Mariposa & Yosemite

Ski lovers gearup for season in Sierra

Customer Javier Cuiriz, of Modesto, tries on snowboarding boots Thursday at Valley Sporting Goods with the help of Chris Hansen.
Customer Javier Cuiriz, of Modesto, tries on snowboarding boots Thursday at Valley Sporting Goods with the help of Chris Hansen. MODESTO BEE PHOTO BY DEBBIE NODA

Javier Cuiriz of Riverbank got a late start on his wish list Thursday morning.

Between shelves and stacked boxes full of thick gloves, pants and goggles at Valley Sporting Goods in Modesto, the 23-year-old snowboarder tried on snowboard boots, finally settling on a pair of brown SalomanF22s to rave about to his loved ones.

"Hopefully, I'll be riding with these this winter," said Cuiriz, who plans to make the 80-mile trip this weekend for the opening of the 2008-09 ski season at Dodge Ridge, just east of Sonora at Pinecrest. "I'm definitely ready." Last week's storm system dumped more than 2feet of snow on Dodge's slopes and not a day too soon. Now that the resort's hopes for pre-Christmas crowds have come true, businesses in Pinecrest and along the Highway 108 corridor, which depend on a solid snowpack and fresh powder to draw winter visitors, can breathe their annual sigh of relief.

Lots of snow means lots of skiers, which means a long-awaited jolt for the local economy.

"We're jumping for joy over here right now," said Nanci Sikes, executive director of the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau. "Our winter tourism business is predicated on having that white gold up there in the mountains. It entices people to come during their Christmas holidays, which is exactly what we want them to do."

Sikes said it's ideal for snow to start falling by or before Thanksgiving weekend. But weather patterns vary enough to sometimes delay the first substantial snow into late January.

That possibility, though unusual, is never far off in the minds of business owners whose livelihoods depend on the influx of skiers and snowboarders hoping to revel in a white Christmas.

"You wait, you hold your breath, and then it happens and we're all happy," said Darlene Jacobson, owner of Darlene's Vacation Cabins, which manages 25 rental cabins in Pinecrest and Strawberry.

"We have customers who book in advance who trust there will be snow. But every year, as soon as Dodge Ridge opens, people start to call. That's when business really starts to pick up."

Badger Pass in Yosemite also plans to open today and has reported receiving more than 24 inches of snow since Sunday.

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