China Peak Celebrates 60 Years

by Lisa Talley | lisa@fresnoflyer.com

For Central Valley locals, we all have a bank of memories brimming with similarity. It’s spending those torturous months of summer dragging our inner tubes and floaties to the river, lazily drifting on the cool water to escape the heat. It’s the smell of fried, heart-wrenchingly delicious food during the fair, the crack of a baseball bat over Chuckchansi stadium, driving up the winding roads to the flush campgrounds of Shaver Lake, and in the winter, driving up a little further to hit the slopes at China Peak.

The first trip is always what sticks out the most for many. “Who knew the mountain was so big? I would have never guessed all of this was just outside of Fresno,” we all say as we admire the waves of flawless snow blanketing the ground, crisp air in our lungs turning into billows of steam as we exhale our “Oooo”s and “Ahhh”s.

Since the resort’s opening in 1958, China Peak has been making lasting first, second, and umpteenth memories. In having survived changes in ownership and a devastating drought, the resort is coming up to its 60th birthday, and on December 16th they’ll be hosting their 60th Anniversary Party to celebrate their history, influential figures, and of course, all the people who love the mountain.

To kick things off, China Peak will be rolling back their lift tickets to historic 1958 prices. As it stands now, the current prices range from $53 to over $80 depending on the age of the purchaser and the time of year. However, taking things back to the original 1958 prices mean that lift tickets are only $5. Nope, not a typo. As of December 1st, lift tickets are just $5 for the day of the 60th Anniversary Party.

Of course, all good things cannot last, and the tickets are a limited quantity. However, it won’t be the only time discounted tickets will be available, lift tickets priced at 1968 prices ($12) will be available after the first set runs out. Once that block has been sold out, then the costs move up to 1978, 1988, and so on. As each set is first come, first serve, patrons will have to keep a close eye on the website so as not to miss it. They’ll become available, online only, at 12:01 on December 1st.

“It’ll be a mad dash to get those tickets at those low rates,” says Tim Cohee, Managing Partner, and Operator of China Peak.

Aside from the massive discount, the resort will be hosting a full day of entertainment. Starting off the day is a DJ at 11 am, followed by a live music performance at 2 pm, beer tasting provided by local brewery Sequoia Brewing Co., photo booth, and contests for the best outfits and gear from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. Prizes for the contest include lift tickets and lodging nights.

Amidst the celebration, there will also be a toast to honor Joe and Joanne Weirick, former owners and treasured members of the Shaver / Huntington Lake communities who both passed away in 2015 and 2017.

Having owned and operated China Peak for 14 years, Joe Weirick, a Fresno local, purchased the resort in 1964 from the bank after the ski area’s original owners filed bankruptcy. From 1964 – 1978 the Weiricks transformed China Peak from a single chairlift and a few rope-tows to adding more lifts, building runs, installing the original snowmaking system, as well as adding new buildings to the resort.

Snow Summit, a large ski corporation based out of Big Bear Lake, purchased the resort in 1982 and was operated by majority owner, Dick Kun. The December 16 celebration will also honor his contributions to the mountain from 1982 – 2010.

“[Dick Kun] actually hired me to start my ski career about 40 years ago, he and I became close friends. He died about a year ago at the age of 76, he was an important person in my life and had a lot to do with my success,” shares Cohee.

Tim Cohee purchased the ski area from Kun in 2010 and has been the majority owner of China Peak ever since. Between Joe and Joanna Weirick and Dick Kun, these influential figures of China Peak’s history owned and operated the resort for 42 out of its entire 60 years of existence.

Like the Weiricks, Kun also heavily improved the ski area. Through a whopping $20 million investment, China Peak (then known as Sierra Summit) saw an upgrade in lifts, the addition of new lifts, new runs, the improvement of existing runs, the addition of a new snowmaking system, new parking lots, and additional base area facilities.

“He really developed it into, I think, and what many people would call one of California’s best mid-sized mountains,” Cohee adds.

Honoring both the Weiricks and Kun means also toasting to their legacy of passion, dedication, loyalty, and love for the mountain as it undoubtedly continues to resonate with the local community. Decades of building lasting memories for the Central Valley is, in large part, due to their hard work.

And the hard work indeed continues under the careful supervision of the current managing partner, Tim Cohee, but where each owner focused on improving the equipment, Cohee now focuses on the personal experience China Peak offers the resort’s guests.

“I think what the ski area was lacking under the watch of Snow Summit and its managers was real attention to detail regarding servicing the guests. I think what everyone would say is that we bring a real sense of service to the resort in terms of literally everything,” Cohee continues.

In fact, since taking the reins in 2010, Cohee’s team took on the task of remodeling the hotel – an aspect of the resort almost wholly overlooked during the last few decades as previous owners emphasized equipment. Also, updates and improvements had been made to the menus, cooking facilities, bars, seating, and welcome facilities.

The majority of ski areas in California – roughly 70%  owned by large corporations – leaves only a respective 30% to be held by private individuals. According to Cohee, it’s also part of what – in a way – makes China Peak rare. That, and being a stunning mountain in an unexpected place.

Fresno and the Central Valley have a knack for surprising its out-of-area visitors. It’s not uncommon to hear outsiders vocalize their shock at what the Valley has to offer in terms of just about anything, from the art scene, local music, sports, and of course, the vast landscape of foothills and mountains all around the Valley. Fresno is an untraditional market with a surprisingly impressive resort.

“If China Peak were transplanted into Lake Tahoe, it would be a competitive ski area,” Cohee says from his 40 years of experience working in more traditional markets, Lake Tahoe included.

The success of the resort is a combination of dedicated owners and operators driven to providing an unparalleled experience, hard-working staff, and loyal visitors. Without each, China Peak wouldn’t be at the benchmark of an incredible 60 years. And as such, the 60th Anniversary is a celebration of a long journey the resort has been on since 1958, and a celebration of the community that, regardless of ups or downs, has shown their support throughout the years.

Join China Peak on December 16 as they look back at the past and step forward into the next 60 years.

For more information about the 60th Anniversary Party, visit www.SkiChinaPeak.com. Lift tickets sold at the historic prices are good for December 16 only, no exceptions. More details on the sale of discounted tickets can also be found online or by calling the resort at 559-233-2500

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