California has received an extraordinary amount of snowfall this winter season. Photo courtesy of Mammoth Mountain.
The Central Sierra Snow Laboratory, located at Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, has received nearly 737.6 inches of snow for the 2023 Water Year (October 1, 2022 to September 30, 2023) as of April 28th. According to KRON Channel 4 in San Francisco, that makes it the second snowiest winter ever recorded by the lab since it opened in 1946.
While winter sports enthusiasts are enjoying a seemingly endless season on the mountain, many mountain bikers are wondering when they’ll see their favorite bike park trails open this year.
To get an idea of how the record snowfall will impact the mountain bike operations at California resorts this year, we spoke to employees at Mammoth Mountain Resort and Northstar California.
Northstar California plans to open its bike park by the middle of June
Northstar California, which is in the Martis Valley in North Lake Tahoe, has received 665 inches of snow this winter season, according to its website and had a current base depth of 151 inches as of April 28th. When contacted at the beginning of April, its mountain bike park opening date was still very much in the air.
However, when we followed up with them the last week in April, Ashlee Lambert, the Communications Manager for the resort and an avid mountain biker, was happy to report that they set the opening date for June 16th, pending conditions. Lambert told us that this year’s opening date is the same date the resort opened its bike park after the last historic snowfall season in 2016-2017. Amazingly, its anticipated start date is only six days later than last year’s opening date for the bike park.
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area is still undecided as to when its bike park will open
Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, located in Mammoth Lakes, is three and a half hours south of Northstar California but over 1,500 feet higher in base elevation with a peak elevation that’s nearly 2,500 feet higher, according to Wikipedia. Understandably, it received 40 inches more snowfall this winter season than Northstar California.
As of April 28th, Mammoth Mountain has a base depth ranging from 205 inches to 265 inches. That’s about 100 inches higher than what Northstar California reported on the same date.
Thus, it’s completely understandable that the resort could not give us a definitive opening date for their bike park when we asked them. Mammoth told us their opening date is still TBD. Last year, the bike park opened at the end of May, but the 2022-2023 season has been the resort’s snowiest season ever.
China Peak Mountain Resort has only made one major change in its schedule due to the snowfall
China Peak Mountain Resort is just southwest of Mammoth Mountain on the west side of the range. Its base elevation is in between that of Northstar California and Mammoth Mountain.
As of April 28th, it reported a maximum snowfall of 701 inches, which is comparable to that of Mammoth Mountain. Ski Central said its current base depth is 145 inches as of the same date, which is slightly less than Northstar California.
Last year, China Peak opened its bike park on June 18th. Tim Cohee, the general manager for the resort, told us this year’s scheduled opening date will only be a week or so later. “We will open as scheduled the weekend before the 4th of July, [and] stay open longer through September 17th.”
Cohee said that the only major change the resort made this year was to change the date of the 11th California Enduro Series from late June to Labor Day weekend. “We could not get the trails ready for an event of that caliber in time.”
In April of 2022, Jeff Barber wrote an article explaining the work Whistler did to prep its bike trails for riding after winter in order to open its bike park earlier than others. He mentioned the care Whistler’s staff took to minimize water damage to its trails from melting snow. How California’s bike parks do that will probably play a big role in determining when their season starts too.
It’s not an easy task to get bike park trails ready for the summer. As Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia explained, its trail crew must first assess the trails to see how much damage was done during the winter season.
Then “the crew sets out to rock rake, leaf blow, rebuild, reshape, clear drainage systems, create new features….and rock rake some more. This process takes the crew of 12, months to complete.” It’ll be interesting to see how quickly the Sierra Nevada mountains warm up this year. If all the accumulated snow melts rapidly, the bike parks in California could see some major damage due to flooding. What happens between now and June, weather-wise will likely dictate when the summer mountain biking season actually starts.