Tahoe skiing: 2016-17 season marks 50th year for Diamond Peak resort, which opens today (Dec. 15)
Special to the Bonanza
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This article is adapted from the winter 2016-17 edition of Tahoe Magazine, a joint publication of the Sierra Sun, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza, Tahoe Daily Tribune and Lake Tahoe Action. The magazine, which features loads of features and advertisements about all that the Tahoe winter has to offer, is on newsstands now across Lake Tahoe, Truckee and Reno. Click here to read it online, and be sure to pick up a copy today!
Lift Ticket Prices (adult, daily) throughout the years:
1976-77: $8 midweek/$9 weekend
1980-82: $16/$10 after 1 p.m.
1987-88: $17 half day/$24 all day
Diamond Peak taglines, over the years
1977-78: Ski Incline-The best in family skiing at Lake Tahoe!
1986-87: Ski Incline-The Comfortable Place
1987-88: Introducing Diamond Peak at Ski Incline-Beyond All Expectations
1990-91: Diamond Peak-Lake Tahoe’s Premier Family Ski Resort
2006-07: Your Tahoe Place
2007-present: Your Tahoe Place ... for kids!
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Envisioning a town with a ski resort that would be the “Pebble Beach of the Sierra,” entrepreneurs Art Wood and Harold Tiller began planning out a ski resort within Incline Village, soon be called Ski Incline.
Expert Austrian ski resort consultant Luggi Foeger studied the area by snowmobile, airplane and foot to see what would work. He settled on a mountain above Lake Tahoe’s northeastern shore — what is now called Diamond Peak.
In 1966, Art Wood had a vision and dedicated $2 million to build Ski Incline despite warnings of failure from his ski resort colleagues. But he was ahead of other ski resort operators in the sense that he had an extra insurance plan — implementing the ability to make his own snow.
As the first ski resort in the West with snowmaking equipment, Ski Incline was able to offer quality snow to ski enthusiasts, even when Mother Nature didn’t provide it, which was ahead of its time in Lake Tahoe. When the resort opened in November 1996, it featured three chairlifts, a T-bar and snowmaking.
The ski industry grew in Lake Tahoe with more ski resorts popping up on both shores, but only the people who hiked up to the undeveloped upper mountain of Ski Incline got the treat of spectacular lake views. In 1985, the town of Incline Village held more than 100 public meetings and presented plenty of reports, succeeding in an approved 10-year master plan to develop the upper mountain.
In 1987-88, Ski Incline put in the Crystal Express quad, which carried people up to the 8,540-foot peak. This new lift gave access to new advanced terrain and a 1,840-foot vertical drop. Since now most of upper mountain was covered in “black diamonds,” Ski Incline changed its name to Diamond Peak.
The upper mountain, which was not developed, “was magical and had to be experienced by all,” said former Ski Incline General Manager Jurgen Wetzstein. “We used to say the view from the top is one of the most spectacular views in the world.”
Throughout the years, Diamond Peak has upgraded and expanded its snowmaking system, renovated its base lodge, built a renowned Child Ski Center, and has made numerous other improvements.
CNN rated Crystal Ridge in its list of the World’s Top 100 Best Ski Runs, and Red Bull named Diamond Peak as one of the nine most stunning places to ski on Earth. Even now in its 50th anniversary year, Diamond Peak proves to still be Tahoe’s hidden gem … especially on powder days.
‘The niche of a smaller resort’
There is perhaps no better person to be running the ski resort in its 50th anniversary year than current Diamond Peak General Manager Mike Bandelin. Always in a great mood and with a smile on his face, Bandelin is the longest standing employee at Diamond Peak (he’s been there 32 years).
Originally from the southwest, Bandelin loved to camp and hike the mountains of Arizona. In 1984, his friend moved to Incline Village and invited Bandelin to come check it out.
“I went to the library, got an encyclopedia out and looked up Lake Tahoe,” Bandelin says.
Shortly after his 21st birthday, Bandelin headed north. Upon arriving at the lake, Bandelin went for a long run and then applied for jobs at the Crystal Bay Café, a lumberyard and Diamond Peak.
“Ski Incline hired me that afternoon,” says Bandelin.
On Oct. 16, 1984, Bandelin started out as a parking lot attendant and then worked his way up. He performed duties in the IVGID parks and property maintenance divisions, and then in 1986, Bandelin became involved in the design workshops for expanding upper mountain.
That summer, he climbed and flagged potential ski runs that would be a part of the expansion, including Crystal Ridge, Flume and Diamondback. They built them out in 1987, but it was unfortunately a low snow year, so in the summer of 1988, Ski Incline/Diamond Peak put in a snowmaking pipe on Sunnyside/Crystal Ridge trails. In 1989, Bandelin became assistant lift manager.
In 1994, when Ned Stock was general manager of the ski resort, the mountain manager position came available. A lot of people applied, and Mike Dick got the job. Dick resigned after a short amount of time, and Diamond Peak named New Jersey native Ed Youmans mountain manager in 1996.
