January 30, 2014

Heavy snow improves mood at Tahoe resorts, but it won’t end drought

Lake Tahoe ski resorts, which have subsisted primarily on man-made snow this winter, welcomed more than 7 inches of snow on Wednesday and are hoping for more.

Drought buster, no.

Mood brightener, yes.

That’s the word from Lake Tahoe ski resorts, which have subsisted primarily on man-made snow this winter, after more than 7 inches of snow blanketed the Sierra Nevada on Wednesday.

The flurries continued Thursday and are expected to taper off Friday.

The boost to business and morale isn’t limited to ski resorts.

“It’s still falling and it looks great,” said Dan McHale, general manager of South Lake Tahoe’s Inn By the Lake.

While international guests increasingly insulate Lake Tahoe’s larger properties from the hit-and-miss impulse of local vacationers, McHale said the snow definitely boosts business.

“Our phones are ringing,” he said.

The storm dropped a foot of snow at higher elevations and was expected to add another 2 to 6 inches to the total overnight Thursday, said Holly Osborne, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“It’s significant because we haven’t got a lot a snow with winter, but it’s not real significant in amount,” Osborne said. “This one storm is not going to break the drought. We’d need a few more of these to make it to near normal … because we are so far behind.”

While the skies will dry up over the weekend and remain dry into next week, the upside is that the new high-pressure ridge expected to build over California will be weaker and stay farther east than the one that was in place during a spate of record-high temperatures and more than 50 days without rain in Sacramento, Osborne said.

Thursday’s Department of Water Resources snow survey found another reason for alarm: The water content of state’s snow pack was measured at 12 percent of average. Winter snowfall is essential for filling California’s water reservoirs.

While cognizant of the long-term concerns, resort operators were focused Thursday on the improving short-term conditions.

“It happened so quickly and accumulated so quickly, we were able to open six trails in a matter of an hour,” said Rachael Woods, a spokeswoman at Northstar ski resort. “The trees are covered with snow. People are enjoying the fresh powder.”

John Monson, spokesman for Sugar Bowl and Royal Gorge cross-country area, said the snow brightens the forecast. “This is really going to help us for the coming President’s Day weekend,” he said.

Resorts such as Northstar and Sugar Bowl have the benefit of sophisticated snow-making operations. That’s not true for Donner Ski Ranch and cross-country ski areas such as Royal Gorge. Monson said the thick wet snow will help open more runs at Sugar Bowl and might be enough to open Royal Gorge. He said the resort is close to reaching the foot of snow needed to dispatch their groomers to open the cross-country area and would make the call Friday morning.

Officials at Donner Ski Ranch said they’ll need an additional foot and a half of snow before they can open.

Bob Roberts, of the Ski Industry Association, said he was “cautiously optimistic” the storm might help them salvage the season.

He said resorts will likely see a significant dip in the 7.5 million skier visits the industry normally records each year.

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