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California Epic Pass Resorts Poised To Open

Kirkwood-Gully All three Epic Pass resorts in California are ready to go, including Kirkwood and its grand stash of steeps. (Kirkwood/Facebook)

A trio of Lake Tahoe-area resorts on the Epic Pass system have done all they can to get ready for the 2021-2022 season, and now it's up to Mother Nature.

A full-on Epic Pass of course works at Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood.  If you are holding a Tahoe Local Pass, you have to stick around the area, but you will get as much variety as anywhere at the three Vail-owned resorts within range of the lake.

This season, at all of Vail's 27 North American resorts, last season's ticket reservation requirement has been lifted. Lift loading and seating will be back to normal, as will ski school and rental operations. And all three Tahoe mountains will hook up to the EpicMix app, which produces real-time lift line waiting times throughout the day.

However, all will require cashless transactions, masks indoors, reservations at most on-the-mountain eateries, and 12-and-older proof of vaccination for quick-service restaurants.

Looming above the southern end of Lake Tahoe, Heavenly Mountain has been owned by Vail Resorts since 2002 and is a charter member of the Epic Pass club. Currently awaiting more natural snow and snowmaking coverage, Heavenly has one of the largest snowmaking systems in the country, so all it needs is cold temps to cover up to 60 percent of its 4,800 in-bounds acres.

When up and running 28 chairlifts and a gondola, it's the only North American mountain where you can ski or ride from one state to another. No major upgrades this season, but next year will see a high-speed quad going in on the lower mountain to relieve pressure on North Bowl and Boulder lifts.

On the north end of the lake, Northstar came into the Epic fold in 2010 and, since then, has been transformed from a day-trip area to a year-round resort. It's 3,700 acres get constant grooming, a half-dozen terrain parks run under a high-speed chair, and 75% of its 100 named trails are intermediate or lower in skill level -- making Northstar perfect for novices to middle-range skiers and riders.

Not much new at the mountain this season, but owner Vail Resort has allocated money to expand seating on the bottom-to-top Comstock Express from four to six in 2022.

Like many of its neighbors, Northstar has postponed its original opening date and is awaiting more coverage before pinpointing when it will drop the ropes.

About a 45-minute drive south of Heavenly -- and sitting top the Pacific Crest -- Kirkwood Mountain Resort (2,000 vertical feet) is known for its deep powder on upper-mountain gnarly terrain that attracts extreme skiers and riders, and world-class competitions. More than half of its 2,300 acres is rated advanced or expert, and the array of precipitous gullies, chutes, bowls, cornices and glades.

Fortunately, Kirkwood avoided wildfire damage from the enormous Caldor Fire this summer. New this season will be Expedition Kirkwood that offers multiple clinics and private lessons, including American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education classes throughout the season.

Right now, Kirkwood expects to open for daily operations during the first part of December.





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