Stock left the mountain in 1998 (he still acts as a real estate agent in the Reno/Tahoe area), and Youmans was promoted to GM. Bandelin also got bumped up to mountain manager, a post he held until the fall of 2015, when he was named interim general manager.
So what’s the secret to Bandelin’s longevity?
“I have been able to find everything I could at Ski Incline/Diamond Peak throughout my career. I was always given the opportunity to help design, plan and follow through on big capital improvement projects,” he said. “I feel comfortable being in the niche of a smaller resort where we have the ability to change a person’s experience for the better and see smiles on people’s faces when things are going good.
“I like being able to work on the frontline, be hands on with the staff and knowing everyone who I work with. As the years have gone on, I just feel happy and proud and have never had a desire to go anywhere else.”
The great power outage of 2005
Serving Diamond Peak for 15 years as general manager from 1996-2011, Youmans has many stories about his tenure at Diamond Peak.
Youmans calls Jan 2-8, 2005, the toughest week of his life. During a big storm, the transmission lines went down, cutting off power for the whole North Shore as well as closing the ski resort.
When the power came back on, Youmans called Sierra Pacific Power (now called NV Energy) and asked if he could run the chairlifts. They couldn’t tell him no.
“If you don’t tell me ‘no’ by 8 a.m. tomorrow morning, I’m turning the chairlifts on,” Youmans told the power company.
The next day, he powered on the lifts — and the whole North Shore went dark again.
The reason why it took so long for Sierra Pacific Power to get the electricity back on was because the transmission lines were on the East Shore up by the Flume Trail, and the power company didn’t have any on-snow vehicles to be able to go up and fix them.
So Youmans offered up Diamond Peak’s snow cats. “We cut a road for them to put the power back on,” he said.
For every day that first week of January — during a holiday week with powder conditions — Youmans and Bandelin would get yelled at in the parking lot by local skiers who saw the lights on in the lodge, but no running chairlifts.
“That holiday period when everything was sunny and blue, a fresh blanket of snow, it was surreal and so quiet. I hope that never happens again,” Youmans said with a chuckle.
The time when the Crystal Express terminal was blown to pieces
When the mountain operations crew was building the new Crystal Express quad, they questioned whether the existing power system would support the new lift before cutting the haul rope.
They analyzed it for days and ran it by Doppelmayr (the world’s leading manufacturer of ropeway technology) several times. Within two days of cutting the haul rope, Doppelmayr called and said it wasn’t going to work — Youmans would have to ask the IVGID Board of Trustees for $30,000 to finish the project.
“Since that chairlift was such a contentious subject, I would’ve just may as well have resigned before asking the board for that kind of money,” Youmans said.
The following day, he met with then-IVGID General Manager Bill Horn to talk about the Crystal quad trouble as a big electrical storm was happening outside.
“The meeting didn’t go well,” he said.
Youmans showed up to work at 7 a.m. the next morning — presumably to clear out his desk — when he saw Bandelin standing in the parking lot with a ridiculous smile on his face.
Mike took Ed to the top of Crystal Ridge where the chairlift terminal was blown to pieces from the previous day’s lightning strikes.
“It was all covered by insurance and it didn’t cost a penny to replace,” Youmans said. “And the weirdest thing is that the control box was fine, not even a fuse blown.”
When Youmans told the IVGID board what happened, then-Trustee Ted Fuller asked him, “So how long did it take you to put that lightning rod up?”
“Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than smart,” says Youmans.
Now acting as vice president of mountain operations at Purgatory Resort in New Mexico, Youmans reflects back to his days at Diamond Peak.
“The best thing is that (Incline Village) is such a small town. Once we got settled, if people had an issue with something, they could come and tell me,” he said. “The coolest thing about Diamond Peak is that it is adaptable; we could change to meet the customers’ needs at any time. I could fit all of my direct reports in my office and I got to talk to every single person I worked with every day.
“Over the years, the board was really nice to us; they allowed us to make a lot of improvements and renovate the base lodge. It was nice to walk away from it being a completely different resort than the one it was when I got there.”
Sharing some of my most memorable moments
Yep, yours truly got her start at Diamond Peak as a lift operator in the 2006-07 season (Diamond Peak’s 40th anniversary year) and then never left Incline Village.
Throughout the years I was promoted to Marketing Coordinator and Marketing Manager at the resort, and I worked with an incredible group of people, many of whom are lifelong friends still roaming the slopes of the North Shore, before leaving the resort in 2015.
On a few Friday nights during my first season, the lifties would get together, barbecue, and build little jibs and rails outside of our locker room called The Bunker (because it really was a bunker). Lift operators who couldn’t ski or ride in the beginning of the season were pros by the end of it. We inspired each other and progressed.
And, on one March 2007 evening, one of the groomers pushed a block of snow off to the side of the bunker (facing the Lakeview lift) in the base area. The next day, some bored ski instructors carved the block into a giant whale, using pinecones for its eyes. In the following weeks, people who didn’t even ski came to Diamond Peak just to take pictures with the whale.
Kayla Anderson is an Incline Village-based freelance writer with a background in marketing and journalism. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.