Dylan Silver
Tahoe Daily Tribune

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February 29, 2012
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Lake Tahoe skiers, water watchers happy with snow

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. —-The classic hoots and hollers of a powder-happy crowd sounded Tuesday morning at Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort's Grandview chairlift. A fresh blanket covered the runs.

“I'm glad winter finally showed up,” said John Borchard, a South Lake Tahoe snowboarder who came up for some fresh turns. “It's the last day of February and we finally got a powder day.”

Though not massive, the foot or so of fresh snow renewed slopes at all three South Shore resorts. It also added to California's water supply, which primarily comes from mountain snowmelt.

Runs at Sierra were peppered with granite boulders, small trees and other obstacles, testaments to this year's below-average snowfall. But at least they were open.

“They just opened Dynamite,” snowboarder Blair Carlson said as he rounded the lift line for another run. “It's bottomless up there. Most of the other runs, you'll hit stuff underneath.”

Sierra spokesman Steve Hemphill said ski patrol and mountain staff are warning people that, despite the soft, fluffy powder, there are still dangers.

“That's something we're really trying to get out to people,” Hemphill said. “Be careful when going through the trees.”

Nonetheless, the Monday's snow along with the accumulation forecasted for Wednesday will allow the mountain to open more terrain and maybe even get started on their half-pipe, Hemphill said.

Just down the road from Sierra at Phillips, Frank Gehrke, chief of California Cooperative Snow Surveys was taking measurements of the fresh snow for the monthly survey.

“It would've looked a lot different had we done this on Sunday,” Gehrke said, walking out into the field. “This is pretty all new snow.”

The snow survey found 17 inches of snow with 3.9 inches of water content, a dismal 16 percent of the long-term average.

“Probably to no one's surprise, we're not doing too well,” Gehrke said to the group of reporters covering the survey. “While the storm totals have been obviously better than nothing, we're still way, way down.”

Last year at this time, the Phillips snow survey read 44 inches of water content, or 178 percent of the long-term average, Gehrke said.

“I think it illustrates the variability,” he said. “We talk about average and normal, and that really doesn't describe our weather very well. We're typically in the extremes.”

As far as the density of the most recent snow, at about 25 percent water content, it's about as light and powdery as it gets for the maritime snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, Gehrke said. That makes for great skiing conditions.

“It's game on again,” said Kirkwood Mountain Resort spokesman Kevin Cooper. “With (Wednesday's snowfall), it's just going to put us over the top.”

With enough snow, Kirkwood will be able to hold the North Face Masters and the Freeskiing World Tour at the end of March and beginning of April, two events that have already been delayed due to too little snow.

“Things we had to push back, are looking more positive now,” Cooper said.

Heavenly Mountain Resort opened some new terrain and is excited to launch their “Fresh tracks for season pass-holders” program, said spokeswoman Sally Gunter. As part of the program, the gondola will open at 8:15 a.m. to season pass-holders each Wednesday between Feb. 29 and March 28.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Feb 29, 2012 12:18PM Published Feb 29, 2012 12:14PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.