“It’s better than you think.”
That’s the message from Lake Tahoe area ski resorts, which hope to convince would-be skiers and riders that despite the season’s scant snowfall, cold temperatures and sophisticated snowmaking operations have resulted in an enjoyable ski experience for visitors.
“Those who are here are having a great time,” said Rachael Woods, a spokeswoman for Northstar California Resort. The resort boasts that 19 of its 20 ski lifts are in operation; however, firsthand reports say several mountain downhill runs remain closed.
Modern ski resorts invest heavily on snowmaking systems to augment naturally falling snow. The ski season got off to a great start with more than a foot of snow at some locations in early December. Since that point, its been another story. The last Sierra snow was Dec. 7, according to the National Weather Service.
Don’t expect a quick turnaround, said Tom Dang, a weather service meteorologist.
“We’re on pace to be the driest calendar year on record,” Dang said.
Jennifer Boyd, a spokeswoman for the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority, said the conditions were ideal for new skiers.
“For the majority of our visitors, this is perfect for them,” Boyd said.
The conditions make for easy access to the mountain, she said. And while locals love to ski in fresh powder, groomed beginner and intermediate runs are great for most skiers and snowboarders, she said.
That’s harder to sell to experienced skiers.
Sharon Sargeant, president of the Ebony Ski and Racquet Club in Sacramento, said she has not been up the mountain yet this winter.
“There is no natural snow,” Sargeant said.
“With man-made snow, the coverage is based on where they put their machine,” she said. “You could be going down a run and hit a rock because they didn’t have enough snow. I’m going to wait for a snowstorm.”
She has her fingers crossed that storm will happened before a group trip to the Lake Tahoe area during the Martin Luther King weekend dubbed Urban WinterFest.
Sacramento resident Shanon Shaw, who recently went snowboarding at Sierra-at-Tahoe with his girlfriend, described the conditions as “not terrible.”
“I’ve skied on worse,” he added. He said he is less likely to go early in the season because there is less mountain to ride and obstacles presented by light coverage.
Heavenly Mountain Resort is among the resorts looking for new ways to enhance the experience – regardless of the snow coverage.
On Friday, resort operators will unveil what they are describing as a “one-of-a-kind” snow-grooming machine outfitted with speakers and a DJ platform.
“It’s going to be impressive. People are going to stop and take notice,” said Sally Gunter, a spokeswoman for the resort.
Gunter said last year the resort decided to spice things up by having a DJ play music near lift lines. While it was deemed a success, moving all that gear was a logistical challenge. This year, they teamed up with Aaron Hagar, son of rocker Sammy Hagar, to produce an all-in-one system.
The music will continue into the new year as the resorts vie for holiday revelers. Heavenly’s ski wind-down party will feature some of the electronica performers in town for the weekend’s Snowglobe Music Festival.
“There is definitely a lot going on,” Gunter said.
Call The Bee’s Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @NewsFletch.