Powder to the People

The rainy season is around the corner.

Which means powder in the Sierras. And although Marinites have quick access to Tahoe, this may be the year to cop a Rocky Mountain high. The reason: Vail Resorts, which owns Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone as well as Heavenly, is offering a deal so good it’s likely to tempt many a weekend warrior into taking a ski sabbatical. The promo: purchase a season pass at Heavenly for $379 and get half-price daily lift tickets at all of the company’s Colorado properties.

“We’ve got the largest mountain, the most vertical feet, the highest summit, yet we still offer one of the least expensive season passes in Tahoe,” says Ross Pecoraro, director of communications at Heavenly. “And with this new deal, we hope many of our Bay Area pass holders will hop a plane and plan an extended stay at one of our Colorado resorts.” 

The promotion is hardly an indication that the ski company is hurting for money. In fact, a flagging economy has done little to deter Vail Resorts from upgrading its facilities. Nowhere is this more evident than at the company’s namesake resort. 

“Vail has always been on the cutting edge of ski technology,” says Kelly Ladyga, vice president of corporate communications for Vail. “But over the past few years we’ve sunk millions into making sure that the town keeps pace.” Updates include completion of RockResorts’ Arrabelle at Vail Square, at the base of the gondola. This super-swank property is the cornerstone of a brand-new European-style village, kept cozy with outdoor fire pits scattered throughout the upscale shopping arcade. The town square now features an open-air skating rink that doubles as a movie theater in the summer months. Another tony touch: every concrete walkway has been torn up and replaced with heated brick pavers. In addition to improving aesthetics, it keeps guests from slipping on undetected ice slicks.

Vail Resorts’ other properties are enjoying a renaissance as well. Breckenridge, for example, added a third full-service base area called Peak 7. The new locale, which can be accessed via a stop on the resort’s gondola, boasts a 46-unit luxury lodge called the Crystal Peak, a Mediterranean restaurant, a ticket office and rental shop.

Meanwhile, over at Beaver Creek, the company cut the ribbon on a state-of-the-art children’s ski and snowboard school. The 4,000-square-foot center has discreet observation windows so parents can keep tabs without interfering with kids’ learning; what’s more, the adjacent beginners’ slope has been structurally engineered to encourage proper form. Ah, if only they could do the same for those double black diamonds.

 We’ll always have Tahoe

If a trip to other high elevations isn’t in the cards, here’s a roundup of what’s new and improved in our own backyard.

Sugar Bowl: It’s the closest major ski resort for the Bay Area. And if that’s not enough of a draw, perhaps the unveiling of nine new ski in/ski out condos at the Jerome Creek Lodge will do the trick. Meanwhile, thrill seekers will find new boxes, hits and jumps at the resort’s extensive terrain park. Approximate daily lift ticket: $66 to $72. sugarbowl.com

Squaw Valley: To help retain its world-class status, Squaw will be among the first to debut a new “smart” ticketing system. When guests pass through an electronic gate, the scanner will detect their ticket, even when it’s buried under layers of Gore-Tex. Other big changes: the mid-mountain restaurant has been gutted, remodeled (with a nod toward sustainability) and renamed the Arc, featuring a fresh healthy menu. Approximate daily lift ticket: $79. squaw.com

Northstar-at-Tahoe: This family-friendly resort poured $15 million into on-mountain improvements. Trees were thinned to improve glade skiing; a high-speed quad lift was installed in the place of an outdated two-seater; and best of all, 414 skiable acres were added, bringing the terrain total to 2,904. Approximate daily lift ticket: $75. northstarattahoe.com

Alpine Meadows: The last Tahoe resort to welcome snowboarders to the mountain has come a long way in terms of shredder hospitality. These days not only are boarders welcome along with skiiers, but this season Alpine opened a Burton Learn-to-Ride Center. The program, which runs in partnership with the brand leader in snowboard technology, introduces newcomers to the sport on beginner-specific equipment and incorporates teaching methods proven to speed up the learning curve. Approximate daily lift ticket: $65. skialpine.com

Kirkwood: The resort that positions itself as the Tahoe mountain with the highest average snow accumulations will add three new lifts: two providing quick access to terrain formerly only available to folks willing to hike for it, plus a new beginner lift. Approximate daily lift ticket: $75. kirkwood.com

Dawn Denberg

Dawn Margolis Denberg has worked as a professional journalist for 20 years. Her work has appeared in top publications, including Wired, Shape and Parenting. She has also written several books for children including, The Men in Black Agent’s Manual The Official Godzilla Movie Fact Book. And, most recently, an episodic audio series for Tales Untold.