China Peak | Returning to old stomping grounds |

China Peak | Returning to old stomping grounds

Sylas Wright
Sierra Sun
Sylas Wright / Sierra SunChina Peak local Tyrell Gillett airs into the deep snowpack near the 8,700-foot summit of the central Sierra resort. Tim Cohee, a former executive at Kirkwood, bought the resort in May and changed the name from Sierra Summit back to its original name of China Peak. The resort is located about 65 miles east of Fresno.

Dorothy from and#8220;The Wizard of Ozand#8221; was right: There’s no place like home.

The memorable quote rings particularly true to this Tahoe transplant after a recent visit to the homeland, which included a day at my home ski resort, China Peak, on the western slope of the central Sierra Nevada.

While slightly ashamed to admit it, I had not ridden there since opening day of the 2004-’05 season, before moving to Truckee. And quite frankly, that’s too long to be away and#8212; whether living in a world-class winter destination or not.

Well, this past Friday I made amends with a day on the slopes of my old stomping grounds.

I nearly forgot how fun that mountain can be. But with 217 inches of snow at the 8,700-foot summit covering the rock-littered terrain, I was soon reminded.

First, however, I rallied some old buddies and#8212; Tyrell Gillett and Thomas Vlahavas, both lifelong locals of the resort and ripping skiers. And just like I remember from six years earlier, we promptly happened upon more friendly faces and#8212; brothers Chris and Justin Saude and Charlie Rose, all capable snowboarders and good high school friends.

The place to go was obvious. We were off to Chair 5 and the top of the mountain. From there, another 200-foot jaunt to the tip-top opened a 360-degree view of the central Sierra and, through the clear sky, the coastal range a couple hundred miles to the west.

Even more impressive than the view were the conditions.

Not unlike Tahoe’s resorts, China Peak is filled in like few locals have seen in December. Normally precarious cliff drops and rocky outcroppings bulge with snow caked into every nook and cranny.

Ty, who was and still remains the all-star among our clique, pointed out a solid 40-footer he dropped and rode away the day before, when several feet of fresh snow boosted courage across the mountain.

Friday was a similar day, I was told, but with bluebird skies and snow that had settled a bit and thickened. I didn’t complain. In the company of old pals, I couldn’t have had a better time.

I even left with some worthy video footage thanks to Ty, who sent himself off a technical, 20- to 25-foot cliff and skied away cleanly and#8212; just like I remember him doing six years ago, but with even more confidence than before.

He’s not the only skilled athlete from China Peak, either. Another Tahoe-area transplant, pro snowboarder and former Olympian Andy Finch, who now owns a home in Truckee, grew up riding at the resort. He, too, thinks highly of the mountain.

and#8220;I would describe the mountain as very playful,and#8221; said Finch, 29, who tries to return once a year to ride there. and#8220;It’s a pretty small resort (1,300 acres), but it’s got all kinds of stuff to ride. It’s got its steep sections; they’re short, but they’re steep and fun. It was a pretty awesome mountain to grow up. I’ve seen some really strong freeriders come out of there.and#8221;

Finch, who grew up 65 miles away in Fresno, said he knows China Peak like the back of his hand, which allows him to take advantage of the many natural transitions on the hill.

and#8220;My favorite thing is that I know where every little rock and cranny is, and every little transition is. And depending on the snowpack, I can just send stuff flying because I know it so well,and#8221; he said.

Another notable snowboarder from China Peak is Silas Stannard, who’s lived and competed in the Tahoe area periodically in recent years.

For those not familiar with the resort, its name did change in the past year from Sierra Summit back to China Peak and#8212; the original name from 1959 until the early 1980s, when it sold to Snow Summit Ski Corporation.

Tim Cohee, who spent the previous 17 years as a senior executive at Kirkwood, including 13 as president and general manager, purchased the resort from Snow Summit this past May. He’s since made a number of improvements, such as remodeling the hotel and restaurant, to name a couple. After being blessed with ample snowfall to begin his first season, Cohee said he couldn’t feel more fortunate to be in his position.

and#8220;It’s a business that is now dominated by corporations, and very few people like me who were resort operators ever have the opportunity to do something like this,and#8221; he said. and#8220;I’m not a trust-funder and#8230; I’m one of those people who always wanted to own a resort, and was willing to work hard to get it. And it wasn’t about just finding a ski area. It was about finding a really good ski area.

and#8220;I knew with better management and better marketing we could make it successful for ourselves and our customers.and#8221;

Cohee said he’s and#8220;very likelyand#8221; to offer a special promotion with Lake Tahoe season pass holders and resort employees that allows them two free days at China Peak this season. He said to check for updates on the resort website, at, or watch RSN for more news about the deal.

and#8212; Sylas Wright is the sports editor at the Sierra Sun and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza. He may be reached at or

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