While resorts around Lake Tahoe pour millions into capital improvements, develop iPhone apps and raise giant condominium complexes, Kirkwood Mountain Resort hangs on to a privileged place among the region's ski mountains.
"Everybody who's a skier wants to ski something legendary," said CEO Dave Likins. "And they're going to have to come to Kirkwood to do that."
On opening day, Nov. 23, the Wood didn't have enough snow to entirely cover its precipitous peaks, but eventually they will. If there's two things Kirkwood can pride itself on, it's the mountain's jagged, hair-raising runs and the location's constantly superior snowfall.
"I ride Kirkwood because it's where I grew up riding," said former pro snowboarder Ryan Kronenberg.
"And it's got the deepest snow in Tahoe and it's got really good terrain as far as free riding and big mountain riding goes."
Those two elements - deep snow and steep mountains - are all the resort needs to run alongside constantly developing competition, Likins said.
"We have something you cannot re-create," he said. "And the things we don't have, we can re-create."
Living in the area, it's not difficult to understand why people ski Kirkwood or even to point out a Kirkwood local.
Drawing that certain die-hard powder crew, rather than, say, the minivan crew, is part of the mountain's charisma.
"It's about the skiing," Likins said. "As long as you have the passion and respect for skiing, you're going to fit in really well here."
Though the mountain itself won't be changing any time soon, the resort has done some upgrades to the visitor experience.
After the January 2010 fire in the power plant, a brand-new, eight-engine plant was installed. The new power plant, though still diesel, will be 25 percent more efficient and will cut emissions by 70 percent. It will also ensure that those pesky lift stoppages will be a thing of the past, Likins said.
The mountain is still working towards connecting to the PG&E grid. A final environmental impact report is expected with four to six weeks.
Also new for this year, Kirkwood revamped their restaurants with new menus. They upgraded commercial and retail facilities. They've added more high-angle grooming equipment. And they're working on new branding and more differentiation between their four terrain parks.
Kirkwood's preview weekends, Nov. 25-27 and Dec. 2-4, are a chance for people who don't normally ride the mountain to give it a try. Anyone with a season pass at any mountain in the Lake Tahoe region will ski or ride for free.