With the closure of Kirkwood Mountain Resort today, the South Shore’s 2013-14 ski season is officially coming to an end.
Heavenly Mountain Resort and Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort shut down winter operations on April 20.
A lack of snowfall during the season presented some challenges, but all three reported solid ski conditions overall, thanks to the benefits of man-made snow, the right location or a mix of both.
“I would say the biggest takeaway is that even though Mother Nature was not cooperative, we were able to provide the best experience to guests,” Heavenly spokesperson Sally Gunter said.
Heavenly — a subsidiary of Vail Resorts, like Kirkwood — used the West Coast’s largest snowmaking system to battle meager weather conditions. It took advantage of the colder temperatures when it could, and the result was something many guests seemed to enjoy throughout the season, Gunter said.
“It (snowmaking) has been very crucial, and has been for the last three years,” she said.
On the other hand, Kirkwood, which doesn’t have a snowmaking system as extensive as Heavenly, put most of its trust in Mother Nature. The resort has received a total of 375 inches of snow at the summit so far this season.
March and February were particularly strong months offering some of the best skiing and riding of the season, Kirkwood spokesperson Kevin Cooper said.
Kirkwood closes its winter operations April 27.
“I think it was a good season,” he said, “just a little bit late.”
Total snowfall in Tahoe as of Jan. 31 was down 73 percent compared to the prior year, according to a Vail Resorts March 12 report. And consequently, Vail Resorts’ Tahoe ski destinations — which include Northstar California — only had 33 percent of trails open by the end of January.
For comparison, 95 percent of trails were open at the same point the prior season and 65 percent of trails were open during the 2011-12 ski season.
The adverse conditions — a blend of dry and warm weather — also led to a decline in ski visits at Vail Resorts’ Tahoe destinations. Visitation, as of Jan. 31, was down 27.7 percent compared to the previous year.
Tahoe did receive several additional feet of fresh snow since Jan. 31. However, snowpack in the South Shore area was at 29 percent of its long-term average as of April 1, according to a survey by the California Department of Water Resources.
Vail Resorts CEO Rob Katz, in the March report, called the conditions in Tahoe “very challenging”.
“While Tahoe did finally receive substantial snowfall ahead of the Presidents’ Day holiday, conditions did not meaningfully recover until the end of February,” Katz said in the report. “This impacted not only February results but March as well, as we believe guests deferred their booking decisions waiting for snowfall.”
Sierra-at-Tahoe reported Friday that it too had a challenging year, but there still were many notable highlights. The resort received almost 300 inches of snow at the summit and hosted a large welcome home party for its three sponsored Olympians.
It also was able to retain much of the snow on its mountain, thanks to its north-facing slopes and tree cover.
Overall, Sierra’s season had a “slow start, a dip in the middle, but a decent finish,” said Mindi Befu, director of sales and marketing.
“We had good coverage on the trails and we’re able to keep good conditions,” she said, adding that the resort was “making most of the sunshine.”
Sierra opened Dec. 6 with a limited number of trails available, but had 100 percent of its runs open in January, and all of them remained open until last week, Befu said.
However, like its South Shore counterparts, Sierra also experienced a decline in visitation this season. Year-over-year ski visits were down about 30 percent as of Friday.
The decline isn’t what the ski resort likes to see, but next season is a chance to turn things back around, Befu said.
“I think the good thing about working in the ski business is that each year you get to start over and try again,” she said.
Gunter, Befu and Cooper mentioned rumors of an El Niño year coming, and they’re already looking forward to the 2014-15 ski season, they said.
“We’re just really thankful for all the season pass holders and riders that came up to Heavenly this season and we’re looking forward to next season,” Gunter said.