An abundance of fresh snow means one thing — powder skiing.
We don't receive many opportunities to float on the powder at Central Sierra resorts. Instead, we often carve through the so-called "Sierra cement" and wait for a post-storm trip to Lake Tahoe or Utah.
That all changed, however, during the last week. Dodge Ridge east of Sonora has received over four feet during the last week, and Bear Valley east of Murphys got about two feet in less than 24 hours last weekend. Some Sierra resorts have reported five feet of snowfall since Saturday. And more is on the way.
It came as great news for ski-facility operators who've struggled to pull customers into the mountains this winter. The dry conditions discouraged motorists to make the drive.
Finally, there is good news: 1. The deep snow finally arrived, and 2. Weather forecasts are favorable for the weekend, the beginning of what should be a bountiful late-season push.
Simply, it's time for skiers and riders to have fun, and the powder awaits.
"I was waist-deep on my fat skis and I just coasted to a stop," said Gary Townsend, who's in his seventh year as Dodge Ridge's snowsports school instructor. "If you bought the fat skis this year, now is the time to break them out."
The winter sports industry has promoted the extra-wide "fat" skis for years. In fact, they've become the standard with their deep sidecuts which makes them easier to turn in all conditions.
They're also good on powder because of the increased surface area vs. the more classical line of other skis. Some styles are fat from tip to tail, a specialized ski catering to powder. They will forgive your mistakes and, more important, they provide great support. Even in more customary and breakable crud, they will escort you over the rough spots.
But at least through the weekend or perhaps longer, skiers and snowboarders have the rare chance to float on the powder. Closer to the truth, you ski on the snow in most conditions, but you ski in the powder. Even if it's only three or four inches of powder during one brilliant morning at Dodge or Bear, it will present a special sensation. You can "lay your own tracks" and write your own signature on the trail.
Bear Valley's lower-elevation Grizzly Bowl and Snow Valley, which feature expert terrain and tucked-away chutes far away from the groomed trails, should be stacked with powder after four feet of new snow Monday. Kirkwood, the annual beneficiary of some of the deepest snowfalls in North America, also presents optimum powder chances.
"The skis are getting fatter and fatter," Townsend said. "It's a perfect time to try them on the powder."
Townsend also has noticed more young skiers, as opposed to young snowboarders, on the slopes this season.
"Snowboarding was the cool thing to do and still is, but the design of freestyle skis are bringing in a different breed of skiers," he said. "These kids have watched the X Games and have enjoyed skiing in the terrain parks."
SKI WITH THE PATROL — Serious skiers and snowboarders are invited to "Ski with the National Ski Patrol" at Dodge Ridge the next two Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Participants will be taught the skills needed to be a ski patroller. One must be at least 18 years to take part. For those wishing to sign up, there will be two "ski check-off" days for prospective new members on Sunday, March 18, and Saturday, March 24. Dodge targets "Level 7" skiing ability as defined by the Professional Ski Instructors of America for candidate training.
To register, visit the Prospector NSP Web site, prospectorskipatrol.org, or call Tim Viall at Dodge, 952-2750. Entries must purchase a lift ticket for each day.
SKI NOTES — Dodge spokesman Dan Kelsay believes the resort, which waited until Dec. 22 to open (at least a week later than normal), should remain open until at least Easter Sunday, April 8. Also a factor is Dodge's plans to begin work on its new lodge April 16. "We've got more than enough snow to get us through this year. We are now 100 percent open," Kelsay said. ... Weather in the Sierra is expected to stabilize today, though all travelers should anticipate tricky road conditions everywhere. Resorts in North Lake Tahoe reported as much as a seven-foot snowfall during the last five days. ...
Diamond Peak near Incline Village will hold its second annual Vertical Challenge on Saturday. The contestant who skis the most vertical feet from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. will receive a free season pass. Visit diamondpeak.com ... Former Olympic snowboarders Danny Kass, Mason Aguirre, Kelly Clark, Elena Hight, Ross Powers and J.J. Thomas are scheduled to take part this weekend in the third annual Vans Cup at Tahoe at Northstar-at-Tahoe.