Ski resort manager talks drought | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Ski resort manager talks drought

Isaac Brambila
ibrambila@tahoedailytribune.com

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — The ongoing drought has had local and state government officials scrambling for water, but in Tahoe the valued commodity takes a different shape – snow.

On Wednesday, John Rice, general manager at Sierra-At-Tahoe Resort spoke about different problems and solutions facing the ski industry during Tahoe Talks at Lake Tahoe Community College.

The message focused on acknowledging the situation and adapting.

Rice avoided controversy regarding whether the current drought is a cyclical situation or a long-term problem and focused on the sole fact that California is facing a fourth year of drought.

"The problem is real. We're not going to argue it," he said.

"Clearly change is happening, and clearly we're in a drought," he later added.

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Rice spoke about a declining number of tourists and a decrease in season pass sales industry-wide. If people aren't confident about the product, and they're concerned about lack of snow in the region, they will not buy the product, he said.

This season, Sierra-At-Tahoe resort was open for 94 days and they closed on March 16, the earliest they've ever closed. They also got the least amount of snow they have ever gotten in recorded history.

"Those are real hard facts that you have to look at and say, 'how does that affect the business? How does that affect the people,'" he said.

Referencing a performance review he received when he was 21, Rice stated the approach ski resorts need to take.

"This is the key to survival, you have to adapt."

Industry-wide, ski resorts have realized they have to implement green initiatives to help combat climate change.

"We realized we have the most to lose, and we're not going to fight it," Rice said.

Those efforts require multi-prong approaches.

"We don't put all of our energy into one thing … we try to think of all aspects of how we can make our footprint less of a problem," Rice said.

Part of that involves integrating initiatives that yield positive results as common practice.

Some of the approach includes replacing old equipment with more efficient and environmentally cleaner machinery. The resort also offers shuttle service in an effort to reduce emissions by reducing the number of individual automobiles used, as well as providing free parking to hybrid vehicles in paid parking areas.

Additionally, they try to repurpose as much as they can, including by snow farming and fallen wood. For vegetation, they try to respect existing ecosystems and shy away from simply planting the cheapest seed, as it was widely accustomed in the past throughout the industry. Those approaches require a better understanding of the different impacts ski resorts have.

Regarding the product itself, Rice said ski resorts need to find ways to offer other forms of entertainment and not just skiing.

"What we have got to do is find ways for creative enjoyment for people," he said.

Some resorts have started offering options for mountain bikers and turned their ski resorts into places for other mountain recreations.

Other approaches involve hosting events and entertainment or developing different activities in the resort.

Still, though Rice expressed some optimism that weather could change next snow season, the message was simple. Accept the current situation and adapt.

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