Snowmaking efforts hampered by PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoffs | SierraSun.com

Snowmaking efforts hampered by PG&E Public Safety Power Shutoffs

Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows began making snow on Oct. 17 in preparation for opening day on Nov. 15.
Courtesy of Ben Arnst / Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows

A cold front this week presented an opportunity for many local ski resorts to fire up snowmaking equipment, but precautionary measures taken by Pacific Gas and Electric Company rendered a few mountains powerless ahead of the 2019-20 season.

For much of the past week, Sugar Bowl Resort, Boreal Mountain California and Soda Springs Mountain Resort have been without power due to potential fire risk, which has hampered snowmaking operations when conditions are prime.

“We have been affected by the rolling blackouts up on Donner Summit and it has affected our ability to make snow,” said Matt Peterson, vice president of marketing and brand management for Boreal and Soda Springs, in an email. “With that being said, our thoughts remain with those affected by these fires and the first responders working to protect lives and property.”

With power now restored in the area, Peterson said Boreal remains on track to become California’s first resort to open for a sixth straight year. An opening date has yet to be announced as of Thursday, Oct. 31.

Nearby at Sugar Bowl, the resort was able to begin blowing snow Wednesday night in anticipation of a Nov. 29 opening day.

“We have not had any power,” said Jon Slaughter, executive director of marketing and sales for Sugar Bowl Resort, in an email. “This has been very unfortunate given the fantastic conditions we are seeing right now.”

While the resorts on Donner Summit have recently regained power, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has been making snow since Oct. 17. With temperatures fluctuating, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows have had six days of snowmaking since Tuesday.

The resort has more than 300 snowmaking guns across the two mountains, which amounts to more than 14 miles of snowmaking. During the past seven years, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows has invested roughly $9 million in snowmaking equipment and upgrades.

“Our snowmakers are highly skilled, and they monitor the weather conditions to determine which areas should see production at which times, and how many guns to run in each area,” said Public Relations Coordinator Alex Spychalsky in an email. “The number of guns run each night is a constantly changing number, especially this early in the season.”

Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is projected to open Nov. 15, conditions permitting.

Northstar California Resort fired up its extensive snowmaking system today in preparation for a Nov. 22 opening.

The resort has more than 725 locations, stretching more than 22 miles, where snow can be made. Northstar makes use of low-energy stick guns, fan guns and air water guns, which create flexibility when it comes to optimizing snowmaking during varied conditions.

“Snowmaking crews at both Heavenly and Northstar are instantly alerted about changes in air temperature, water pressure and wind direction, and are able to turn machines on or off accordingly from their cell phones or computers in order to maximize snowmaking efficiency,” said Susan Whitman, Vail Resorts communications manager for the Tahoe region. “Ideal conditions for snowmaking are related to wet bulb temperature, which is determined by the amount of moisture in the air. To fire up a snowmaking gun, we look for a wet bulb temperature of about 28 degrees or below, and as the temperature drops, we can flow more water through the guns, and essentially make more snow.”

Across Lake Tahoe, the largest snowmaking system on the West Coast was fired up Sunday, readying for a Nov. 22 opening date at Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort.

Opening day celebratory events at the three local mountains operated by Vail Resorts — Northstar, Heavenly and Kirkwood Mountain Resort — will include free food, drinks, family activities and more. Kirkwood is slated to open Nov. 27, conditions permitting.

Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at jscacco@sierrasun.com or 530-550-2643.