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Tahoe resorts look beyond snow for tourists
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TRUCKEE  (AP) — As another Sierra ski resort prepared to close for the season on Sunday due to a lack of snow, businesses around Lake Tahoe have started looking beyond the barren slopes as they rethink how to draw visitors during the colder winter months.

Mountain resorts and hotels are trying to expand their appeal with new entertainment offerings such as zip lines, skate parks and special events that do not depend on the weather.

The Squaw Valley resort, for example, hosted a bluegrass music and beer this weekend after having to cancel a World Cup ski and snowboarding event earlier this month. Meanwhile, the Sierra-at-Tahoe resort is trying to build a more diverse clientele by promoting itself as a wedding venue.

“Resorts have been looking at their business models and seeing we have to be in the mountain recreation business, not the winter business,” California Ski Industry Association President Bob Roberts said.

Sierra-at-Tahoe closed its lifts early for the year last weekend, joining Donner Ski Ranch, Homewood, Soda Springs and Tahoe Donner. The Sugar Bowl resort was planning to call the ski season quits on Sunday, just three weeks after a storm dumped nearly two feet of snow that quickly disappeared amid unusually warm temperatures.

Tahoe has always been a year-round destination and the summer months actually are when hotel occupancy peaks on the Nevada side of the lake, according to the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.

So instead of melting away, developers are focusing on snow-proof projects such as the $400 million upgrade that Homewood plans to launch next year with a hotel, ice rink and condominiums and the new Hard Rock Hotel & Casino that will have an outdoor concert venue by next summer.

Congress helped pave the way for the transition four years ago when it passed a law making it easier for resorts to offer recreational activities in national forests. The Boreal Mountain Resort since has built a 33,000-square-foot indoor recreation center that includes a concrete skateboard park, trampolines and a digital media lab. The Heavenly Mountain Resort now offers tubing on an artificial turf path, ropes courses and zip lines.

“We are definitely expanding more to the non-ski guests,” resort spokeswoman Liesl Kenney said.

California Department of Water Resources climatologist Mike Anderson said that even when California’s historic drought ends, Tahoe can expect to see less snow than it has in the past because of warmer temperatures associated with climate change.