Record snowfall to keep lifts open

Contestants compete at Squaw Valley's annual Lake Cushing Crossing in late spring. Tom O'Neill

Record snowfall at many North American resorts will keep a number hills operational past their usual shutdown dates. Last chair spinning for the 2010-2011 season could be Mammoth Mountain, where Fourth of July fireworks will mark closing day.

"We love people to ride as long as possible," says Mammoth spokesperson Daniel Hansen. "It varies every year, but we have the longest lift-served ski season in the U.S. The exception is Timberline [Ski Area in Oregon]."

Timberline's Palmer Glacier snowfield brings in skiers and riders throughout the summer, and is a traditional site of ski race and ski and snowboard freestyle camps. But at Mammoth, extending the season means prolonging the spring break atmosphere.

"There are people tailgating in the parking lots, skiing in t-shirts, girls snowboarding in bikinis," Hansen says. "It's more of a beach vibe."

Aug. 13, 1995 was Mammoth's latest closing date ever. Normally, the mountain is open through Memorial Day, and in four of the last seven years, July 4 has been the end of the season. As the weather warms up, mountain bikers share gondolas with skiers and riders. Staff travel singletrack paths to work, ski and ride on breaks throughout the day, then bike home again. Scattered snowfalls are forecasted for this week, potentially adding to the season total of 626 inches.

Arapahoe Basin in Colorado is another spring bastion, and regularly closes in June. A-Basin has the highest skiable terrain in North America, a parking lot called The Beach down below, and live music and a brewpub festival on the spring calendar.

In Tahoe, Squaw Valley is taking advantage of a record-breaking season -- total snowfall for this winter is 711 inches and counting -- by extending the season to May 30. "We're not only extending the ski season, we're extending the spring experience," says spokesperson Amelia Richmond.

Squaw Valley has a pool and hot tub at mid-mountain, and the Cushing Crossing pond skimming takes place on a pond Richmond calls "wider, deeper and colder" than those at most resorts, to help visitors stay cool in spring.

The only 22-foot halfpipe in Tahoe will also factor in to the Squaw spring scene this year. Built as part of the Red Bull athlete training facility, the halfpipe will be open to the public from April 29 to May 8. Squaw will be open seven days a week until May 8, then operate from Friday to Sunday, as well as May 16 and May 30.

Other Tahoe resorts have also extended the season. Next door, Alpine Meadows will run spring operations through May 15 with reduced hours and selected lifts in operation. Kirkwood Mountain is stretching its season to May 1.

The new Rainier Gondola at Crystal Mountain in Oregon, coupled with 535 inches of snow this season, has added weeks to the operations calendar there as well. Crystal will be open on select days through June 12, adding a new destination to the spring calendar.