Relentless winter brings pros, cons for Tahoe ski resorts

Last winter, most ski resorts at Lake Tahoe had to postpone their usual November openings because there wasn’t enough snow

Scott Sonner
Saturday 11 March 2023 17:13 GMT

Last winter, most ski resorts at Lake Tahoe had to postpone their usual November openings because there wasn’t enough snow.

This season, several have been forced to close at times because there’s been too much.

A relentless winter has dumped more than 50 feet (15 meters) of snow on mountain resorts around the lake over the past three months, along the California-Nevada line.

The latest Sierra storm, packing more heavy snow, winds gusting in excess of 100 mph (160 kph) and even some flooding, forced about a half-dozen to shut down on Friday.

Even when the resorts have been open for business, storms have prompted frequent closures of mountain highways and the main U.S. Interstate connecting San Francisco and Reno to Lake Tahoe atop the Sierra Nevada, making it nearly impossible at times for out-of-towners to make their way to the slopes.

But locals who’ve been skiing at Tahoe for decades say any disruptions are offset by the premium, powdery snow conditions and the real prize: skiing through the end of May and possibly longer.

“It’s heaven sent for a skier because I can ski until Memorial Day,” said Dan Lavely, 66, a Reno resident who’s been skiing for about 40 years.

“The conditions have been fantastic. It’s the best I’ve had in ions,” he said.

The resorts who cater to folks like him agree.

“The storms have a little bit of a financial impact, but the snowstorms also drive visitation and we are able to stay open longer, so they counter balance each other,” said Patrick Lacey, a spokesman for Palisades Tahoe, a resort forced to close on Friday when one gust of wind reached 139 mph (224 kph).

“We’re right up there with the biggest snowfall totals of the past 75 years,” he said.

Friday marked the third time the slopes were closed due to weather at three other popular Tahoe resorts owned by Colorado-based Vail Resorts — Heavenly, Northstar California and Kirkwood.

“If anything, here in Tahoe, we expect the unexpected,” Vail Resorts spokeswoman Sara Roston said in an email to The Associated Press on Friday.

During the 2021-22 season, “we delayed opening because we didn't have enough snow,” Roston said.

"Then in early December, we were hit with a ton of snow and saw some closures as a result," she said. “It has been one wild winter this year; that is for sure."

The last storm, a week ago, forced the cancellation of the final day of the Nevada state high school ski championships at Mount Rose, which is halfway between Reno and Lake Tahoe.

Chadd Bunker, of Sparks, Nevada, who frequents Mount Rose, said he’s heard some people grumbling about the series of storms that have sometimes kept them off the slopes.

“Yeah, you can’t get there when it’s nasty, but that just means it’s going to be even better when you can get there,” said Bunker, 56, who's been skiing since he was 5 years old.

The University of California, Berkeley’s Central Sierra Snow Lab at Donner Pass, north of Lake Tahoe, reported earlier this month it had recorded the snowiest October-February period since 1970. The snowiest winter season there was 1951-52, with nearly 68 feet (812 inches, 21 meters).

Palisades Tahoe, which averages 400 inches (10 meters) a year and registered 350 inches (9 meters) last year, had recorded 607 inches (15 meters) before the latest storm moved in on Friday. That's still below the season record set in 2016-17.

Lavely has a season pass at Palisades, the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics, so he's able to work around the storms to still get his runs in.

But he sympathizes with those making the trip from Sacramento or the Bay Area, who are at the mercy of woeful weather, including blizzard conditions that have shut down Interstate 80 for days at a time since Jan. 1.

He said he's spent as much time this year monitoring web cams of highways as he has the ones at individual resorts to check the slope conditions.

“I-80 was closed three times last week. Another day, the traffic was so bad you couldn’t get there," Lavely said, reflecting on the day it took him two hours to travel just 15 miles (24 kilometers) on the way out of Reno before he “finally gave up.”

Todd Cummings, who started skiing in the 1980s in New England and now lives in Santa Cruz, California, has managed three trips to Tahoe resorts this winter despite the storms.

“You can never be happy — too much too little,” said Cummings, who grew up in Rhode Island.

He doesn't mind the travel challenges if they pay off in piles of fluffy snow on the mountain and quieter slopes.

“I’ll deal with that any time," he said. “You just need to be capable of driving in the snow, be used to four-wheel drive, chains.”

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