Agostini: Badger Pass will live on

March 17, 2009 

The speculation has been put to rest. Badger Pass is going nowhere.

The ski and snowboard playground of Yosemite National Park is leaning forward, looking ahead. California's oldest ski resort (1935) plans to be around for a while.

"We are here to stay," public relations manger Kenny Karst said. "We never thought about closing."

Badger, which closes for the season March 29, was the center in recent years of media and customer speculation about its future. When turnout slumped several years ago, rumors circulated about Badger's permanent closure.

To be at Badger is to walk into its past. Photos, which feature its beginnings as a hangout for Hollywood's beautiful people, grace its rustic lodge. The resort is small and quiet with, until a few years ago, few modern touches.

Badger catered more toward customers staying at area lodges. Daytrippers, discouraged by the park's gate fee on top of the lift ticket price, were sparse.

Nevertheless, Karst dismissed the rumors as "an old wives' tale passed down. Because there had not been as much advertising in those years, people assumed we were thinking about closing."

What changed was Yosemite's approach. The marketing staff doubled in the last two years, and Badger's message was heard loud and clear.

Attendance at Badger last year was the best in over a decade, Karst said, and this season's turnout nearly will equal 2008.

"We quelled the rumors by being more pro-active in our outreach and publicity," he explained. "We also put some specials programs in place. People can upgrade their park pass ($20) to an annual pass ($40), which they can use year-round for the entire park. If you go to Badger twice, you cover the cost."

About $2.5 million in upgrades, including the refurbishing of the Eagle chair and the addition of a Sno-Cat for grooming, also were pumped into Badger for this season. The result is an old resort, still a favorite for ski and riding instruction, finding new life.

"If you're looking for black-diamond runs, go to Tahoe or Colorado. If you're looking for a perfect spot to learn how to ski, Badger is still here," Karst said. "People have rediscovered the advantages of bringing the family to Badger Pass."

SKI NOTES — Dodge Ridge hopes to stay open through Easter Sunday, April 12, according to spokeswoman Emily Fisher. Upcoming events include the Sick 'N Twisted's Slopestyle competition on Sunday, the Ski & Tee contest (race at Dodge in the morning, followed by nine holes at Sonora's Mountain Springs) on March 29, and the annual Pond Skim on April 5. ... More than 60 people enjoyed Dodge's first Family Winter Carnival two weeks ago. Parent/child giant slalom races, one-legged ski races, the kids' "air show" and an obstacle course were enjoyed by all. The event is expected to be on the calendar in 2010. ...

Bear Valley invites the western crowd Saturday for its Country Snowfest featuring a concert by the Cadillac Cowboys. Cowboy hats are recommended. ... Group-rate discounts of 40 percent are available at Bear through April. ...

Former Olympic champion Jonny Moseley will welcome the nation's top mogul and halfpipe performers at the 2009 Sprint U.S. Freestyle Championships to be held Thursday through Sunday at Squaw Valley USA.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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