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New Terrain, Fat Bikes, RFID Tags, and Much More Food

A look at the seasonal improvements to Tahoe-area ski resorts.

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As usual, the first snow of the winter season hit Lake Tahoe in September. That bodes well for skiers and snowboarders eager to hit the slopes. And, in fact, this winter may bear out that promise. The Farmer's Almanac predicts a wild flux of temperatures throughout the winter season that it's dubbed "The Polar Coaster," with some snowfall in November but the coldest dips coming in late January and early February. The National Weather Service meanwhile predicts a warmer winter, but Tahoe's ski resorts aren't leaving anything to chance with expanded snow making operations and a whole suite of new features to entice Bay Area ski and snowboard enthusiasts to make the trek over the mountains.

Several resorts, including Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe, Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Boreal Mountain Resort, are going paperless this new ski season by implementing Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) enabled gates at all entry lifts. Many snowbirds probably still remember the old way of going up the mountain: carrying single-use paper tickets that they had to show to board the lift between every lap. Now guests will carry new passes with embedded RFID chips that tell automatically open the gates to allow entry to chairlifts. And since RFID passes can be reloaded, it's not just faster — it also creates less paper waste. Vail Resorts — which includes Kirkwood, Northstar California, and Heavenly Ski Resort — is also launching the brand new Epic Day Pass, a customizable pass for skiers and riders on a budget. The Epic Day Pass is geared to guests looking for something more modest than the traditional unlimited access season passes, with discounts up to 50 percent off of lift ticket window prices and as low as $106 for one day of skiing at any of Vail's North American resorts.

Kirkwood will start offering fat bike rentals this season, so visitors can explore 37 miles of trails at Kirkwood's Cross Country and Snowshoe Center. With their distinctive oversized tires perfect for tackling deep drifts and diverse terrain, Kirkwood sees these bikes as the perfect option for a winter outing to include the whole family.

Bourbon Pub Northstar, a new project by celebrated restaurateur Michael Mina, opens at the base of the Big Springs Gondola at Northstar this season. The restaurant will serve beer, wine, cocktails, and high-end pub food like truffle tater tots, cheddar brats wrapped in puff pastry, and mesquite grilled steaks.

There's going to be more snow on the ground at Diamond Peak Ski Resort this year. The resort has purchased four new snowmaking guns designed to produce more snow with less noise. "These guns will not only allow us to open the resort with better snow quality during the early season," said Diamond Peak General Manager Mike Bandelin, "but they're also a lot quieter than the older air-water guns and make a lot more snow for the same amount of energy, so they're better for the environment too."

Homewood Mountain Resort also has made major new investments in snow-making technology this year, with a new winch cat for high angle grooming on Homewood's steepest slopes and a new snowcat to maintain high traffic trails. "We've focused our investments in snowmaking and grooming this year, with the intention of ensuring our guests are skiing and riding some of the best conditions in Tahoe all season long," said Kevin Mitchell, Homewood Mountain Resort's general manager. In partnership with the North American Ski Training Center, Homewood will offer snowcat guide and backcountry training to the public this season, teaching basic safety protocols, rescue techniques, and avalanche hazard awareness. Environmentally conscious guests will appreciate the new water bottle refill station installed this year in Homewood's North Lodge as part of an effort to reduce the single use plastic waste.

Tahoe Donner is making big changes at both its Downhill Ski Resort and Cross Country Ski Center, including a new Snowbird Triple Chairlift, improvements to its Learning Center, and new signage and expanded grooming with new PistenBully machines at both resorts. Tahoe Donner Cross County Ski Center is opening an expanded fitness facility in early 2020. The Center's restaurants also see some changes this season. "The Alder Creek Café and Trailside Bar located at the Cross Country Ski Center will be open nightly for dinner serving a mountain casual menu with great beer and wine options," said Derek Moore, Marketing Engagement Lead for the Tahoe Donner Association.

Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is also adding a variety of new dining options at its resort this winter. The new Lincoln Bar is the place for craft cocktails and artisan beers, featuring 2,000 square feet of new indoor bar space and a fireplace lounge as well as an outdoor kitchen and bar. Meanwhile, the Canyon BBQ will specialize in homestyle BBQ staples, while the Fowl Language restaurant at Eagle Lodge will specialize in, what else, poultry with southern-style chicken sandwiches and tenders. Perched at the top of chair 10, the Chair 10 Bar will feature a full bar and grab 'n' go food options for skiers on the move. Mammoth Lakes' movie theater just got more comfortable too; Minaret Cinemas has upgraded its theaters with recliner-style seats and will start serving a selection of beer and wine.

Boreal Mountain Resort opens a new action sports-themed bar and restaurant this winter season, Hub & Spoke, which will feature cocktails and healthy food options, as well as a burrito bar. Boreal also is beginning a new kids program this year, Woodward Mountain Kids, a multi-week instructional program for skiers of all ability levels in the 4–17 age range. The program offers weekday and weekend participation options with on-hill learning at Boreal and indoor training in Woodward Tahoe's Bunker.

Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe skiers will roll out more than $1.5 million in on-mountain improvements ahead of the winter 2019/20 season, with new snowmaking to its already extensive system, trail improvements, and new snow grooming machines at Kit Carson Bowl and Ponderosa Trail. "With the improvements we've made this summer, we're confident skiers and riders are going to find accessing our terrain easier than ever," said Mike Pierce, director of marketing at Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe. Summer slope grooming and new snowmaking infrastructure on Aida's Trail will make it possible to offer early season skiing on as little as 10-12 inches of packed base.

Sierra-at-Tahoe's trained rescue dog team, the Avalanche Dogs, has two new members this season: Avy, a golden retriever, and Echo, a border collie. "We have also given our base area food and beverage outlets a redesign this season, added a new coffee shop called Grand Brew, as well as repainted our iconic Sierra-at-Tahoe sign," said Sarah Sherman, Communications and PR Manager. The resort also offers a new eight-week training regime for competitive skiers enrolled in the resort's Competition Teams Program at the Barton Center for Orthopedics and Wellness in South Lake Tahoe. The program is sponsored by the Sierra Education Foundation and will focus on physical preparation, injury prevention, nutrition and more.

Soda Springs Mountain Resort is premiering Mountain Adventure for winter 19/20, a new all-access ticket option for simplified and faster access to the Tubing and Planet Kids venues. Mountain Adventure does not include skiing or snowboarding.

Alpine Meadows is debuting a new chairlift this season called the Treeline Cirque to replace the Hot Wheels chair. The new lift will extend beyond its predecessor to give skiers quick and easy access to some of Alpine Meadows' most coveted terrain on the hill's backside at Sherwood Ridge. "It has been quite some time since we have installed a lift that accessed new terrain, it's actually a bit of a rarity at this point for ski resorts to do so," said Alex Spychalsky, Public Relations Coordinator for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows. Previously, guests would have to take a 45-minute trip via multiple chairlifts to access Sherwood Ridge; now guests can travel directly from the base to Sherwood ridge in just 5 minutes.

Squaw Valley is unveiling its new Tram Car Bar, in a refurbished 1970's era tram cabin. "With the Aerial Tram soaring overhead, the iconic, rocky Tram Face in the background and details like the original logo on the cabin, this bar will make the perfect retro photo op to cap off a day on the slopes," said Spychalsky. Tremigo Mexican Kitchen and Tequila Bar, a new Mexican restaurant, will also be opening in The Village at Squaw Valley for the 2019-20 winter season. Sugar Bowl Resort is replacing the Flume Surface Lift on the Judah side of the resort with a new, 240-foot covered surface lift. Twelve of the Mountain View Rooms in the Sugar Bowl Hotel are being renovated ahead of the winter season with new furniture, paint, carpeting, lighting, and window and door treatments. Renovations to the hotel's serving and seating areas are underway to give it a modern take on a traditional quaint old world Austrian ski lodge. 

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