Recent snowstorms put Tahoe resorts ahead of curve for the holidays
December 17, 2015
TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — With Sunday's snowstorm bringing another fresh blanket of powder to Lake Tahoe and Truckee, Sierra Nevada ski resorts are off to a strong start.
Just ask Mike Bandelin, interim general manager at Diamond Peak Ski Resort in Incline Village.
"It's been since 2010-11 that we've had — this time of year — 100 percent of the terrain open at Diamond Peak," said Bandelin, noting that Diamond Peak has seen 72 inches of snow thus far this season. "This date last year, we were at 28 inches."
Needless to say, Diamond Peak's slopes are drawing huge crowds. And with the cancellation of Washoe County schools on Monday, the week started off busier than ever.
"All the parents were out with their kids," Bandelin said. "It's super exciting after the last four years of wishing and wishing for snowfall to come, and now it's happening before the holidays."
Further exemplifying the snow bump in the Truckee-Tahoe region, Squaw Valley is reporting a season-to-date total of 110 inches at its summit, nearly twice what it saw by mid-December two years ago.
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"Mother Nature is nailing it for us right now," said Liesl Kenney, public relations manager at Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows. "Early season snow is not only critical for establishing a base and continuously opening up terrain, but it also brings the spirits up."
SURPASSING THE CENTURY MARK
Four years ago, Squaw had barely a dusting of snow coverage on its slopes heading into Christmas. By this time in 2011, only a foot of snow had peppered its base and a just shade over two feet hit its summit.
"Everyone has been dreaming of a white Christmas, right?" Kenney said. "Seeing the valleys completely blanketed in white and Tram Face almost entirely covered in snow is a great feeling."
Quite simply, recent waves of storms have spread the wealth throughout the entire Truckee-Tahoe region — Squaw is one of at least half a dozen resorts that surpassed 100-inch season snowfall totals by Monday morning, bolstered both by Sunday's storm and the one that hit Truckee-Tahoe last Thursday.
It's all enabled many resorts to not just open more terrain, but also open ahead of schedule.
"We were able to open a week ahead of schedule because we were seeing mid-winter conditions in the preseason," said Cass Walker, communications coordinator at Northstar California, which has recorded 113 inches of snow to date. "We are absolutely thrilled to see consistent storms passing through."
Meanwhile, Sugar Bowl Resort at Donner Summit reported the biggest influx of new snow from Sunday's storm — 24 inches in 24 hours — that swelled its base to 40 inches and summit to 55.
"We're off to a great start and the holidays should be incredible in Tahoe this year," said John Monson, director of sales and marketing at Sugar Bowl.
EL NIŇO INFLUENCE?
Once the middle of the 2015-16 winter season truly hits, thanks to forecasted impacts from the Western weather event El Niño, the powder is projected to come at a premium in the region
"We see the biggest impact of El Niño between January and March," said Dawn Johnson, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Reno.
Johnson, however, was quick to point out that El Niño typically doesn't have a "huge impact" on the North Lake Tahoe area.
But, she said since this El Niño is projected to be one of the biggest on record, it will "tip the odds in our favor of having a near to above normal winter."
Which begs the question: What's a normal winter?
Using Tahoe City as an example, Johnson said that approximately 185 inches of snow for the year in Tahoe City would be considered a normal winter.
The past two storms, the Truckee-Tahoe region has been hit with 2-4 feet of snow at higher elevations and anywhere from 10-20 inches at lake and ground level, Johnson said.
Still, a few weeks of snowstorms isn't going to put a dent in California's four-year drought, Johnson said.
In fact, to even reach "normal precipitation levels," Tahoe-Truckee would have to receive snowfall in excess of 200 percent of normal by the end of the year.
"Which has never happened," she continued. "With the rough conditions, we were in such a deficit. It will really take several years to get out of this drought.
"The good news, as far as what's fallen so far, we're running fairly close to normal for the year. That's at least a good start."