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Sierra ski season ends after challenging year

April 12, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Sierra Nevada ski resorts are beginning to shut down lifts for the season after what some operators are calling a "very challenging year" because of the economy's downhill run. The Boreal, Soda Springs and Homewood resorts around Lake Tahoe closed on Sunday, a week before the nearby Alpine Meadows, Heavenly, Northstar-at-Tahoe and Diamond Peak ski areas plan to halt operations.

In a message on the resort's Web site, Alpine Meadows executives acknowledged the economy is prompting an earlier-than-usual shutdown of their slopes. Last year, the resort closed May 4.

Art Chapman, president of JMA Ventures, and Jim Kercher, chief operating officer and general manager of Alpine Meadows, said it was "a very challenging year" for the industry as skier counts and revenue were down sharply at all Tahoe resorts.

"Our decision to close April 19 was driven by the unfortunate fact that we are not seeing the number of skiers necessary to cover our operating costs on weekdays or weekends," they wrote.

Alpine Meadows also wants to make sure it has the necessary capital to make upgrades for next season, they added.

Other resorts said skier numbers were down, but for different reasons such as a later start of snow and a snowy Presidents Day weekend that kept crowds away.

"We weren't significantly down because our prices are cheaper than other resorts," Boreal spokesman Jon Slaughter said Sunday.

The corporate communications department at Vail Resorts, which owns Heavenly on Tahoe's south shore and four ski resorts in Colorado, did not immediately return a voice message and an e-mail requesting comment.

But at an April 1 conference in Keystone, Colo., Vail Resorts Chief Executive Officer Rob Katz said his company has faced a dramatic decline in ski school participation and high-end retail spending this season.

"We've seen such huge declines, especially during some of the key weeks," said Katz, whose company is the nation's largest ski operator.

Most Sierra resorts plan to close by late this month, despite storms in recent days that dropped up to 20 inches of snow.

Northstar still has 7 feet of snow on top and 3 feet at mid-mountain, spokeswoman Jessica VanPernis said.

"But with spring, interest in skiing starts to wane a bit," she said. "People put their skis away, and pull out their bicycles and golf clubs."

Elsewhere around Tahoe, plans call for Sierra-at-Tahoe to close on April 20, Kirkwood on April 26 and Squaw Valley USA on May 10.

Mt. Rose above Reno plans to operate daily through April 19, then stay open only Fridays through Sundays until May 3.

As usual, Mammoth Mountain near Yosemite National Park hopes to stay open the longest - at least through Memorial Day weekend.


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