Frowns and furrowed brows have been replaced by grins, hugs and, yes, snow at Dodge Ridge.
Dodge finally opened last Wednesday as everyone from ski instructors to waitresses up and down Highway 108 saluted winter’s late arrival. As for skiers and snowboarders, well, their wait to access the closest winter resort to the valley was over.
And just in time for Presidents Day weekend.
“It was wonderful to see everyone here,” said a relieved Sally Helm, Dodge Ridge owner. “People were just waiting to come. There was a lot of enthusiasm.”
Dodge, which has no snowmaking capacity and relies only on Mother Nature, received 51 inches of snow over a two-day period last week at its 8,200-foot ridge. It got 20 to 24 inches at mid-mountain and only about a foot at its 6,600-foot base.
Though its beginner terrain was still limited, Dodge had no problem gearing up. Thirty-four of its 51 trails are groomed, and everything from Boulder Creek Canyon to Rocky’s Road Terrain Park with its nine features are open.
Helm said there was never a so-called point of no return where Dodge would stay closed for the season. This year reminded her of two difficult seasons: 1976-77, Dodge’s first year after Frank and Sally Helm took over, when it opened in January, closed and didn’t reopen until March; and 1990-91 when spring was saved by a 20-foot “March miracle.”
“In both of those years, we ended up with snowy March and Aprils. That’s our hope. We hope we have our winter in March and April,” Helm said. “We were going to hang in there. We’re in the ski business. We know sometimes we have to wait.”
Meanwhile, Bear Valley off Highway 4 – which had only a few beginner runs near its mid-mountain lodge open before last week – mobilized in a big way after the storm. Every chair except Grizzly has been turned on, which means the first activity for old favorites such as Koala and the high-speed quad Polar Express (taking skiers and riders to the Back Side).
The parking lot at Bear was packed on Sunday, the peak time of the busy weekend. Bringing additional spirit was a gathering of University of California students from all UC campuses.
“This is a typical December operation for us. Everyone is so happy to be up in the snow,” Bear spokesman Rosie Sundell said. “Our goal right now is to keep people skiing through April.”
That will depend on snow conditions and weather both in the valley and in the Sierra, of course, but there are scenarios in place for a long spring season. Easter, always a harbinger for the season’s finish, doesn’t fall until April 20.
“We feel confident that if the temperatures stay cold and we get a good base-building storm, we can stay open,” Helm said.
Also getting up to speed was Leland Snow Play, the 12-acre hill with tows and groomed lanes seven miles east of Strawberry. Rain last weekend complicated matters but it has reopened.
And Badger Pass at Yosemite National Park opened last week for what no doubt will be a short but but fun-filled season.
SKI NOTES – Coming up: A rescheduled slopestyle competition Saturday at Bear; and the annual Ryan Lavagnino Classic featuring race teams from Dodge Ridge, Bear, China Peak and Badger on Saturday and Sunday at Dodge. ... All resorts throughout the Sierra, from Boreal to Mammoth to Homewood to Diamond Beak to Kirkwood to Northstar to Squaw to Heavenly to Sugar Bowl to Mount Rose, all have opened chairs and terrain that were previously closed.