offerings to allow guests to customize their day on the slopes with new “Design Your Own Experience” private lessons.
The Tahoe Mountain Lab at Heavenly’s Lakeview Lodge is an on-mountain shared workspace for professionals who want to take a few runs before dialing in to a conference call in their ski or snowboard boots.
Heavenly’s “Unbuckle at Tamarack” daily après parties feature new themed weeks planned around holidays (Mardi Gras, Carnival and spring break).
Kirkwood Mountain Resort broadens its Expedition: Kirkwood instructional program to include daily mountain guide service and private snowcat tours.
Aspen Snowmass: Aspen plays host to the 2017 Audi FIS Ski World Cup Finals March 15-19, the first time the event has been in the United States in 20 years. The races will feature the world’s best men’s and women’s alpine skiers competing in downhill, super-G, giant slalom and slalom races, and a nations’ team event.
Snowmass’ Gwyn’s High Alpine Restaurant expands to seat 800, up from 350 last winter, and adds a bar with a large wood-burning fireplace and big-screen TVs.
Breckenridge Ski Resort will open Pioneer Crossing, a 490-seat restaurant near the Independence SuperChair on Peak 7. The restaurant, with dramatic mountain and town views, will offer salads and a Mediterranean station.
Crested Butte Mountain Resort’s new Coal Breaker Coffee Co., in the base area’s Treasury Center, offers made-to-order crepes, breakfast sandwiches, espresso and hand-scooped ice cream.
Purgatory expands and regrades its Columbine beginner area and relocates and redesigns the Snow Coaster tubing hill.
Steamboat replaces its Elkhead fixed-grip quad with a high-speed detachable quad, cutting ride time by more than half in the mountain’s Sunshine and Priest Creek areas.
The resort’s new mountain coaster, near the Christie Peak Express lift, will operate year-round.
Alaska Airlines is introducing a direct flight from San Diego International Airport to Steamboat/Hayden Airport, flying Wednesdays and Saturdays from Dec. 17 to March 25.
Telluride Ski Resort marks the 20th anniversary of its Mountain Village Gondola system with events throughout the season. The resort’s newest restaurant, Altezza at the Peaks, offers great views and an Italian-inspired menu.
Telluride also adds a kids’ zone and free, family-friendly events, movie nights and live music in the Mountain Village throughout the season.
Vail Mountain’s ninth replacement chairlift in the last 10 years, the Sun Up Express high-speed quad in the Back Bowls, cuts ride time in half to to four minutes and increases capacity by 65%. The lift serves intermediate and advanced terrain.
Winter Park Resort resurrects its (once and again) unique-in-the-U.S. ski train, offering passenger rail service from Denver’s Union Station to the resort, beginning Jan. 7 and continuing every weekend and holiday Monday through March 26.
Powder Mountain Resort’s two new lifts provide access to 1,000 acres of terrain previously reached only by snowcat. The huge resort caps ticket sales at 2,000 a day and limits season-pass holders to 3,000 annually, all to keep its skier/snowboarder density at less than two skiers per acre.
Whisper Ridge Cat Skiing, scheduled to open its inaugural season Dec. 26, has all the makings of a unique backcountry experience: more than 60,000 acres of private ski and snowboard terrain, accessed by eight custom snowcats for single or multi-day tours with optional first-descent helicopter drops.
The resort has three mountaintop overnight yurt villages with wood-fired hot tubs and wellness services. Lodging packages are all-inclusive, with chef-prepared meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Sundance Mountain Resort is replacing its Arrowhead triple lift with a quad chair, increasing uphill capacity by more than 500 people per hour.
Cherry Peak, in its second year of operation, has a new lift, its third. The Summit chair nearly doubles the mountain’s skiable terrain to more than 400 acres. Cherry Peak also offers night skiing.
Solitude Mountain Resort, now in its second year owned and operated by Deer Valley Resort, renovates the Roundhouse restaurant and expands its Himalayan and Wasatch-inspired mountain cuisine.
ELSEWHERE IN THE WEST AND CANADA
Sun Valley in Idaho is adding 21 acres of glade skiing on Bald Mountain, increasing total glade terrain to 55 acres. The new acreage results from the resort’s continuing work with the U.S. Forest Service to cull diseased, dead and fallen trees to reduce the risk of wildfires.
Big Sky Resort in Montana has two new lifts, one a high-speed six-person chair that replaces the Lone Peak Triple, dating to the resort’s 1973 opening.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in Wyoming unwraps its eight-person Sweetwater Gondola, which rises 1,276 vertical feet to just uphill of the Casper Restaurant.
Mt. Bachelor in Oregon has a new $6-million high-speed quad chair, Cloudchaser, serving 635 acres of new terrain for a total of 4,318 acres.
Whistler Blackcomb in British Columbia, Canada, was acquired by Vail Resorts in a $1-billion late-summer deal. Whistler’s Olympic Zone learning area has been improved with terrain grading and two new covered carpet lifts.
Snowmaking capacity also has been boosted there and at Blackcomb’s Base Learning Area.
Whistler’s Roundhouse Lodge gets new upper and lower decks and adds 100 outdoor seats.
British Columbia’s provincial legislature has approved development of a huge high-alpine resort, Valemount Glacier Destinations, near the British Columbia-Alberta border.
The resort will sit between the Cariboo Mountains to the west and the Canadian Rockies to the east. Its first lifts could be spinning as early as December 2017.