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Two Tahoe-area ski resorts open; when will others let you hit the slopes?

Workers at at Mount Rose Ski Resort look on as a fan gun snow machine produces man-made snow. The machines were put into use once temperatures dropped to 32 degrees.
Workers at at Mount Rose Ski Resort look on as a fan gun snow machine produces man-made snow. The machines were put into use once temperatures dropped to 32 degrees. Mt. Rose

Hundreds of snow cannons blanketed two Lake Tahoe area ski resorts with enough man-made snow to open Friday, while a snowy weekend forecast paves the way for others to soon join them.

Mount Rose and Boreal Mountain Resort kicked off ski and snowboard season on Friday,well ahead of the traditional start of the season on Thanksgiving weekend

Heavenly, Northstar, Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows ski resorts are expecting to open Wednesday. That decision was bolstered by the prospect of a fresh blanket of snow. The National Weather Service has issued a “winter weather advisory” starting at 10 a.m. and ending 4 p.m. Sunday. The storm is expected to produce moderate to heavy snowfall through the weekend.

After one of the wettest Octobers on record and equipped with increased snow-making capabilities, Mount Rose and other resorts announced aggressive plans to open earlier than previously scheduled openings.

The weekend storm is expected to be followed by a snow system Wednesday and one after Thanksgiving.

Mother Nature, however, had other plans – unseasonably warm weather that made blowing snow impossible. When the temperatures dropped at midweek , the resorts pounced. Several resorts reported that they were able to blow snow 24 hours a day.

“With two solid days of snow-making we are able to open,” said Mike Pierce, a spokesman at Mount Rose.

The opening will be limited to a few runs, but Pierce said that likely suits many who are eager to get a few runs in before tackling the whole mountain later in the season.

We are going to get snow every year. The question is: How much are we going to get? When will it fall and what elevation will it be at?

Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association

“There is a lot of pent-up demand, even if it is just beginner (terrain). People want to come up and make a few turns,” Pierce said.

Resorts always want to open earlier, but forecasting can be a hit-or-miss proposition, said Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association.

“We are going to get snow every year. The question is: How much are we going to get? When will it fall and what elevation will it be at?” Reitzell said.

In recent years, Lake Tahoe resorts have invested millions into making snow, but snow guns without sub-freezing temperatures are just big misters.

“The one thing that dictates snow-making is the temperatures. It’s happening right now: temperatures are dropping,” Reitzell said earlier this week.

The drop in temperature allowed the Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows resorts to make use of their huge investment in snow-making capabilities. It was 22 degrees when he drove to work Wednesday, said Sam Kieckhefer, spokesman for Squaw Alpine.

“That is optimal for snow-making,” he said.

In the past six years, the resorts invested a combined $9 million in snow-making equipment – $1 million during the past 12 months. Between the two resorts, both owned by KSL Capital Partners, 300 snow cannons are pumping snow around the clock – weather permitting.

Northstar and Heavenly boast similar capabilities, said Kevin “Coop” Cooper, a local spokesman for Vail Resorts, which owns the pair.

“It’s pretty neat to see how fast they can work,” Cooper said. “They will continue to make snow around the clock.”

The opening date for Kirkwood is a little less certain, as it is more dependent on natural snow.

“We want to make sure we’re opening up a quality experience for our guests,” Cooper said of Kirkwood’s opening.

The weekend snow system won’t produce “blockbuster” snowfalls, but combined with wind gusts up to 100 mph, the storm is likely to affect driving conditions, said Scott McGuire, a meteorologist with the Reno office of the National Weather Service. The storm could produce up to a foot of snow above 7,000 feet.

The good news for the ski resorts – and drought watchers – is that the weekend storm is expected to be followed by a system Wednesday and another one after Thanksgiving.

The resorts also will likely be able to keep pumping man-made snow as needed. High Sierra temperatures are expected to remain at or slightly below normal for the next week, before dropping significantly as November comes to a close, McGuire said.

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch

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