Tahoe-area ski resorts should have a banner holiday weekend – if they can dig out from the back-to-back storms that have delivered more snow than they’ve seen in years.
Since Saturday, two storms dumped up to 12 feet snow in the High Sierra, the heaviest sustained period of snow in six years, according to the National Weather Service. The first storm left a significant amount of snow, but it was the second one that really buried the mountains.
More than 20,000 Liberty Utilities customers were without power in the Tahoe area on Wednesday afternoon, and the loss of power, avalanche risks and other problems kept most ski resorts closed. The challenge of reopening by the weekend was perhaps best illustrated by a picture at the top of Kirkwood Mountain Resort showing a chairlift nearly buried in snow and unable to move.
Still, the promise of crowds during one of the busiest periods of the season – the three-day Martin Luther King Day weekend – and tons of fresh powder has the resorts scrambling to open.
“It’s teeing up to be a wonderful Martin Luther King Day weekend,” said Rachelle Atherton of Heavenly Mountain Resort, the only major resort open Wednesday, with just a handful of chairlifts running.
Bryan Allegretto, a ski forecaster for the Open Snow website, said he expects excellent conditions.
“It’s going to be amazingly perfect weather,” he said, predicting partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 30s on Saturday and Sunday. “I can’t remember getting this much snow before a three-day weekend.”
Tim McDougall, a Sacramento resident, was buying some wax at Land Park Ski & Sports in anticipation of snowboarding this weekend.
“I’m expecting a lot of powder,” he said. “This is what we’ve been waiting for.”
Shop employee Denise Dobler said, “Tomorrow, it will be crazy in here,” as people pick up rental skis for the weekend.
All of the resorts on the north side of Lake Tahoe were closed Wednesday. Representatives for the resorts could not be reached for comment, but Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, owned by the same company, posted a message on their website citing the power outage as the reason for the closure. Liberty Utilities announced that most of the service outages were on the north side of the lake and power should be restored before the end of the day.
Caltrans reopened the two main routes to Tahoe, Highways 80 and 50, on Wednesday. Highway 80 in the higher elevations had been closed for two days, the longest period in years.
The resorts will have to clear avalanche risks before reopening. A mixture of snow and rain has heightened potential dangers, and a warning of high avalanche risk was in place until 5 p.m. Wednesday.
The snow has kept Homewood resident Jeff Hurst locked up in his house for a week, much of the time without power. He can’t wait to get into the white stuff for some playtime.
“It’s going to be fabulous skiing when this clears up,” he said.
Officials at resorts closed Wednesday said the day before that they expected to be open by the end of the week. “This weekend should be amazing,” said Jess VanPernis Weaver, a spokeswoman for several resorts, including Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows.
Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows reported receiving 164 inches of snow in the first 11 days of the year, on pace to break a record for snowfall in January. Northstar California and Heavenly were reporting even greater snowfall for the month, with 167 and 184 inches respectively,
The resorts benefited from two “atmospheric river” storms that started in the tropics and will conclude Thursday afternoon, said Alex Hoon, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno. He said the storms had deposited 5 to 11 feet of snow in the region with another day of precipitation remaining.
“It’s the biggest storm we’ve had in Tahoe in the last six years,” he said.