‘Everything in the middle of nowhere’ | SierraSun.com

‘Everything in the middle of nowhere’

Northstar celebrates 50 years of skiing

Northstar California Resort is celebrating 50 years of operation this winter.
Northstar California, Vail Resorts

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Once home to a thriving lumber industry, Northstar California Resort has seen many changes throughout the past half decade.

From the sounds of trees crashing to the ground in order to support mining and the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad to the vision of a ski resort that would become one of the premier destinations in Lake Tahoe, Northstar has carved a rich history into the slopes of its home on Mount Pluto.

This past winter, the resort has been celebrating 50 years of operation and the people that helped shape the mountain enjoyed by skiers and riders from across the globe.

Landfill nixed, ski resort instead

Northstar’s beginnings as a ski resort date back to 1949 when Fibreboard Corp., an Emeryville company that manufactured industrial insulation, purchased thousands of acres of land in and around Martis Valley, calling it the Timber Farm.

Later on in the 1960s, Placer County became interested in relocating its sanitary landfill in Tahoe City to a new location. Al Marino, Health Officer for Placer County at the time, was aware of Fibreboard’s holdings around Martis Valley and reached out to the company’s Chairman of the Board, George Burgess, about visiting the area to seek out a possible new location for a landfill.

As Burgess walked around what’s now the resort’s village, he became enamored with the peaks, wilderness and natural beauty of the area. Instead of a landfill, Burgess visualized ski slopes.

First turns

In 1966, Fibreboard formed a development business called Trimont Land Co. The company, named for the area’s three peaks Mount Pluto, Lookout Peak, and Martis Peak, set its sights on expanding from forest industries into recreation.

Soon, plans for a resort began to crystalize. Famed Austrian skier and mountaineer Luggi Foeger was given the task of laying out trails that would give skiers access to the mountain via a handful of lifts. Today, the resort’s Luggi’s trail is named in his honor.

On Dec. 22, 1972, Northstar-at-Tahoe began spinning its original five lifts, operating under the motto “Everything in the middle of nowhere.” The first lifts were given alphabetic names A, B, C, and D. A T-chair provided access to mid-mountain from the village. The cost for an adult to ski for the day in 1972 was $8, gear could be rented for $7.50, and a room for the night at the resort was $30.

Northstar recently held a celebration honoring those that worked during the early days of the resort. Employees recalled sharing ski patrol jackets because there weren’t enough to go around, while joking how shorter patrollers made their turns with jackets that sagged past their knees.

Horacio “Rocky” Cuevas has called Northstar home since 1980 and is a staple at the resort. He’s gone from his first job washing dishes at the nearby golf course to the man whose mechanical expertise is relied upon when pretty much anything goes wrong. Cuevas grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico. He later came to the Tahoe area for a vacation, and never left.

“Guess what? I’m still here on vacation,” joked Cuevas, who said he’d never seen snow before coming to Lake Tahoe.

While working for Northstar in the 1980s, Cuevas said the owners and management of the resort helped with the cost of him to getting U.S. citizenship. In return he’s remained at the mountain throughout the years maintaining its lifts in spite of offers from other resorts to lure him away.

Cuevas, like many other longtime employees at the resort, have formed bonds that now stretch five decades. While reminiscing about times like when he hopped on a lift after the resort closed for one of the few times he attempted skiing or how the general manager would give him rides to work on his snowmobile, Cuevas smiled and simply said, “those were the great things.”

Snowboarding introduced, sale to Vail

The 1980s brought further growth to the resort and in 1988 the first snowboarders took their turns at the resort. That year, George N. Gillett Jr., president of Colorado’s Vail Associates purchased Northstar-at-Tahoe. By 1992, Gillett had run into financial troubles and lost Vail Associates. Gillett managed to come away with enough resources to form Booth Creek Ski Holdings, Inc. Gillett’s new company focused on real estate development and creating multi-season resorts. In 1996, the company acquired Northstar-at-Tahoe, Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Bear Mountain for $127 million, and began developing the Big Springs area at Northstar.

In 1997, Northstar added its first terrain park features, including a 22-foot superpipe co-designed by Shaun White. That year, the resort also opened snow tubing.

The new millennium brought with it a joint venture between Booth Creek Ski Holdings and East West Partners with the aim to complete the resort’s real estate and mountain development plan. The first phase of the project opened in 2004 and included the foundation for the village along with the completion of Iron Horse North, Iron Horse South, and the Great Bear Lodge buildings. The ice rink and surrounding commercial space were completed during this time. Skiers and riders were also treated to new terrain with the installation of Lookout Lift.

From 2005 through 2008 work continued at the base of the mountain to complete the gondola building along with the Catamount and Big Horn buildings in the village. Collaboration between East West Partners and Hyatt Corp also began at this time, leading to the Northstar Lodge Hyatt project. The first building was started in May 2007 and completed in December 2008. Along with these came the Village Swim & Fitness center and the Highlands Gondola from the Northstar Lodge to The Ritz-Carlton Hotel and neighboring building.

In 2010, Vail Resorts, Inc., entered the fray and purchased Northstar-at-Tahoe from Booth Creek for $63 million, and later renamed it Northstar California Resort.

Today, Northstar boasts 3,170 skiable acres, 100 trails, 20 lifts. The resort continues to embody its original “Everything in the middle of nowhere” motto, having evolved into a year-long resort with mountain biking, festivals, hiking, camps and several other activities.

A skier races down a slope at Northstar during the 1976-77 winter season.
Northstar California, Vail Resorts
Skiers come down the slopes at Northstar during the 1989-90 winter season.
Northstar California, Vail Resorts

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