Tahoe Card provides one-stop shopping discount

By: Jeffrey Weidel, Special to The Press Tribune
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The original idea emerged from a simple, very basic need: How could a college student on a modest budget afford ski lift tickets?


The goal of obtaining discounts was accomplished for this University of Colorado student and that pursuit eventually led to the rudiments of a business plan that took shape in Lake Tahoe a dozen years ago.


When Jim McAlpine established Snowbomb in 1997 he describes it as “one man and his relentless pursuit of a better (and cheaper) way to get on the hill.” His first client was Sugar Bowl and payment was a mere six free lift tickets, which at the time seemed pretty “cool” to McAlpine.


Snowbomb found a niche in that first year and McAlpine’s always evolving business has branched off into many directions ever since. But at the business’ core remains the Tahoe Card, which is arguably the best method to find a bargain lift ticket at every Lake Tahoe resort with the exception of Heavenly.


The card can be purchased online at or at various Northern California locations for $39.99. This year’s card includes lift ticket discounts ranging on average from $5-$10, with a high of $14 in savings at both Squaw and Kirkwood.


A Tahoe Card also includes a complimentary lift ticket at Dodge Ridge near Sonora and a free cross country trail pass to Royal Gorge; free rental packages and tune-ups; lodging, dining, shopping and snowmobile discounts in Tahoe, Reno; and a free ski magazine subscription.


Three years ago, McAlpine says sales for the Tahoe Card reached 12,000. This year with the economy continuing to sag he expects sales to hover around 20,000.


“What has happened to our economy is actually a benefit to our business,” McAlpine said. “Everyone wants to save $5 or $10, or whatever they can on a lift ticket, so people are really seeking us out right now. Anyone who skis or snowboards can save money with the Tahoe Card. I still feel like we have just scratched the surface of where we could be. Honestly, there are probably another 100,000 more people who should be buying the card.”


Tahoe Card sales remain the cash cow for McAlpine. Yet his innovative website has become a regular stopping place for people to surf for all things skiing and snowboarding, providing a veritable one-stop online location.


Looking for up-to-date weather, resort and road conditions? has it. The site also hooks people up with resort bus trips, discount rental shops, free coupons, plus lodging and dining suggestions. It also is helpful in locating lift ticket discounts for resorts in Southern California, Utah, Colorado and portions of the East Coast. has an interactive capacity as well, offering skiers and riders a place to connect through blogs, Facebook and Twitter, while also keeping people informed with event calendars, the latest in cool ski videos from the region, and a popular E-newsletter that has an estimated 100,000 followers.


One more way to connect is on the weekends at amateur competitions. The popular Snowbomb-sponsored “Sick & Twisted Freestyle Tour” will have seven events this season.


“What Jim brings to the table is more than just a discount business model with a database,” said John Monson, Sugar Bowl’s director of sales and marketing. “He's created a community of passionate skiers and riders who justifiably look for value in their outings. So we deliver just that, and greatly appreciate this additional line of communication that Jim has helped facilitate. He also puts together one of the best consumer ski shows I've been to.”


One of the most notable consumer shows occurs regularly in San Francisco where McAlpine enlists the aid of Tahoe ski legends Jonny Moseley and Daron Rahlves in drawing large weekend crowds and helps keeps it lively with an extensive beer and wine tasting area.


The business has evolved and so has McAlpine. An extended adolescent has been abandoned as he bids farewell to his 30-something days – McAlpine hits the big 40 in February.


These days McAlpine can be regularly found doting on his 10-month-old daughter Mia Rose, spending quality time with wife Elena, and keeping tabs of his five full-time employees in Tahoe.


Even his location has changed. Although he maintains a residence in North Tahoe, home base is now in Novato where he and his wife are close to longtime friends and family.


“I’ve certainly changed and so has the business,” McAlpine says. “I used to cater more to the younger, edgier, hard-core skiers and riders. But now Snowbomb is for families and really anyone who loves to ski or snowboard. We’re still all about getting people on the hill and seeing them have a good time.”


Jeffrey Weidel is a Sacramento free-lance writer with more than 25 years of skiing experience.



TAHOE CARD includes

(price $39.99)

* Lift ticket discounts

* Free lift ticket Dodge Ridge

* Free Royal Gorge trail pass

* Free rental packages, tune-ups

* Free cross country day pass

* Free Tahoe XC trail pass

* Free ski magazine subscription

* Lodging, dining, shopping discounts in Tahoe, Reno

* Snowmobile discounts

* Free Coupons

Information: (530) 581-0553