Originally known as Bijou Ski Run, Chris Kuraisa purchased the two-rope tow area for $1,950 and the surrounding property for $3,750 to encourage business at his sports shop. Lift tickets sold for $1 in 1953. In the summer of 1954, Kuraisa joined with other South Shore businessmen to build a 1,600 foot vertical lift topping out at the 8,100-foot saddle facing Lake Tahoe. Chair 1, now called Gunbarrel, was so named when one of the investors, looking down the steep fall line, said it was like “looking down the barrel of a gun.” The new area opened as Heavenly on December 15, 1955. Olympic Gold Medallist Stein Ericksen was hired as Director of the Ski School, and Heavenly became high profile. By 1962, Heavenly had initiated construction on the largest Aerial Tramway in North America, opening the mountain up to its summit at 10,400 feet. In 1964, Kuraisa sold his shares to a partnership led by Hugh Killebrew, a Bay area tax attorney. He and his son, Bill, continued an aggressive development of Heavenly, in spite of personal tragedy, drought, and near-bankruptcy, by expanding terrain into the Nevada drainage, adding more lifts and installing a reservoir and snowmaking equipment. In 1990, Heavenly sold to Kamori Kanko Company of Sapporo, Japan and from then through 1997 the company guided the resort through the initial phases of its master plan without a single legal battle. When Les Otten of American Skiing Company expanded his holdings to include Heavenly that year, he began building on not only the Heavenly plan, but added a few tricks of his own, including the Park Avenue Redevelopment project, base for the new Embassy Suites Lake Tahoe Resort and the Dopplemayr Gondola. Heavenly boasts a lot of big stuff for the resort: it covers nine summits total, crosses two states, encompasses 4,800 acres of skiable terrain, offers the west coast’s longest vertical, and remains California’s largest ski area and Tahoe’s highest ski elevation—to name a few. The California side of the mountain is loosely dubbed “upside-down” because the biggest, toughest runs are at the bottom of the hill near the parking lot. This is also the proving ground for the Face Rats, an eclectic group of skiers who don’t believe in skis of any shape under 200 centimeters. They ski The Face and Gunbarrel almost exclusively and have for over 30 years, jamming down the 2,000 vertical feet of bumps sometimes 35 times in one day. The plan for the year 2000 and beyond includes building two new ski runs and additional lifts, a new lodge and restaurant to serve the top of the Gondola, and the Grand Summit Lodge—a stone and timber hotel sporting 199 quarter-ownership suites and serving the base of the Gondola. This eTrail contains a thorough description of the resort including driving directions, mountain statistics, trail profiles, extensive lodging & dining information, travel tips, and much more.
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