Ski Resorts 2.0: Resorts reinvent themselves

LIKE A NORMAN ROCKWELL PAINTING, the old-school ski experience — focused on skiing all day, in deep snow, and après ski in long johns — has become a thing of the past.

Ski resorts are reinventing themselves in the face of global warming, competition and changing demographics.

More of them are “weatherproofing” their businesses to cope with unpredictable snowfall. They are adding new activities to draw millennials, who spend less time on the slopes than older generations.

More of the resorts are “going green” with a wide range of sustainability projects to cope with climate change. And they are consolidating rapidly.

The changes are revolutionizing a $3 billion a year industry that has figured out that skiing alone is a risky business. “It’s like a snow farmer whose yearly harvest is only as good as the snow crop,” as an article on “Ski-nomics 101” concluded in the Atlantic Monthly.

Here are some examples of the changes in our region for the 2017-18 season:

Despite last season’s epic snowfall, ski resorts aren’t waiting for Mother Nature. New snowmaking guns at Squaw Valley allow faster and more productive snowmaking. At Alpine Meadows, the overhaul of several air compressors allows for a more efficient snowmaking.

Four PB 400 snowcat grooming vehicles and three new PB 100’s are in action at Squaw and Alpine, clearing snow faster and more efficiently around chairlifts and bringing the fleet total to 42 machines. Homewood Mountain Resort also has added a new snowcat.

Diamond Peak is testing new low-energy snow guns that use a fourth of the compressed air needed for the older models. Air compressors are the main source of energy consumption in the snow making system. Mt. Rose also has expanded its snowmaking.

A new High Camp Marketplace at Squaw Valley is offering healthy grab-and-go meals and snacks, coffee, espresso, wine and beer. Other High Camp restaurants and facilities are getting a makeover. This compliments a ski-thru Starbuck’s at Squaw Valley.

James Beard award-winning chef and renowned San Francisco-based restaurateur Traci Des Jardins has joined with Sugar Bowl Resort to serve as a culinary advisor for the resort. Des Jardins has helped create new menus for all of the resort’s culinary offerings.

Heavenly Mountain Resort’s California Lodge has a new rooftop bar, Lat 38. It is a posh après scene with a mountain-modern feel, stringed café lights, a unique warm drink menu, cozy fire pits, acoustic live bands, and appetizers.

In the Village at Mammoth Mountain, Shelter Distilling is a new small-batch operation offering tastings and cocktails.

The Red Cliffs Family Lodge at Kirkwood Mountain Resort features a new family center. It includes a movie night each Saturday with popcorn, snacks, a hot cocoa bar, beer, wine, s’mores and games. The lodge also will have an array of board games.

Boreal Mountain Resort is now home to the California ski industry’s largest on-site solar project. The 235 kW solar photovoltaic (pv) system mounted on the Woodward Bunker roof, is projected to generate more than 325,000 kWh of clean electricity annually, enough clean energy to power the equivalent of nearly 30 residential homes.

The installation will offset more than 250 tons of carbon emissions, equivalent to removing 52 cars from the road annually.

From a “ski-nomics” viewpoint, less competition leads to a more stable and growing industry. Rapid consolidation is reshaping the North American ski market. This summer, Squaw Valley Ski Holdings, Intrawest, Mammoth Resorts and others combined to create an entity of 12 four-season mountain resorts with six million skier visits. Its new name: Alterra Mountain Company.

This fall Squaw Valley|Alpine Meadows announced plans to install a base-to-base gondola connecting The Village at Squaw Valley and the base area at Alpine Meadows. The freshly branded “California Express” gondola is targeted to open ahead of the 2019-20 winter season. The connection will realize the long-held dream of pioneers who brought the 1960 Winter Olympics to Squaw Valley nearly 60 years ago.

(Photo: Kirkwood Mountain Resort)

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