Studying the seemingly quaint, two-year-old photo of Gov. Jerry Brown standing on a patch of grass near the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort and announcing drastic water conservation measures, it’s hard to imagine what too much snow looks like.
But multiple atmospheric rivers, avalanches, mudslides and road closures later, here we are. Less than 20 percent of California remains in drought, according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report. It’s a bittersweet thing, really.
Nowhere is this sentiment more apparent than at the Sierra ski resorts – so tantalizingly close to Sacramento, teasing us with eye-popping amounts of powder waiting to be conquered, but still so incredibly difficult and, at times, impossible to reach.
The irony, right?
This could be snowiest winter the region has had in 22 years – at least according to Vail Resorts of Colorado, owner of the South Lake Tahoe resort Heavenly. But for several days this month, the California Department of Transportation has had to close major arteries to resorts around Lake Tahoe. Blame the weather and our aging infrastructure.
At the close of President’s Day weekend, Caltrans saw no other option but to hold all traffic on Highway 50 for avalanche control. The whiteout conditions didn’t help. Then, this past week, a mudslide wrecked a 17-mile stretch of pavement near Bridal Veil Falls that will take months to fix. Meanwhile, traffic will remain limited to one lane heading both eastbound and westbound.
Imagine sitting in a blizzard, in a traffic jam, after a long day of fun on the mountain, and not knowing when you’ll be able to make it home. Not cool.
Interstate 80 hasn’t been much better. The highway has been shut down a bunch of times this season. Mudslides and blizzard conditions, including hurricane-force winds, have mostly been to blame.
“The snow is great. Our industry will never complain about getting snow,” said Michael L. Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association. “But there is no question that we have faced more operational challenges this year because the storms have been a bit relentless.”
The numbers are truly mind-boggling. Almost 560 inches of snow at Kirkwood Ski Resort. About 630 inches at Mount Rose, 580 inches at Boreal and 530 inches at Northstar. Employees at those resorts and others have had to work nonstop to dislodge ski lifts and dig out lodges after every storm.
Last Wednesday, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows said they have so much snow that they expect at least one resort will be open for skiing and snowboarding on the Fourth of July. That’s something I can barely comprehend in my native Midwestern mind.
Not surprisingly, it’s supposed to snow even more this weekend. Getting to some resorts could again be a bit dicey. But for a stellar day on the mountain, it’s worth it.