There's no shortage of snow on the slopes of North America
Snow Report: It looks like another bumper year for powder in the US and Canada
Sunday 11 December 2011
The snow may finally be falling on Europe's ski slopes, but it's already looking like another remarkable season for ski centres on the west coast of North America.
Last year, ski areas received record snowfall – we're talking more than 18m (60ft) in total in some places. In the middle of last month Whistler (whistlerblackcomb.com), in British Columbia, clocked up a metre of fresh snow in the first week of its season. It's all down, we're told, to a La Niña weather system off the Pacific, bringing in vast quantities of precipitation.
Although it may be famed for its sunshine and beach culture, California is geared up to handling vast quantities of snow. Even when several feet fall in just a few hours, roads are rarely closed for long. Still, if you're renting a car from San Francisco, it's worth booking a 4x4 to save yourself the likelihood of needing to put chains on your tyres (especially in a raging blizzard) on stretches of the I80, which takes you, in four hours, from the beachfront up to the ski resorts of Lake Tahoe. The final stretch crosses Donner Pass, named for a party of 87 pioneers stranded there by snow throughout the winter of 1846-47. Just 48 of them survived into the spring. How travel has changed.
Lake Tahoe is home to a dozen world-class ski areas, which have between them spent more than $100m (£64m) on improvements for this winter. There is also a slightly new dynamic here. Following Vail Resorts' takeover of control of two of the top resorts – Heavenly (skiheavenly.com) and Northstar (skinorthstar.com) – another two big players, Squaw Valley (squaw.com) and Alpine Meadows (skialpine.com), decided to merge operations and also offer a joint ticket.
A lot of the multimillion dollar investment will be hard to spot by the occasional visitor. But Northstar's $30m (£19m) is a little more obvious, partly in the form of a new quad chairlift, which accesses the more challenging backside of the mountain, home to long steep slopes through lightly wooded glades – add the powder snow and this equates to ski or (this being California after all) boarding ecstasy for experts. There are two new intermediate level runs, too, and beginners already have an excellent area by the on-mountain Ritz-Carlton hotel.
Vail Resorts is also keen to highlight its ever-improving Epic Pass (epicmix.com), which makes the most of new technology to electronically track you on the mountain, generate statistics, locate your friends, post it all on Facebook, and do a million and one more things. It would have been a boon to rescuers searching for the stranded Donner party in the deep snow of 165 years ago.
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