Like everyone else, skiers and snowboarders are facing some cold economic realities.
Layoffs, bailouts and declining 401(k) values get the headlines, but in contrast to the grim news, on the slopes there are some reasons for optimism.
"Historically - and I put that 'historically' out there in capital letters - a good snow season has always trumped a poor economy," said Bob Roberts, executive director of the California Ski Industry Association. "If there's a lot of snow, and you've got the worries of the world on your shoulders, a day on the slopes is great therapy."
And, thanks to a dramatic decline in gasoline prices, those therapy sessions are somewhat easier to schedule - especially at Mammoth Mountain and other winter resorts in Southern California.
"Out-of-state destination trips are going to be affected by the economy," said Mountain High spokeswoman Laura Johnson. "We're getting the word out that you can still take your family ski trip and it will be a lot more affordable if you go close."
Driving that point home, so to speak, the Wrightwood resort has a gas calculator on its Web site, www.mthigh.com. Type in the price per gallon, vehicle type and starting point, and it compares what it costs to get to Mountain High, Bear Mountain and Mammoth.
Besides finances, weather conditions also have been a challenge this season. Mother Nature has been stingy with the white stuff, but
Some of this season's best coverage in the state has been at Mammoth, which benefited from a pre-Thanksgiving storm. A few days ago, the resort reported a base of 12 to 48 inches of machine-groomed natural and machine-made snow.
Now, it's a matter of getting people to come up and take advantage.
"Ninety percent of our skier visits come from Southern California, so when it's warm down there, and everyone is walking around in shorts and a T-shirt, and perhaps playing a round of golf, it doesn't feel like winter," said Mammoth spokeswoman Joani Lynch.
With natural snowfall out of the control of resort operators, they're rolling out deals to attract business. Some of the promotions include:
The "Christmas on Us" package at Mammoth. Guests who arrive Dec. 21 and book four nights' lodging and four lift tickets get accommodations on the fifth night for free plus complimentary skiing and boarding on Christmas Day. In January, the resort's "Midweek Madness" lifts-and-lodging packages start at $119 per person per night.
The extension of season-pass discounts. At Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, the price of a dual-mountain passport will hold steady through Dec. 31. The sale on Snow Valley's anytime season pass ($329), which was scheduled to end Dec. 8, also continues through New Year's Eve. In addition, this is the first year Snow Valley is offering anytime passes for teens at a reduced price.
A price break for Mountain High's eight-hour lift tickets, which will be available at Ralphs grocery stores Jan. 7 through March 11. The cost will be $49, instead of $64, with no grocery purchase required.
Some of the deals have found lots of bargain hunters, including Mammoth's First Tracks package - which features slopeside rooms for $99 per person and is available for arrivals through Wednesday. Bookings are up 10 percent to 15 percent over last year.
"All of the resorts are going to be looking at what sort of incentives they need to put out there to stimulate demand," Roberts said. "They may not set great turnout records this winter, but everybody feels pretty sanguine about the season - if and when the weather sets in."
Here's what to expect this winter at several resorts popular with Southern California skiers and snowboarders:
What's new: Nonstop flights to Mammoth aboard a Horizon Air turboprop from LAX will get skiers and sliders on the slopes quicker than driving the 395. On the mountain, $750,000 was spent on half-pipe improvements, new signature features and upgraded snow-making.
What's cool: The resort's new partnership with the upscale Patina Restaurant Group promises an improved dining experience at on-mountain food establishments and other locations.
Information: (800) 626-6684; www.mammothmountain.com
What's new: More jumps and custom creations have been added to the snowboard park, which boasts Southern California's only superpipe. Snow-making also has been improved, but most of the emphasis in that department was at Bear's sister park, Snow Summit.
What's cool: Receive powder updates, advance notice about special events and other information via text messages sent to just about any cell phone. Also available this winter is a ride-share program that gives visitors who carpool discounts on lift tickets and food.
Information: (909) 866-5766; www.bearmountain.com
What's new: Snow-making capacity increased for the third straight year, with this summer's installation of 25 new Ratnik nozzles that improve coverage and use less energy. Two new snowcats were added to the resort's fleet, plus ski and snowboard school offerings have been expanded.
What's cool: The Big Pines base lodge at the west resort was completely gutted and renovated during the summer. There's a new kitchen that will produce a wider range of fresher and healthier options more quickly. New offerings include Italian and Asian dishes, plus a greater selection of sandwiches and salads. The dining area was revamped and enlarged, and there's also a new retail area.
Information: (888) 754-7878; www.mthigh.com
What's new: A reservoir with a capacity of 9 million gallons means the resort's snow-making capabilities this winter will be greatly increased. The old million-gallon reservoir held enough water to cover the beginner area, but not much else.
What's cool: Right after a good storm has always been the best time to head to Baldy, and improved snow-making will increase the number of days the resort is an option for downhill enthusiasts.
Information: (909) 982-0800; www.shopbaldy.com
What's new: Snow-making capabilities continued to expand during the summer ($12 million was spent between Snow Summit and Bear Mountain during the past few years).
What's cool: The text-messaging program described under Bear Mountain works here as well, and shuttle service between the two resorts increases the value of the carpool discounts.
Information: (909) 866-5766; www.snowsummit.com
What's new: The resort has beefed up its snowboard amenities and has a targeted marketing push to attract newcomers.
What's cool: Snow Valley received high marks as the most family-friendly resort in the Far West in a survey by www.onthesnow.com. Reviewers heaped praise on the resort for its beginner and low-intermediate runs, and its terrain park, and also said that it's a great place to take the kids.
Information: (909) 867-2751, www.snow-valley.com
- Jerry Rice