It’s looking like a tale of two winters
November 21, 2005
Thanksgiving weekend is here and Boreal Mountain Resort will be turning the lifts Friday over a bed of manufactured snow.Meanwhile, most other resorts are waiting for the high pressure system over the area to break apart and let in a season-starting Sierra storm.In comparison to last year, in which some skiers and snowboarders had been making turns for more than a month at this time, the season seems to be getting off to a particularly slow start.”This will be the first Thanksgiving in 10 years that we have not been able to get open with a combination of man-made and natural snow,” said Rob Kautz, president of Sugar Bowl ski resort. “It’s pretty rare.”Before the resort began making snow in 1991, Sugar Bowl was open about half of the time by Thanksgiving, said Kautz. But snowmaking has allowed the resort to bank on opening before the season’s first big holiday in most years.
“Now, with snowmaking, we expect to be open by Thanksgiving,” said Kautz, who has worked at Sugar Bowl for more than 25 years.But this year a combination of almost no natural snow and an inversion layer, which has kept cold temperatures in lower elevations and warmer temperatures up high, have conspired to make for a tough early winter.”We want to generate excitement about the ski season, and with weather like this, people are thinking about the beach,” Kautz said.Michelle Breckner, a climatologist with the Western Regional Climate Center, concurred that winter is a little slow in coming in 2005.”This is late,” said Breckner, noting that statistically Truckee gets nearly 18 inches of snow in an average November. But it’s not as late as the dramatic departure from last year’s record early storms would make it seem. Last year October snow storms pounded Donner Summit, and Boreal began turning lifts on Oct. 21 with a January-like snowpack. Other Tahoe resorts opened in late October and in the first days of November.
But at ski areas that rely on natural snow, a post-Thanksgiving opening is not uncommon, said Norm Sayler, who has run Donner Ski Ranch for nearly 50 years.”We’ve probably opened before Thanksgiving 25 percent of the time,” Sayler said.Sayler has a wait-and-see attitude about the upcoming winter season, likely because he has just about seen it all in his over 45 years on Donner Summit. He still remembers the winter of 1963-64, when Donner Ski Ranch made only $17,000 the entire ski season.”The latest opening we ever had was in 1963. We did open a couple of days before Christmas and then it rained and all the snow melted and we didn’t reopen until March 12,” Sayler recalled. “That was a really tough year.”This year, missing the Thanksgiving weekend doesn’t spell disaster for the ski season in any way, he said.
“In my opinion it doesn’t affect [the season] that much,” Sayler said. “People just jam their ski season into a shorter period.”In reviewing the last 15 ski seasons, Jody Churich, spokeswoman for Boreal Mountain Resort and Alpine Meadows, said that Thanksgiving is a good benchmark of when Alpine Meadows opens.”There are a handful of times we’ve opened later than that,” Churich said.Boreal Mountain Resort will open the season Friday on man-made snow that has been piling up in temperatures that finally have started to dip at night. But Alpine Meadows, and the other Tahoe resorts that had planned to open last weekend, will have to continue pushing back opening day.Although it’s not good news for the ski areas, Truckee residents can at least be thankful for the sunny days and mild temperatures that have extended the season for mountain biking and hiking this Thanksgiving.”As much as I hate to see no snow, it’s been a phenomenal fall,” Kautz said.