So Reily set up a corporation to develop Alpine Meadows, just down the backside of KT-22, the mountain on which three of the Olympic ski races were held. Like Seibert, he nailed down the key land, then went looking for money. Unlike Seibert, however, he didn't get all he needed at first. To get it, while still holding the largest block of stock, he had to give over effective control of the operation to a new group headed by Byron Nishkian, a consulting engineer from San Francisco.
Nishkian then proceeded with a few mild missteps of his own. He allowed the top of the chair lift to be put on the unprotected crest of the mountain, so that in midwinter the skier arrives in the teeth of the 40-knot easterlies that howl over the Sierra divide. One of the Pomalifts was rigged just where half the avalanches in the valley come rumbling to a rest. But these are standard, nonfatal blunders in the Sierra, where the bitter weeks of midwinter are scarcely skiable anyway, and a slope that doesn't avalanche during one of the appalling, 10-foot blizzards is hardly a slope at all. Meanwhile, Alpine Meadows has been making nothing but money.
"We first opened over the Christmas holidays in 1961," says Alpine's general manager, Tim Sullivan. "We had 1,500 people on the third day, and we didn't have the lodge or lunch service or even any plumbing."
The mobs of customers thinned a bit at Alpine Meadows through the storms of January and February. But when the sun came out, so did the crowds, and they stayed on into May. They found that the heavy snow on the avalanche slopes of winter stabilized to provide some of the finest spring skiing anywhere. The great ridges and headwalls beyond the lift terminals sweep down into long, even slopes where the most uncoordinated novice could look fairly flashy—and, failing that, could have a glorious time soaking up the sunshine and the view of Lake Tahoe. When the chair finally closed down on May 13, Alpine Meadows declared a net profit of $60,000, happily crowing that it was the first ski area ever to make money in its opening season. However, the profit on the ski operation was peanuts compared with the approximately $500,000 that Reily and friends have gotten back selling and improving choice plots for chalets near the ski area.
There will be plenty more where that came from, for Alpine Meadows has a lot going besides good real estate values, beautiful spring skiing or proximity to Squaw Valley. Within 20 miles there are two other major areas—Sugar Bowl and Heavenly Valley—that attract skiers. And all four resorts are now cooperating—a staggering first for American skiing—in mutual advertising with three airlines. Better yet, Alec Cushing of Squaw Valley, who once had the reputation of being the most hard-nosed loner in the hard-nosed and lonely Sierra, astounded everyone not long ago by dropping over to Alpine Meadows to suggest that they link with Squaw Valley via a new chair lift up the back of Squaw Peak or KT-22. This will likely be finished within two years. By that time, Route 40, the major east-west road into the region, will have been expanded from a winding, frequently closed avalanche path to an all-weather four-lane speedway. "When that happens," says Tim Sullivan, "this is going to be like standing at the end of a fire hose. The people are just going to pour in here."
While Alpine Meadows and Vail talk millions, Big Mountain, Mont, is quietly selling something quite different. "We get a lot of family skiers coming here," said President and General Manager Ed Schenck. "We want people to stay and we want to make it pleasant for them." He does. Sixty percent of his customers are young and middle-aged married couples with children, and 85% of Big Mountain's skiers like the place so much they stay anywhere from three days to two weeks.
Part of the appeal of this resort is the extraordinarily pretty—and skiable—mountain. The main slope, sprinkled with fir, larch and spruce, faces south and west. In most places, this exposure would mean no skiing. But at Big Mountain a moist wind from the distant Pacific mingles with the cold northerlies to provide cloud cover that both protects the upper slopes from turning icy or slushy under the sun and replenishes the existing snow cover with frequent falls of surprisingly good powder. At the very summit this unique climatic condition creates beautiful groupings of surrealist statues (see cover) as the clouds sift through the evergreens, plastering them with tumblings of hoarfrost and snow.
The trail plan is perfect for family skiing: a wife who is an intermediate skier can ride the double chair with her expert husband all the way to the top, then take a wide, easy trail down while he tries to kill himself on the 35� pitch of The Big Face or one of the touring bowls beyond the summit. Meanwhile, the small children—or any other novices in the family—can stagger around on the two long, gentle practice slopes at the bottom. All the trails end in the same place, right at the lodge, so there is no mad shuttling from one hill to another trying to collect everybody for lunch. Nor is Big Mountain ever crowded.
But its real appeal is the aura of Gem�tlichkeit, which the help is hired specifically to generate. This is not a lot of back-slapping, self-conscious square dancing and let's all play charades. It's a natural, easy atmosphere that makes a new guest feel as though he had arrived at an old friend's house.
"I spend two months each year just hiring," said Schenck. He insists on and gets lift attendants who smile and say, "Good morning," "Good afternoon," and "How was the last run?" as if they really care. The ski patrol says, "Excuse me," if it has to close a trail, and then may ask you to join in for a run. The young men and women who work in the chalet are good ski companions—but they are a cut above the ski bums who double as innkeepers at some resorts.