Made in Kern County: Alta Sierra Ski Resort

In the mountains northeast of Bakersfield a majestic, welcome sight to outdoor enthusiasts. 

Highway 155 leading up to Alta Sierra Ski Resort buzzing with activity all because of record breaking snowfall. 

After all it’s been more than 5-years since the resort has seen snow accumulations that would allow them to stay open consistently. 

That’s what makes our visit for ‘Made in Kern County’ so remarkable. Dozens of skiers, and snowboarders taking to the mountain a day before it’s set to be open. 

Staff preparing for record breaking crowds.

But the story of Alta Sierra might have been one of the past, if not for a patient group of local investors, who were as persistent to stay open, as the recording breaking California drought was to close it. 

Garry Ellis is one of those investors. “I think for the resort, and for Kern County we had a lot of pent up demand to get up here and ski.”

Garro who moved to Kern County in the 1990’s always had an interest in the areas only ski resort, not realizing the challenges that would lie ahead as he became one of the resorts current owners. 

During California’s historic drought Garro Ellis along with several other investors not only stayed committed to the operation, but they invested thousands of dollars to keep up with demands at the resort…for several years not receiving any money back on their investment. 

But that has all changed. 

“We always say we don’t like to sell lift tickets…we like to sell experiences,” Ellis told me as he showed me the upgrades they have made to the resort. 

The warming hut has been remodeled, a new bar and food items greet visitors on cold mountain snow days. Ellis and others have made the ‘warming hut’ more open and accessible to families enjoying Alta Sierra. 

“There’s a lot of behind the scenes stuff that you don’t see, that took a lot of years.” 

The Alta Sierra Ski Resort dates back to 1939, when it’s founders including Wilfred Wiebe scouted the area for the best location

Wiebe settled on Shirley Peak, just east of Glennville because it sits at more than 7-thousand feet, an ideal elevation for snow activity in Kern County. 

Wiebe who founded one of the first ski patrols in the country installing the resorts first ski lift—a old towrope pull system…the original building still on the peak at Alta Sierra.

Today there are several modern day chair lifts, that will take visitors more than 800-vertical feet up the mountain, where they are greeted by world class views. 

Brian Kelly oversees operations at the resort taking us around the mountain to the top of the highest lift. “Our views are incredible they rival just about anywhere you can go,” said Kelly. 

On our visit those views obstructed by what crews have dubbed the “Shirley cloud.” But on a sunny day skiers and snowboarders can see views of Lake Isabella, surrounded by snow laced pine trees. 

Between 400 and 700 people will visit Alta Aierra on any given day during these exceptional snow days. More than 50 people are employed during the ski season. 

Kelly, who traded a career in RV and marine sales in Florida to come to kern county says visitors will be greeted by those staff members he says are more like family.

“It’s so nice because it’s so family oriented, all of our staff is like family, and we have some of the best ski instructors in the state.”

The best and only ski resort in Kern County made with precious resources that are finally coming back!

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