TAHOE/TRUCKEE - Copious snowfall in November and December has been sufficient to sustain regional ski resorts through a recent spate of dry weather, officials said this week.
The early snowfall has created a large snowpack base, meaning that much of the region's terrain has stayed open and the ski lifts have continued to spin in advance of Presidents Day weekend, the last big holiday weekend for the resorts.
"It's been exponentially better than last year," said Jenny Kendrick, spokeswoman for Alpine Meadows, on Wednesday. "We had one of our best days of the year just last weekend."
Kendrick said additional snowfall of approximately 4 to 5 inches last Thursday helped generate enough interest to attract more skiers and snowboarders to the resort.
Amelia Richmond, spokeswoman for Squaw Valley - owned by the same company as Alpine - said new snow always motivates the drive-up clientele from the Central Valley and Bay Area.
"The conditions are great right now," Richmond said. "The groomers are fast, there's a little powder and you have some spring-like conditions with some soft snow."
Peter Avedschmidt, director of sales and marketing for Sugar Bowl Ski Resort atop Donner Summit, said the mid-season employee layoffs that occurred last winter throughout the region have been avoided thus far.
"The year is going well, especially compared to last year," he said. "We have a ton of groomers open and a great base."
The base at the lower elevations of the resort measures at 61 inches while maintaining 128 inches at the top.
Private ski resorts are reluctant to release numbers such as actual ski visitors per day and per month in the interest of maintaining an edge in an extremely competitive business, but other indicators are available. For instance, Kendrick said occupancy levels for lodging facilities around Alpine and Squaw demonstrate almost all beds are sold out for the holiday weekend.
"We are almost sold out for the Presidents weekend and for the entire week - just a few rooms left," Kendrick said. "And we are nearly sold out at The Village at Squaw, at least 80 percent occupancy, every single day for the entire month of February. We have officially set a record for February - the best February The Village at Squaw has ever had on the books."
Squaw Valley reported its second-snowiest Christmas in its history, and the New Year's holiday weekend saw the resorts flourish in terms of the amount of skiers.
Avedschmidt said Sugar Bowl sustains interest and high levels of skiers through April, typically witnessing a busy March.
Richmond said February and March can offer the most snow for resorts and that groups of people still frequent the resorts up until the early spring.
"That is what we expect to see this year," Richmond said.
Last winter was a terrible year for ski resorts at Lake Tahoe, as dry weather prevailed from early October until Valentine's Day.
Many resorts created snow in order to open a few runs, but most had to cut back on temporary employees by January due to the low demand.
This year, storms in December and November created a large sturdy base that has lasted throughout an exceedingly dry January.
Richmond, Kendrick and Avedschmidt all acknowledged fresh snow would be extremely beneficial to all the resorts.
"We just take it one day at a time," Avedschmidt said.
Kendrick said the positive part of dry weather is that sunny days, warm temperatures and groomed runs attract a certain clientele. It also makes it easy for those who live outside the region to make the drive unimpeded by treacherous road conditions.
Nevertheless, some skiers and snowboarders live for powder, as the soft snow can reduce the consequences for falling, making recreators more adventurous. Powder days also open up terrain off the groomed runs - for instance, amid the tree groves and outside the designated areas.
- Sun Managing Editor Kevin MacMillan contributed to this report.