Alpine Meadows: A gnarly mountain
Summit County correspondent
Alpine Meadows, a Lake Tahoe ski resort, is comparable to Arapahoe Basin in its laid-back atmosphere, ease of parking and intense nooks and crannies – though Alpine is about two-and-a-half times as large. And, like the Basin, it’s one of the earliest opening mountains and one that keeps its chairs turning well into May, and at times, the early summer months.
While Alpine Meadows is unpretentious and undeveloped in terms of soaring condos and overpriced retail shops, it definitely has everything you need – a base lodge with reasonably priced food, a bar, a retail shop, ski school and more.
And in some aspects, it’s more advanced than most resorts; this season, it introduced the latest ticket scanning technology provided by SKIDATA. As skiers pass through turn-style gates, a plastic card imbedded with a small radio frequency identification is read. The card can be carried anywhere on the body, can be reloaded online and can be linked with a credit card.
But let’s move on to the real important stuff: The mountain itself. From the base (there’s only one, which keeps things very simple), beginners, intermediates and experts can hop on their choice of seven lifts (one’s a poma).
Summit Express, a six-pack, rises the highest, whisking guests to black diamond and double diamond terrain within the bowl, but intermediates can also find their way down on runs like Alpine Bowl, Sunspot and Wolverine. Other intermediate-access chairs are Roundhouse Express and Hot Wheels; about 40 percent of the terrain is intermediate at Alpine Meadows. Beginners can stay on the Subway and Meadow chairs, near the lodge.
The beauty of Alpine Meadows is that everyone can choose their own terrain and ultimately end up for a bite to eat at the bottom. Another interesting aspect of the layout is the steeps throughout the outer extremities of the bowl, which funnel into the more intermediate terrain in the middle. So, whether you’re at the top, bottom or backside of the mountain, you can find steep pitches, (usually well marked) cliffs to jump or open tree stands.
This season, Alpine Meadows unveiled its updated terrain parks, which mimic the mountain’s natural terrain. As Jonahs David, the park designer and manager explained, “Alpine Meadows is world renowned for its natural terrain; why not represent that great aspect in our park features?”
Terrain park features are dispersed on a few runs, in addition to the main Tiegel Terrain Park, and blend with natural banks, rollers and general mountain layout.
We visited Alpine Meadows on Saturday, Feb. 27, just in time for a fresh storm, measuring 14 inches but skiing more like 16 or 18. Like most Colorado resorts, fresh powder on a weekend draws plenty of people, so the chairlift line started forming a half-hour before opening. Oddly enough, the terrain didn’t get tracked up as fast as many resorts do, partially because Alpine Meadows has so many lines to choose from within the bowls and within open trees. Rather than being dominated by cut runs, Alpine Meadows is characterized by open bowls, tree stashes, chutes, rocky outcroppings and traverses that take you to powder stashes. And, those cliffs keep skiers and riders who don’t exactly know what they’re doing away, leaving more powder for, well, the true hounds.
Scott Chair is one of the popular lifts for advanced skiers, and lines did form, but they moved quickly, and, again, by noon we were still finding fresh tracks without having to navigate tight trees.
Unfortunately, the storm lingered most of the day in the form of fog, so we didn’t get to experience the backside of the mountain, which caters to advanced skiers on one side with its bowls and to intermediates in the other corner with its blue runs. We also didn’t catch a view of Lake Tahoe, usually seen from a chair aptly named “Lakeview.” And, we heard this mountain has its share of bumps, but the 14-plus hefty inches of snow covered any such evidence, leaving us with epic turns in the morning and snow that became a bit more dense later in the day. We also talked to a few people who raved about Alpine’s off-piste and backcountry touring, so we’re looking forward to spending more time getting to know every aspect of the mountain.
A fun little aside: Alpine Meadows is home to the Jamaica Ski Team, or, more specifically Errol Kerr, who lives Truckee, Calif., and trained at the resort for the 2010 Olympic Ski Cross event, as preparation to represent his father’s land. He finished ninth at the Games.