Even though summer has officially arrived and temperatures are reaching triple-digits across the country, are you still nostalgic about winter and wish you had gotten in a couple more days of skiing or boarding?
You’re in luck. Ski season is alive and well in the Sierra, at Squaw Valley near Lake Tahoe for the long 4th of July weekend and at Mammoth Mountain off State Route 395 east of Yosemite daily into August.
Summertime, when the vibe is chill and the air is hot…
So how different is it to ski and board in the summer? When’s the last time you spotted a marmot basking in the sun next to a ski tower? Or had a flurry of ladybugs alight on your table while lunching on the lodge deck. Everyone on the slopes is happy and laid back because we all know we shouldn’t be able to be doing this at this point on the calendar. Below are 5 tips if you’re headed to the slopes this summer.
1. Enjoy the soft, easy-to-ski corn snow.
Corn refers to the snow during the time window when it has become soft and forgiving, but not too wet and slushy.
At Squaw Valley, after you leave the green, grassy terrain around the base of the mountain, it’s a bit of a shock to find yourself a few minutes later on the snow-covered slopes of Squaw Valley’s upper mountain, currently boasting a snow depth of up to 131 inches (that’s nearly 11 feet, folks!). Now, over the weekend of July 1–4 and Saturdays thereafter, conditions permitting, you can enjoy full four hours of skiing on corn snow, from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM. The surfaces of most runs are easily skiable corn snow, kept nice and crisp due to the deep snowpack. The only places you’ll find full-blown heavy slush are on the wide, flat runs that feed into the Gold Coast Lodge area. Last weekend, the temperature on the upper mountain was 60 degrees and the resort had four lifts running: Gold Coast, Big Blue, Siberia and Shirley. Skiers could also traverse and hike up to ski the runs on Headwall.
2. Check out Squaw Valley’s poolside party at High Camp.
After you shed your skis, be sure to check out the lively scene at Squaw Valley’s pool and hot tub at its High Camp location, open from 11 AM to 4 PM. For the price of admission ($15), you get a locker, towel, and access to an 8,200-foot-elevation alpine party, complete with a poolside dj spinning house music and scantily clad 20-somethings cavorting and splashing around the big pool wearing ski goggles.
Catch the shuttle back to the Resort at Squaw Creek where you’ll have the options of sunbathing by its more mellow pool sipping a margarita, soaking in a hot tub, playing a round of golf, hiking, or playing a game of tetherball, corn hole, or giant chess. The best of summer and winter all in a single day.
3. Defy winter and ski well into summer at Mammoth Mountain.
On the eastern side of the Sierra, Mammoth Mountain, the queen of ski resorts staying open past April, is experiencing three to four times the number of skiers and boarders they usually get this time of year, according to Mammoth Mountain’s communication manager, Lauren Burke. “We’re committed to daily operations into August,” she says. “In the last 50 years, we’ve stayed open into July some 15 times. Our longest season on record was 1994–95 when we closed on August 14th.”
Hours of operation at Mammoth are 7:30 AM to 2 PM, with 6 lifts, 57 trails and 2 terrain parks available midweek, and 7 to 8 lifts and 70 trails available on weekends. Currently, Mammoth has 45 inches at its base and 180 inches, or 15 feet, at its 11,000-foot-high summit.
For Bay Area skiers, the quickest way to reach Mammoth right now by car is via I-80 through Reno and south on SR 395. The faster route via Highway 120 over Tioga Pass, which closed for the winter season last November 16th, is still closed with no projected opening date. In the last 80-plus years, the latest Tioga Pass opening was July 1st, so it looks like that record is soon to be toast!
4. Garb up or garb down… Whatever you prefer, just don’t forget the sunscreen!
If you NEVER fall, wear whatever or how little you want. We saw a pair of skiers in flowing Batman and Superman capes, a boarder wearing a Speedo®, plus a plethora of cut-offs, tank tops, no tops (guys only!), and streamlined helmets. So wearing apparel is whatever strikes your fancy, but there are a few “musts” when you hit those corn-fed slopes:
Before you go out, cover every bit of exposed skin with a high-SPF waterproof sunscreen (including ears, napes of necks, hands if you’re going gloveless, etc.) and reapply as needed. The summer sun is intense at these high elevations, plus you’ll be skiing in mostly sunny weather. Also be sure to entirely cover your lips well with a good lip sunscreen.
Wear goggles or make sure that your sunglasses are completely protecting your eyeballs. Never, never, never head out to the slopes without one or the other. Snow blindness (when you burn your cornea from overexposure to the sun’s UV rays) is incredibly painful and can take a couple of days to recover from.
5. Stay hydrated.
Drink lots of water throughout the day or you’ll find yourself getting parched pretty quickly. Squaw Valley had water stations set up both outside and inside the Gold Coast Lodge, with plastic water cups stacked up behind the water fountains. Save the alcohol imbibing for après ski!
Provided that the winter snows come on schedule next December, it’s nice to know that all those happy campers up at Squaw’s High Camp last weekend have to wait only five months to ski and board again—but it certainly won’t be as much fun as skiing in workout pants!
Rose Marie Cleese is a correspondent for SeniorsSkiing.com, an e-magazine devoted to wintersports enthusiasts aged 50 and up.