March Madness soon will kick into gear, but in the Sierra it has nothing to with college basketball.
No, March Madness refers to the spring ski and snowboard season, when the sun often shines and the fun never stops. On many days, you toss away the extra gloves and ear-warmers and rip down the mountain with packs of friends.
It's called spring skiing, and there is at least a month left — with plenty of snow — at Dodge Ridge, Bear Valley and Badger Pass. Most resorts are reporting their most successful season in at least a decade.
Why? Not only was there an abundance of snowfall, but the timing of the storms proved to be perfect.
"It snowed hard just before Christmas, before New Year's, before Martin Luther King weekend and before Ski Week (the week of Feb. 15)," said Rosie Sundell, Bear Valley marketing manager. "This has been a fantastic season after basically two years of drought. We also really benefited from what happened to the economy."
Many families from the valley and the Bay Area shelved trips to Colorado or elsewhere in favor of more costly-friendly day trips or short holidays to the Sierra.
"We're just lucky it snowed on the right days," Sundell said. "In my five years here, it's definitely the best I've seen."
Tuesdays, usually quiet days at most resorts, have picked up momentum at Bear this month. That's because Bear's lift tickets cost only $12 on March Tuesdays. By the way, three of those Tuesdays are coming up.
"They're sneaking away from work to go skiing," Sundell said.
Dodge also presents some nice discounts with $49 lift tickets through promotions at all SaveMart and Lucky grocery stores. Dodge, like Bear, will stay open at least through Easter Sunday, April 4, and probably one more additional week. Closing day will depend, of course, on demand mixed in with snow conditions.
"If the crowds keep coming, we'll stay open," Dodge spokesman Sean Waterman said.
The snowfall has not stopped. Dodge, which boasts more than 7 feet at the top, received 3 inches Monday night. Bear reported 21 inches over the last seven days. There is no shortage of snow this season.
Dodge welcomes 50-older skiers this weekend for the Senior Winter Games, featuring races in giant slalom on Friday, slalom on Saturday and dual slalom (head-to-head races on adjacent courses) on Sunday. A torchlight parade Friday night and fireworks Saturday night will spice activities. To sign up, visit www.dodgeridge.com or register the morning of the race.
At Badger Pass, the snow headquarters of Yosemite National Park, last month's Family Winter Carnival drew many participants. Badger will stay open until April 4, including its annual Spring Fling on April 3.
NOTES — Patterson's Ciro and Velma Mancuso, the grandparents of American alpine skiing star Julia Mancuso, attended the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. Mancuso, raised at Bear Valley, became the first American woman to earn three Olympic medals in alpine racing. She earned silver medals this year in super-combined and downhill, to go along with her gold in giant slalom in 2006. ...
Dodge Ridge will hold its Ski & Tee day on March 21. Fly down the hill in a giant slalom race in the morning, followed by nine holes of golf in the afternoon at Sonora's Mountain Springs. Call 965-3474 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. ... Early season ticket sales for 2011, including major savings, are available at Bear and Dodge.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2302.