Lake Tahoe is officially open for business — as long as business comes


After a welcome snowstorm hit earlier this week, several of the region’s largest ski resorts decided they would get the season started early. But after last season’s bust, it’ll be interesting to see how many skiers actually show up to hit the slopes.

In this week’s Business Times, I wrote about how resorts on Lake Tahoe are hoping for a boost this season after a virtually snowless winter last year resulted in one of the worst seasons on record. Most are optimistic and have little doubt that things will turn around.

According to Ski Lake Tahoe, skier visits were down by a whopping 26 percent last season (see chart ). Tahoe spokesman Daniel Pistoresi said that even when snow did fall in late January, skiers and snowboarders were skeptical about coming out.

“It was difficult to change the perception of poor conditions portrayed by national media outlets — they love to share the doom and gloom story — not to mention once people started golfing, biking, hiking, etc., it was tough to get their frame of mind focused back on skiing,” Pistoresi said. “The reality was skiers and snowboarders who did make the trip up to the slopes last season were pleasantly surprised by the snow conditions.”

Now the weather has shaped up, and so have several resorts. Following last year’s meager snowfall, many of the resorts made substantial upgrades to their snowmaking systems and spent more than $100 million in ongoing capital improvements.

Squaw Valley and Northstar both said that they are back track and aiming for 2010-2011 visitor levels — the second busiest season on record.

“As long as Mother Nature decides to even remotely cooperate, the resorts are anticipating skier visits will be back in line with the growing numbers who hit the slopes during the three previous seasons,” Pistoresi said. “Last season represents a complete anomaly in terms of weather, and skier and snowboarders are already flocking to the slopes this season to make up for time lost last season.”

Boreal, Heavenly, Northstar, Kirkwood and Squaw are all open. Sugar Bowl will open on Nov. 17, followed by Mt. Rose on Nov. 21. Diamond Peak and Homewood will both open in mid-December. The remainder have not yet announced their openings.

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