Last winter's strong recovery from a woeful 2011-12 ski and snowboard season has spurred much capital improvement and many new programs and promotions at mountain resorts. Here are highlights of what's new this ski and snowboard season in California and across the West.
Mountain High's more than $1 million in improvements include a new Rossignol Experience Center with high-performance rental equipment, an expanded Children's Sports Center, new snowcat grooming vehicles and terrain features, and more than $300,000 in snowmaking enhancements.
June Mountain, the modest family-friendly destination that Mammoth Mountain management closed last winter to save money, reopens Dec. 13 (conditions permitting) with this unique pricing plan: Kids 12 and younger can ski and snowboard free this season, with no restrictions or blackout dates. The reopening is good news for business owners in June Lake, the tiny town just north of Mammoth Lakes, with 17 lodges, eight restaurants, four nearby lakes and views of Carson Peak.
Mammoth Mountain debuts a terrain park for beginners and children, daycare for infants, a $30 lift ticket for children 7-12 (kids 6 and younger are always free) and several new dining options.
The new Unbound Playground Progression Park allows newbies of all ages to learn how to perform tricks and master rails and box slides. Campo Mammoth restaurant opens in the Village at Mammoth with a menu inspired by chef Mark Estee's travels through Italy's rural villages. At the Main Lodge, the new Green V (formerly Broadway Bakery) is Mammoth's first and only "wellness" concept restaurant, featuring a vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menu for breakfast and lunch.
Partner resorts Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are in the middle of a five-year, $70-million improvement project. For this season, they've expanded their grooming fleet and snowmaking capabilities, added new terrain park features, new kids' ski school programs and two roaming food trucks. Alpine's mid-mountain Chalet lodge has been reborn as the Sierra Beer Garden, a taste of Bavaria serving sausage dishes, sandwiches and brews.
Sugar Bowl unveils $20 million in improvements, including the new Crow's Peak chairlift, providing access to two new groomed runs and the previously hike-to glades of the Strawberry Fields area.
Northstar has added new terrain in its Promised Land section and refurbished the Big Springs Gondola's cabins. The luxe mid-mountain Ritz-Carlton at Northstar unveils the Backyard Bar & BBQ, a slope-side restaurant serving ribs, wood-fired pizzas, beer and specialty cocktails.
Diamond Peak is expanding its Last Tracks beer- and wine-tasting events to all Saturdays, February through April, and select Fridays, and has new gladed terrain.
Sierra-at-Tahoe's new base mountain plaza includes a restaurant, rental shop, retail outlets and a deck, with fire pits that will feature live musical performances.
Heavenly introduces a roving snowcat with a DJ platform, amping up musical options in its terrain parks, and outdoor go-go dancers and an additional bar at the on-mountain Tamarack Lodge.
Homewood unveils a backcountry skiing and luxury lodging package in partnership with Pacific Crest Snowcats and the West Shore Lodge.
Arguably the biggest on-mountain news in the West is at Breckenridge, where the long-awaited Peak 6 expansion increases the resort's skiable acreage by 23%, including 400 acres of high-alpine, intermediate bowl terrain served by two new lifts and an additional 143 acres of hike-to terrain. One of the lifts is a high-speed six-seater that climbs to a 12,300-foot summit.
Arapahoe Basin's 6th Alley Bar in the A-frame base lodge has undergone a $1-million remodeling, adding a horseshoe-shaped bar and expanded table seating, and been renamed the 6th Alley Bar & Grill.
Aspen's only five-star, five-diamond and ski-in/ski-out property, the luxe Little Nell hotel, has renovated two of its VIP suites.
Beaver Creek unveils 17 acres of new terrain that includes a women's downhill and super G course in preparation for the 2015 FIS Alpine World Ski Championships at Beaver Creek and Vail.