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Snowfall comes better late than never

On your mark, skiers and snowboarders. Get set. Restart.

Let's call everyone back to the line and re-begin the winter.

One of the most mild Januarys on record dropped snow levels to nearly the minimum at lower-elevation resorts. That dry spell ended, however, when Mother Nature dumped a much-needed serving of the white stuff last weekend and early this week.

Suddenly, the upcoming Presidents Day weekend promises to be a great catch-up time for resorts who now look forward to a long spring spree on the slopes.

"You can take your powder skis out," said Andrea Young, sales director at Bear Valley east of Murphys on Highway 4, adding that Presidents Day weekend "should kick in some good weeks of family skiing."

Through last week, the season offered little more than pent-up demand. Bear Valley reported 16 inches of snow last month, the fourth-lowest January snowfall on record.

Dodge Ridge east of Sonora, the closest ski resort to the valley, watched its base shrink to a few feet. Worse, the concrete-like snow made for difficult navigating for everyone other than experts.

No one panicked, but ...

"We were anxious," Young said.

"I wouldn't say we were desperate," Dodge spokesman Dan Kelsay said.

They were concerned, of course, especially since this is an El Niño year. Skier-rider visits in the Sierra dropped about 25 percent over last season.

The storm window opened, finally, and Bear received up to 30 inches over the weekend. Dodge added 27 inches at the top and six inches at the base, good enough to open the expert Granite Bowl at Boulder Creek Canyon for the first time this season.

"That should soften things up and make it easier for the intermediates," Kelsay said. "We're back to mid-winter conditions. Another storm (a strong possibility later this week) will get us back to where we need to be."

The mostly dry January also hurt ski operators by perception.

"It was so dry that everyone in the valley and the Bay Area didn't realize we actually still had snow," Young said.

After last weekend, there is no doubt.

Here is an update on dates and discounts from the area resorts:

DODGE RIDGE — The Save Mart Snowcruiser bus service from stores in Modesto (3900 Pelandale Ave.), Turlock (1631 Lander Ave.) and Sonora (1045 Mono Way) are available each Saturday plus next Sunday and Monday for Presidents Day weekend. Visit dodgeridge.com for bus schedules. Purchasing lift tickets at Save Mart stores also results in a $9 discount to $39. A Tuesday lift ticket at Dodge also is good for a taco at participating Taco Bell franchises. Dodge Ridge's Demo Center also offers a $40 discount for a purchase of skis or snowboards.

BEAR VALLEY — Bear's Winter Explosion will feature a torchlight parade, followed by fireworks and dinner at its mid-mountain lodge Saturday night. Sign up at the main office to take part in the parade. Glow sticks are available for children who prefer not to carry a torch. Participants will start loading the chair at dusk, and the parade begins at dark. ... Lift ticket bargains at Bear can be found at Valley Sporting Goods. Check bearvalley.com.

BADGER PASS — Free shuttle service is available between the Yosemite National Park lodges and the ski resort. For day-trippers, there still is a $20 charge for park admission. ... A new winter pass, costing $49 for adults and $29 for children, is good for a lift ticket, equipment rental, a group lesson, a tour of Yosemite Valley and a skate at the Curry rink. Visit yosemitepark.com.

SKI NOTES — Diamond Peak near Incline Village celebrates Valentine's Day today with a 2-for-1 lift ticket deal. ... The 26th North Lake Tahoe Snow Festival, to be held March 2-11, ushers in ski races, ice carving contests, torchlight parades, children's games and many other activities. Call 877-949-3296 or visit tahoesnowfestival.com for a schedule of events. ... Sierra-at-Tahoe offers a $10 lift ticket discount at participating Safeway stores. Find more details at sierrattahoe.com.

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at 578-2302 or ragostini@modbee.com.

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