Storm of year it was not, but Lake Tahoe ski resorts were happy Wednesday morning after several inches of snow fell overnight.
The storm also released a modest amount of rain in the Sacramento Valley.
While December was mostly a dud in terms of precipitation, ski officials say that a strong November complimented by sizeable snow-making operations has allowed several resorts to open with “top to bottom” skiing.
“Even though it was a little bit of a light December, the terrain was really good,” said Mike Reitzell, president of California Ski Industry Association.
Squaw Valley’s Liesl Hepburn said ski conditions are better than people might think. Twenty of the resort’s 27 lifts are running, giving visitors access to 47 trails.
“I think the perception is a bit skewed by the record-breaking season we had last year, which really kicked off in January,” Hepburn said. “We received 5 inches of snow overnight and are in excellent shape heading into the holidays, with top to bottom skiing at both mountains.”
Heavenly Ski Resort reported receiving 2 inches of new snow and plans on opening its California side on Dec. 23 – just in time for the holiday rush.
Snow making, using water stored on site, is a key component to opening new lifts without massive snowfall totals.
“With the most sophisticated snow-making system on the West Coast and consistent cold temperatures, Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood have been able to build a solid base and consistently open terrain each week,” said Rachelle Atherton, a spokeswoman for Heavenly and its sister resorts.
While flatlanders might be unsure about the conditions, locals want more but are taking advantage the snow that is there, said Bryan Allegretto, who writes about snow conditions for Tahoe Open Snow.
“People living around the lake that are on the mountain all the time know that there is snow on the mountains and they have been skiing it,” Allegretto said. “The sentiment around town is that people want all terrain to open so that they can ski the whole mountain, especially off-trail in the trees and side country.”
National Weather Service meteorologist Craig Shoemaker said Tuesday evening’s storm wasn’t very wet. It produced one-tenth of an inch of rain in Sacramento with a slightly higher total into the foothills and mountains.
“It was a pretty light system as far as snow goes,” Shoemaker said. Overall, December has been a dud in terms of Sacramento rain, producing 0.13 inches, a full 2 inches below the normal rainfall total of 2.13 inches.”
The temperatures, from Lake Tahoe to Sacramento, are expected to be unseasonably cold over the next several days, Shoemaker said. Freezing weather is ideal for snow making. Overnight lows in Sacramento are expected to reach 31 degrees, meaning residents might want to take steps to protect sensitive plants and bring outdoor pets inside overnight.