Ron Agostini

March 5, 2008

Dodge Ridge hot spot

I felt good, or at least as good as 50-something legs allow, Sunday.

PINECREST — I felt good, or at least as good as 50-something legs allow, Sunday.

There was room to turn on Graceland, a smooth and cozy intermediate trail, one of Dodge Ridge's newest entries near Boulder Creek Canyon. It was a place to pick up speed, expand your ego and fantasize about Bode Miller.

At about one-tenth of the speed, of course.

Then, reality hit hard late in the day as my 10-year-old daughter Shelley ripped by me. She even gave me a look, one of those dismissive "Why are you standing still?" sideways glances. I felt exhilarated and humbled at the same time as she pulled away.

Middle age surely has its tradeoffs.

I volunteer that memory to call attention — not to my out-of-shapeness — to the "new" Dodge Ridge, now in its 56th season. Unlike yours truly, it's aging nicely, thank you, with the impressive new Family Lodge just to the east of the rental equipment center and Creekside Lodge.

The 16,000-square-foot Family Lodge, the signature piece of the $6 million expansion of Dodge's base area, brings new prestige to the closest resort to home.

"It's very exciting," said Sally Helm, the owner of Dodge along with husband Frank Helm Jr. since 1976. "Our resort is growing up to be a special place. We're very proud."

Dodge officials had not even considered such a big-ticket expansion until the old Mother Lode Lodge, Dodge's original hub and one of Tuolumne County's most historic buildings, burned to the ground in January 2005.

Problem was, many of Dodge's services — including the Ski Patrol — used the old lodge as its headquarters. The fire forced Dodge's hand. It was forced to upgrade. Quickly.

The result is the two-story Family Lodge, a thoughtfully appointed wood and rock structure, dedicated two months ago. The idea called for blending Dodge's old traditions with state-of-the-art services, a concept that clearly has worked.

A few of the features:

Plazas that connect the Creekside Lodge, rental center and Family Lodge.

The Snow Sports Center for ages 3 to 5.

The hotel-like 10-minute loading and unloading areas.

The airport-like registration center at the lower floor of the Family Lodge for all equipment and lesson purchases.

Parking for recreational vehicles ($30 per weekend) at the site of the old lodge.

Wireless Internet availability.

The second-story North Fork Bistro featuring an adjacent sun deck, wonderful views of the mountain and a 22-foot-tall stone fireplace.

"They come to the mountains, it's snowing and they want to sit close to a fireplace," Helm said. "I think it's part of the true Alpine experience."

Helm noted that Dodge's customers placed two items high on their priority list: High-speed quad chairs and the fireplace. The fireplace already has been installed — it's huge — and Dodge's second quad is a fixture in the resort's 10-year master plan.

The quad, already named the "Super Chair 10," will be Dodge's most ambitious project to date. Today, access to Boulder Creek Canyon requires a 20-minute ride on two chairs. The new chair will begin somewhere at the base area and proceed east to the top.

Elapsed time of the ride: Seven minutes. Estimated time of arrival: 2012.

Dodge officials inched closer toward potential snowmaking earlier this season, but problems persist with water access. In fact, the new quad chair probably has replaced snowmaking on the to-do list.

For now, Dodge hopes to stay open as late as April 13.

"If it turns 80 (degrees) in the valley, we're done," Helm said.

One thing is unchanged: The season will last longer than some 50-something's legs.

SKI NOTES — About $45,000 was raised for the Society for Handicapped Children & Adults in Modesto, thanks to the outreach of 140 people during last month's Ski-a-Thon at Dodge. The money will be used to purchase equipment for the adapted skiing program. Dodge chipped in with a check for $1,500. ... The Lake Tahoe Telemark Festival will be staged Saturday and Sunday at Kirkwood, which features the most snow of any Tahoe resort. Live music, barbecue, demos and giveaways will be featured this weekend. Call 258-7630 or visit ... Dodge also has scheduled a demo-day with live music Sunday. ... North Lake Tahoe resorts are boasting up to 13 feet of snowfall and long spring seasons extending into May.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at or 578-2302.

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